Business_news I was an alcoholic at 26 years old. Here’s how I successfully learned to replace the role that drinking played in my life.

Business_news

Melissa Petro.

Melissa Petro


  • Melissa Petro is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two children in New York City.
  • In her mid-20s, Petro says she struggled with an alcohol addiction. She would drink recklessly and way too much, often racking up a hundred-dollar bar tab in one night.
  • When her drinking began to impact her relationships and schoolwork, Petro knew it was time for a change. She signed herself into outpatient rehab and joined a 12-step program.
  • Over time, Petro found that she could still make friends and have fun socializing without alcohol — it was challenging at first, but she realized the relationships she was forming while sober were more genuine, and long-lasting.
  • Visit business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

There was a time in my life that nothing could have kept me away from the bar. In spite of the risks to my health, as well as the harm my drinking posed to my community, I spent a good part of my mid-20s getting drunk in bars.

My drinking had started clandestinely in high school and continued into college, but it wasn’t until grad school that I became your typical bar fly. I wasthatgirl — we all know the one. Before, after and sometimes in lieu of class, you’d find me wherever booze flowed, toddling around in dangerously high heels, skirt hiked up my thighs.

I was 26 years old, engaged to a man I’d started dating in high school, and pursuing an expensive degree in creative writing. And yet instead of planning the wedding or working on my book, I spent all my free time at the bar behind a sweating vodka and seltzer, hitting on other people’s husbands and interrogating the bartender over the strength of my drink. 

Business_newsInitially, I had fun. But I was reckless when I drank — and my behavior was harmful.

The night of drinking would start respectably enough, but casual getting-to-know-you moments and conversations about schoolwork would devolve as it wore on. Like many people, I used alcohol as a social lubricant, filling awkward pauses with sips. A drink or two and I’d relax. Three drinks in, I’d lose all inhibitions. I call it ‘trauma bonding’ aka “Let me tell you the worst thing that’s ever happened to me! Now, it’s your turn…” — it’s typical of people when they’re drinking. Drunken oversharing may feel like a shortcut to intimacy, but you’re likely to forget half of what was said, so you’re not really building any kind of long-lasting friendship, and it seriously alienates anyone with a healthier sense of self. 

The next day, I’d wake up — alone, if I was lucky — my head pounding, heart racing as memories of the night before flashed back to mind. Assuming I hadn’t lost it, I’d look down at my phone to find dozens of worried texts and missed calls. At some point I’d call the bar looking for my bank card and discover I’d racked up a hundred dollar tab. 

Business_newsAlcoholism is progressive — but help is available.

After months of this, I had just enough sense to call off the wedding. By then, I had alienated myself from most of my classmates and had taken to drinking with strangers I met online. My final semester, I found myself in peril of not graduating. I knew it was time to clean up my act.  

In March of 2017, I signed myself into outpatient rehab. And I dragged myself into a 12-step meeting that had been recommended months earlier by a sober friend. Prior to this, when I thought AA, I imagined old men in trench coats, sitting in a church basement underneath a cloud of cigarette smoke. My first meeting was in a synagogue, rather than a church, and when the elevator door opened onto the top floor, I was shocked to find a room full of young women much like myself — attractive, funny, successful, and seriously alcoholic.  

For the first 15 or so minutes, one woman shared her whole harrowing story. Then, hands flew up, and people took turns. As I listened to their stories, I could relate to the unmanageability drinking had caused in their lives — over the years, I too had lost jobs, destroyed friendships, and endangered my health. Even more than the details, I could relate to the feelings. When I thought of my drunken conduct, I felt frightened, confused, embarrassed and ashamed. 

Business_newsI was lonely. I had to learn to make authentic connections — sober.

Petro says that sober socializing was challenging at first, but it has allowed her to form genuine friendships.

Melissa Petro


Once sober, I admitted to myself that I’d been unhappy and lonely in my romantic relationship. I’d wanted more, but I didn’t want to leave my fiancé because I was afraid of being alone. I wanted friends, too, but I didn’t know how to make or keep them. 

A big part of recovery was getting over my insecurities, and learning to trust others. Initially, I found the connection I was desperate for in those 12-step meetings and, more specifically, among groups of women.

After meetings, we’d socialize sans booze at the local diner. I didn’t have much in common with some of these women besides our alcoholism — and it felt somewhat tedious, allowing relationships to develop at their own pace — but “fellowship” (as it’s called) gave me something to do instead of drinking, and slowly a handful of these people became true friends. 

Business_newsRelationships can be a lot of hard work — especially in the era of social distancing.

In the 13-plus years since drinking, I’ve learned that authentic relationships require an investment. Sure, it’s awkward in the beginning. I still fear rejection. It takes time to discover commonalities, and patience to overlook where you might not connect. It’s not always convenient to listen to another person’s struggles and when I’m sober, my instinct is to keep my personal business to myself.

And yet, the friendships in my life today that I most value are the ones I check in with most frequently. We can’t get together over a glass of wine, but in non-COVID times, we can meet over coffee. And as long as social distancing is in order, we can text, talk on the phone, Skype, and Zoom. These connections, more than anything else, have become what I value the most.


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Melissa Petro
Alcoholism
Alcohol Abuse
Addiction


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