Content warning: mention of addiction, depression, and suicide
My name is Andy Day and I’m currently a first-year PhD student in molecular microbiology. I enjoy running, playing golf, watching sports, being active, hanging out with friends, reading, sciencing, and I’m also a recovering alcoholic.
Over four months ago, I trapped myself in my room for two consecutive, self-induced long weekends, unable to stop drinking. I was unable to get out of bed to eat or even wash myself.
My alcoholism wasn’t always like that, but here’s a little about how I got there, what surrendering was like, and what it’s like now in early recovery.
I was born into a great, loving family in Duluth, Minnesota. My siblings were much older than me when I was born—ranging from 10 to 17 years older. Pretty much everyone in my immediate family has an advanced degree, and many more in my extended family do as well. While there wasn’t any explicit pressure placed on me from my family, there was always an innate pressure to obtain an advanced degree. This pressure largely shaped how I went about my life from an early age. Throughout high school, I always believed I should obtain straight A’s and always held myself to incredibly high standards. Nothing I did was ever good enough for myself and I believed that any problems I had could, and should be, solved solely by me. This played a large role in how I interacted with people in social settings, and how I approached school. Every move I took, everything I said, every assignment I did, EVERYTHING had to be perfect. Anything short of perfect was failure.
This all changed my senior year of high school when I first tried alcohol. I remember it so vividly, even 8 years after my first drink. I stopped overthinking everything I did or said, I just did what I wanted to do and said what I wanted to say without thinking about how my words and actions would be perceived by others. I thought it was incredible and I had finally found something that could get me out of my head for a bit.
When I went to college, I hit the ground running. I was socializing with everyone in the dorms, my grades were great, and I was also drinking 3 nights a week routinely.
A lot of my socializing was done under the influence of some substance and I thought this was what people did and how I was supposed to act.
I thought it was great and I completely embraced the work-hard-play-hard mentality that I had adopted. Throughout college my drinking progressed from 3 nights a week to nearly every night. I started doing homework, essays and studying for exams while drinking and really didn’t think twice about it. This was just how I was living and couldn’t see how this was wrong as I was blinded by my alcohol-ridden insanity.
There were many nights in college that I drank far too much when I was out with friends and a few events that showed others how my drinking was evolving. My behavior was exposing that I had a problem. So, after these nights, I made a decision to begin a double life: one that let me drink all I wanted to, seemingly without consequence, in solitude, and one that portrayed a career-driven, motivated, social drinker.
I graduated and took a job as a research tech and this is when the wheels really started to fall off mentally. I started to drink routinely every night in a single apartment. I wanted to be alone because it let me drink how I wanted to drink—as much as I wanted (which was everything) without having to hide from anyone in my apartment, while at the same time hiding from the rest of the world.
Through this year and a half, as a tech, pretty much all I did was go to work and then get home and drink myself into oblivion. Lather, rinse, and repeat. This isolation and constant self-medication drove me into a serious depression, peaking at night, and then converting to crippling anxiety during the day. I started to pray that god would kill me in my sleep every night and I started to think about how I would kill myself. I became closer and closer to following through with these thoughts until I decided to reach out to an addiction therapist.
He gave me some suggestions on what I needed to do and basically told me, straight up, that I was an alcoholic. I didn’t like this very much and I took none of his advice. I thought that I could do this sobriety thing all by myself, which didn’t work out very well as this only lasted about a month and I went right back to where I left off drinking every night.
Fast forward another few months, after I had completed interviews, gotten accepted to a couple different schools, and I accepted a position with the school I’m currently at. I thought a geographical cure would be just what I needed to solve all my problems and for a while, I was a lot happier completing a few of the long-term goals I had had since college.
The happiness obtained from achieving my goals only lasted for a transient moment, and I started to drink more and more, again until I couldn’t stop.
My roommates were concerned that I had a “GI bug” again for the second time in two weeks, and then enough was enough. I was tired of being trapped in my room, trapped in my alcohol-ridden depression, and constantly lying to maintain my double life. They asked if I was alright, and I responded, “I am not alright, I’m an alcoholic and I need to go to rehab.”
In the following days, I set up plans to go to detox and rehab. I told a few of the professors in the department what I was going through and what my plans were now and was surprised, and so thankful, that my call for help was welcomed with open-arms and concern.
Over the next couple months, I learned a lot more about myself. I learned about a lot of the problems I have that I tried to treat with substances.
Alcohol was and is a large problem of mine, it always will be, but the underlying problems with social and general anxiety, depression, fears of failure, judgment from my peers, and insecurities were largely what made alcohol so alluring and a perceived solution throughout my life. I met incredible people in rehab who taught me how to live because the way I was living clearly wasn’t working for me.
Today, I’m 131 days sober, I’m back in school, and I feel pretty damn good. I’m still in very early recovery, night-time outpatient therapy, and living in a sober house with other college and graduate students, but I feel like my priorities in life have shifted. For a very long time, I had a win-at-all-costs mentality because science was really all I thought I had. I tried to hide behind a wall of external successes to portray that my life was great, and I was fine. Clearly, I was not alright. Now I realize that I have much more to offer than being a driven scientist and it is not the most important thing in my life anymore. The most important thing in my life now is me and my sobriety because without it and without my own health, I have nothing. I have much deeper connections with family and friends now and don’t have to constantly work at maintaining my double life.
Throughout addiction, I would treat my stress with alcohol and now I’ve found other ways to cope with my stressors, like talking to people, meditation, and exercise. I started taking a daily medication for anxiety and depression and I am still working to flip-the-script on how I acted during active addiction, as my incredible sponsor says.
One of the biggest challenges for me still is expressing my feelings and letting people in on my struggles. I lived pretty much my whole life not telling anyone anything, as I thought saying anything other than “I’m doing great” was a sign of weakness. I learned that this couldn’t be further from the truth and I need to express my feelings to the people I can confide in.
Letting people in just strengthens the connection I have with the people I care about in my life and lets them know it’s alright to not be alright.
It’s incredibly important for my sobriety to let people in on my story so thank you for even reading any, or part of, or all of this weighty post. I still have many problems, but my problems seem much smaller than they did four months ago, and my life is much more enjoyable and more simple today.
I strongly encourage anyone struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues to reach out for help or advice because the world is a much more beautiful place when you’re not a prisoner of your own mind and a bottle. Reaching out and letting people in has been one of the hardest, most rewarding, and best decisions of my life. The sun doesn’t always shine, but if you look hard enough you can always find a beam of light even on the gloomiest days.I
If you are struggling and need someone to talk to or have questions please reach out to someone or me on Instagram or email me at Andrew.Day@tufts.edu.
Thank you to Andrew Day (on Instagram @aday818_ )
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