This post was originally published on August 7, 2014.
It was approximately 11 pm on this past 4th of July when I first realized that my perception of normal drinking had been distorted for years. The post-fireworks sky in the breathtaking scenery of Point Dume had just gone dark but—despite the fact that most guests had been enjoying a wide array of alcoholic beverages throughout the evening—nobody was drunk; there had been no drugs, drama or cops involved.
Not surprisingly, what I noticed as soon as I set foot in the gorgeous kitchen where the party was taking place were rivers of tequila and not the refined white cabinets or hi-tech appliances. I also ignored the plentiful food perfectly arranged on the center table because I was too busy staring at fancy shot glasses that I perceived as half-empty in the hands of every guest. “Oh, they’re gonna have some fun!” I thought with a mix of envy and fear. Yet nobody seemed to be replenishing them as often as I expected (or would have). I carefully observed the average drinking rhythm of the night and, as the hours went by, my initial thought drastically changed to something that sounded like, “Okay, they’re not alcoholics.”
To my surprise, nobody inquired about my drinking choice—Pellegrino. And nobody seemed to be high on any drug either. So I wondered what kind of world I had inhabited all my life. Or, to be more accurate, what was the reality I’d always wanted to see?
My first explanation for everyone’s behavior that night was the nature of the people attending the party—respectable grown ups who knew how to behave instead of my former tribe of junkie friends and Goth DJ’s. Then, I believed the background scene—dinner a few feet from the ocean—could be a chaos deterrent. But who was I kidding? My many memories of similar events from the past brought me back to reality: circumstances had never stopped me from making a fool of myself before. I would always return home covered in shame.
Even though I am making peace with my past, I can’t shake off the shame of getting high in luxurious hotels or in the nastiest public restrooms found along the way. Truth be told, neither location—or people—were ever an obstacle for my self-destruction. On the contrary, when the surrounding environment seemed to be unable to keep up with my habit, I would abandon the scene to undertake a thorough search for people like me. And I always found them.
I remember a time when I tried to gravitate to a handful of healthy friends, mostly back in Italy. But they could never understand why I’d get drunk before the party had even started, or why oblivion was always my final destination. With age, those friends moved on; they stopped going out every night and settled down. I got stuck and kept crossing lines I had once sworn I’d never dare overshoot. Boundaries and thresholds that had kept me a decent person for a while ceased to be considered; my compass needle inevitably shifted as a consequence. My people—I believed—drank and got loaded just like me.
As the story goes, those healthy friends eventually stopped taking care of me. They got tired of trying to understand my brain and my impulses. As it turns out, my masochism, sexual promiscuity and escalating addiction weren’t as cool and glamorous as I thought. So I lost sight of them and crashed that last bit of balance I had managed to cling to.
But what was normal, really? The deeper I’d sink into darkness, the more I’d convince myself that those who had left were the exception, a species I didn’t belong to. I judged them, and eventually bought into my misery, guilt and pain. But on this year’s Independence Day, I finally witnessed an enlightening snapshot of real life. I saw non-AA people drinking and having fun without crossing the line. How could it take me so long to become aware of such a simple truth? I realized that I’d admitted my powerlessness over drugs and alcohol a while ago and yet a part of me was still somewhat convinced that there was something logical in the lifestyle.
I am coming up on two years of sobriety and—as of today—I’m still wary of drinking occasions; I don’t go to bars if I don’t have a legitimate reason to be there. When it comes to drugs, I don’t even question whether the environment is going to be safe or if my recovery is strong enough; I just stay away. Still, I know that life doesn’t stop just because I have a disease and, despite what I used to assume was true, most people are not like me when it comes to drinking and drugs. Maybe I was blind all along or perhaps this is just what having a beginner’s mind means—that I never stop learning.
Either way, having jumped into the ocean for the first time and gracefully swam in it, its currents don’t feel nearly as strong as I’d feared they would.