This post was originally published on May 28, 2014.
Early in recovery, I was driving my boyfriend home from a concert when I sensed a sudden wistfulness come over him. The song that had just come on the stereo, he explained, had been playing the night he broke up with his previous girlfriend. Oddly, in our 18 months together, we’d probably exchanged six or eight words about his last relationship. “Why did you break up?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But the answer I came up with at the time was really mean. I told her she was boring.”
My stomach tightened. Of all the adjectives he could have chosen—shallow, uninspiring, psychotic—he’d picked “boring.” It seemed to confirm a growing suspicion I’d been mulling over for the past few months—in fact, ever since I’d gotten sober. My boyfriend has an incredible zest for life, a real up-and-at-’em personality, and some part of me was afraid that one day he’d wake up and realize I’m boring.
I know I’m not boring at a fundamental level. I’m simply too strange, and not always in a cute enough way to earn the euphemism “quirky.” I’ve got some good stories—I’ve excavated Peruvian tombs and spent a week in the woods with one of the Bush twins. Plus, my boyfriend even told me I’m the second funniest girl he knows. Nevertheless, his harsh condemnation of my predecessor got the gears of paranoia spinning, and I began to compile an inventory of why I could, in fact, be perceived as boring.
The biggest reason, of course, is that I no longer drink. My boyfriend is blessed with the gift of non-addiction and really relishes weekend social drinking. When we first started dating, I hadn’t used drugs in well over a year, but I was under the illusion that I could still handle alcohol. On our first date, he spent $80 on cocktails, and brewery tours and outdoor wine tastings worked their way into our regular rotation. Luckily our bond wasn’t just built on booze—we both love hiking, museums, and concerts—and he’s been supportive of my sobriety. But when he wants to paint the town red, I can’t help feeling like kind of a killjoy. While I often do enjoy tagging along with him to bars, I sometimes catch myself wishing I were home with my cat watching Netflix.
“I love how I can take you anywhere,” he told me once. Yes…just like a handbag or a very quiet Chihuahua. I knew he meant it as a compliment, but it unintentionally implied that setting limits would be decidedly less awesome. I’d be one of those sober people—dare I say it, a ball and chain.
Sobriety also means I’ve really scaled back in the antics department. People no longer stake bets on where my puke will land or which fully clothed individual I will try to pull into the pool. Frankly, I still haven’t really re-learned dancing. One night I somehow followed my boyfriend’s friends into a basement club and almost had an anxiety attack. It wasn’t just the violent lights and the gut-punching house beat and the churn of writhing bodies. I was face to face with the ghost of my former self and realized we no longer spoke the same language.
But the circumscribed life I carved out for myself in early recovery wasn’t just about avoiding the hard party scene. It was about avoiding a whole range of things that made me uncomfortable, namely anything I couldn’t really control or plan for. I wish I were a carefree, spontaneous person by nature, but I’m not. It’s just too damn scary. In fact, this fear was part of what drove me to chemicals in the first place. When I was high or drunk, I really was a different person—maybe a less boring one. But I didn’t get loaded to be less boring. I did it to be less afraid. After a few Manhattans and/or lines of coke, it’s a lot easier to proposition a total stranger or call the dreaded cable company. Inhibitions fell away; the illusion of control, however temporary, went up.
As I recovered, I reflected on how crippling my need for control really was. One time my boyfriend and I were thumbing through a guide to Bangladesh, where I’d recently RSVP’d to a wedding (oh hey, score one for Not Boring!). A text bubble above the capital city of Dhaka proclaimed, “Enter the chaos.” The dread curdling in my stomach at the very word only deepened when my boyfriend crowed, “Aw, yes! I love it!” Although I am certainly looking forward to my friend’s wedding, the fact remains that I really hate chaos.
I pointed out to my boyfriend that I’d had enough chaos for one lifetime, thanks. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve used the story of my so-called wild days as a front to seem more interesting than I actually am. The reality is that even when I was using I spent a lot of time being boring. For every impromptu make-out session while hiding from cops under other peoples’ beds, there were four or five nights of staying up high in my room until 4 a.m., writing the same three novel chapters again and again and arguing on the Internet. I’m not a natural party girl; I’m a born introvert who used drugs and alcohol to dodge my feelings. The parties were just a fun side effect. Not that I’m a loner per se—I love seeing my friends—but I can’t re-energize without buckets of alone time.
After all this reflection, I was looking about as riveting as boiled potatoes. But then, something happened: the principles of recovery kicked in. First came a glimmer of self-acceptance. I realized it doesn’t matter if my boyfriend or anyone else thinks I’m boring—what matters is that I’m finally learning to be with myself as I am, without the protective sheen of chemicals. If I want to sit at home and watch Netflix with my cat, fine. Haters gonna hate.
The second principle was honesty—especially about setting boundaries. Once I shared my concern about being boring to my boyfriend (who assured me I was far from it), it became easier to admit when I didn’t feel like playing ornamental chauffer. And lo and behold, his respect for my wishes when I choose to stay in makes the times when I do tag along feel less like a duty and a lot more like fun.
Finally, as I rack up more time in recovery, the fear I was dulling with substances is slowly being replaced by faith. Now that I’ve discovered the world isn’t against me, I’m taking on challenges I would have shied away from before. In recovery, instead of avoiding uncertainty and tension, I’m more fearless than ever. And with each day that passes, I’m starting to think I’m less boring than ever, too. My ticket to Dhaka sits on my desk as a reminder that life is full of chaos. Well, bring it on.