On eight years of sobriety: the wonderful and terrifying reality of an alcohol-free life
On the left, big fat drunk me in 2006. On the right, sober me.
It feels weird to commemorate quitting something that almost killed you. But on July 22 every year since 2006, I say thank you and congratulations to myself for being alive and healthy. As a drunk, I was somehow spared multiple DUIs; I drove drunk -- blackout drunk, at that -- many times over the course of half a decade. I never managed to get caught or kill anyone. I don't know if that's called luck.
Driving is just one of the many things I now do sober that I used to do drunk. Living a life without alcohol is pretty great most of the time (especially when it comes to not harming yourself or others with your own bad choices). But sometimes, it sucks. That's how sobriety works: If it was a super-easy thing to navigate and overcome, no one would be an addict. But the truth is, addicts are addicts forever and always. Addiction is not curable -- which is why, eight years after I stopped drinking, I still think and dream about it.
By dream about it, I mean I still have nightmares about it. In these dreams, I am either getting smashed as fast as I can and no one can stop me, or I am unaware that I'm an alcoholic until long after I've downed several drinks and realize that I'm supposed to be sober. I've been having dreams like this since I quit drinking, and while I hope they go away someday, I doubt they will. If anything, they are reminders of how fucked up my life was with alcohol in it.
I should mention that I do smoke weed from time to time. I still consider myself a sober person; that is my own choice of language, and I stick by it. I may smoke weed every day for a week and then not touch it for a year. I'm no expert, but I am aware that my actions and my relationship to marijuana are not on an addictive level. I've never smoked weed and started a fight at a bar where I ended up throwing pint glasses across the room and not remembered any of it the next day. My weed smoking has never threatened to dismantle my family. My minimal weed consumption has never been the reason I've been fired from a job, dumped or lost a friendship. But alcohol has.
Though I've gotten used to it, there is still a moment of mild discomfort and panic when I am in a new social situation and alcohol is involved. Like last weekend, when I was at a house party for some friends of my boyfriend and just about everyone there was hammered. I've had eight long years to get used to being in places where others are drinking (and oftentimes getting very, very drunk), and for the most part, I'm cool with it. I'm an adult who likes to be around other adults, and that often entails drinking.
I have honed several techniques that allow me to bypass rounds of shots and drinks that inevitably get offered to me throughout nights like this. Usually, I just turn my barstool the other way when group drinks are being poured, or I strategically excuse myself and feign a sudden need to pee and hide in the bathroom for a moment. But it wasn't all of the alcohol being spilled all over this party that was hard to dodge; it was the shock of a gentleman's face when, as I was leaving, he said, "Have a good night and drive safe!"
Knowing how drunk everyone at this gathering was, I could see the emphasis on "safe" in his face. I looked at him and replied, "Oh, I will! I don't drink, so everyone in my car will be just fine." He just stared at me. It is a stare I am accustomed to; it is a stare that asks, how can you hang out in a place all night, surrounded by people pounding a keg and bottle after bottle of whiskey and not drink any of it? Because my alcoholism wasn't about the party. It was about the after-party, when I would end up at the house of a stranger I had met at the bar because he had booze and I wanted more. My alcoholism was about drinking enough to get beyond drunk, shit-faced to the point where all my loneliness and insecurity would deceptively morph into a puffed-up chest of brazen attitude, one that would start fights at clubs. My alcoholism was about pouring drink after drink after drink into my mouth until the reasons I hated myself weren't so clear anymore. My alcoholism wasn't simply about having too much fun at a house party.
The crazy part? All that horrible shit is still there -- I still battle loneliness, insecurity and depression. I've even been down the dark path of suicidal thought, all while living my wonderful, healthy, post-drunk life. Because as with most addicts I know, it isn't the substance that makes you want to do shitty stuff to yourself and the people you love: It's you and all of your humanness.
Without alcohol, I could no longer hide my insecurities -- from myself. Let's be honest: Anyone who is an out-and-out drunk is usually ragingly insecure, too, and it is obvious to everyone who encounters him or her. But under the veil of alcohol, I could hide the bad stuff from myself, or at least prolong the feelings of zero self-worth until the next day, when I was pretending that a hangover was a good excuse to be grouchy and unproductive, all while filling my body with really bad food and cigarettes.
Weirdly, it is the hangovers I often miss more than the drinks. What I wouldn't give to take a whole day to do nothing on just the excuse of a hangover -- it's like a hall pass to be a wasteoid. I miss that ability to "check out" of life for days. But I like being me without all of that substance-abusing baggage more.
Being sober is awesome in more ways that I can describe. It feels good to be me, the good shit, terrible shit and all. Knowing what I did last night -- and the night before that, and the night before that -- feels good. Knowing the decisions I make are my own and not some sloppy-drunk altered version of me feels good. Treating my body with kindness feels good, even though I am still learning how to do it.
When I first quit drinking, I became paranoid of putting any substance into my body; I wouldn't even take aspirin. I started working out like crazy and I went on a million different diets. The dieting part is/was a little insane, but the overall changes were positive; I dropped close to forty pounds. I was still struggling mentally, but at least I realized that what alcohol was doing to my body would be devastating in the long-run.
I've often had people question if I was "really a drunk" because I identified my problem fairly early on and was able to self-treat before I totally ruined my life. I don't know how, but I was just lucky enough to get a glimpse of the future in some way and know that I didn't want to spend the remaining time I had on this earth wasted and unfeeling.
This notion of radical self-care of the only body you get (in this lifetime, as my roommates would say) was a great wake-up call. Especially a body like mine, which has never given me a single health problem. I have never been to the hospital for any major medical emergency, and I still take no prescription medication whatsoever. It's not a brag as much as I see it as a reflection of how I view my body now versus when I wanted to drink myself to sleep and never wake up.
I don't doubt that I have a lifetime of sobriety ahead of me, but each day is different. Regularly throughout the year, I have moments where all I want to do is get smashed and forget that I care about anything or anyone. But I've made it this long without a drink, and I know it isn't impossible. It's just a matter of being real with myself at all times. It is when we start faking it that things get really messy.
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