I was eighteen years old when I sat on the floor of my parent's family room, curled into a ball and sobbing that I could not stop drinking. My mother stared at me with the face of a woman who had tried everything within her means to fix me and simply said, "How can you be an alcoholic if you're not even 21 yet?" My parents, who had no experience with the disease of addiction, googled my first AA meeting for me. And when I set foot in that meeting, I expected everyone else in AA to ask me the same question. Turns out, they welcomed me with open arms, a big book and a phone list.

I got sober in college, juggling meetings, stepwork, and service commitments with classes, group projects, research labs and a job. Every day my sponsor would remind me that I was writing a sober history, that these memories would replace the drinking stories that I insisted on telling. I got sober in an area with a limited YPAA presence and was often intimidated by the sober young people who were confident, funny and full of life. When I returned home from college with about 9 months of sobriety, I met a few girls who invited me to join them at ICYPAA in Times Square.

For so long in sobriety, I heard people talk about the happiest moment of their life and I felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness. I had moments of joy, but never this incredible sense of happiness that I heard others speak of. But during the sobriety countdown in the Marriott Marquis, I had a moment that I carry in my heart to this day. A moment of pure joy as I stood on my chair, dancing for my nine months of sobriety, knowing that every single one of us in the room had one thing in common. If nothing else, we shared this one thing: our alcoholism. Before that night, I had never danced sober. When we got to the Saturday night dance and could feel the floor shaking, a girl leaned over and whispered "If this floor is going to collapse from dancing, we might as well be dancing too." Those tragedies of early sobriety, like my fear that I looked dumb in the outfit I wore, turned out to be irrelevant. Nobody remembered what I wore! But they remembered that I danced at the drum circle until I threw up (gross, sorry). We remember giving strangers from Ohio a tour of Times Square, or people-watching out of our hotel window. We remember laughing. We remember healing.

More than anything, I found hope. I learned that people got sober much younger than me and lead happy, joyous, purposeful lives. I became a conference junkie, traveling with a growing group of young people from New Jersey. I became active on the Garden State Young People's committee, eager to carry that moment of joy that I experienced to another young person. I discovered that if I don't sleep at a YPAA conference, I'll probably have a meltdown 12 hours in. I learned how to snowboard at pre-conference events or went hiking in the woods with new friends. I turned 21 surrounded by dozens of friends in AA, and most of us never had a legal drink.

And at two and a half years sober, life happened. In the midst of my gifts of sobriety, I took on a new adventure. Full of the hope and excitement that sobriety gives us, I took on an adventure across the world, away from my network but virtually plugged in. 3,000 miles from home, prepared to take on the anything, life hit me. I was assaulted by a person I trusted and immediately returned to the darkness that for so long I had tried to escape through alcohol. I traveled with the speaker tapes from ICYPAA in San Francisco, which I loaded onto my iPod a month before. The stories of the promises coming true that had brought me hope just days before suddenly sounded like a lie. I genuinely believed that no person could understand the pain I was living. For a long time, the only thing that prevented me from picking up a drink was the fear of having to get sober all over again. But AA saved me.

After going through the motions, refusing to tell even a sponsor about the trauma, I went on a retreat to the Wilson House with a group of young people. Our retreat leader, a friend who got sober at 16 and was celebrating 30 years of sobriety, asked me if I was ready to step out of the darkness. I sat with people I loved and heard them talk about staying sober through personal tragedy and finally recognized that this is what sobriety is about. It's about staying sober through our darkest moments, asking for help and being humble enough to listen. I was so convinced that I needed an A+ on my AA report card that I couldn't bear the thought of telling you how I angry I was with God. I discovered that so many others have hit a bottom in sobriety, and that I don't need to keep looking for a trap door. I had to be reminded that those three ingredients necessary to get me sober (Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness) were just as critical at three years as they were at day one. And as I began to heal, I began to reconnect with my fellows. I began to feel usefully whole. I came to believe that the power I praise every day has given me a purpose. I learned that I don't drink, even when I think I've been swallowed by the storm. I learned that together, we heal. Young people in AA taught me this, and with my fellow YPAAs I now have dozens of those "happiest moments."

In love and service,
Alyssa F. - Atlantic City, NJ

Oh and P.S., I married a cute guy I met at NECYPAA, so I have y'all to thank for that too!