I remember when I first stopped drinking, almost 7 years ago, I couldn’t fathom that I would never be able to pick up a drink again. How would life ever be fun without my personality lube? How would I socialize without my liquid courage? Would everyone see me as boring as they knocked ‘em back and I sat quietly and drank my seltzer? I really couldn’t imagine the change I needed to make. I only knew that I had to make it or I would continue heading down a deadly path.
There is a saying in recovery: “change I must or die I will.” It’s not enough to just stop drinking. We must change who we are at the core. We must examine the things that made us want to escape into the bottle. Look at our character defects and face them head-on. Figure out what people, places and things served as triggers for our drinking and avoid them like the plague. Dissect our resentments and fears and conquer them. It is an all-out revamping, remodeling, rebuilding, and recreating who we were. Stronger, healthier, wiser, and more at peace and comfortable in our own skin. Do you remember the show the Six Million Dollar Man? Steve Austin? “Gentlemen. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. Better than he was before. Better. Stronger. Faster.” Ok, well maybe sobriety won’t get you all those things. But definitely better.
We get the “technology” or tools we need during recovery to rebuild ourselves better than before. It’s far from easy. It takes time and a great deal of effort. Often lots of blood, sweat and tears. And, as I’ve said many times over, we’re the only ones who can do it, but we don’t have to do it alone. We can pick up a drink… or we can pick up the phone. We can pour something that will eventually kill us over ice or we can pore over the pages of literature written by those who are much wiser and have gone before us, sharing their experience, strength and hope.
But does all this make us boring and no fun to be around? What if we used to be the life of the party when we drank? Or maybe we just thought we were the life of the party. In either case, if we were used to our social lives revolving around alcohol—parties, bars, concerts, etc.—how do we make that change to a sober life without it being somber? And dull.
I’m going to be perfectly honest. Early in my sobriety. It was beyond somber. It was miserable. Dark. Gray. Depressing. Scary. Lonely. I felt like I had lost my best friend. I mourned the breakup by staying in bed, getting over the physical symptoms of detoxing, for months. When I physically started to feel better, I faced the cold hard truth that I could no longer put myself in situations where people, places and things would trigger me to want to pick up a drink. Since drinking was pretty much all I knew, that was basically everyone, everywhere and everything. So I stayed in my bed even longer.
As I got myself into a recovery program, I learned that isolating was not a good idea. I had to force myself to get out of my own head and be with other people. I was blessed with some amazing friends who wouldn’t let me stay in my bed forever, despite my best efforts. They got me to join an exercise program, a bible study, or go for walks. I found other recovering alcoholics who would text me, especially Friday nights at 5pm when that dreaded happy hour rolled around. They knew how much I was struggling and trying to adjust to fill that time with something else besides my usual glass (ok, bottles) of wine.
Eventually, I managed to go to a few social outings. I didn’t last long, and always had an “escape plan.” But I gradually got some strength to figure out how to still have a life while not drinking. I’ll never forget going to a neighborhood pool party with a good friend who tried to pull me out to dance. I told her that I couldn’t dance sober. She reminded me that I couldn’t actually dance drunk either. We both got a great laugh out of it. And yes, I did dance. And I had fun.
Little by little, as each day went by, I got stronger and could do more socializing. I could go to restaurants and not drool every time a waiter walked by with a tray of martinis heading to another table. I could go to a friend’s house and see people drinking wine while I had seltzer and not want to scream that life was unfair. I could see someone holding a red Solo cup at our neighborhood pool and not obsess about what was in it, knowing full well it was an alcoholic beverage. I’ve shared before that we even hosted “Mocktail Parties” where people created their own fun, non-alcoholic beverages and competed for the best tasting and best named drinks. My kids even joined in this party, making their own concoctions and socializing with a bunch of sober adults.
I even started going on trips to see friends and learned to travel without drinking. Instead of researching which restaurants had the best wine lists or bars, I looked for other things in advance of my trips. Places to hike, spas, and recovery meetings I could attend. And guess what? I had fun. I remembered where I went, what I did and who I met. I didn’t wake up with a massive hangover and was able to enjoy the day. And the night. And the company I was with. All while knowing I didn’t make any more of an ass of myself than I may be sober.
I recently went to Colorado to see a dear friend who was with me when I had my last drink and was the first person I told that I was an alcoholic. We actually sat at the bar at the base of the mountain and had something to eat and a (nonalcoholic) drink at the end of a day of skiing. We talked about how far I had come to be able to sit at a bar, facing bottles of alcohol, and not be totally freaked out.
So for those of you who may be early in your sobriety and struggling, wondering if life will ever be fun without the booze, I can tell you honestly that it will. It will be so much better. In so many ways. Call me crazy, but what I used to think was fun often came with me spending a lot of time on the cold bathroom floor holding on to the toilet, vowing to never drink again. Or with my head pounding so hard that I had to shush my kids every time they spoke. Or cancelling all my plans to simply nurse my hangover in bed. Or straining my brain (what was left after all the brain cells I had killed) to figure out what I had done the night before that I might be embarrassed about.
I may not be dancing on tables (and based on my friend’s comment, I’d say that is a good thing). But I am far from somber. Sobriety has given me many gifts, including a life that is happy, joyous and free. And the gratitude and clarity to appreciate all that comes with that. Somber is defined as “dark or dull in color or tone; gloomy”. Sobriety has brought back the rainbows in my life.
“No really, you’re an excellent dancer”—Jose Cuervo, Robert Mondavi, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam…..