I started drinking at the ripe age of fourteen. By the time I was sixteen, I had smoked weed, cigarettes and tried psychedelic drugs. A rebel lived inside of me with an affinity for being a daredevil, although you’d never know it from the outside.
I always felt like I was different than everyone else. There was just something in me that felt like I was an outsider no matter where I went.
I had a hard time fitting in most places, but I remained kind and bright-eyed towards everyone. I was never part of the ‘cool girls’ click in high school, and I didn’t make the cheerleading team, yet another traumatic incident to file away into the abyss. I wasn’t the cutest girl or the most popular, and I was mostly socially awkward for the longest time.
Being an only child can make you learn to have a strong internal dialogue, which is something I still battle to this day. Growing up, I was always extremely shy. I never raised my hand in class and turned bright red if I had to speak in front of people. I would have my parents order my food for me at restaurants, and I slept with a light on for the much longer than I’d like to admit.
I moved from Dallas to Naples, Florida in the middle of my freshman year of high school. High school quickly became a time of radical self-discovery and experimentation.
Naples was a small, underdeveloped town where there wasn’t much to do. We would often find ourselves in the middle of the woods tossing back cans of Natty Light and smoking weed before the cops busted us.
The summer I was heading into college, I found Molly and raved every weekend. When I got to college, ecstasy had lost its luster, and I went back to binge drinking and smoking a lot of weed.
Most of my college career was laced with constant partying and blackout debauchery. I didn’t try cocaine until my senior year. My mother had me convinced from a young age that, “it can kill you the first time,” but my curiosity was peaked over spring break when someone in our group brought it out. They looked like they were having a hell of a time, so I tried a tiny bump with my mom’s voice in the back of my head keeping me in check.
Shortly after, I tried a little more and then more another time. And so it began: my sorted love affair with cocaine.
The white lady had me at hello; I was hooked. She took my mind places I thought I couldn’t go without her. She gave me the energy I didn’t think I had without her. She provided the delusion of connection that I didn’t realize I was so desperately seeking all this time with others and myself.
Cocaine made me a “cool girl,” or so it tricked into thinking. It brought me out of my shy, little shell. Cocaine put me in with the popular party crowd - the who’s who of town. Instantly, I joined a secret society of night owls and conversationalists who “understood me.”
All of a sudden, that little girl inside of me was no longer alone, uncool or afraid to talk. She became fearless. She was a leader in the coke society all of a sudden. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t try or do. These highs were the thrills she’d been searching for to bring her to life.
Party Carly was the life of the party. She could talk anyone into anything. She was known for being the last man standing and the commando of the sunrise wars. She could throw down vodka with the best of them and would drink most grown men under the table, thanks to her artificial cocaine super powers.
I didn’t turn to drugs because of anything bad that happened, necessarily. Although, now I realize that some traumas played a role in this undertaking. However, for the most part, I was just a shy girl looking for more out of life; to feel more connected.
I thought I had found my answer with each sniff up my nose. It seemed like I was invincible, unstoppable, and my party trophies were piling up along with my raging weekend warrior stories.
I let it make me selfish, stuck up and untouchable as I moved into a high-functioning addict and alcoholic way of life. I went to work. I paid my bills. I went to the gym. I had money in the bank. I never had a DUI or got in trouble. I had relationships. I had friends. I was fine…
Or so I thought I was until my drinking and cocaine use became something I could no longer control.
I knew no such thing as moderation. Happy hour always turned into sunrise and sunrise turned into pool parties, and pool parties turned into escapades on the town in a pretty vicious circle. Before I knew it, five years had gone by in this lifestyle of the party circuit.
It began to rule my thoughts and took reign over my life. I couldn’t go out without cocaine. I lied to others about having it so I wouldn’t have to share with them. I was taking bumps to start my day or clean my house and then taking naps in the shower or at work in an attempt to bandage my sleep deprivation.
It all began to take a toll on me emotionally and physically. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I was having panic attacks on the regular.
On the outside, it looked like I was holding it down with my epic adventures and prideful tolerance levels.
However, on the inside, my “fun” had suddenly turned into a necessity. My necessity turned into anxiety. My anxiety turned into shame. My shame turned into desperation: Desperation for change.
On August 17, 2008, I reached my breaking point. My rock bottom had finally arrived and my dark night of the soul had come for me that day.
