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      Sober Nation

      Putting Recovery On The Map

      Name: Kyler Ashtyn

      Age: 25

      Sober Since: 01 / 01 / 2018

      Sober For: 4 Years & 140 Days

      What it was like?

      I remember being as young as six years old with the typical "addict" behavior that we all learn about in the rooms of AA. The story is often similar for all of us; we wanted to harm ourselves, we wanted to die, we were quiet and isolated, or we were rebellious towards our elders. Some chose needles, some chose powder, and some chose a pipe. Some chose toxic relationships or food. Addiction comes in hundreds of forms, but no matter which way you slice it, it's a powerful disease of the mind that will kill you if it goes on for too long. At age thirteen, I chose alcohol, and I wouldn't stop choosing it until I was twenty-four. To put it lightly, I put myself through the wringer in active addiction. It isn't the happiest story, but I also recognize that it isn't the saddest. There are people out there who have done every drug known to man, been thrown in jail, been in car accidents where they killed someone, and/or been revived medically by doctors from the jaws of death; but none of those stories are my own. Regardless of the poison you pick, we all choose it because we want to escape from something. Maybe it's depression, maybe it's trauma, or maybe it's a rough home life. But what if I told you it doesn't actually help? What if I told you it actually makes things worse, and that before too long, addicts ALWAYS have a reason to drink or use? They do it when they're sad, when they're happy, when they're angry, when they're celebrating, when it's raining, and when it's sunny. They always find a reason. In moderation, alcohol and certain drugs can be virtually harmless. But for those of us who have the gene of addiction running through our veins, there is no such thing as moderation. We will consume until we can't anymore, and most of us won't stop until we have a ground-shaking "bottom" that causes us to lose everything good in our lives, or until we are almost dead. Some of us never recover, and become nothing more than a statistic that so many people in this day and age are fighting to change. For twelve years of my life, my depression, drinking, and fluctuating anorexia dug me into a dark hole of despair, selfishness, fear, resentment, and anger. I never knew I would end up like that. As a child, I had what I'd like to call a "successful" start, and what seemed to be a promising future on the surface. I was the product of a middle class family of divorce, raised by a single mother who took me to church every Sunday. I was on a college reading level in elementary school and had the potential to be anything I wanted to be, but I was also very solitary and quiet with no friends. I was never comfortable with my body and always comparing myself to other girls around me. I was on anxiety medication by the third grade, and once my grades started slipping, I hated doing anything I was "supposed" to do, and always wanted to run the show - Another obvious character defect of the textbook addict. When I took my first drink, I loved the way it made me feel almost immediately. Suddenly I was outgoing, funny, and not plagued by the anxiety of what people thought of me constantly. The longer it progressed, the more I thought it did for me, and the more it became a part of my identity. By twenty-one, I was drinking grown men under the table, going to work drunk, and partying until the sun came up like it was my career. It was the thing I loved most in this world that I was never going to let anyone take from me. Even after a handful of blackouts, many dangerous situations, several jobs lost, loads of money spent, and a serious attempt to kill myself that put me in a psych ward, I was convinced that it "wasn't that bad" and I could quit any time I wanted to - IF I wanted to. But I didn't, because I didn't know how to function without it, and I couldn't imagine a life without alcohol. It may as well have been the blood in my veins, and if I could have chosen between that or booze, I would have chosen booze every time. I was completely off my rocker. I don't think people realized how bad it was, because I became quite functional on the surface the longer it went on. I was getting drunk every night, but I was also driving home in a blackout and praying not to get into an accident. It helped that I was excellent at lying about it and making excuses for myself, but the thing about alcohol is that it's so normalized in our society that most people won't chalk up a heavy drinker to someone who even has an addiction. When someone comes to you and tells you they've been shooting heroin, you take them to the nearest hospital or rehab, and it's a tragedy. But when they come to you to tell you they drink too much, they should just try to control it better, or they're lightweight, or it's fun, or it's just a way to let loose. It's not a huge problem. It's glamorized on billboards, commercials and ads everywhere you turn. In grade school, you learn more about the dangers of drugs than the dangers of alcohol; which is pretty interesting, because when you get down to the science of it, it takes your brain longer to fully repair from severe alcohol damage than it does to repair from any other addictive substance. I was putting my body through a hell that so many people never recognize or understand. When I told my best friends that I was getting sober, they didn't believe me, or believe IN me. They thought I was doing it for attention, and that my request for them not to drink around me was a ridiculous one. I resented them for some time for two reasons; A) They could drink normally without any consequences and be fine without it, and B) They have no idea what it's like to be an addict. I hope they never have to, because I wouldn't even wish it on my worst enemy. During my drinking days, I was constantly wondering why I was so miserable. I could never keep friendships, romantic relationships, decent employment, or long-term happiness. It was dark. I would stop and start twice in the coming days before the day my life changed forever, cursing God the entire way, wondering why I could never seem to stop completely. I tried the "controlled" drinking several times that so many people around me seemed to be able to do, but would always end up back on the bathroom floor of my favorite bars after enough time passed, with my stomach retching and the hopelessness setting in again. I honestly thought it would always be that way, and that I would just have to get used to it. I had no idea there was another way out that didn't include killing myself or drinking myself to death. I accepted that my "normal" would be working myself to the bone to barely pay my bills with a belly full of booze every night, spiraling into oblivion with an anchor attached to my feet until I perished. "Normal" is something I would never be, and I had to get used to it.

      What happened?

