I was apprehensive about this past Saturday. We had an evening planned with our usual circle of friends, the six people that are a regular part of our lives and who I adore, but only two knew I was off the sauce. Those two thought it was temporary and didn’t know the real reasons beyond me just taking a little break for health. I’ve already written about making it through an evening of sobriety with those two, but now I had to face them all, not to mention my sobriety is no longer in temporary status. These are very good people and we always have a great time, but I’ll admit that our most commonly shared interest has always been alcohol. We all met as an effect of being heavily involved in the craft beer scene in our area and we’ve carried that into evenings of bottle shares and cocktail making for years now. Other than an occasional movie together, I don’t believe we’ve ever had sober interactions.
Once again, I had my trusty bag of club soda, spicy ginger ale and limes in tote and once again, I was nervous. I had decided to just stick with the simple story that I was taking a break for a while so that I didn’t need to go into any details. The reasons for my not drinking and the permanence of it weren’t something I felt ready to talk about, especially in the setting of a fun evening out together. God knows I didn’t want to be the Debbie Downer. I thought my quick story was going to be enough, until it suddenly wasn’t. We were a few minutes late that evening, which is not typical of us but we were held up a bit while finishing a deal for my new car. I would have expected that to be painful enough to drive me to want to drink, but it was surprisingly pleasant. I mention the late arrival, because everyone already had cocktails in hand as we walked through the door. While we exchanged hellos and hugs one of the women immediately offered me a taste from her martini glass which contained a lovely smelling fruit drink. I politely refused and told her I was not drinking at the moment. I thought she might fall off her stool. I’ve never turned down a taste of anything, so I could see that it took her a minute to wrap her head around what just happened. She next said the obligatory, “Good for you” followed by something I didn’t plan for, “What’s the time limit you have for this not drinking? When can you start again?” That shook me. Here I had barely walked in the door and I was faced with a specific question that I suddenly didn’t want to fake my way through.
The next thing you know, I hear the words “I think this is forever” come out of my mouth. That, of course, prompted even more surprised looks and further questions. Now I was standing in front of two of the women and heard myself blurting out that I’ve come to realize I have a problem with alcohol, something about how my father was such a brutal alcoholic and I could see my situation growing worse and not wanting to ever be like him. They continued to look at me with what I interpreted as shock and I guess I took that as an indicator that I hadn’t said quite enough, so I kept up the word vomit. I nervously rambled about how I drink alone all the time and woke up drunk and sick in that hotel room in October thinking I might die and how I’ve been taking things too far and how I haven’t been making healthy choices. My neck and shoulder muscles were suddenly seizing up and it was getting a little tough to breathe. Seriously, it was like I opened my mouth and spewed a jumble of nonsensical words about some of the deeper realizations I had taken so long to uncover and managed to do it in the span of about a minute. I could hardly understand what I was saying as it all spilled out, it felt like I wasn’t even the one controlling my vocal chords, someone else had taken over and was making a mess of things. I didn’t know how I was going to recover from this, and then I was saved.
My husband had noticed what was happening. He was keenly aware of me throughout the whole night, and started it out by stepping beside me in this moment and placing his hand on my lower back. His simple touch of reassurance brought me back to myself, and I was able to relax a little. There it was. My truth was out with these two. It might have been a bit much, it wasn’t a perfect delivery and certainly not one I had ever planned for, but it was done. After picking their jaws up off the floor (which is what I envisioned was happening – like something out of a cartoon), both women started commenting that they could never do it. One of them, who I’ll call H, said “Oh no, I couldn’t do that. I love my wine too much, but I don’t drink it during the week, so I’m okay.” The other, I’ll refer to her as L, said something to the effect of “I love my wine, too. But I’ve got to have it every day, there’s no way I could stop. I don’t know how you are doing it.” It was such a weird position to be in. I wanted to explain more, I wanted to tell them not to think that just because I was doing this didn’t mean that I was judging them or that they should change anything. I was filled with worry that they would start doubting their own drinking habits, but then I snapped myself out of it. This wasn’t about them, it was a choice that I had to make for me. I was creating a story around their thoughts that I had no way of even knowing existed. I wanted to immediately make sure that my actions weren’t making them feel bad, which is a terrible habit that I’ve carried with me since childhood. None of this was about anyone else, so I let it go.
Their next comments made me feel as if they weren’t taking this very seriously, that they thought this whole stopping drinking thing must be easy for me. They couldn’t believe I was turning down the countertop filled with cocktails, wine and beer bottles to be shared that evening. I desperately wanted them to know how difficult this was and that it didn’t come easily at all. I managed to tell them it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and much like them, I also loved my wine and my whiskey. I really didn’t want to have to let it go, but it was necessary. I could tell that I was losing them, and I was honestly ready to stop talking about it. Again, I didn’t want to be that Debbie Downer in the room, so instead I grabbed my club soda and moved to a new conversation.
The rest of the evening went smoothly, overall, with just a few odd moments popping up. I think some of these friends are just trying to figure out how to deal with a sober friend, and I can’t say I blame them. It’s a brand new concept that I don’t even know how to handle yet, so it has to be foreign to them. As an example, when I walked into the dining room, it was easy to tell where I would be sitting because there were filled wine glasses at each place setting, but one was left with an empty glass. At first, I thought it was strange to even place a glass there, as almost a ‘just in case she changes her mind’ attempt; however, I had to tell myself that maybe it was done in case I wanted to pour my club soda into it. The one thing that did bother me was when our host was pouring refills of wine around the table later in the dinner and as he walked past my chair he held the bottle in front of my face and said “See what you’re missing.” Just when I was feeling let down by this, his wife, L, piped up and told him to stop being so mean. She said I should be proud of what I was doing and that he needed to back off. Now, I love L, but she is honestly the one person that I expected to give me a difficult time about not drinking more than anyone else in this group. My husband and I both thought she would be the biggest challenge, and it turned out on Saturday that she was my biggest supporter.
As we said our goodbyes to everyone that night, two somewhat profound things happened. First, H approached me and asked if she could make dinner for me next week while her husband was out of town. She made a point to say we could just hang out and there was no mention of a drink. As long as we have all been friends, we’ve always only done things as couples, none of us have ever had a one-on-one like this. Her offer was both surprising and sincere, so I immediately accepted. Then, as we made our way out the door, L gave me a big hug (she is not a hugger) and told me again how proud she was of what I was doing. She said I needed to keep it up and that it was something she could never do. Tears filled her eyes, she could barely talk and had to turn away, but I was so struck by her emotions around this, that I also started to cry as I made my way to the car. L is not one to ever show an emotion and when she’s been drinking, as she had this night, she usually turns feisty and will easily give someone a hard time. I fully expected an ‘Oh my god, why the hell aren’t you drinking?’ versus the encouragement that she doled out.
I am about to get a little ‘woo-woo’ here, but when I got home that night and lay in bed next to my husband, my heart felt light. It was as if the universe sent me two beautiful gifts, maybe even a reward for my decision to stay sober. As stressful and confusing as the rambling of my truth may have come forth, the unexpected moments with these women later that night only reassured me that I am doing something big here. My sobriety is starting to feel powerful.