When you’re traveling through Thailand, a lot of people come at you trying to get into your pockets. “Taxi ride? Tuk Tuk ride?” “Sir, do you need a tailor?” “Massage! Only 250 baht!” It can be overwhelming and after awhile you just want to scream, “Enough already! I don’t want any taxi rides, tailors or massages!”
That’s sorta what everyday life is like for an alcoholic. Alcohol is omnipresent but you don’t seem to notice it until you can’t drink anymore. Bars seem to be on every corner. Advertisements with dapper older men holding ice cold glasses of beer tell you to “Stay thirsty, my friends.” Red wine tempts at nearly every restaurant.
You’re lucky you’re still alive,” a counselor told me on my first day in rehab. I ended my last happy hour by projectile vomiting all over the bathroom at an estimated .48 blood alcohol level. Amy Winehouse died with less than that amount in her system. Most people would go into a coma at a .3. Indeed, I am lucky to be alive.
After reading that last paragraph, I feel a little like Captain Obvious when I say that alcohol was a huge part of my life. But the problem for me today, at 64 days sober, is that alcohol is a huge part of seemingly everyone else’s lives, too. That’s why peeking into a lifetime without booze can be so terrifying.
No more mimosas or bloody marys at brunch. No more Sunday Fundays. No more wining and dining clients. No more happy hours. No more glasses (or seven…) of Pinot Noir at the end of a long day. No more trips to wine country. No more dance clubs or social meetups at the bar. For your standard-issue young professional, that means a 180-degree lifestyle change.
I think this perception is what keeps many people drinking. It certainly kept me drinking even after the whispers in the back of my head saying “you have a problem” escalated to a shout. But that perception that “life is over as I know it” is just that. A perception. Not reality.
If you’re thinking about getting sober or are in your first few months, just like me, and are feeling terrified, remember two things:
We don’t have to ponder what it’s going to be like to be sober forever. We just have to worry about staying sober today.
I resisted 12-step programs for a long time for a number of reasons (God, thinking it was a cult, etc) but one of them was the ad nauseum use of cliches. “Keep it simple,” “It works if you work it,” “Easy does it,” I could go on…
But one of the cliches that helps me is “One day at a time.” It’s too much to think about spending the next 70 years without imbibing, but anyone can stay sober for just one day.
We’re not depriving ourselves of anything. We’re actually giving ourselves a gift: A life of joy, freedom and opportunity.
OK, that might sound hokey, but hear me out.
If I think, “I can’t drink,” I’m going to want to drink. If I try to white-knuckle this thing, it’s never going to work. That’s why I can’t stick to any diet – because I love pizza and I get pissed off when I can’t have it.
But it totally changes the energy to flip the narrative and tell myself that I’m not taking away from life, but adding something to it.
I’m not depriving myself of alcohol. I’m freeing myself of hangovers. I actually got to remember my wedding. I never have to worry about who I called or texted the night before or if I made an ass out of myself at the bar. I get to stick to my word, be where I’m supposed to be, and live with a hell of lot less regret.
I’m not depriving myself of fun either. I just returned from Thailand and had a blast. I had the best Khoa Soi Gai ever, hung out with elephants, swam in an infinity pool, canoed through caves and lagoons – and did it all without alcohol.
I did, however, give in to a few of those Tuk Tuk drivers and massage therapists barking at me to give them my money…