Who the Hell am I When I’m Not Drinking, and How Will I Feel at Parties?

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The initial ambivalence about becoming sober brings up many insecurities.  Many of us use drinking as a social lubricant.  Even “Normies” use alcohol as a stimulant in social situations.  It’s not uncommon to feel as though you are losing an identity when you become sober, because essentially, you are. 

The first year I went to social events as a sober person, I discovered myself much more subdued than my usual attention seeking persona.  What I did not do in these situations, was judge myself for this.  More than anything, I observed myself like I would normally observe other people, except it was less obvious and more internal.  What emotional responses am I having?  What insecurities are arising?  Who am I feeling like I should impress at this party?  Am I comfortable right now?  These are the questions I asked myself, and I continue to do this.  It’s a practice of self-awareness that keeps me present.  If I merely observe my inner dialog, rather than react to it, I discover myself entirely in my body.  I am able to be thoughtful in my interactions with other people, and I’m much more natural as a human being.  The alcoholic is insecure as a human being, which is why becoming sober feels a lot like being the only one naked at a party.  It can certainly feel this way, but don’t buy into it.  You are much more acceptable being yourself, than you are when you are drunk.  People knew you were drunk, they just didn’t say anything to you.  If they did, then you were most likely hammered, and embarrassing yourself.

The thing should understand, is that everyone else at a party is thinking mostly about themselves.  Their focus is not on you.  It’s human nature to be self-absorbed.  The other thing I observe is that people don’t really drink as much as I believed they did.  Every party or social gathering I’ve been to thus far, has proven to be a very non-alcoholic event.  I’ve even met several people who don’t drink at all.  I believed other people drank as much as I did.  Well, I was wrong.  Most people drink very responsibly, and most people don’t really care if you aren’t drinking alcohol.  If they are bothered by it, then you are probably with the wrong people.  At parties now, I have just as much fun not drinking, as I did when I was drinking.  This is because it is exciting to me that I am finally comfortable in my own skin, without the assistance of a drug to help me feel like I am fitting in.  My experiences are much different now because they are organic.  My perception is clearer and I am much more available to enjoy each moment, as opposed to worrying if my glass is empty.

Lastly, if I am not feeling a party, I have the confidence and self-respect to leave.  In my recovery, I have learned to honor myself, so it doesn’t really matter to me who gets offended if I am taking care of my own needs at any given time.  As long as I am not being selfish and hurting someone, it is okay to take care of myself.  Integrity begins with respecting yourself, and honoring your lifestyle in recovery.

It’s okay to take moments away from the crowd if it becomes overwhelming.  It’s perfectly natural to feel awkward and nervous.  Allowing these feelings to be there with you, rather than running from them or avoiding them altogether, will allow them to breathe and dissipate.  Having a sober friend or loved one with you in these situations is extremely helpful as well.  Don’t judge yourself for your insecurities.  Have some compassion for yourself, and allow yourself to feel everything you are feeling, without trying to change it.  This is what it means to recover; acceptance of yourself under any given circumstance.

In time, you will discover a very alive and joyful person under all those insecurities.  Others will see it too, and they will accept you exactly as you are.

For The Newcomber in Recovery

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I clearly remember the day I landed inside of a six month residential rehab, knowing that it was either do it or die, for me.  I recall feeling both equally safe and insecure.  After attempting to get sober several times in seven years, and failing hopelessly, I was uncertain of being capable of long-term sobriety.  Yet, I wanted it.  More than anything, I wanted to learn how to not pick up a drink.

I was so willing.  I would have swam the Bay naked in winter surrounded by great whites, if that’s what they told me was going to keep me sober.  Like most people in recovery, I was tired and desperate.

After rehab, I still felt very uncertain.  It’s so easy to stay sober when you are under conditions such as an institution provides, and under the scrutiny of hyper-alert staff, but I wasn’t naïve to think I was in the clear when I walked out of those double doors.  Rehab was merely a foundation for me.  I had the rest of my life in open space to build myself back up with the recovery tools that were provided.  It’s one thing to stay sober in rehab; it’s another to stay sober in the real world. 

