TW: self harm & substance use
It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I’m at my in-law’s house, getting my mother ready to move into her own apartment and out of their spare bedroom. The air is cool and as much of a Michigander as I am, every trip outside requires a hoodie. The stress is weighing on me – dealing with my mother’s neurosis, being without my husband, the shadow of summer’s anxiety still looming large over me, and every little struggle in between. To numb the pressure, I drink some wine. A bottle of wine. And then start on a second. I spend half of the night outside, drinking alone, leaned up against the house in the darkness until the alcohol prevents me from feeling cold. Once my anxiety-riddled mother’s freakout reaches a boiling point, I reluctantly come inside but lock myself in the bathroom for the third quarter of the evening.
In my infinitely
good drunk judgment, I shoot a Facebook message to my ex: literally the midnight “wyd” booty call. I’m not proud of this. I’m even less proud of what follows. A weird mental breakdown centered around a crisis of faith which serves as the pretense for me persuading 2019’s Unattainable Interest to call me as I cry on the cold tile of my in-law’s bathroom. A majority of the phone call is lost to me now other than the soothing tones of their voice on the other end of my phone and the moment when I decided to throw a match on our friendship.
“Is your partner real?”
They were flabbergasted, rightfully so. It was a seed planted by a mutual friend that I hadn’t even considered before but then upon reviewing the past year plus that we’d been interacting, I realized I had literally zero evidence of their partner’s existence. Maybe I had been too trusting, maybe I was being naive, maybe I shouldn’t believe what I was being told without something to support it. They laughed lightly, I remember thinking maybe it wasn’t such a big deal that I asked, but the following morning everything had changed and I knew exactly why. Another sunrise tainted by my inebriated stupidity.
I’m still paying the price for the night both in relation to my friendship with that person as well as a really idiotic drunken promise to my mother to read The New Testament. Every Wednesday I read a page. I’m going to read it very sincerely, carefully, and thoughtfully. It’s not so bad. But there are… many things I’d rather be doing.
I didn’t immediately decide to be sober after that night, however. I drank on Thanksgiving. But the more I thought about that night and what followed that embarrassing phone call, the more I knew it was time for me to change my drinking habits. I guess I kind of skipped over the part where I rummaged through the drawers and cupboards of the bathroom, found a razor refill for my mother-in-law’s Venus razor, disassembled it in the methodical fashion I perfected back in the day, and recorded a VERY cringy drunk video of me listening to Halsey’s Graveyard over and over and over as I sloppily lip sync and carve into my legs like a piece of turkey meat. Ahh, memories.
At least they were nice enough about it the next day.
After some reflection and neosporin, I officially began my substance-free lifestyle on December 1st, 2019. And it was… an interesting experience.
It made me hyper aware of my triggers. Like most people, I feel pressure to drink when everyone I’m interacting with is drinking. But noticing how I’d get an urge to drink when life was more stressful or when I had a bad day was interesting. Especially since it wasn’t just a delicate urge. It was a pulsating, gnawing urge. I almost caved several times.
But it did get easier with time. After the first month or so, I was pretty over alcohol. When COVID-19 reached pandemic status, I felt like I was being tested again. Eventually I could hear several people in my online social circle becoming pandemic alcoholics however and that was pretty good at discouraging me from going down that road. The longer I went without drinking, the more obvious it became that I needed to focus on coping with things in a more healthy fashion. I wish I could give you a neat little bullet point list of ~strategies~ and ~tips~ for dealing with stress but the truth is that I just spent a lot of time being present with my feelings, being honest with the people around me about those feelings, and expressing myself through creative outlets like playing ukulele or turning my brain off with video games instead of booze. I just… got kind of used to being uncomfortable after a while. Remembering that nothing, not even a pandemic, is forever helps a lot.
Am I a sober sally now? Well, no. That’s where I think things get more interesting.
September rolls around and my best friend is getting married. I’ve stressed up and down about this wedding and more specifically whether or not I’m going to drink at it. People drink at weddings, right? It’ll be weird if I don’t, right? Yes and no. I decided to test how I felt about drinking by having a single Buscht Lite the night before at the bonfire we had following the rehearsal dinner. I was in good company, feeling very comfortable and emotionally in control, and as I get older I’m trying harder and harder to move away from hard black and white rules because life is generally much, much more grey. I expected some kind of beast to be freed from my chest and turn me into a monster now that it was let loose. Instead I had to basically force myself to finish my beer and had a headache the next morning. I decided not to drink at the wedding.
And guess what?
No one cared.
Well, almost no one. One person was trying vehemently to get me to do shots with them. I politely declined their repeated pressure. I simply had no desire to drink.
You might think that that settles that. That is such a weird word, huh? But no, my journey in navigating sobriety doesn’t quite end there because very recently I made a decision about my future with sobriety. The thing I miss about alcohol now isn’t really the alcohol part as much as it is about the flavor. The Buscht Lite sucked because, well, it was a Buscht Lite. That’s the shit I used to drink for the sole purpose of getting drunk. I’m 30 now and I have no desire to develop a drinking problem. What I do desire is the spicy swill of Witches Brew against my tongue, the refreshing sensation of an ice cold Summer Shandy slithering down my throat, and the ginger nip of a Moscow Mule. There are a handful of alcoholic beverages that are genuinely enjoyable to drink for their flavor alone. Taking a step back from drinking for the sake of drinking enabled me to realign my relationship with alcohol. So much like my wishy-washy flexitarian state, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will be a semi-sober Sally.
No more blackout nights, no more running through the Michigan woods wearing nothing but a tail tied around my waist, and no more trying to hitchhike 100 miles because my best friend lied to me about a guy and then fucked him immediately afterwards. No more tearing my hamstring because my BAC convinced me I could do the splits, no more hangovers so violent I long for death, and no more dropping my phone in the jacuzzi while trying to persuade my mother that I’m fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine, really, Mom, like, omg.
Instead, maybe I’ll catch a buzz. We’ll see. A big motivator for this decision was my heartache at realizing that Witches Brew is out in the world and not in my fridge. Yes, I chill red wine. No, I will not be taking questions at this time. A cup of red for my French dip and a cup for me. We’ll see how it goes from there. If it gets out of control again, I have faith in my ability to dial it back. But a life of total abstinence is just a formula for snapping one day and losing your mind with a bottle of Five O’Clock. Just kidding, I’m not 18 anymore, I wouldn’t dare drink anything on a lower shelf than Absolut.
Have you dabbled with sobriety at all or are you a healthy functioning human who doesn’t have an inclination to abuse alcohol? I wouldn’t say one is more normal than the other, especially with how many people’s parents I know are alcoholics. Let’s chat.