I’ve had a number of firsts since getting sober over the past few days. Saturday was the first time we’ve hosted dinner in our home for friends. They know I’m sober now, which helps but also makes it awkward at the same time. It has to be just as odd for them to have a drink around me as it feels for me to be the only one not drinking, at least that’s what I assume. We didn’t really talk about it, and even though I think my preference is to get it out in the open and have the discussion, I also don’t want to force that on anyone. Overall, I was a little anxious but it turned out to be a very fun night with people I adore and I have faith that it will get easier.
Another first came in the form of a dinner out with coworkers to entertain a client last night. This was not a good experience for me. In fact, this might have been the most difficult night of my sobriety since the first few weeks when my struggle with cravings was at its worst. My company, like many I suspect, is very centered around drinking. Everyone works very hard in a high-stress environment, so of course alcohol is the common way to unwind. Wine and beer are in our lounge area for late afternoon pours on occasion, Bloody Mary Fridays pop up from time to time and social events outside of the office are always all about the alcohol. Before sobriety, I was right in the middle of it all, partaking in every opportunity that came my way. I’ve been lucky to avoid most of those situations since I stopped drinking, until last night.
A few of my coworkers know I’ve quit drinking, but they don’t know the details and I certainly don’t think they realize just how hard this can be. I spent nearly two and a half hours sitting between 7 other people surrounded by drinks. I made the mistake of walking into this dinner expecting that I might have an occasional craving, but that I’d generally be okay. I’ve been out with friends on another occasion, so I thought I knew what to expect. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Here are a few things that I noticed over the course of the evening: 1) The conversation was almost entirely about alcohol – bad drinking stories, instructions on how to do a sake bomb, moonshine tales, favorite wines, favorite breweries, nonstop talk about booze. 2) I was offered the drink menu by someone nearly every 15 minutes, which was easily how often it was passed around the entire table for another round to be ordered. 3) I was surrounded by some of my former favorite drinks, a chilled martini sat across from me, a cold bottle of sake was to my right and both red and white wine were everywhere else. 4) As much as I tried to ignore it, I was well aware of how much everyone was drinking and exactly what they ordered with every round. My observations were relentless.
Here is what is most interesting to me – at no point did I feel an urge to order a drink or even taste one. What did happen is I was overcome with sadness and felt like I was teetering on the edge of a panic attack for two hours. I stared at the drinks around me, at all of the faces as they took those sips and I felt like an outsider and even a failure in some way. Don’t get me wrong, I know in my brain that I’m not, I am well aware that my choice to be sober is a powerful one, but it doesn’t mean that it there isn’t pain associated with the fact that I can’t join in with everyone like I used to. There were a few moments that I felt like I might burst into tears right there in the middle of dinner, my heart was racing and the sweat was out of control. I did my best to take deep breaths, put on a happy face and join the conversation while trying to plot my escape. I’m used to being a lively part of the banter, but I could barely contribute this time, because I didn’t want to talk about drinking and that was the theme of the evening. I can now recall that was the theme at nearly every event like this, I just never noticed it so much because I was right in the middle of it. Once upon a time, I could laugh with them and reminisce about a time or two that I had too much, but I’ve been so focused on my sobriety that it didn’t feel right to visit those places. I was also afraid that I would end up spilling some of my story and this was definitely not the time for that.
I started feeling desperate to get out of there, it was becoming too much for me to handle, but every time I would try to leave one of my co-workers, who also happens to be one of my bosses, kept telling me I needed to stick around for a while longer. He persisted several times, which only made me more uncomfortable and trapped. After about 45 minutes of this, as soon as another coworker stood up to make her exit to get home to her child, I ignored any further attempts to get me to stay and said my quick goodbyes and practically ran to my car. I could not get home to my safe space fast enough. Fortunately, E was home this week and after getting into the house I was able to talk through what had just happened, feel his comfort and reassurance, and finally cry.
Although I do feel much better, I’m still in the midst of the after-effects this morning. I know that I’ll find my way through this, but for now the sadness is still with me. To top it off, something that I hadn’t been overly concerned about before, but that is weighing heavily on me now, is that next week is my annual company meeting out of town. This is usually two booze-filled days of serious partying. After last night’s experience, no matter how much preparing I do in advance, I just don’t know what to expect. Fortunately, there is one other sober person in my company and she is aware that I’ve quit drinking, so I fully expect to stick close to her and to make quick and early exits from the evening’s events, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t going to be tough. I don’t like the way last night made me feel and I don’t look forward to going through anything close to that again. I’d prefer a little break from these ‘firsts’ right now, but that isn’t going to happen until I get past next week.
Until then, I’m taking deep breaths, focusing on my 50 days of a clear head and envisioning a beautiful future of sober living. One day at a time, right?