How My (Sober) 20s Prepared Me For Turning 30

Written by Rachel Belz

My journey of getting to know myself began when I was 20. After numbing myself with drugs and alcohol for the first two years of college, I had an awakening and knew I needed to face my issues head on. I did not want to live my life in a blur, unable to remember what I did the night before and unable to fully live each day to the fullest. So, I had the courage to ask my parents for help and began to do what I needed to do in order to live the life I deserved.

I went to rehab at Hazelden. Life at that point still felt like a blur, but I do remember that our days were completely structured, down to the hour: we cleaned our rooms, ate and sat in therapy. Each hour of the day was meant to be filled, in order to show us what it’s like to have responsibilities and to be accountable for every action.

After finishing rehab, I returned home and knew I had big decisions to make when I returned to college. That was going to be the hard part: going back to the place I tumbled down a dark path and rebuilding a healthy life there. I was only 20 years old. It wasn’t going to be easy but I knew I wanted to finish college and didn’t want to waste any more time. Now was the time to dive into my studies and do the best I could with a new mindset.

I followed a strict schedule of balancing coursework with taking care of myself. I went to daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (which I stopped attending later on, knowing I no longer needed them to stay sober), saw a therapist and slowly built a new support system, and received one of the greatest gifts of my twenties: my dog, Dylan. Dylan loved me unconditionally and provided a sense of comfort. Caring for him also gave my life new meaning.

Life went on. I got into a relationship, made new friends, lost old ones, traveled, focused on staying both mentally and physically happy, finished school, had a few jobs, ended a relationship, had my heart broken (or so I thought at the time), learned more about myself and others, spent time with my family, lost my beloved childhood dog, Sasha, as well as my amazing grandfather, Bernard. I also developed an autoimmune disease, lupus, which I attribute to stress.

Through all of these ups and downs, I managed to stay sober. Never once did I want to numb my feelings with drugs or alcohol. I felt each ounce of pain as well as each drop of happiness. That’s what I’ve learned life is all about. Feelings. Good and bad. Recognizing and working through them. Being alive involves struggle and despair as well as joy and glory. I have become the person that I am today because of every event I have faced in my life.

I’m about to turn 30 and my journey continues. I’ve let go of the unrealistic expectations of perfection and embraced myself. Strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges, quirks and oddities. I’m only human. I accept myself for who I am. If I can’t, who will? I choose to be happy. I choose to continue working on myself. I know exactly what I want in my life and who I want in my life. I know how I deserve to be treated.

Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” I have learned to let go and enjoy the ride. Everything in my life has happened for one reason: to bring me to where I am today.

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