In all my obsessive thinking about sobriety lately, one of the most pervasive thought (and I know I’m not totally alone here) is that my life, from here until eternity, if I keep this sober bit up, is going to be boring. I will be one of “those” people, who are uptight prudes who don’t like to have any fun. Those people who you secretly feel are living richer lives than you, but all you can consciously feel about them is disdain. Those people who I dismissed from my mind as potential friends because I couldn’t imagine what we would do for “fun” if I got to know them better. I realized I have a deep fear of being regarded this way and that I have been going around assuming that everyone thought like this.
Well, guess what? It was gently pointed out to me yesterday by a friend/coach, that, (wait for it…) everyone doesn’t feel this way about people who don’t drink!! Am I alone here in feeling slightly shocked by this revelation? I mean, I guess I knew that there were people out there, somewhere, certainly not in my world, who didn’t think like I did. But something about the way it was said to me really sunk in. I felt it, down in my gut, this heavy realization that I’ve been living with a belief system so deep and ingrained that I created to protect my own behavior and avoid facing my own issues. It was not a comfortable feeling, suddenly becoming aware that I wasn’t right. (I really like to be right. Like, all the time.)
Also, though, this revelation seeped under my skin like a soft warmth of reassurance. Because, if I was wrong, then this new way of living didn’t have to be as scary or boring as I feared. Maybe, just maybe, people would like me for me. Maybe I could like myself for me. Maybe I didn’t have to see life as two extremes: drinking, or sober. Fun, spontaneous, exciting, and adventurous, or heavy, stressful, irritating and dull. Maybe it’s not as black and white as I’m making it out to be.
In my household as a teenager, my dad was an alcoholic. But he wasn’t abusive or mean to us. Maybe a bit irrational at times, but at that age I wasn’t even aware that had anything to do with alcohol. What I do remember is that my family used to have fun together. We would play games, we would laugh, I remember my dad telling jokes and staying up late with us as we grew into young adults. When he got sober nine years ago, just as my brother sank deep into an addiction that he will likely never come out of, the fun disappeared from our family dynamic. In fact, I can’t really think of a single time that I’ve truly relaxed, laughed and had fun with my family since then. We’ve talked a lot. About my dad’s recovery, about my brother’s latest emergency, about the sadness and helplessness my parents feel, and more recently, about my nephew who they are raising because my brother is too incapable to have custody of him. But we have not relaxed. When I see my family now, I have a tightness in my chest and skin. I feel a great weight on my shoulders. I love them, but I feel drained just thinking about spending time with them because of the seriousness, the grief, the constant co-dependent talk about my brother. When my dad got sober, as proud of him as I am, the fun disappeared.
I had never made this connection that maybe that’s part of the reason I can’t envision a life without alcohol ever being fun or relaxing. This was a light bulb moment for me. I’ve been seeing sobriety as this awful place where no one laughs, no one relaxes, and everyone feels bad all the time. As my coach said: Why the hell would I want to go to that place? But here I am, on day 27. I’m not miserable, I’ve relaxed a good deal in the past 27 days. I feel healthy. The next question is, what about “fun?”
What was fun, in my mind, about drinking was the sense of complete abandonment of responsibility for a short while. In a life lived under extreme pressure to perform, to serve others, and appear in court every day, while dealing with my family shit thrumming in the back of my head all the time, meeting friends for happy hour was an opportunity to go somewhere else entirely. Hours of blocked off time where worrying was not an option. A place where I went from feeling frazzled to calm, from too pudgy/old/awkward looking to sexy and attractive. A place where my sense of humor flowed, where people were drawn to me, where I was the smart and powerful career woman who could handle her booze. Where I could embrace my sense of rebellion from the tight constructs I put on myself in my day-to-day, over-achiever lifestyle. Where I could live without self-imposed rules.
This is why moderation has failed for me recently. The reason drinking is fun for me, is that while I am enjoying my wine, there are no rules. I don’t have to get an “A.” I don’t have to win my case. I don’t have to be the “good child” for my parents. I don’t have to lose 5 more pounds, go for a run, count my calories, organize my closet, finish the laundry, and end world hunger before I can be okay with myself. In that first glass of wine, all of those cares melt away. I instantly give myself permission to be in the space of relaxation and to let all those worries go. To impose a two-drink limit on my “fun” time would completely interfere with the whole purpose of letting go in those moments. I might only have two, but it won’t be because of a limit I put on myself. The minute that limit is in my mind, the minute I will break it.
Living a life of extremes (extreme work, extreme play) has been my norm for as long as I can remember. I’m hoping as I move away from this lifestyle that the craving for total, alcohol fueled abandon will subside in favor of a more balanced enjoyment of life. Fun doesn’t have to be destructive. For all the fun of abandoning my rules and responsibilities in those drinking hours, I would only find triple that in anxiety for having woken up with a hangover and feeling even less capable of coping with them.
“Not everyone thinks this way.” This simple and gentle statement pretty much rocked my world. Time to find the relaxation, laughter and fun that swim in all that soft gray area and quit jumping from black to white while ignoring all the beauty in the middle.
p.s. thanks, coach.