The Girl Who Cried Sober
HOW TO SAY “no thanks” to the inevitable drink offer is something every recovering alcoholic has to navigate. And in a culture where “I just don’t drink” is rarely a socially acceptable answer–outside of pregnancy or organized religion–you have to be equipped with an answer to “why not?” when you decline a shot of 13-year-old single malt scotch, which, to some, is like snubbing a peace offering. I was completely unprepared for this when I was first trying to get sober, and I could only say “I have to get up early tomorrow” so many times. There are obvious reasons to hide active alcoholism, but I wasn’t expecting an even stronger pull to hide the fact that I wasn’t drinking once I finally entered recovery. Just as I wish we could live in a society where nobody assumes heterosexuality, I wish we could stop assuming that everybody drinks. But even without being offered alcohol, “coming out” as a recovering alcoholic has its own challenges.
I wanted to keep my not drinking on the down-low more than I ever tried to hide my drinking. I would hold onto my glass of diet coke (with an umbrella, please) comfortably knowing that everyone assumed it was filled with whiskey. It wasn’t because I was ashamed of being an alcoholic, but because I was ashamed of being sober. I thought sober was synonymous with boring, lame, inhibited, repressed, and sheltered (I was sorely wrong). I didn’t want people to look at me differently in a bar; I didn’t want to be the only person not raising a toast at dinner or the only person not imbibing in the wine tasting at the vineyard. I just wanted to blend in, but the world of academia that surrounded me seemed to exist entirely inside of a keg. I was naked without the armor of alcohol around which I had built my entire life.
I wanted to keep my not drinking quiet because I knew I would relapse. The first year-and-a-half of my recovery was full of attempts to determine if I really was “one of those alcoholics” who could never drink again or if I could learn to “drink normally,” which is just about every alcoholic’s dream. I can’t enumerate how many times I told my friends I was abstaining from alcohol completely, only to go out with them for drinks later that week and announce that I was going to try “drinking socially.” I was turning into the girl who cried sober, and every time I drank, I feared that my friends would feel responsible for my relapses.
I wanted to keep my not drinking discreet because I feared that people around me would feel like I was judging them for drinking and wouldn’t be able to enjoy their own drunkenness. I was afraid if people knew that I was a recovering alcoholic, they would stop inviting me anywhere alcohol was present. I was afraid of being a buzzkill and afraid that I would look bored and make everyone feel awkward—it was actually a very similar mindset as being afraid to tell people I was gay. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of being judged myself, but that my different(read: wrong)way of life was going to encumber everybody else’s normalcy. It wasn’t until I accepted that fact that living a sober life was nothing to be ashamed of that I actually was able to live that way.
With over a year since my last drink behind me, I am neither scared nor ashamed of sobriety, and now that almost everyone in my life knows that I’m sober, I rarely get offered a drink anyway. I feel a sense of inclusion when I go to a party where the host doesn’t just stop at “beer, wine, or vodka” on the list of drink offerings but includes soda or iced tea as well. Coming out as a recovering alcoholic has been as liberating as when I came out as gay. In all honesty, I did stop getting invited to some types of events, but in turn, I strengthened my bond with the group of close friends who were comfortable being around my sober-self. I’m not saying to tell every person you meet all your intimate details—it’s perfectly acceptable to keep your sexual orientation and other lifestyle details private—but in every instance that involved a close friend or family member, being honest about who I am has ultimately led to peace and fulfilment, even if there was some (okay, more than some) hurt along the way.
And because I’ve been asked this so many times: I’m not speaking for anybody but myself, but it is nobody’s fault but my own if I drink. I welcome invites to bars or parties, and if I’m uncomfortable being around alcohol that day, I’ll excuse myself. I’m not going to judge anyone for being shitfaced—trust me, I’ve had more than a lifetime’s worth of shitfacedness.
Credit for prompting this blog goes to my cousin Megan for sharing this article with me: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fran-moreland-johns/going-public-with-alcoholism_b_5569484.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063