While I intend to talk about what’s been great about sobriety in this final blog on the subject of my recovery (spoiler alert: everything), let’s just get out of the way up front what’s not great about sobriety.
Your breath is not great (sorry to say). You’ve been drinking red wine, I know, and you, you’re drinking whiskey. Really, I love you both, and you both should have some breath mints in your pockets.
HA! (Yeah, that felt good.)
Really, there are two things, two moments, that I miss in my sobriety.
I miss the group post-event celebratory drink. At the end of each day of rafting this past summer, when my family ventured down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon with about 5 or 6 other families, it was the thing to do, once beached, tents pitched, for the group to gather and have a drink. I noticed the being outside the spirit of those moments, even if I was there with diet Coke in hand. The après ski drink would be another classic example of this.
The other moment isn’t even one I’ve experienced so far, but eventually will. As moments go, it’s a romantic ideal, as I think you’ll get. It’s that moment when, as you explore a city, you pass by a pub the atmosphere within which is so fetching, so inviting, you are helplessly and happily drawn in to have a drink. I love that moment! Ann and I walked by a place in Redwood City once (which isn’t quite Prague, I know) and I felt this sort of thing, saw a couple sitting having drinks at one of those tall bar-side tables and I thought, that can’t be me anymore.
And why that can’t be me anymore is revealed as I play that fantasy scene out in my head. We’d have that drink, and then I’d do what is necessary to convince Ann to have another. And then I’d go to the bathroom, but what I’m really intending to do is locate myself outside her visual range and order a shot from the bartender. Or maybe we’d engage the couple next to us, be they locals or fellow tourists, and now I have a bona fide reason to keep ordering up the drinks.
See? Not so romantic after all.
That scenario also captures in a nutshell what is so great about not drinking: that endless compulsivity is gone. Simply put, what’s great is that I’m absolutely free.
For four years after my divorce from Mary Beth, I smoked cigarettes (remember the whole warping grief and pissed thing? Cigarettes were a good fit then.). When I eventually quit smoking (thank you, Chantix), the thing I probably noticed the most was the time I recovered in doing so, time previously burned (!) while smoking. Take that sense of liberation, contained as it was within the few minutes to smoke a cigarette, and now explode it out across the full dimensions of your life. Let me tell you, experientially it was nothing short of walking outside the black-and-white confines of a wind tossed cabin and entering the technicolor of Oz.
So much freedom, however, can be a burden, right? I mean, freedom is one of the four existential crises of our lives, after all. Some people freak out with all of that freedom, feeling lost in a realm formerly given direction and structure, “purpose,” by the dubious pursuit of drinking (though drinking hardly offers direction, structure, or purpose, and more just temporarily dissolves awareness of the need for these things in your life). That, my friends, proved NOT my problem. I have a curious mind and enough cerebral firepower to sink my teeth into a lot of pursuits, interests and activities. When I stopped drinking, I didn’t just realize I was capable of engaging in life again—I was off to the races.
I’ve previously written about the role photography played in my recovery (check it out here). That was a huge outlet for me that first year (and will continue evermore as such forward). I remembered I like to read, and stalagmites of books sprouted up once more in my world. I didn’t put off housework until I had no more excuses for doing so, but just did it and got it done. I consumed Fellini, studied the wonderfully queer aesthetic of Wes Anderson films, watched everything that had Jimmy Stewart, Edward G. Robinson, or Philip Seymour Hoffman in it. I cooked my way though an entire book of vegetarian Indian recipes. I meditated. Podcasts! I discovered podcasts! I worked out even more. I became the chattiest bastard in my Facebook neighborhood. Etcetera, etcetera.
I make this all sound so exceptional when in fact, I simply resumed the delightful task of simply living.
I have to laugh. Know what one of the reasons was that I explained my drinking to myself, back when I was sinking in its quicksand? It was my midlife crisis. I seriously began thinking, sometime in my late 40s, that all things shiny and new in life were now in my rear view mirror, that life as a process of discovery was past the expiration date printed on its bottom. Now it was all just reruns and waiting for the next joint in my body to start bitching. Why NOT drink, for chrissakes, became my default. When in fact, I now know, I had that cause and effect relationship exactly backwards. “Poor fool,” as a former therapist once would have said.
I remember being given a greeting card by a friend back in grad school who thought its message fit me. The image on the cover was the archetype of a circle of hand-holding dancers. The message read, “People are my art, the dance of relationships my medium.” This has no doubt been the BIGGEST benefit to me of my sobriety—when I am there and with you now, I am once again there and with you (unless you’re a bore, and then I’m there and hating it)(ha ha ha). I can look you in the eye openly and easily once more, playfully or compassionately; I will look at you authentically, in any case.
Again, am I talking about anything other than just normal living here? Being a normal person? I’m not. But when you break free of the dark carnival of alcoholism, it’s hard not to run down the street like George Bailey shouting for joy about your lip bleeding. (It’s Christmas Eve just now, making that metaphor very apt. My tip jar is right over there.).
Freedom, authenticity, rich engagement—these are indeed the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of my sobriety (the jar is right there).
Ann and I don’t fight anything like we used to. Huge. She trusts me now—huge! I’m now talking level headedly with my sophomore-in-high school daughter about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Huge. Late in the course of my drinking I was told after a physical that I was “pre-diabetic.” I adapted my diet, though still drinking, and lost 25 pounds; when I stopped drinking, 25 went to 40, and all of my blood levels moved significantly in the right direction (and while I’m no longer “pre-diabetic,” my doctor said there’s little I can do to avoid being “pre-old”). Huge (better yet, not huge!).
Then there’s the little things, like driving home at night anytime, from anywhere. Actually remembering what was distinct about the performance during the concert the night before. Putting myself more fully out there through a blog like this. Waking up and working out without hesitation. Etcetera etcetera.
Here’s another saying from AA: My drinking was once fun, and then it was fun with problems, and then it was just problems. If that’s the case, then sobriety offers an equal and opposite journey. Sobriety was once stopping my reckless endangerment, and then it was stopping my reckless endangerment with some fun, and then it was just all fun.
That’s perhaps the most surprising and delightful discovery of all that I’ve made in being sober. I thought it was going to be so much about giving things up, when in fact, what I’ve gained has been so precious I no longer see the time or place in my life for drinking. I’m just not Ann, and still can’t help but look upon those of you who can have a drink and be done as absolute freaks of nature (and yes, we AAers do laugh at the ways of you “normals”).
In other words, I don’t drink at this point just because I can’t. I like not drinking.
><>< If you’ve read your way through these blogs about my recovery, God bless you, and thanks. I’m actually going to stop here and cheat you of the critique I promised of AA. I’ll write about that another time. For now, if there’s someone in your life whose drinking has you concerned, and you want to talk about it with someone who made his way off of Survivor Island, just say the word. We AAers place a big emphasis on being there for other alcoholics, and that’s the same if the person is family or a complete stranger. And, perhaps contrary to some folks’ impressions, we don’t preach. We just tell that person our story, and how we found a solution when we were in a space of “incomprehensible demoralization.” With the right timing those stories can be life savers. ><><
Finally, to those of you who have cautiously admitted to me, “I have a drink pretty much every day of my life,” and meant the “a drink” part, I have good news, and bad. The good news is, you SOO don’t have a drinking problem! The bad news is, you are a freak of nature! Merry Christmas, all the same..!