I’m sitting in my living room on the Fourth of July, watching the SF Giants as they lose another game and thinking about how the sensation still flits over me time to time. This game, for example, could have been passed sinking into the spicy embrace of a Bloody Mary or three. Or the evenings when I meet up with a friend could center around a shared bottle of wine fast forwarding us into more intimate conversation. Or if I think too long about what it was like to be a happy hour regular, I might crave that easy socializing, the way whiskey would wash the work day away with a single sip.
But those moments of longing have nothing on all the ways in which I don’t miss drinking – or rather the consequences that drinking like I drank delivered. It would be less embarrassing if I’d quit solely because I’d chosen to embrace better health practices, but the reasons are both more universal – the puking, the blackouts, the bad decisions, the ridiculous behavior – and more particular – seeing the harm alcohol has done to people I love.
To arrive at a year sober stunned me. Seven days took forever, 30 days, the same. But by the time I hit 100 days, thoughts of drinking vs not drinking no longer dominated my brain. When opportunities presented themselves, the familiar urge to say yes would nudge me, but I was too aware of how much better I was feeling, doing, to make a strong case for giving up all that progress. I passed the six month mark, kept going, eventually began double-checking my count – 291 days couldn’t be right, could it? 308 days? 340 days?!
And now today, 372 mornings of waking up without a hangover, without struggling to remember what happened the night before, not wincing at drunken texts or social media posts, not starting the day off full of despair and self-loathing. Prior to this extended break, I would never have believed, could never have imagined, that life without booze could feel this right. But this effort is as much about what I’ve gained as about what I’ve given up.
Here is what I do instead of day fade on the weekends: Surf, hike, walk on the beach, crosswords, long-postponed projects around the house with groove-inducing pop songs blasting. Sometimes I read a novel compelling enough that I don’t notice the hours going by (sometimes in the bath! in the afternoon!). Sometimes I write a card to a friend or craft a blog post in hopes of connecting. I go to bed feeling good and wake up imbued with hope.
Here is what I do to maintain intimacy with my friends: Invite them for walks or hikes or lunch and give them my full attention, ask thoughtful questions, open my heart and life to them. This morning Bobby and I met up with P and L, who were coming through town on their way south. We hiked around Trinidad Head, admired the glassiness of the ocean, reveled in the balminess of the day, devoured lunch at Lighthouse Grill, caught up on all the things the whole way, none of the pleasure lessened for a lack of booze.
Here is what I do to maintain a social life: I still meet people for drinks, sometimes, but I suggest places that have fancy NA options or I make sure to have an exit plan in case I find myself itchy. I host dinner parties and tell people to bring their own booze, which I’m happy to supply glasses for. I show up for outdoor interpretive walks or volunteer events or stand on the dunes and talk story with the surfers. I wander Farmers Market and Arts Alive and run into people I know and chat for a bit and it’s lovely and then I move on. I worry that I’ve become boring, then decide the kind of interesting I was wasn’t serving me – and what is more repetitive than being hungover and regretful on the daily? Mostly I’ve realized I don’t need nearly as much socializing as I thought I did and find pleasure in crafting a more deliberate, more rewarding way of being in the world.
(Note: A side effect of sobriety is a winnowing of your friends to those whose company you enjoy for real. I think about all the people I hung out with that I thought were great, but really, what they were great at was being available to get drunk with.)
Not everyone’s brain works like mine. Some people are like my husband, a man of typically no more than two drinks and yet the guy will happily hang out in a bar for hours simply because he likes people. But the addictive properties inherent in alcohol do a number on many of us, which is why quitting drinking is a perpetual topic of interest and why a culture embracing sobriety has evolved.
I used to think sober people wanted others to quit drinking out of envy for what they could no longer have. Now I recognize the desire to share this other way of life as a gift – an impulse admittedly, uncomfortably close to evangelicalism and yet, because I know the importance of leaving lights upon the path for when people want to find a new way, I leave these words of encouragement for those who might need them.