It took about a year in the real world for me to feel like I had a real shot at staying sober.  I went to meetings, got a sponsor, and moved into sober-living apartments for ten months with my treatment peers.  I backed off of my career and took a couple of mediocre jobs that didn’t cause me stress.  I took things really slowly because I did not trust myself, and I did not want to fail.

I experienced what it was like to have a full-on alcohol craving without drinking.  The cravings in my first year were brutal.  I’m talking vampire-needs-blood-immediately, vicious cravings.   Prior to treatment, I’d never gotten through a craving like some of the ones I had in the first year, but like I was informed in treatment, the cravings are temporary.  They do pass, fairly quickly. 

My longest craving lasted about two hours.  I was so close to giving up and running to the liquor store for a bottle of vodka.  I was so close that I could taste it.  I wanted it desperately.  I began shaking.  I was so incredibly scared that I was going to drink.  I didn’t know how to stop myself.

Before running to the liquor store, I took a moment to pray.  My words were, “Please help me, God.  Please help me.”  A second later I found myself grabbing my backpack and running up the Berkeley Hills to the treatment facility where I got sober.  The first person I saw was a former peer, who had gone through treatment with me.  He relapsed and was back in treatment again for another six months.  He was sitting at the front desk.  No one else was there.  I sat down on the bench in the lobby, and sobbed.  I knew it was my higher power at work when I saw my friend’s face.  It could have been any of several clients at that front desk, yet it just happened to be a former peer.  I shared my experience with him, and also to a counselor, which immediately alleviated my craving.  I spent a few more hours there, talking with the women who were still in treatment.  I went to a group that day as well, and I came out of the day feeling like a champion.  It was both emotional and terrifying, but I knew what occurred was a huge step forward in my recovery.

I am over two years sober now, and I can honestly say that I have not had a craving like that one, since the day it happened.  I believe that it takes practice not taking a drink, under the wickedest of circumstances, in order to fully overcome addiction.  Habits need to be broken by practicing a new way of doing things.  Cravings have to be experienced in order for them to dissipate.  Emotions need to arise and regarded, rather than embellished upon, in order to for you to heal. 

Think of recovery as a re-balance in action.  It’s simply a journey that brings a disconnected person, back to themselves.  In order for this to occur, one should visualize their recovery as a long term goal.  In order to meet the goal, you must overcome the circumstances provided to you (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually).  You must face adversity, walk through doubt, acknowledge fear and keep moving forward.  You should also remain compassionate toward yourself knowing that you are new to life as a sober person.  Take things slowly and take care of yourself.  Be kind to yourself and laugh when you are clumsy.    

The greatest understanding I have received in my recovery is that every emotion I experience, is temporary.  Nothing I a feel at any given time, is eternal.  Everything will pass.  Fighting or resisting emotions only prolongs the pain and discomfort.  Buying into anger, stress, sadness, loneliness, etc., and taking a drink, will completely strip you of your self-worth. 

I just want to say one more thing… I have never felt better, dreamed bigger, loved deeper, laughed harder or been more clearer than I am since it’s been my life goal to recover.

I Bury the Bottle (Poem by J.L. Forbes)

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I bury the bottle

Deep in the earth

Pour out this poison

Being high was not worth

Ignoring my essence

Drowning out pain

Hurting my loved ones

My life lived in vain

 

I bury this bottle

My life is now mine

No longer a stronghold

Time to refine

I walk away sober

Turn my back on this hell

To begin a real journey

To climb out of this shell

 

I bury this bottle

Today is the day

Not one drop of booze

To steal me away

Goodbye you ol’ havoc

A friend you were not

A liar, a cheat

From the very first shot

 

– April 21, 2011