4 Things I Don’t Want to Do That I Do Anyway (Because I’m Sober)
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4 Things I Don’t Want to Do That I Do Anyway (Because I’m Sober)


This post was originally published on January 9, 2015.

One of my first sober victories, which occurred sometime in my first or second year of sobriety, was the time I rescued the can opener from behind the stove. It had fallen back there weeks, maybe months, earlier. One day, finally, I must have grown tired of trying to cut off lids with scissors or knives because I actually went to the trouble of climbing on top of the oven to figure out just where the can opener had gone and how to get it back. The can opener was well beyond my reach, sitting in a pile of crud in the furthest corner, and I actually had to take a screwdriver and carefully remove a piece from the top of the oven to fit my arm down far enough to grab it. It was a remarkable effort for a girl who—prior to recovery—wouldn’t change a light bulb or respond to an email or wear proper shoes or a coat in the winter.

Unmanageability is the number one sign of alcoholism, and mine manifested in multiplicitous ways. When I drank, life was just too much, and so much of it went undone. By the time I got sober I was on the brink of failing out of school, unemployed and unemployable. These days, I still hate being bothered to do the simple stuff of life. I still find boring “administrative” tasks infuriating. Seven years sober, I still have to force myself to keep promises I don’t want to keep. The difference now is that I force myself to do it. Below are some of those things.

1) I Buy Toilet Paper

It’s a fact: When life’s unmanageable, an adequate roll of toilet paper—one that hasn’t fallen into the toilet or that’s on its last sad square—is one of the hardest things to come by. Another fact: When there’s no toilet paper on hand, there are plenty of replacements. Paper towels. Kleenex. Regular towels. In certain situations, I am not above using my hand. And when I drank, and maybe even in early sobriety, I was also definitely not above stealing a roll or two from work.

For some reason that I can’t—cough, cough alcoholic entitlement—I did not feel that I should be made to spend my hard earned money on toilet paper. It’s just not something I wanted to buy. To be honest, in the past seven years of sobriety, these feelings have not completely changed. What has changed: I buy the toilet paper anyway, along with whatever else I need. I provide for my needs first, then my wants. It’s called “self care,” and thanks to recovery, I practice it.

2) I Take Care of my Health

When I was active in my addiction, my health—especially my sexual health—was simply not my concern. The fact that no sex is really 100% entirely safe is not a good reason to take no precautions at all. But this was my attitude so long as I was active in my addictions. As a result of this attitude, I was constantly worried. What is that weird rash on my thighs? Is that discharge normal? Did I get my period this month? Still, this anxiety was nothing in the face of another competing thought—namely, it feels better without a condom! And who can be bothered to quibble with some person you just met?

These days, my health has become my reluctant priority. I say “reluctant” because, after toilet paper, healthcare is the last thing I want to spend money on. Over $300 a month? Thanks for nothing, Obama! Even so, I sort it out. Sobriety means being an adult, and so I invest what I consider to be unreasonable amounts of money in my mental health alone, because that’s what grown ups have to do. And even though I really, really don’t want to take the time off or spend the money, I will go to the doctor if I think something’s wrong. Hey, I even went to a dentist once! 

When it comes to sexual health, the whole question of “am I safe” is answered a lot more easily when I know my partner, and it’s the same partner, and we’ve had conversations and decided together what works best for us.

3) I’m Curbing my Kleptomania 

Going along with the whole “I don’t steal toilet paper from work anymore,” it’s fair to say that I don’t steal anything at all anymore. No, really! This year, I even stopped taking pens off my co-worker’s desk when he let me know that he was really not cool with me doing that. Yes, it took him asking me to stop multiple times but, hey, progress not perfection.

One of the most epic fights I ever had with my boyfriend was over my stealing his shampoo. I could justify it here—he had accidentally purchased two of the same kind of product! He’s over my house, using my products all the time!—but the truth is, he was right: I asked if I could have it, and in one way or another he said no. No, he wasn’t joking. Not mine? Hands off. (Except when it comes to his t-shirts…Still working on that one.) Because sobriety has led me to the logical conclusion that it’s not in my interest to act like a dick, even if I’m still a little bit of an asshole secretly on the inside, I’m learning (slowly) to not take things that aren’t mine.

4) I Show Up

I’m on my way to a teaching gig. I’m going to be late. I sent an email letting them know. I’ll be honest; this job is a pain in the ass. It’s nearly half of my normal hourly wage, and it takes me over an hour to get there—two-and-a-half hours of commute for a 45-minute writing workshop that, some weeks, is sparsely attended. Why do I bother going at all? Easy answer: because I said I would. Not to mention that some weeks, those are the best 45 minutes of my day. Being with students gets me out of my head. This particular group ends with everyone writing and reading a gratitude list. Listening to people with problems bigger than my own express gratitude is a much-needed kick in the ass. But it’s not about me—it’s for them. I can’t not show up, and this seems obvious—but it wasn’t obvious so long as I drank. When I was active, I was signing up for shit and dropping off all the time. Like that time, a couple months before I got sober, that I signed up to mentor an at-risk girl. We met three or four times before I quit. I’m not going to lie; there are days when I cancel on things. But more often than not, even when I’m running late, I get there. I’m almost always glad that I did.

Doing something the right way and not necessarily the easiest, fastest or cheapest way is just not the way I instinctively act, and maybe it never will be. But that’s the point: a lot of recovery is about putting aside the old ways of doing things and doing it differently in order to get different results. Sure, everything doesn’t get better all at once and my attitude may never change. But hey, thanks to sobriety, at least I can open a can.

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About Author

Melissa Petro is a freelance writer and writing instructor living in New York City. She has written for NY Magazine, The Guardian, Salon, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Jezebel, xoJane, The Fix and elsewhere. She is the founder of Becoming Writers, a community organization that provides free and low cost memoir-writing workshops to new writers of all backgrounds and experiences.