Social settings in early sobriety are a fucking nightmare. Regardless of your conviction, I think it’s fair to say that in early sobriety, one does not have all of the tools needed to actually enjoy an event during which one would have previously imbibed. It’s like entering a battlefield unarmed – good fucking luck. Watch out for that cannonball rolling towards your leg, and that guy with the bayonet gaining ground behind you. And there’s a tank on the right and a sniper in the trees and you might as well raise that white flag already, it’s not looking good. But you can choose to fight because there is always a chance for victory.
Know that any myriad of things can happen: someone will offer you a drink; someone will hand you a drink; someone will ask why you’re not drinking; other people will be drinking; you will want to drink; it will be easy to drink.
Know that the following emotions are entirely plausible and some of them highly likely: sadness, anger, fear, worry, judgement, curiosity, resignation, persistence, wantonness, nostalgia, anxiety, self-doubt, and pain.
Know that in certain moments, you are alone in this fight. You are the only person capable of making the decision not to drink. I don’t care what type of support system you have – it is up to you. You are the one who can lift your arm and put the bottle/glass/straw/cup to your mouth.
Know that eventually, you’re going to have to re-enter the real world. I’m doing it now, slowly, quietly, at my own pace. I am 203 days sober today and have attended the following events:
1 Concert – day 49
1 long weekend getaway – day 62-64
1 Work Event (held at a bar) – day 70
Thanksgiving Dinner – day 103
Christmas celebration 1 – day 104
Friendsgiving – day 106
1 NFL game – day 121
Christmas celebration 2 – day 134
Christmas celebration 3 – day 134
College friends reunion – day 196
(I have to be honest this list is actually longer than I thought it was and I’m pretty stinking proud of myself.) I have attended some of these events alone and some with my best friend, Beef. Some were family events while others were not. Not everyone involved in these events knew I was in recovery. Some of these events were sad, painful, difficult. Some of these events were refreshing and enjoyable. A large number of these events I have never previously completed sober. Each of these events was exhausting. It is a lot of work to live and breathe as a sober person, especially for the first time. While it continues to be work, it is also becoming relief. It has gotten easier. The want has fluctuated, receding and growing like ocean waves, constantly surprising and ever-changing. It has cowered and disappeared at times, while at other times it is steadfast and nagging. What I have learned has come from my experiences and the work I have done to stay sober (read, write, read more, listen, seek). I am still in early recovery – I am less than seven months sober – but I am here and I am enough and I am finding my way back to me in a world that does not make it easy.
Example 1: Day 70 – Work Event
I’ve just clocked out of my first week at my new job and have agreed to attend the Thank You party the retail offices are throwing for the operational staff, of which I am now included. My boss introduces to me to various people I will not remember meeting because I am in a darkly lit restaurant with a bar the length of the building. I have not been in a bar in over two months. I did not want to come to this event but felt obligated as a new employee whose only colleague is an executive officer of the company. I did not think I was ready for this event. I spent two weeks hemming and hawing over coming, telling my boss I would then I wouldn’t, but it would be good if I did, so I would. Fuck. I google’d the place so I’d know the atmosphere and looked at the menu to prepare my food choices. When we arrive, my boss orders a glass of Pinot Grigio and one of the men I’m introduced to offers to get me a drink. “I’d love a diet coke, please,” and smile just as I’d practiced. “That’s all?” Yes, that’s fucking all you ignorant prick. I am going to rip off my skin starting with my face if i do not have something to hold this instant. A minute later he returns and doles out the drink orders he fulfilled. “Go easy tonight!” he smiles as I nod a thank you and take a sip. What a fucking asshole. You have no fucking clue. How would you like it if I commented on your light beer consumption? How about you mind your own fucking business.
But I meet lots of people and eat some fried appetizers and listen to my boss talk about things I will be learning in the near future. Her wine glass is empty and I instinctively offer to get her a refill. Feeling the glass cool in my hand as the wine dances around it is un-fucking-pleasant. I barely care that I don’t like Pinot Grigio as I wait for the bartender to refill my soda glass. One glass of wine is not the problem. Everyone is drinking and you look like a foolish child with your soda. Have one glass of wine. One glass of wine is not the problem. I walk back to our seats and place the glass in her hand. Get this fucking thing away from me.
After one hour and two more sodas, I am home-free. I get in my car and during the forty-five minute ride I feel empowered, strong, defiant. If I can do this, I can do anything. I shed my work outfit and climb into bed and as I fall asleep, I turn into eighteen carat gold.
