Things I'm good at:
1. Not drinking
Today, 6/6/13, marks the fifth anniversary of my sobriety. Five years ago, it went something like this:
Jen: <on fifth beer> ramble ramble ramble ramble nonsensical ramble
Kim: Uh-huh, yes.
Jen: ramble ramble ramble sad ramble
Kim: Mmm, yes, I see, and how does that make you feel?
Jen: <on sixth beer> ramble ramble ramble
Jen: You know, I don't think I want to do this anymore.
|The last thing I ever drank. I know. Obscure.|
My memory of that evening is incomplete, and certainly more poignant than I have chosen to express it. But the jist of it is this -- nothing happened. I didn't crash into a telephone pole or another human being. I didn't fail out of school. I didn't get fired. I didn't get arrested for peeing in an alley or fighting in a bar. There was no "rock bottom." There was no intervention. The adage that you have to hit bottom before you can go up is a mistake, and frankly, problematic thinking.
The truth is that all these things could have easily happened. Due to a combination of luck, chance and stealth, I eluded the "worst case scenario" for the hundreds of poor life choices I made. I did, however, do many many stupid things. I feel shame for many of these things still today, and I am sorry to the people I hurt, whether directly or indirectly.
Drinking was, of course, not all doom and gloom. I fear that I sound like I lack conviction when I say that drinking really was fun sometimes. It wasn't always at the expense of others, and usually nothing terrible happened. It would be dishonest to say that I don't look back fondly at the late night swims and hot tub hopping, Drunk Jenga, or trespassing on the ruins of people's homes in post-Katrina Mississippi. I am thankful that I had these moments.
|Getting "capped" in 2005, a common prank of sorts in my awesome college apartment.|
I think it is important to my future sobriety to acknowledge this truth. It means that the decision to quit the sauce comes from a place of clarity and honesty, and not from desperation. I don't need to lie to myself to justify my abstinence. If I did not acknowledge this now, the feelings of nostalgia could potentially evolve into a need to recreate those feelings. So there's that.
And here I am today, five years after making that decision in a state of "slight to moderate buzz." If you're curious (and if you've read this far, I'm guessing you are), many things have changed for me.
1. I'm learning how to feel real feelings, and respond to them. During my heavy drinking days, I repressed many emotions which would occasionally explode in an emotional crying fest where I revealed TMI, or perhaps just punched the bathroom tile (a chipped knuckle will slowly heal itself, until you punch it again). In the first few years (yep, years) of sobriety, I found myself crying almost every day, like I was in a chronic state of PMS. This has tapered greatly in the past year, and I've begun to figure out how to react to events in an emotionally appropriate way.
2. I'm learning how to be social, without the social crutch. This is an ongoing process. It can be difficult to explain to relative strangers that I-used-to-drink-way-too-much-so-now-I-don't-drink-at-all. I've found that some people are actually threatened by this, fearful that I will unfairly judge them (I don't). I sometimes wonder if people feel I will see through them or expose them as something that may or may not be (I won't). But I no longer walk into a bar and crave a drink. I don't feel the pressure to celebrate with booze, or relate with booze. I give thanks to Beck's for making a non-alcoholic beer to help ease this transition.
3. The domino theory of smoking and drinking. I smoked at least a pack a day from ages 17 to 25, and by at least, I really mean that. Two packs was not beyond the realm of possibility. Today, this is unthinkable, and probably impossible. Nicotine addiction is strong and I've lit up after "quitting" probably three dozen times, so I am hesitant to say "I quit smoking." But getting off booze has helped create a new mentality and new norms.
4. I bet I'd be wicked broke. Cigarettes and booze cost money. I'm not rich now, but I'm not wasting my salary on that shit any more.
5. Simple calorie math. In my five sober years, I've continued to consume a bazillion pounds of chocolate, french fries, and pizza, but I have lost over 20 lbs. Years of consuming an additional 1000 calories of alcohol per evening caused me to gain weight, but I theorize that it also kept my metabolism high as my body tried hard to stay at a normal weight. This accidental weight loss has encouraged me to be more active, and I truly enjoy the physical activity I shied away from for so many years.
There are more, but five is such a nice number.
Before I end this, I should probably acknowledge that scary word. ALCOHOLIC. You can define an alcoholic by their activity, but also by their genetic predisposition. An alcoholic brain responds to the drug in a different way from the general populace, from that first taste. Over time, the brain changes, adapts to alcohol, so that alcohol becomes more or less a necessary part of brain functioning. When you see a drunk making a fool of himself, or sitting in the corner drooling on his shirt, take heart -- he feels normal now. An alcoholic feels weird when sober, not quite him/herself. When the alcoholic can drink again, the feeling is one of intense relief. That all is right in the world again. I know this because I know that feeling, because I am an alcoholic. Now I'm just a better one than I used to be.
And I don't do shit like this anymore:
|I parked drunk and ran over a duck. When I discovered its lifeless body the next day, I did what any normal human being would do: write a suicide note and stick it underneath him for anyone walking on the sidewalk to see. Now you know.|
Thanks to my boss at the Publix Deli, Stacey Waldrop, who pulled me into her office in 2003 or 2004 to show me her medallion from AA to celebrate her third year of sobriety. She was the first person who ever showed concern for my habits, and also the first person to whom I ever admitted my problem. Not that it stopped me from doing a power hour on my breaks.
Thanks to my Mom for banning any amount of alcohol greater than a six pack from the house when I briefly lived with her after college and before AmeriCorps.
Thanks to my boss Karl at Angler's Alibi in Alaska, for being an asshole as well as an alcoholic. He showed me exactly who I did not want to be during the first few months of my sobriety.
Thanks to Kim for always being there.
Thanks to you, reader, for the encouragement.