I was talking with another sober gal the other day about our going-out habits post sobriety (I don’t, much, but more on that later), and I mentioned that one thing I absolutely could not give up was getting fish and chips at the pub. “Ooh, you can’t do that!” she exclaimed.
I was pretty astounded. “Um, why not? It’s fish. And potatoes. And they’re not even fermented.” And they’re delicious and all diet-sabotagey and wonderful.
“But it’s a pub!” she exclaimed*. She was fairly scandalized. She’s right – it’s a pub. And most people go to pubs to drink. But I wasn’t drinking there, so I didn’t get what the big deal was. To me, it wasn’t tempting; alcohol is expensive and I’m trying to channel my extra funds right now toward wedding expenses and fitness gear, not to mention the usual bout of monthly student loan payments and living expenses. Since I quit drinking, I’ve actually been able to be an equal contributor to our household bills, so it’s not exactly tempting to go hand a bartender eight bucks for five or six ounces of something that would destroy the last couple months of work.
Not to mention: have you ever smelled a pub? It never deterred me when I was drinking, but now that I’m sober, it’s all I can do to hold my breath while I order, eat outside if an outdoor table is available, and pay for my meal in advance so I don’t have to hang around waiting for a bill because spilled beer and vomit smell disgusting, and that is always how pubs smell to me.
Still, my sober friend was convinced that there were rules for sobriety, and that going to a pub – even just to eat – was breaking one of them.
Namely, I think, not to put yourself in harm’s way, temptation-wise.
But I live in California, and even going to the grocery store is putting myself in harm’s way. I had to get used to the fact, really early, that booze was just going to be there, around me, all the time. We have it at my office, it’s in the grocery store, they serve it in most restaurants. Even the cafeteria-style lunch places near my office serve small single-serving wines and beer.
And what I’ve found more important is that something in me has clicked, has changed, and the culture that surrounds alcohol, drinking culture? I no longer find it appealing. It doesn’t sound fun to me to sit at a bar getting trashed for four hours while strangers harass me, nor does it sound appealing to sit in the dark at home with my dude and my dog while I slowly, chemically, erase any memory I might be able to have that night.
I honestly can’t go out most nights anymore. I have a five-month-old puppy at home who needs to be walked, fed, cleaned up after, cuddled, and adored. I have a fiance who works long hours like me, and whose time I covet desperately, one-on-one, because not only do we have a chaotic mess of wedding tasks to tackle, we actually enjoy one another’s company and like to talk, to share activities, to nourish one another with home cooking, and to just be in one another’s presence. That stuff is awesome, but it’s not possible while I’m drinking. When I’m drinking, I’m checked out, irresponsible, disconnected, and incapable of really entering into those activities with them.
But I still hear every once in a while from other extremely well-meaning sober folks that I’m breaking the rules. I have a medical marijuana prescription for excruciating period cramps, insomnia, migraine headaches, and anxiety, and I take a dose when I absolutely need it – which, the further away I get from drinking, seems to be less and less often. One drug to rule them all! I don’t feel like I have to justify my use of a prescribed substance for medically documented issues, but others get really squeamish when I say I’m simultaneously pursuing sobriety and using a drug that’s on many sobriety programs’ hit list. I go to the pub for fish and chips. I am planning a large event for my office that involves buying a ton of booze, and it’s my responsibility to pick it out and make sure the party goes well.
I can handle these things, not because I’m stronger than anyone else, or because I’m somehow better at sobriety, but simply because my mindset has shifted enough over the past few months that these items, these activities, are not tempting in the slightest. The benefits that have accompanied my sobriety are simply too overwhelmingly outweighing the benefits of taking even a single drink. My finances are in better shape, my health has improved, my focus is here, I sleep better, my relationship is infinitely stronger, and I can handle all of the responsibilities in front of me for the first time in ages. I laugh more, from my belly. I savor my food. I feel like I’m living for the first time in half a decade.
Not every day is good, and there are some really bad days where I feel – more than think – that having a bottle of wine would be an amazing way to check out and not deal with my problems for an evening, but the moment I feel that way, my brain also kicks in and says, “You’ve got to be shitting me,” and heart and brain have a good laugh together and I eat a blondie or snuggle my dog or complain to my fiance and the moment passes.
I guess what I’m getting at here is, there are right and wrong ways to do sobriety (namely: the right way is, you don’t engage the substance you have a problem with anymore, the wrong way is, you keep going back to it), but different things will prove tempting – or not tempting – for different people. Trial and error will teach you what works. When in doubt, opt for the safer option. I go to the pub for my fish and chips because it never occurred to me not to. Suffice it to say, if it occurred to you that it might be a bad idea, you ought not to go yourself. Just try not to judge others’ sobriety just because it doesn’t conform to your own pattern of success. It’s a journey for all of us.
*This friend kindly gave me permission to share this conversation as long as I kept her anonymity preserved.