Example 2: Friendsgiving – Day 106
We are twenty minutes from Erica’s house when Beef asks me if I have any plans to smoke. My pie plates are rattling against one another on the seat behind me. I don’t know. Smoking is an option? I can smoke? It is common sense that marijuana will be there, yet I hadn’t thought about it once. I was so busy laying the bricks of my conviction to drinking only soda that there wasn’t any time to consider anything else. A black hole formed in my stomach lining and I began to deteriorate from the inside out. I was quiet for a minute, trying to wrap my head around it and my response when I began to cry. This was the first time we’d seen these friends since I got sober. I had been talking about what I was looking forward to: meeting Matt’s girlfriend, trying the vegan food she was bringing, playing with the dogs, seeing the new house. We’d addressed our sobriety with this group and they acknowledged it and went back to talking about who would make dessert. It had been simple. This was something I could do. Someone was bringing a forty dollar bottle of sparking grape juice for me to try and everything was going to be fine, maybe even pleasant. And then suddenly we were barreling north towards this party and instead of just needing to pee, I needed to open the passenger door and dump my body out on the pavement of Route 24.
I’d said, “No, I’m not going to smoke. It feels like cheating.” I wiped my face and looked in the visor mirror and then we were there. I have learned that for me, sober is sober. Sober is clear, it is clean and free, it is a state of being unaltered. Am I truly sober if I get stoned? Is that even a thing? I think of recovery as it relates to the thing I’m heading to, not from. To recover is to regain possession of something lost. I’m recovering. I am getting back to being who I was before this thing. I am recovering myself. Anything added will dilute that. I know this to be imperative if I want to remain alive and I know it to be true.
Beef made sure I was OK before getting out of the car, and then we were saying hello and smiling, hugging, remarking on paint colors. I was overwhelmed with existing in that space. I sat on the back deck and watched the dogs chase a stick around and on that exceptionally sunny November morning, no one seemed to notice my eyes were filling with tears and my voice was shaking. Knowing what is true does not make living it any easier. Life on this side can at times feel like even though you’re sitting in a chair under the sun watching dogs play, your insides are dissolving and the only thing keeping you in one piece is your skin. It could give way at any moment.
After seeing our friends’ new house, we all caravaned to Friendsgiving. We got back in the truck. The route we knew was closed for a parade and we tried four different streets before we could get on the other side of it. During that ride I let myself cry. I repeated over and over, “I’m having a really hard time with this, I can’t believe how hard this is,” until we parked outside of our friends’ house. I am the strong one, I am the convicted one, I am the one who has proclaimed to not even miss it. I checked my face in the visor mirror and took a deep breath. And another. One choice out of the thousand I’d already made about this day was trying to be the thing to take me down. Out of left field I was retroactively back on day two, when everything was fear and hurt and bleeding.
Get it together. This is not how you walk into a celebration. This will not be your first impression, this will not be the thing that takes you down. This will not be what sobriety looks like to others. I’d prepared, I’d made two pies including the pie crusts and ten pounds of mashed potatoes. I had food to eat and dogs to pet and I would be damned if one small, tiny, stupid thing was going to ruin it. That’s what this is – it’s stupid. It’s a joke. I’m a fucking cognizant human being and the thought of smoking something is the thing that will unravel me? I don’t fucking think so. No. This is one more event under my belt. One more day of this sober life. I can do that. I have to do that. And we’re here, so here we go.
And don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t like I went into that party and was magically strong again. I walked between rooms and observed conversations and spoke when I could. I locked myself in the bathroom for a minute of solace more than once. I ate about two thousand calories worth of food. I went outside with the smokers and watched the dogs and kids run around and asked for recipes and stood quietly and leaned on Beef. I took an inventory of everyone’s drinks repeatedly throughout the day because that’s what I’d always done. I didn’t cry again and eventually the party was over and I was back in the car for the two-hour ride home. I was fucking exhausted, but my skin had held and I was still in one piece. My head hit the pillow – one more sober day.
We are not the same. I have learned that your pace is your pace, to be determined by you only. Do what you can do until you can do more, and cut yourself some slack in the meantime. Do not let people tell you how to be sober, get sober, live sober. Your sober, your sobriety, your self, is all what you decide it to be. Do not doubt that you can do whatever it is you choose to do. Just honor it. In doing so you will honor yourself, and that is the first step to recovering yourself. You are a buried treasure and you are so worth finding. You are allowed to be scared and sad and hateful. You are allowed to say no. Swallow this thing whole and feel however it makes you feel. You are allowed to do it your way – you have to – you are it on this journey. There is no one else when it comes to your sobriety. You are the owner and the mother and the motherfucking bosslady. No one has a right to tell you otherwise. Being with you, being near you, is a privilege. You are a fucking treasure.