      On January 1st of 2018, I spent the entire day alone in my Mississippi hotel room with alcohol poisoning. After a long night of partying and bringing in the new year with the long-distance flame I'd been visiting, I was too sick to even consider consuming another drink. I extended my hotel stay for another night, and on January 2nd began traveling back to my hometown of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I stopped in the small town of Pickens to visit a friend and her family before going back to reality, but I had no idea what was waiting for me. When I got there, she handed me a list of her favorite sights in and around her house; one of them being a mountaintop called "Pretty Place" (GOOGLE IT... IT'S BREATHTAKING!) about forty-five minutes away. She showed me a picture, and it didn't take long for me to be sold. The next day, I made the drive up the winding mountain and had a spiritual experience that not even the most intricate words could describe. I went back home a few days later, and decided it was time to get sober. I had tried on my own numerous times before, and in numerous different ways, but it never stuck. This time, I did something different. I went to an AA meeting with a friend, and then I kept going back. My life got better more quickly than I expected, and before too long, I was learning how to TRULY deal with life, and all of the trauma and damage from my past. I began to realize that untreated alcoholism was the root of most of my problems, and was the reason I was constantly so depressed. The longer I stayed sober and worked the program, the better my life seemed to get. In early recovery, there were times I went to three meetings in a day. I began learning how to live a normal life without alcohol, and continued to hear sobriety stories that made my jaw hit the floor. I couldn't believe that any of those people ever lived that kind of life by looking at them now, or why they would share such deeply personal things in a room full of strangers. But the more meetings I attended and the more stories I heard, the more I began to understand. In the past, I'd always been told that vulnerability made you weak, and that it gave people ammo to use against you in your darkest moments. But the fellowship of AA completely shattered that idea for me, among so many others. With each tear I shed and with every story I shared, I got stronger; and before too long, I was contributing to that hope and unconditional love I'd been shown the first day I walked into those rooms. The beauty of the program is so hard to make someone understand if they've never been there, but the best way I can describe it is this; there's nowhere else on Earth, or maybe even in another galaxy, where you can walk in and already feel like you belong. I'd found everything I'd been looking for from the first meeting I attended, even though I had no idea it was going to happen. I was never going to find it in the bottom of a bottle. After 25 years of searching in all the wrong places, I was finally home. These people weren't strangers at all. They were family.

      What it is like now?

      I have been sober for six hundred and eighteen days. During this time as a sober individual, I have made it through deaths, letdowns, breakups, financial hardships, and life on life’s terms without taking a single drink or drug. I have my first salary job, and I’m no longer struggling for money. I am respected in my workplace, and recognized for my hard work. I moved out of my small hometown and into a beautiful apartment in Nashville, Tennessee, where we have a room for guests and a safe place for loved ones who might be struggling with their own demons. I've lost some friends, but gained better ones. I am driving my dream car. People trust me. I'm a productive member of society. I don't have to manipulate people to get the things I want. I don't have to lie, or keep up with all of the lies I've told. I try to do everything with love. I've built relationships with more depth and weight than I’ve ever experienced, and repaired some old ones, too. I have an amazing girlfriend who gets the best version of me that I’ve ever been, and patiently teaches me the ways I still need to grow. I’ve seen my sister get sober and find her way to a power greater than herself. I’ve seen prayers answered that I’d long given up on, and I'm still waiting for some others to come to fruition. So many miracles continue to happen in my life that I've graduated to writing them down in a journal so I can't forget any of them. I’ve lived to tell my stories, over and over, and I’m still writing new ones. I have the life I never thought I’d have, and seeing things happen that I never thought I would. If I would have kept drinking or decided to end my life, I wouldn’t be recognizing those things today, or even be present to enjoy them. I continue to carry the message to the best of my ability, in any way that I can, and reassure people that there is hope. But I'm still not normal, nor am I perfect. I never will be. I still have some resentments, I still have some anger, and I still work a program. I still go to meetings. I'm still learning how to process emotions, and how to act on them. I'm still digging myself out of a financial hole from active addiction. I still have debts to pay and apologies to make. I will be in recovery for the rest of my life, but the very moment I get stagnant or comfortable, I come dangerously close to having another drink. Healing is not linear. Growing pains are real. Today, the sad girl who drank all the time is gone, and most of the time, I can't bring myself to say that I ever knew her. But every day, we are either healing or getting sicker; there is no in between. So just for today, I choose healing. Today, I choose hope, love, and happiness. Today, I choose sobriety, and the rollercoaster of emotions that come with it. Today, I choose my program, and all of the reasons why it saved my life. The best part about it is that I'm not alone, because we are everywhere. In the year of 2010, a reported TWO MILLION people claimed membership in Alcoholics Anonymous in the US, Canada, and other countries around the world. We have only grown since then, and have even branched out to create other fellowships, such as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Over-eaters Anonymous, and Sex & Love Anonymous, just to name a few. We are a strong and silent army bringing light to the darkness and hope to the hopeless. Some of us are famous actors and musicians. Some of us are authors. Some of us are stay-at-home moms or dads. Some of us are CEO's and cashiers. But no matter what we do, we are the lucky ones. We are in every country and in almost every city. Just for today, we aren't drunk, and we are working to become better people tomorrow. One day at a time, as long as we stay sober, our triumphs, trials, and tribulations are helping someone else stay sober, too. We couldn't ask for more, yet we still get it. We are endlessly blessed. Life is beautiful, and even our hardest days in sobriety are better than our best days drunk. All of the cliches are true. We DO break the cycles in our families and in our lives. We DO recover. Nobody is ever too far gone. Not even you.

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