This is the part of a weekly column by Ashley Johnson surrounding the struggles she has faced in her own life and the concept of being human.
Warning: some entries will contain strong content regarding abuse, addiction, self-harm and eating disorders.
In light of Cinco de Mayo just passing, and many circumstances going on in my life, I thought it fitting to write about alcohol this week. I find it both fascinating and disturbing that Americans will find any excuse to “party” excessively, even if the holiday has absolutely nothing to do with them. Chances are, if you are reading this and didn’t stop when I mentioned the word alcohol, you joined the many Americans across the U.S. In celebrating a Mexican holiday by drinking copious amounts. If that is in fact the case, and you made it through with flying colors and still had a job the next day, more power to you. That is not my story. For whatever reason I feel compelled to tell my story to you. A part of it is certainly for my own healing, and to remind myself where I come from and what happens when I pick up a drink. Things have been rough this past week, with two of the closest people to me relapsing. One of which is still drinking and using, and I have a tremendous fear that he isn’t going to make it out alive.
That being said, it is important to remember what it was like for me. Furthermore, if there is someone out there in this big universe that reads this and thinks, “oh my gosh, I can relate,” that is amazing. I didn’t drink on holidays like Cinco de Mayo. I drank whenever I felt like it, however much I felt like, as fast as I could, and as much as I could. It didn’t matter if it was Friday or Tuesday, morning or night, raining or sunny. Of course, it wasn’t always that way.
I was incredibly insecure as a child and had a desperate need for approval. I would do whatever it took to get it. When I found alcohol at age 15, a love affair began. All of a sudden I didn’t care what you thought of me. I was prettier, thinner, and loveable. At first it was just a party. I would drink on weekends, when I wasn’t at swim meets, but was always the one finishing others’ drinks and engaging in inappropriate behavior. I had black outs from the very beginning. For those of you unfamiliar with the term black out, it is when periods of time get completely lost. Those periods got larger for me as the years went on.
I identify myself as an alcoholic. Once I start drinking, I cannot stop. Looking back, it has always been that way. When I got a full ride scholarship for swimming across the country, I jumped at the opportunity. I was under the impression that fleeing to the East Coast would take all my problems away and I could start fresh. I didn’t realize at the time that I was the problem. So off I went, swimming for a Division 1 school and drinking like a fish whenever I could. I managed to keep my grades up and compete well, despite my engagement in eating disorder behaviors and poor lifestyle choices.
Alcohol is certainly a wonderful social lubricant, and entering college was scary. I did everything I could to fit in and become a part of the swim team and university environment. Liquid courage helped me do just that. Or so I thought. The problem was that lubricant became more like glue. I was stuck to it and didn’t even know it. It had me in it’s grips even then, but I thought I drank like every other college student. Other students weren’t withdrawing to go into treatment, however. In the Spring of 2002 I left Lehigh University to enter treatment for the first time, not for my drinking, but for my eating disorder.
Here comes the dreaded cliffhanger. Not that I am assuming my story is so captivating that you just can’t wait to hear more, but yes you will have to wait. Perhaps my point is to get the wheels turning about drinking in general. Alcohol related incidents are a huge problem on college campuses. Some of you out there may just be having a good time on weekends, and that’s great. Others might drink occasionally to relax. And that’s great, too. There may just be, however, one person that shivers from the inside out when reading about the tidbit of my experience I have given you. There is hope. I am excited to share more of my story with you next week of the places I’ve been, things I’ve done, and how I have overcome them to get where I am today.
Whether its a substance like alcohol, a behavior, or some other vice, I believe we all have something. It is human nature to turn to outside sources to ease inner pain. The pure joy of living comes from recognizing that pain is a part of life, and once you get through it the sun shines brighter on the other side than you could have ever imagined. Stay tuned for more on my developing story.