Then I said something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s kind of, like, a permanent thing,” to which he responded, “So, you’re not going to drink again, forever?” Then I sort of paused, searched for my words and finally said, “Well, I mean, ‘forever’ is quite the loaded word. But for right now, yes, I hope I don’t drink again, ever.”
Since getting sober in 2014, I’ve often had to field this question, which is always cloaked with lots of confusion and bewilderment, from those who thought they knew me well. A lot of times, it’s friends who live on the East Coast and don’t see me for long stretches of time. Other times, it’s just people who have a perception of me as this type-A, straight-laced chick who’s always punctual, polite and on top of her shit. And for the most part, I am all of that. It doesn’t change the fact that toward the end of my drinking, I wanted to die on a regular basis. Regardless, whenever they start to probe as to why I gave up the world’s most beloved social lubricant, I start reluctantly recounting the blackouts, the shame, the sickness, the post-drunk anxiety, the fuzzy conversations, the fear that I’d never reach my potential and so on.
It feels so counter-intuitive to reveal really personal information in order to prove to someone that I am, in fact, a lush who found herself incapable of drinking in moderation. But that’s the corner I always feel backed into during these conversations. I’d rather just bluntly say, “Trust me. It wasn’t good and I definitely wouldn’t choose to live without alcohol in my life, if it were a choice. But it’s not. I had to stop.” I guess there isn’t anything wrong with saying that but I can’t help but feel the need to justify it because these people are usually just so insatiable. So I finish rattling off all the reasons I had to quit and I’m usually met with blank, uncomfortable stares or the occasional, “I never saw you that drunk or pictured you like that. I guess I just don’t think of you that way, at all.”
Part of me is relieved when I hear this. Oh good, I think, I never made too much of an ass of myself in front of this person. Then I get obnoxiously smug and start mentally patting myself on the back for how “high functioning” I was and wonder if things were really so bad that I had to abstain completely from one of my absolute favorite activities.
And this is where things get shaky. This can be a very dangerous line of thought for me. When other people start to question whether I really had a “problem,” then I start to question if I really had a problem. Did I really need to do this whole “I’m an alcoholic” hoopla? Now that I’ve proven I can go without it for this long, haven’t I recalibrated to the point of being able to take it or leave it? Surely I won’t have to do this sober thing like forever forever, right? Then I’ll start negotiating with myself over when I can drink again. It’s always “I’ll drink when I’m a super successful comic and writer or when I’m 60 or if I’m diagnosed with an incurable disease or when my parents die.” See what I mean by shaky? I never want to be in a place where I’m plotting a relapse or planning to drink again. Because it’s a clear sign I’m not doing the necessary spiritual work to find peace and happiness within myself. It means that if spirituality is like going to the gym, I am severely out of shape or taking one too many cheat days.
When I start to get really delusional in thinking my relationship with booze wasn’t all that bad and how I could probably pick it up again one day, I go back to my trusty Microsoft Word doc from 2013 called “The Sober Project.” It’s the one where I journaled all my attempts to control my drinking and/or abstain from it month after month. It’s also the one that has a bullet point list of reasons why I ultimately quit for good at the bottom. The majority of these reasons start wit, “Hooking up with…” or “Blacking out at…” One of them is just called “The [DUDE’S NAME] Fiasco of 2014” and I remember, oh yeah, I made some really bad decisions when I was still drinking.
Granted, we don’t all have the same moral compass or the same opinion as to what classifies as a “bad decision.” When I was catching up with a different friend, doing the same song and dance of having to over-explain why I quit to yet another person who didn’t quite understand, she made a good point. We used to party together a lot and she recalled, “Yeah, I remember you always feeling so guilty if you even made out with a guy. We would always have to convince you that you weren’t a bad person for doing that.” From that I gleaned that it doesn’t really matter if other people could laugh off my drunken behavior (I certainly pretended to constantly). If I was operating at a level beneath my core standards because I was intoxicated, that wasn’t okay with me.
I even recently had a close friend from college who knows the full story imply that our other friends who hadn’t seen me since I got sober were going to need an “explanation” for my sobriety. I started to rattle of my usual response then stopped myself and said, “Actually I don’t owe anyone a explanation.” How they grieve the loss of the former party girl they could always depend on to take another shot with them or have a hookup at a wedding they could laugh about on Sunday isn’t my problem. Of course, I’m exaggerating a little in that thought process; my friends aren’t assholes. I’m sure their curiosity comes way more from a place of concern than one of grief or judgment. But the notion that I had to yet again explain anything to anyone ruffled the ole’ feathers for sure.
Bottom line, it doesn’t really matter whether my friends believe I needed to stop, or that no one ever had to intervene or insist I go to rehab. Who’s to say I wouldn’t have reached that point had I kept going? I was just lucky enough to stop before I did. Hell, it could still happen if I don’t start backing up my hard drive and I somehow lose that “The Sober Project” Word doc some day. Ultimately, the decision that I needed to quit was my own and I am so, so grateful for it.
I really should print that Word doc though.