If I had to pinpoint the worst day of my life, it would August 8, 2012. It was a sequence of events that can only compare to a horror movie or a Lifetime special.
I was 20 and had only started drinking alcohol two years prior, after I graduated from high school.
From ages 19 to 20, I would experience the typical "firsts" of drinking: throwing up, drunk texting and calling people at 2 am like I was a phone operator.
I'd embarrass myself and fall, and everyone would say, "I remember my first beer." While many of them spent high school learning their limits, I never drank a sip of alcohol.
In high school, there wasn’t a thing about drinking that appealed to me.
Coming from an Irish family, I heard tales of alcoholism and the effect it had on families as ancestors continued the tradition. And I knew any chance of playing college volleyball wouldn't be found Friday nights at a party.
I hated the taste. I saw the way it affected my siblings and my parents, as drinking was always a major aspect of our lives. I just failed to understand its appeal.
But most of all, I hated the idea of something controlling me.
My best friend and I shared these same views and the same goals for the future. He understood how upset drinking made me. We both went away to college and played volleyball, and we remained just as close, despite the miles that separated us.
During my sophomore year, my nights of drinking went from slightly buzzed to blacking out. I transferred to a new school, and I was struggling to adjust. I found myself trying to maintain this reputation of a picture-perfect child.
I maintained good grades to stay on the Dean’s List, but it still wasn’t close to the almost 4.0 I had my freshman year. I did more community service than most would dream of in a lifetime.
I didn't realize the damage this high stress was causing. Eventually, my social anxiety was eased with the help of beer.
Drinking allowed me to not care, at least for a night, about the person I tried so hard to be during the day. Part of me liked not worrying about my reputation.
But every Sunday, I’d wake sober with regret and remorse for the person I was at that party I didn’t remember. I’d call my friend crying.
"Kir," he said sympathetically, "I worried about you. I'm worried this is going to lead you down a life you aren't proud of. You know first-hand how alcohol can affect lives."
And like everyone does, I promised I wouldn't drink like that anymore.
Then one day, during a visit to my friend's college, I found myself in a familiar room with no memory of how I got there.
He walked in with water and asked how I was.
I apologized for falling asleep before making it out, and he looked at me with utter sadness.
"Kir, we were there for three hours. We ran the beer pong table."
I drove five hours home and beat myself up about the night, like I'd done time and time again. I apologized, and he accepted it.
But, the trend continued into the summer. On the final weekend before I'd go back for preseason for volleyball, I was invited to a party by my sister and her friends.
I remember being nervous about partying in a house full of people I didn't know. My sister pulled three bottles of vodka out of her purse, and she handed me one.
"This is yours,” she said.
I only remember snippets from the party. Sip after sip, I made phone calls, took pictures and fell on the stairs. I don't know how much I drank, but it was enough to get over my fear of taking to people and my social anxiety.
But, I also drank to the point where I couldn't even talk.
Then, someone yelled, "Cops!" I looked at the girls I came with, and I followed behind them as they ran. I was last running through the woods, and then I tripped.
No one saw me fall, as the darkness consumed us all, and they kept going.
I fell down about a 15-foot drop, hitting twigs and branches as I tumbled. I scraped my legs and ripped my clothes. And, at the bottom, I hit my head on a log that knocked me in and out of consciousness for the next two hours.
Somehow, I still had my phone and could call one of my friends. I was able to convey in a slur of words that I fell; I saw a fence, and I heard cars. I'd walk to the group of people nearby.
But in every attempt to get up, I'd just fall again. It was steep, and I couldn't get out.
I remember waking up with my face in a mud puddle and pacing back in forth in the dark woods, screaming and crying, "Mommy!"
Little did I know, there were cops everywhere trying to find me. They had tracked my phone, but they could only tell I was in the woods close to water. My friends and family were searching for me.
I got up again, only to fall and notice all the blood covering my legs.
I mustered the strength to walk to the other side of the woods barefoot. I lost my phone and my ID.
I climbed out and walked along the street, crying. In my mind, I thought I was walking toward my friend’s house, but I was actually going the wrong way.
It was about 3 in the morning. As I continued to walk, I noticed a sign for the next town over, so I knew to turn around.
On a dark road, I saw two cars pass me. In a desperate attempt to get any help, I tried waving them down. The first one drove by, and the second slowed down.
I wept and begged for help. He asked what happened, and I told him I fell and was hurt.
He asked if I was on drugs, and I said no, but I was at a party.
