Breeality Bites

On eight years of sobriety: the wonderful and terrifying reality of an alcohol-free life

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.

See also: Philip Seymour Hoffman, heroin and the secret club of addiction

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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?