“Letters to My Younger Self” is a series focused on wisdom and self-awareness. Just as you write letters to a friend to encourage and uplift them, here is the advice we would go back and tell our younger selves.
Dear 19-year-old me,
I know that you will probably laugh and roll your eyes when you get this letter. After all, you’re invincible—you’re at the peak of your physical prowess or so you believe.
You won’t be able to take back every mistake. If you knew what I do now, then you’d put that bottle down. You’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.
If you knew what I do now, then you’d put that bottle down.
You took to drinking because you thought it would help you make new friends to support you through your college experience. You dreamed of making tons of friends in college. When you did, you felt ecstatic. You went along blindly with every suggestion, desperate to satisfy your need to feel accepted.
Your social anxiety makes drinking look like the only option for making friends. It’s so much easier to be the fun, charismatic person you are after having a few drinks, right? After all, what does it matter if you get wasted on a Friday or Saturday night, as long as you make your classes during the week?
What you don’t know is that alcohol is a depressant that impacts your mood even when you’re not knee-deep in the bottle. Alcohol enhances the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA, which produces feelings of calmness and sedation when you drink. However, when you stop, the rebound effect will cause significant anxiety.
This emotion then creates a vicious spiral. When you feel tense, you will crave alcohol even more. The more you drink, the more your stress levels skyrocket when you stop.
The more you drink, the more your stress levels skyrocket when you stop.
As you build out your social life, you will begin to crave alcohol as a crutch. Parties once every Saturday will turn into parties every Friday and Saturday, football and brewski Sundays, happy hours every Thursday, wine nights with the girls every Wednesday and soon, a self-made excuse to drink almost every night of the week.
I know you might not be able to see it now, but this lifestyle will eventually lead you down a path of alcoholism and an eventual need for therapy and rehab. You’ll also develop a chronic stomach condition as a result of your drinking that you’ll struggle with for years. You’ll spend literally thousands of dollars trying to pull your life back together during a time when your life is supposed to just be getting started.
It will take going through this for you to see how excess alcohol damages your health. I’m not advocating for never enjoying a glass of wine or a happy hour visit with friends. However, exercising moderation and learning how to control your social anxiety in healthier ways will save you so much time, energy and money.
Exercising moderation and learning how to control your social anxiety in healthier ways will save you so much time, energy and money.
Substance use is the most serious public health issue for young people in the United States. The consequences of this extend far beyond young people like yourself. It affects families and surrounding communities, too. Every day in America, 29 people die from alcohol-related car crashes. That’s one death every 50 minutes. You could have added to that statistic.
Give thanks—you’re one of the lucky ones, considering those numbers. You will learn valuable lessons along the way. You may not have fun picking up the pieces, but this process to recovery will help give you necessary perspective about your habits. It will enable you to see that there are other ways to socialize besides getting smashed!
You will make some of your best friends after you quit the drinking life and throw all your energy into bettering yourself. You will also discover a love of writing that will burgeon into a lucrative side hustle—something you might not have had if you kept hitting the bottle every night.
You are lucky. You’ll never know how fortunate you are. One day, you will even be able to have a drink every now and again. However, between me and you, if I could do it all over, I would refrain from picking the bottle up in the first place.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
Image via Brian Tropiano, Darling Issue No. 16