Justifying My Sobriety
Trying to talk to friends—even close ones—about my addiction and recovery has proven one thing: a lot of people out there just don’t get it.
I’ve encountered this attitude quite a bit during my three years of sobriety and I’ve just had to assume that these people have never had any drama with addiction in their own lives—which is surprising, considering that many of them are part of my drunken past. But I was always the one instigating and encouraging: doing shots, buying rounds, chugging bottles. My drinking would then continue once I got home, and would linger on into the next day. It was something I tried to hide from them.
I realized that’s perhaps why she felt I could have “just that one” drink: it helped to justify the pathshe took.
They are people who can handle occasional boozing and partying and I support their choice to keep doing it. But the truth is that I don’t envy social drinkers. I marvel at them—I simply don’t understand how they can stop after just a few drinks—but I don’t want to be them.
The conversations tend to go something like this:
ME: Yeah, I’m three years sober this Saturday.
THEM: Oh that’s great, are you going to go out and celebrate?
ME: Yes, probably dinner.
THEM: Are you going to have champagne? You really should! You should have a glass of champagne, just one glass! That’s so cool!
ME: Well, why would I drink alcohol to celebrate the fact that I stopped?
Awkward silence. Conversation over. If it’s a woman, she will often later bring up the idea that she wants to come to AA meetings with me because she thinks it would be a great way to lose weight and meet hot guys.
Getting sober was a major decision for me; it had essentially come down to whether or not I was going to live or die. I went to extremes to make sure it would work—we’re talking outpatient detox and rehab to the tune of several thousand dollars. But I didn’t flinch at the bill; I hazily threw it on my credit card, knowing on a certain level that I was paying to get my life back. No one was making me pursue recovery; I wanted to.
When I called my close friends and family to share the news, they were all supportive but mostly confused.
“Can’t you just drink Monday through Friday?” I heard. “Maybe take weekends off?”
“So if you go to an AA meeting, it’s okay if you want to have drink after, right? Because going to AA makes it okay?”
“Why do you have to get medicine to stop drinking? Can’t you just stop?” These were people who thought delirium tremens were a myth and easily solved by mimosas.
“I think this sober thing is really great, but I don’t understand why you have to make it such a big deal about it.” A family member actually said that to me.
“Oh you’re not gonna drink anymore? That’s cool. Maybe a beer at Christmas though right?” That was another family member.
Then there were the very few who simply said, “That’s great and I’m here for you.” Or: “Yes, I knew you had a problem but I didn’t want to say anything.”
I’ve always felt like I had an amazing support system when it came to career and other matters, so it was a shock to discover that the same was not true when it came to alcoholism and addiction,. But nothing could have prepared me for the conversation I recently had with one of my college friends.
She started talking to my fiancé, Eric, who has been sober for 10 years, about one of her co-workers who had crazy emotional outbursts during happy hour after work each day. Then the discussion turned to the subject of drug use and alcoholism—about how some people can just stop after one drink and others cannot.
“Oh, Randi can take or leave alcohol,” my friend said. “I think she could have just one glass of wine every once in a while.”
This was a surprise. Eric and I remained silent. The way she said it made it seem like she was expecting me to jump into the conversation and agree with her. For the 15 years I’ve known her, we’ve agreed on a lot of the same things. But not this time.
“No, I can’t,” I said. “I cannot just have one glass of wine or a drink and be fine with it. Alcoholism doesn’t work that way. You can’t just have one drink. You just can’t.”
I could tell that she was frustrated and almost upset that I wasn’t siding with her.
But I was, too: I had assumed that she knew I had struggled with getting sober.
Then something else occurred to me: a few years earlier, she’d entered an inpatient program for opiates. She had never gotten into the details about her experience, other than to mention how bad the food was at the facility and how awful their bedding was. She summarized the experience as a time at “ghetto summer camp,” always speaking about it lightly. She’s now she’s on benzodiazepines, having essentially replaced one drug with another. And I realized that’s perhaps why she felt I could have “just that one” drink: it helped to justify the path she took.
“All I’m just saying is that I really think you could have a drink, just one, and be fine,” she said.
At a certain point, Eric excused himself to walk the dog and I naively continued to plead my case with my friend, trying to tell her how much my life had improved since I had gotten sober. “Look at my life now,” I said. “I think we can both say I’m 200% happier than I was when I was drinking. I’m living again. I have a healthy relationship. I’m responsible. I’m doing things that I was never able to do when I was drinking. I think I’ve changed a lot. Am I the only one who sees this?”
I looked at her, all but begging for validation.
“I do think you’re a lot stronger,” she finally admitted and for a second I actually thought I had gotten through to her. But then she laid it on me again. “That’s why I know you could have a drink and be fine with it once in awhile. Only if you wanted to, though, and I’d never make you, of course.”
I felt like I was talking to someone that I didn’t know. Eventually, I changed the subject—something I probably should have done much earlier. But I’ve had so many questions since then that I know I’ll never ask her. Does this mean that when I got sober, she didn’t believe it or even take it seriously? Did she think I wanted to go drop almost 10 G’s on detoxing and rehab for the fun of it? Does she not get that my “Livesober” Soberisexy bracelet is more than just a fashion statement and that the AA coin I keep in my purse means something? It was as if she thought I was going through some kind of “healthy” phase that I’d throw away for a Jager bomb as soon as the wind blew in the other direction. Or was this all part of her—perhaps subconscious—justification for her own behavior?
As time has passed since then, I’ve realized that my issues are my own and that if my sharing them with other people makes them question their own potential issues with drinking or drugging, that’s their business. My college friend and I still gossip about mutual friends, talk about pop culture and go shopping together. But I’ll never discuss my addiction with her again and I don’t need to. I know I’m an alcoholic and that’s good enough for me.