Teen Interviewer: Lily
Teen Writer: Katelyn
Time of Interview: 2021
Alcohol addiction recovery is a long and arduous process, filled with both victories and setbacks. To outsiders, it might seem like just drinking too much, but there’s a fine line between too much drinking and addiction that causes significant harm. Relieving stress, coping with loss, general anxiety and trauma could all be potential reasons that lead to alcohol abuse. Individuals that recognize their addiction and fight to stay sober go through lengthy battles whether others see it or not.
I sat down with David (a pseudonym for privacy reasons) on a sunny day with clear skies. He was wearing a tank top, giving an overall athletic look. David has been in China for more than a decade; he came after graduating from high school. He had his first sip of alcohol at the young age of nine years old, and began to drink more in middle school. The dependence on alcohol to function well socially kept pushing him to pick up more drinks.
“The first time I got drunk I was 9 years old. When I was around 11, I started to hang out with friends older than me, so I drinking became a habit,” David tells me.“I’m an introvert, and social events have never been my strength. Alcohol served as a social lubricant, and I was able to dance, talk to people, make new friends. Sometimes I was even funny! Alcohol changed everything. It gave me the courage to do things I would have never dared.
In reality, however, alcoholism only brought problems.
“My family life created a lot of trauma. Drinking went from a social lubricant to a sort of medicine to cure my soul. I was always looking for peace in the bottles; it was a beautiful and simple way to release my emotional pain. And guess what, it worked! But, just for a while. It came the point that my best companionship became my biggest enemy, bringing a lot of chaos into my life.
“I would get into fights and do other crazy things that put my life at risk. It started to become a nightmare. It brought a lot of loneliness, depression, basically a lot of suffering.
“I started to lose a lot of opportunities. I was really good at a sport called racquetball (similar to squash). I was a national champion. But due to my drinking, my performance started to decline. The last time I played racquetball, they kicked me out of the competition because I was playing under the influence of alcohol. They banned me for a year, and I never played again.
”David’s alcoholism later caught the attention of his family. Family relationships were strained as a result.“
A good friend of mine, unfortunately, got into an accident while drinking. His earlier departure from this world freaked me and my family out. We knew I was drinking the same way as him. They feared that if I didn’t stop drinking, I would most probably die. My father gave me two options: go to the army or go to rehab. On January 7, 2005, I went to rehab for the first time."
After four months of rehab, what was life like for David?
“I really wanted to try a life without alcohol. I tried and it was wonderful. I was able to have relationships again with my family. After getting expelled from two schools and being threatened, I was able to finish my high school. I then ended up in China with an opportunity to study in Beijing.”
The successful sobriety is owed, in large part, to the support from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). “The 12th step program I took part in the past allowed me to change my life, enjoy sobriety, and live a life where serving others became a fundamental part of my life.”
However, staying away from alcohol entirely while living in China proved to be difficult. “My family was facing a really big challenge back home. Everything that I considered important at that moment was threatened. Things like the name of the family, our social status, respectability and assets were at risk. So the idea of drinking again, to release the fear of losing everything, became stronger and stronger. One day a good friend of mine was about to leave China. He told me that we had been good friends for four to five years, and on that night, we should have a drink together.“
The disease of alcoholism has two components. The mind convinces you that you are safe to drink. Meanwhile, when alcohol is in the body of an alcoholic, the body creates a craving for more and more. We alcoholics can’t digest alcohol in the same way as non-alcoholics do.
“When I started drinking again (in Beijing), I just wanted to die. I was shaking, sweating, and hallucinating. I was very paranoid. I thought that people were eavesdropping on me. I was checking microphones and cameras around my house.”
What convinced David to quit drinking once again?
The ending of a relationship as a result of his alcoholism. Eventually, David sought support once again from AA in Beijing.
“I was in a meeting on March 10, 2014. I felt defeated. I was emotionally, mentally, and financially bankrupt. I understood that I couldn't make it on my own.”
David then talked about how many people lacked an understanding of the condition of alcoholism.“
Denial plays a key role in alcoholism. I really thought my way of drinking was normal, and I lived in a delusion that almost cost my life. At the same time, there was a big stigma and ignorance from my part about substance abuse. I thought alcoholics were those living under a bridge and those who had lost everything in life, etc. This ignorance and prejudice made it even more difficult for me to accept and be aware of my issue.
“When I was used to drink, I thought a sober life would be extremely boring! I can tell you now that I wouldn't change my worst day in sobriety, for my happiest day while drinking. The biggest change is that now, instead of finding a chemical solution to my problems, I found in this moment joy, happiness, but most importantly, suffering as I now understand suffering is a part of my human experience, and that trying to avoid my pain through alcohol is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.”
David’s case teaches us that when it comes to alcoholism, there is no shame in admitting we have a problem. In fact, accepting our problem is a key step on the path to sobriety. Help is always available for alcoholics.
We believe in empowering teens by giving them a chance to be teen interviewers. Participants interview an adult who has dealt with mental health issues in the past and is willing to talk to our teens about it.
Today's story is about recovering from alcoholism. Lily, who shared her story on moving to the States at the age of 13, interviewed David over the summer of 2021. We'd like to thank David who was willing to talk about his experiences of recovering from alcoholism and to help our teens and the broader community to understand alcohol addiction.
Katelyn, our teen writer, who published four chapters on her mental health journey since her move to Canada at the age of 14, wrote this story.
In this process, we always engage a media professional who volunteers their time to support our teens. This person gives advice to the teens regarding how to deal with sensitive topics and how to structure their articles and editing. We'd like to thank Alistair, digital editor at ThatsBeijing, for supporting both Lily and Katelyn for the past few months step by step.