After another all too familiar all-nighter, I found myself on the floor of my bedroom, hallucinating, panicking, and bawling with what I now know to be a case of delirium tremens.
I was exhausted and ashamed.
Alone and depressed.
Prideful and scared.
That day I finally admitted I had a problem and I knew that I needed help. I took this declaration to my knees with me in a prayer to a God I had never actually prayed to before.
As I pleaded for help and for my life to be changed; for a miracle, I felt a calmness come over me. From that day forward, the chains of addiction were broken. I never drank or did cocaine again. In that moment, a miracle in its infancy was born.
I never got arrested. I never went to jail. I didn’t even go to rehab. I was one of the lucky ones who found the light before it got to that point - miraculously so.
I didn’t go the typical 12-steps route. Instead, my meetings were Sunday church services and hardcore gym sessions. I didn’t want to replace my vices for meetings and I sure as hell didn’t want to have to report to a sponsor. At the time, I told myself I wasn’t like “them.” In hindsight, I believe it was the little girl in me who was scared shitless of doing the work.
Over time, I did my own step-work, and I worked with a therapist. I’ve attended retreats, workshops had coaches and have bookshelves full of self-help, personal development, and spiritual healing literature to which I’ve logged countless hours.
I've found such peace and joy in the sober life. The beauty of recovery is finding YOU.
You finally get to see the world without the crutches of substances. You get to step into who you are. You get to peel back layer upon layer of yourself as you get under the hood of what makes you tick. You become so much more of YOU, and I’ve learned there is no greater gift than developing into the highest version of yourself.
That is the gift of sobriety: the raw, uncut, and unedited you. Not just the emergence of this person, but a deep connection and unconditional love for yourself - flaws and all.
I don't have to hide anymore. I'm out of the protective program my ego made me a slave to. I no longer have to run from pain, but instead, I have learned how to embrace it with open arms. I no longer have to chase the empty highs of drugs because I'm no longer empty.
Accepting that you are not normal isn't an easy feat. It's not an easy path. I won't bullshit you and tell you it's unicorns and rainbows because life does get tough. And sometimes you want to reach for that old, easy fix. But you realize along the way that you were built to manage life on your own without the need for escaping reality.
We are hardwired for adversity. It's part of the human experience. And I don't know about you, but I would much rather learn how to feel and deal with my emotions than to let them rule over me by causing me to rely on something external to put temporary Band-Aids on my internal sensations.
If that’s what ‘normal’ means, I don't want to be normal. I want to be extraordinary. Sobriety offers that path, to me at least. So I say, you can keep your normal. I'm happy breaking the stigma, being an example and showing others and myself that I can do this whole life thing, sans the substances.
As I started to have these revelations, I began to write about what I was learning because the vulnerability of sharing my heart was therapeutic for me. I came into writing a few years into my sobriety, which lead me to start a website to help others and become a Certified Sobriety Master Coach.
You can find these works of inspirational concepts for enlightenment, sobriety, faith and having a miracle mindset on www.MiraclesAreBrewing.com. It’s also branched off into an amazing community on Facebook and other social outlets.
I’m on a quest to spread the message that sober does not equal boring by any means.
Sobriety is a beautiful thing. It just works for me. I’m able to live a life of adventure and fun above the influence, which allows me to have my very own positive impact.
Clarity is my new high. I found my freedom by being authentically me. I no longer need Party Carly to be the real Carly. And I’ve discovered that she’s, even more, epic than I thought. I’m no longer a motivational partier. I’m a motivational writer, coach, speaker, and yoga instructor. Sobriety has fulfilled me in ways that alcohol and cocaine never could on their best day.
I will not be ashamed of my addiction. It made me who I am today. I will not be quiet about my addiction either, as I’ve found my story resonates with so many. I will not dull my light when we desperately need more people shining brightly in a world full of such darkness.
Maybe my story doesn’t seem as dramatic or as far blown as others, but there are so many people out there who think just because they aren’t a full-blown “junkie” or raging alcoholic that they don’t have a problem. That was my mentality, and I allowed it to justify my unhealthy, destructive behavior for far too long.
It doesn’t matter how you wear your addiction; it feels the same on the inside to everyone.
My story and recovery have become my most treasured and sacred gifts. It’s given me the voice that I always longed for. I’m certain that it was given to me for a reason.
Therefore, I stand proud when I say: I Am Not Anonymous. I am Carly Benson. I have recovered. And you can too.
I believe in miracles, and I believe in you.