Well, winter is finally here in the upper Midwest. A quick storm blew through the region, dumping on a few cities, but sparing mine (fortunately!) from too much of a mess.
It’s a small little token of normalcy that I’ve been longing for, strangely enough. Living in the Northern part of the US without so much as a flake of snow until mid November has been off-putting. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely appreciated the 60-degree days in November, but it was just one more thing that gave me that little itch of anxiety deep in my core, that wouldn’t go away.
Normalcy is a strange thing. When I drank, I hated the idea of things just being
normal. I had this idea that there should always be something novel and exciting around each corner in life. I was never a fan of the idea of “settling in” to a job, a place, or a mindset. I needed things to be consistently new, to feel like anything was worth my excitement or energy.
To be fair, I still feel that way approximately half of the time. I still want excitement. I still want adventure. Going out and finding it as a sober person, though, poses its own challenges. How do I mingle my way through society without a drink in my hand? How do I cap off a night spent with some amazing people from my community without heading next door to the shitty dive bar I used to frequent so often, usually by myself? Am I resigned to just going home by myself, to hang out in bed reading books or watching Netflix? Or is there something else I can do to spark a light within myself, something that doesn’t involve getting plastered?
That’s the thing. Many people who drink regularly (and those of us early in sobriety) seem to believe that there isn’t much excitement found in being sober, or that it involves being around jittery, tight-lipped people hanging out in a room together talking about God and drinking oily coffee. I, myself, never really thought that the sober life would be interesting. Sure, getting up earlier and having more energy and maybe losing some weight is great. But is that all? I would think to myself: How can you have fun with friends without going out to the bars? How can you expect to connect with anyone when you don’t have that “liquid courage” to back you up? How could going to a concert, or going out for dinner, or celebrating an anniversary, or watching Sunday night football, or going on vacation, or celebrating the holidays, or watching Netflix, or going on a date, or meeting new people, or studying for finals, or visiting family, or enduring the in-laws, or cooking dinner, or or or… how could those things be fun without alcohol involved? How? Where’s the excitement in any of it, when you can’t/won’t let yourself drink?
To answer that question in the most annoying and un-helpful way possible: the excitement is something you have to cultivate for yourself in those situations. Booze is the easiest way to create the initial excitement, but then the nectar wears off, and the pros of using it ultimately end up being heavily outweighed by the cons. Yep, it’s on you to make things exciting or worth your while. And it’s on you to know when they aren’t and to remove yourself accordingly. Fun, I know.
Here’s another un-helpful piece of advice that I would have never wanted to hear when I was drinking: It takes intention. It takes willingness. It takes being uncomfortable and learning how to excuse yourself from situations where you’re genuinely bored, or too anxious to concentrate. It takes a conscious effort to understand that not everything has to be exciting, actually. And hey, that’s okay.
The shitty part about talking about how great sobriety actually is this: many people who are drinking – yet who feel the need or desire to stop – are often so deeply and emotionally captured by the drinking lifestyle, that to believe sobriety will genuinely be more fun, exciting, or fulfilling sounds like complete bullshit. “Oh yeah?” they say. “Right. As if I’m going to believe that. Sounds like a cult mentality to me.”
I know this because I was absolutely, definitely one of those skeptical people. Highly skeptical. It was only when my subconscious desire to get plastered every night started butting heads with conscious desire to be a better person that I realized sobriety might actually be something worth looking into. Slowly, I started opening my mind to the idea that sobriety might actually be okay. And then, that it might be fun. More fun than drinking? Well, that was a scary thought. But I allowed it to continue bothering me and bothering me until, eventually, I had to take a hard look at myself and question whether my drinking brain could really be trustworthy enough to tell me that drinking was still okay.
Eventually, the answer was a resounding “no.”
Convincing a current drinker that sobriety is better is hard. Especially when that drinker is completely enmeshed in the drinking lifestyle. Especially when drinking has become part of their self-identity. Especially when everyone they know is still drinking. Especially when trying to convince them that the controlled chaos of sobriety can be just as fun – more fun, even – as the uncontrolled chaos they endure every day they continue to poison themselves. Especially when they have an underlying mental health issue that they haven’t properly addressed, which is easily masked by continuing to drink. Especially when the majority of their adult life has been spent thinking about, obtaining, consuming, and recovering from the substance. Especially when the society they live in simultaneously glorifies and vilifies alcohol. Especially when it is easily obtained in any given city, in countries all around the world. Especially when it is romanticized – even more so when its destructiveness is romanticized (think of the starving poet who can only afford his daily bottle of wine to keep his pencil going). Especially when it kills the discomfort of boredom. Especially when that drinker is yourself, and you’re the only one who can make yourself stop, and you’re still not convinced that you want to stop, even when your body and mind are pleading with you.
After all, when one learns to live and survive in constant chaos, how can you expect them to simply walk into normalcy and accept it with open arms, without shock or confusion or feeling as though something big ought to happen?
For me, accepting the normalcy and the boredom and the quiet and the difficulty of handling life without a numbing agent has taken some time. I’m still not there, not quite yet. I still find myself fantasizing about picking up and moving across the country on impulse. I still fantasize about quitting everything and moving to a cabin in the north woods. I still wonder if I’m going to survive the grind of graduate school. Can I bear the boredom and the hours of work? Can I somehow endure the overload? All without a drink? Have I just made a huge mistake?
I guess the answer is: I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve made a mistake. Undoubtedly, my heart and mind and body have benefited greatly from removing such a toxic habit from my life. Adjusting to the normalcy and controlled chaos just takes time. And intention. And a willingness to believe that a life beyond booze exists – and that it can be really, really good. If only you give it the chance it deserves.