If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be an alcoholic and/or an addict in longterm recovery, I can shed some light on the subject. My credentials: six years of sobriety down, a lifetime to go.
It’s when the novelty of being newly sober wears off and the reality of being sober from now on sets in. “This is it!” turns into “so this is it, then.”
It’s having dreams that you drank or used again & waking up in a cold sweat thinking that you have to reset your sobriety date & start all over again.
It’s avoiding menu items with a “wine sauce” or “bourbon glaze” because even a hint of alcohol will make you feel like you’re breaking the promise you made to yourself. Quietly asking the server for a flute of water for the champagne toast at your cousin’s wedding. Feeling like a jerk when you have to turn down the kahlua truffles your teammate made for everyone. Choosing alcohol-free vanilla extract or mouthwash at the store because yes, even that bothers you. Realizing that obsessing over not drinking has replaced obsessing over drinking.
It’s turning down the painkillers you legitimately need for an injury because you don’t want to get too attached to the way they make you feel. Not even letting yourself buy a damn bottle of nighttime cough syrup because you understand your potential to abuse something so simple, something that normal people don’t think twice about taking when they need it.
It’s fumbling over a response to an invitation from a new friend to “go grab a beer sometime” or deciding how to answer a request to buy you a drink. Making excuses and being vague or potentially making them uncomfortable by being frank. Avoiding parties or happy hour meet-ups with old friends who eventually stop inviting you to hang out any time alcohol is involved (and alcohol is pretty much always involved).
It’s having to explain to people you haven’t seen in awhile that you still don’t drink or use. It wasn’t for a diet or a challenge or to get a job. It was to save your life, and it still is. It was to get your shit together & to keep it together.
It’s laughing off your friend’s joke “don’t worry, I’ll drink enough for the both of us!” even though it’s really not funny at all (& maybe a little insensitive, and maybe a little sad). Feeling uncomfortable about the saying “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink; when they wake up in the morning, that’s the best they’re going to feel all day” because you know how true it really is. Feeling weary when someone makes light of their own drinking, but knowing how it will be received if you say something about it.
It’s yelling at the TV every time that stupid Passages Malibu commercial comes on, the one with the smarmy bastard who smugly proclaims “I should know. I was an addict for 10 years, and now I’m not.” You yell because you know it’s bullshit, that addicts can change their habits but not their personalities. That choosing not to drink or use does not mean you are magically cured of who you are, who you will always be. Knowing that no fancy rehab resort can change the way the addict brain is wired.
It’s understanding that if you like something, you will end up loving it so hard that it scares you a little. You’ll latch onto whatever it is and make it your new obsession. You’ll wonder if it’s just passion for something awesome or if it’s your addict brain doing what it does best (or worst).
It’s never having a crutch again. No social lubricant, no escape from reality. No pick-me-up, no nightcap, no reward for making it through the day. Your reward IS making it through another day. Your reward is functioning like an adult without trying to check out for a bit mentally when it gets too hard. And it does get hard, because life is like that and you used to have an escape hatch that could temporarily take you away from the anxiety, the stress, the depression. You know logically it never really took away any of that, it just numbed it all for a bit. Knowing that you can never numb it again is exhausting sometimes.
But you keep on doing it – or rather, not doing it. One day at a time. Day after day. Year after year. The same thing, over and over from now on. It will always be this way, because this is what life is like when you are sober.