Two years, two months, eight days. Not too shabby for a trainwreck from a long, proud chain of trainwrecks, all chugging along in the same direction. This is a disorganized, upsy-daisy assortment of my thoughts on sobriety.
In Helloween terms, sobriety is where your life stops playing "A Tale That Wasn't Right" on repeat and segues into "Windmill".
One would think that breaking one’s fibula in two places while drunk and subsequently becoming crippled for life over a $500 deductible would scare a person into getting clean. One would be mistaken, in my case.
People who bring “moderation” up with alcoholics, please take note: it’s been done. By the time a person knows they need to abstain completely, rest assured that they have already attempted to cut back hundreds of times. For what it’s worth, I was trying to take it easy the night I broke my leg, but I was out of control, the “on” switch stuck as it had been so many times before.
Active alcoholics do a lot of resource management and rationing. One glass of water for every drink. Or flat: three per night. Or one drink per hour and a half. Unless someone else buys. (I didn’t notice when this stopped happening.)
If you are able to “pace” yourself, I don’t work like you. I am not necessarily inferior to you, and it’s okay that we’re different, but my body does not work like yours. I’m an alcoholic. End of story.
I played with fire for nearly a year after my accident. I hid my drinking from my increasingly impatient fiance; I hid it from everyone. I had my last drink– a third glass of red wine, my preferred poison– sitting with my mother and stepfather in a British pub I seldom went to. I hadn’t planned to drink that night and I hadn’t planned for those three glasses to be my last “drink”, but somehow it made sense. We’d spent the evening at the Last Bookstore and I was in a good mood, wearing cute floral leggings with an office dress. I drank the third glass unceremoniously, leafing through Fritz Leiber’s collection The Ghost Light. Only I knew it was my last glass. I like secrets. The book still feels like a totem. (That volume's titular novella deals with alcoholism, among other things.)
Much has been written about alcoholism and recovery, but most of it doesn’t hit home until you’ve been sober for a few weeks. I discovered this the hard way. I’ll do my best to explain what sobriety has done for me, but I encourage anyone to try it. I believe that entire demographics are held back by alcohol. It becomes part of your persona. And why shouldn’t it, when it seems like everybody of note since the dawn of time has partaken? We tell ourselves we deserve it, and who wants to argue with that?
“I’ve been working all week. Where the Hell is my drink?” -Fergie
The 2000s were the Mommy Wants Vodka years. Martini glass motifs everywhere, everyday people becoming wine snobs, bars seeing more business as people started to spend more money on experiences and technology than clothes. Remember that mother who drove the wrong way down the freeway and killed a bunch of people, including her daughter? The really scary thing is that I understand how that happened.
The Romans watered theirs down, just FYI.
For the first year or so, I kept fantastizing about being in my seventies, about how I'd dress slutty and sleep with everything in sight and go to the opera all the time and drink wine until I finally died. I stopped having those fantasies eventually; I'm hardly ever tempted, now. I miss something, but it isn't the drink itself. It's losing track of myself that I miss. I don't want to return to the bruised land of the drunk-- not even "later".
If you are an alcoholic, total abstinence relieves so much pressure, answers so many questions. It takes the stress out of many things– your mileage may vary, but in the long run sobriety solved most of my problems, including problems I had no idea were related to my drinking.
Sobriety is eternal rest from the work of thinking about drinking.
I’m glad to have all of my abilities back. I was never at my best, even while “sober”, during my thirteen years of heavy drinking. It took months for my brain to get back on track.
I don’t miss waking up with indistinct shame. What did I say? What did we fight about? What did I post on social media? Did I get wine on my favorite white punk rock shirt? Did I crush the earphone cord in the corkscrew? What’s this bruise about? Oh dear God… is that me on YouTube, trying to dance to “Jump in the Line” at Trivia Night? Okay, I believe you!
I don’t miss purple barf.
I don't miss wondering if everyone can tell I'm plastered.
I don’t miss forgetting to eat dinner, or picking up the check for everyone because I feel bad about bringing the bill way up.
People who say they have no regrets are usually assholes.
Some hard things about sobriety:
Feelings. You start having them. It’s rough. You’ll cry a lot while your body adjusts. After it has adjusted, you will be a nicer person and will cry much less on the whole, because you will be happier. The upside of these feelings? You’re actually having them. They are not part of the show you’ve been the star of for so many nights that it’s no longer a draw.
Late Night Shame Theater. Your memory will try to piece itself back together as it dries out, especially when you’re trying to fall asleep, and you’ll remember ruining many perfectly nice evenings. You might even remember saying “Are you sure?” while offering a glass to someone who had been sober for years. You bastard! It’s soul-crushing, humiliating, humbling.
Impressions. You’re a whole new person, but some people will not change their minds about you. Sure, you never stole money or did anything after-school-special-worthy, but people you alienated while under the influence will not necessarily welcome you back. You can pretty much count on a lifetime of applying for jobs without a referral. Some people will just never trust you. This was hard for me to swallow.
Social Media. Young people love to take photographs of delicious-looking beers and wines; people love to jokingly suggest booze as an answer to problems. Most people under a certain age don’t know what “two years sober” or “on the wagon” mean. Both here and in social settings, you will become acutely aware of the difference between yourself and super-hot supermodels who simply don’t drink, straight edge people and teetotalers-for-religious-reasons. You are different because you used to drink, want to drink, and you like drinking, but you are terrible at it. When asked why he didn’t drink, Pete Hammill once said: “I have no talent for it.” That’s you.
Weight gain. Okay, so John Cheese lost 30 pounds in the first month just by giving up beer. For winos, the opposite can happen, because wine curbs your appetite and your detoxing blood will be screaming for food, especially sugar. Just ride it out. Sobriety is a full time job for the first month or so, and you must put it first.
These things are minor when compared to what I gained. “Clarity” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Post-sobriety, I am healthier and more financially stable. My relationship with my fiance is excellent, and he’s very proud of me. My skin is better, and I have less headaches. I’m able to finish projects on time and my cooking is much better. Sleep is almost always restful. I gained a lot of hours to squeeze productive, lucrative, good things into.
Most importantly, I no longer wake up after four restless hours with that sense of dread. I’ll never have to deal with that again. I always know exactly what I did last night.
Life is good again. I thought it never would be. I’m sad that I wasted my hottest years, my groundwork-for-success years, my years at my dream company, my childbearing years in a haze of alcohol, but I’m really glad I’m here to tell you about it. This will sound unbelievably corny, but every day feels like a wrapped gift.
Sobriety is a decision you have to make on your own. Otherwise it means nothing, and you will return to the comfy embrace of your addiction.
Some movies I recommend to people who wish to understand alcoholism: Smashed, The Days of Wine and Roses, 28 Days, The Lost Weekend. I’d also like to gently recommend Young Adult, mostly because Patton Oswalt is wonderful in it and while the film deals primarily with extreme mental illness, it has one of the most harrowing drunk meltdown scenes I’ve ever seen. Books: Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story, Sacha Z. Scoblic's Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety. (I liked Hammill’s A Drinking Life, but it’s not about sobriety; it’s an autobiography centered on his drinking, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking to understand alcoholism.)
salaryman, I have re-read your comments so many times. They have helped me navigate so many parts of my head and I can't begin to tell you how much they helped, or to thank you. You should write a book!