He asked where I needed to go, and I said Freehold. He offered to give me a ride.
Despite the state I was in, I knew how dangerous it was. But, I also knew I needed help.
I remember saying to myself, "At any point you are uncomfortable, get out of the situation."
That same anxiety I had at the party stayed with me in the car. I was hysterically going over everything that happened, explaining how mad my parents were going to be and repeating how I hoped my sister was okay.
I looked at the dashboard and noticed it was a little past 3 am.
He made a phone call to his boss, telling him he'd be late to work today. He had a situation. He told me he delivered newspapers, but I don't remember there being a single one in the car.
And suddenly, I realized where we were and knew it wasn't the way home.
"You aren't going the right way," I insisted.
He tried to calm me down and reassured me we were going a different way.
Then, he touched my leg.
In that moment, I looked at the unlocked doors and contemplated jumping out. Those red flags were flying vigorously inside my head.
I screamed and insisted he pull over. My uncle lived close to where we were, so I had an idea of where I was.
He pulled over.
I didn't know what would have happened to me had I stayed there, but I wasn’t about to find out. I ran toward my uncle’s house, and as he opened the door, I jumped into his arms. I was shaking and sobbing.
"I think she's still in shock," he said to my mom on the phone.
I went to sleep after my cousin put me in the shower, the dirt and blood filling the bathtub.
I changed out of my ripped clothes and went to sleep. I woke up to my mom pulling me out of bed, livid.
"What were you thinking getting in that car?" she asked.
There are few moments in my life when I would use the words, "ashamed of myself," but that’s exactly what I felt.
I felt I had brought shame to my family, and no one expected this from me, of all people. Suddenly, that squeaky clean reputation I had was tainted, and the person my best friend had seen me slowly turn into over the course of two years in college was revealed.
I sat in my room sobbing until there weren’t tears left.
“Please stop crying,” my mom pleaded.
My mother isn't the most affectionate person in the world, and we don't have best relationship. But as I stared at her, I remembered her name was the only one I was screaming for in the woods. She just held me.
I didn't leave my room. I didn't want to leave the house. I was so ashamed of myself.
And I didn't want people to stare at the cuts and bruises on my legs and ask questions.
My nights were filled with night terrors. I woke up sobbing in my parents' bed, as my mom tried to calm me down. All I ever saw when I closed my eyes were the dark woods and those moments in the car.
My first phone call was to my best friend, as his number was the only one I had memorized.
"Ry, it's me," I said, from the house phone. "Something terrible has happened."
After explaining the night to him, he told me he was on the road, and he would call me later.
That was three years ago, and I haven't heard from him since.
There are moments in your life when people see the worst sides of you, and they are given a choice to either judge you based on that moment, or judge you based on all the good you have done up until that moment.
To say my coach, teammates and family saved me from myself would be an understatement.
It turned out I had a pretty severe concussion that would keep me out of volleyball until October, the same week we'd be playing my friend’s team.
I insisted I wouldn't go. I could miss a weekend.
I didn’t want to face him, and I didn’t want to see the disappointment in his eyes.
We sat across the gym from each other, not speaking.
In that single night and every moment leading up to it, I knew I had become the person he didn't want me to be. I became the person he couldn't associate with if he wanted success in his life. As a result of my indiscretions, I lost one of the most important people in my life.
I would love for this story to have ended with, "I stopped drinking, I stopped blacking out, we made up and I became the person I was proud to be."
But, we never spoke again. I still continue to drink, but I stay away from vodka.
And today, I am proud of who I am, despite the mistakes I've made.
We all have a side of ourselves we aren't proud of. For me, that part is the person I turn into when I blackout.
I no can no longer watch crime shows about women disappearing without weeping. I cannot be in the woods at night, even though we live in them. I cannot drink vodka shots without every sip reminding me of the worst night of my life.
It took me two years to even drive on that road again. I went back to those woods the next day to see, in the light, how steep of a fall it was. But, I never went back again.
I count my blessings every day, and when August 8 roles around, I think how that day could have been my memorial.
But most of all, I learned that sometimes, to become the best version of ourselves, we have to lose ourselves in the process.
When you hit rock bottom so hard, you have no other choice but to change, even if that change takes a while. And sometimes, it takes losing someone so important to you that you live every day with regret of the mistakes you made.
Acceptance has been the hardest aspect of this process. Accepting who I was made me realize who I never want to be again.
I no longer try to maintain that reputation, and I am proud of the person I am.
And that’s the only opinion that matters.