You know you’ve thought it, “Ew, a sober person!” Every alcoholic has. When I was drinking, I rarely came across a sober person. In fact, I did my best to avoid them. “Them” refers to these “aliens” in the bodies of sober people. I called them aliens because that’s what I truly believed they were. I was disgusted by sober people. Who did they think they were? I couldn’t fathom how they could go out and move through this crazy world sober. They made my skin crawl. And let’s be serious, they didn’t even have to be sober by definition. Even if someone came out to the bar or party and said they weren’t drinking, I silently labeled them a loser. I thought there must be something wrong them. I didn’t even want to hear their reasons why they weren’t drinking because I didn’t care. Not drinking was stupid.
Coming in contact with sober aliens perplexed me. I felt icky, disturbed, and shocked. It’s because I didn’t understand them and I didn’t want to. Understanding them scared the shit out of me. I didn’t want them looking at me and my drinking habits. I didn’t want to hear about their amazing sober lives because chances are I would be jealous. I would make snide comments about them under my breath, criticizing their lifestyle, or choice of the moment, whichever it was. In college I would even obnoxiously ask why someone wasn’t drinking. Shouting over the music in a dark musty basement I would scream, “Oh come on, just one shot! That test you’re taking tomorrow isn’t that important.” I couldn’t deal with sober people because they were a threat. Their soberness made my drunkenness seem worse. But in reality, I was only putting my deepest insecurities and hang-ups on them.
When I was living in Cancun I had a roommate who was also from Philadelphia and also liked to drink heavily like me. In March of 2012, my roommate’s mom came to visit with her friend. It was a month during my past where I was heavily using drugs and alcohol. My roomie’s mom has been sober for 35 years and at the time I knew that her and her friend were coming to visit us as the sober people they are. I had met her mom and friend in the past and they were nice ladies. I enjoyed being around them, but this time I was terrified. I knew I couldn’t criticize them for being sober and I was scared they would notice just how f*cked up I was. I just assumed that since they were sober they had this sixth sense about detecting when a person is strung out on drugs or alcohol. I feared they might even go as far as to ask me if I was okay, or if I needed help.
Like a typical alcoholic, I overanalyzed the situation and made it all about me. Why would I care what they thought of me or if I drank too much? There is only one reason why: because I am an alcoholic. One night during their visit, I went to their hotel to have dinner with them while my roommate worked. As was my general state back then, I was hungover and desperately counting down the hours until I could drink again. I didn’t feel like I could drink in their presence. The whole dinner I was extremely self-conscious and felt incredibly awkward. The dinner concluded without any interrogation or blatant criticism on their part, despite some times where I felt their eyes lingered on me. After dinner I swept my brow and was glad I made it out of there alive.
In 2013 when I got sober, one of the first people I sent a message to was my friend’s mom, the same one who came to visit in Cancun. She was one of the only sober people I knew and trusted, and I figured she might be able to give me some guidance. Of course she responded and gave me some great advice, including that she was proud of me and assured me I would live a life beyond my wildest dreams.
Reflecting back on the silly notion that sober people were aliens, I know I felt that way because I should have been sober myself. Sober people scared me because I thought they would see right through me to what I really was: a broken woman unable to control how much she drank. I didn’t want to be around sober people because I couldn’t relate to them. All those years I was drinking I felt judged and discriminated against when I came in contact with sober people, when I was the one doing the judging. I didn’t understand their lifestyle so I automatically criticized it. In the end I became one of “them.”
Today, I know I make some drinkers uncomfortable just by being in the same room, especially because I am public about my sobriety. Oh how the tables have turned. But my experience has taught me to be compassionate to those who are still out there drinking and using, because I know exactly how they feel. After all, I used to be them. The difference is that now I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m not worrying about what others think of my lifestyle or if someone will judge me. I’m doing what’s best for me. And when the time comes and I receive a message asking for advice on getting sober, I will be ready with nonjudgmental arms wide open, just like my friend’s mom did for me.