When I was less than 30 days sober, I went out dancing with friends at a former hot spot of mine in Echo Park. I spent the entire time awkwardly swaying to soul music, trying to ignore the half-empty PBR tall boys surrounding me. Why doesn’t someone drink those, I thought? Why must I sit idly by while 20-somethings who can’t dance don’t drink properly, either?
That was the first night in my life I played the wallflower. I must have downed at least eight club sodas, confirming my status as the sober sentinel and square of the party. I spent three-quarters of the night chain-vaping outside while silently repeating the Serenity Prayer. I am fairly certain I looked like a complete asshole. Everything in my body screamed for me to drink, but I knew I couldn’t give into temptation.
I prayed with the earnestness I once reserved for chasing cheap shots of tequila with even cheaper beer. It worked. I danced. The night moved on and so did I.
There is a school of thought in the sober community that says a person in recovery can be around alcohol if she is working a good program. I identify with the converse school of thought, which sees unnecessary proximity to alcohol as a bad idea.
The Big Book of AA says, “Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do.” I read this for the third time a couple of days ago, after which I found myself becoming surprisingly tetchy. Isn’t it dangerous to tempt fate? Isn’t this a poor use of willpower for an alcoholic?
The Big Book has a unique tendency of pissing me off at the exact time I need to change my attitude. I know that I am not the force that keeps me sober. I am the one who drank to excess while I took pre-diabetic medicine even though the label vehemently warned against consuming more than one or two alcoholic beverages at a time. I am also the one who once tore the ACL in my knee while in a blackout, dancing to the musical stylings of Justin Timberlake. It behooves me to remind myself that I lose all ability to take care of myself when a drink hits my system. I realize that I became upset after reading that passage in the Big Book because I was recently confronted with my fragility as an alcoholic.
Two weeks ago, I was given the chance to waitress part time at a restaurant. This place is a beautiful establishment, filled with authentic Italian fare and freshly-painted murals that pay homage to the owner’s Sicilian homeland. I felt welcomed by the family owners and excited to start the job. I didn’t know it at the time, but I also felt apprehensive about serving alcohol for the first time sober. My brain has a complex denial system that tries to protect me from unsavory realities. It took me a few freak-outs about things completely unrelated to my potential job for me to admit to myself that I wasn’t ready to be around alcohol. And I’m not sure that I will ever be.
Does this make me spiritually unfit? Frankly, I don’t give a shit. I’d rather bother my alcoholic friends with a phone call than test my sobriety. It beats the hell out of fending off drunk Lotharios while I’m trying to take an order.
I wonder if my proximity to booze will matter less as I grow in sobriety. I know plenty of sober people who are bartenders and waitresses, all of whom work solid programs. The stories they tell seem to always end with the disdain they feel for the smell of stale beer after getting off of a long shift. I most assuredly feel better about deciding not to waitress because I have more confidence than I did in early sobriety. At this point in my life, I will give myself the go-ahead to play it safe. There are plenty of exciting things to do that will not compromise my state of mindfulness. I plan to do all of the overrated and underrated things people do, sober as all get-out.
Last year, I ventured out to a punk club with a date to meet up with other sober people and hear my friend play in his band. Although I ensconced myself in the bathroom to perform my kneel-and-pray routine, I felt a little bit better about being around the musky aroma of cheap whiskey. This time, my freak-out wasn’t over being around booze; it was over whether or not I should kiss my date after he had consumed a few sips of beer.
Looking back, I overreacted a bit, but the tools of my program brought me through my hysteria. For some reason, I thought that if I kissed him, I would relapse. I called my friend in the program to see if I was flirting with disaster by planting a smooch on the dude. She laughed, then I laughed. I did insist on my date brushing his teeth before we kissed, but I don’t think he minded at all.
It is with great pride that I report I am a much better kisser while sober. He wasn’t so bad, either.