Last week, I had dinner with some of the sober babes that I met on a sober hiking retreat in Sedona, a month ago. Most of us live in Chicagoland. From the larger group, four of us were available to get together. We picked the most central spot for dinner. Lucky for me, that landed close to home.
I was the last to arrive and when I approached the table I was welcomed immediately. Everyone got up out of their chairs. We hugged and squealed with delight at our reunion. It was so wonderful to see each other again. We were familiar with each other, having spent days and nights on a soul filled retreat together. We were also brand new, having taken off our hiking boots, and donned our pretty sundresses for the occasion. It was a thrill to be meeting up again, in real life, so close to home, solidifying the beginning of meaningful new friendships.
Our dinner lasted as long as it possibly could.
We ordered drinks. A round of the signature mocktail (obviously). It is so refreshing to go out for drinks with non drinkers. Exactly how much alcohol everyone is going to consume is known from the start and the answer will always be none. It’s a safe and predictable evening. Nothing is said because alcohol is talking. Everyone is coherent when the bill comes. No one is making a dangerous choice by getting behind the wheel.
After our mocktails, we ordered appetizers, as we started to catch up on life. Back in Sedona, most of our deepest discussions happened in a car. We had a 20 minute drive on a dirt road to get in and out of our Sedona driveway, so basically every car ride was long. It turned out to be a blessing, because that’s where the real connection came. There were two car loads of women in Sedona and we always kept the same seats, due to drivers, car sickness, preference or whatever. The four of us at dinner were my same Sedona carpool only missing one, our driver, who regretfully couldn't join us this time.
After having spent so much time in the car, staring at the scenery, while sharing our stories in Sedona, it was beautiful to sit together around a table and look into each other’s eyes. We went from laughing to crying back to laughing in a matter of moments. We talked about the most important things: our core beliefs and desires, our current One Hard Thing, and our Moms 💖.
We were sitting in the outdoor area, under a string of lights, on Main Street enjoying the most perfect, summertime weather. The kind where you are perfectly comfortable with a sweater and also perfectly comfortable without.
We were so close to the road that we could (and did) chat with drivers and their dogs passing by.
There was a table of young girls next to us. It appeared they were celebrating something. At one point a dessert with candles came out. They started their dining experience with aperol spirits (and lots of drink pictures). They moved on to champagne (more drink pictures), then white wine, then tequila shots (drink pictures and videos), then after dinner drinks.
I wasn’t supervising or policing them, but we were in small quarters and they were directly in my line of sight. It was hard not to notice. They were young, dressed up, and totally adorable. They got louder with every round. I have been in their seat a million times, except maybe not as cute.
At one point towards the end of the evening some children were singing and dancing under the big theater lights across the street. The young women were taking pictures and videos. The children's voices were unwelcome background noise for the video. The women started yelling and swearing at the elementary school age kids across the street to shut up. The more curse words they used, the harder they laughed at themselves. It was a brief but unsettling moment.
It was so clear to me that it was the alcohol talking. It was embarrassing and it was sad. Who in their right mind screams and swears at children having fun? No one.
Alcohol does though. Alcohol lashes out anywhere it can. Alcohol is the most selfish drug on earth. Alcohol will destroy anyone in its path and call it a good time. Alcohol will laugh it off like its bold and brave to swear at someone’s children who are causing no harm.
We were like the celebratory gals in that we kept our orders coming too. We ordered mocktails and apps. Then more mocktails and dinner. Then dessert and coffee (or in one sober babes case, chamomile tea because we really like to relax while we party). 🤪
Our fun time could have gone on forever, but eventually there was nothing left to order from the menu. We had already ordered it all. It was time to pay the bill and leave our seats.
We couldn't leave each other yet. We were having too much fun. We stood up and tried to take our pictures too, like the young gals next to us. It took us far too long to figure out how to take our middle aged selfies. The whole scene was quite comical actually and we kept our sense of humor. We loved the outtakes, which only brought more joy. We would have kept practicing, if it weren’t for the kindness of a stranger walking by noticing our struggle, and offering to give us a real photo shoot right there in the street.
We were grateful and had fun with it. Hooting and hollering like the children.
After all the hours passed and all the stalling to be had was done, it was finally time to hug goodbye. We skipped off in our own directions to head to our cars.
I was walking alone, in the now quiet late night streets, as I stumbled upon the last place I had a drink. I didn't see it on my way to the restaurant because I was walking on the other side of the street. It's not a special place by any means. I had only been there once as a drinker. I have returned once as a non drinker. Besides being the place where I had I my last drink (which could have been anywhere) it doesn't hold any other significance.
On this evening however, the juxtaposition of a happy sober dinner and walk back in peaceful solitude, I noticed the calling of the cocktail lounge. A proud sensation overcame me. I was brought back to that moment on February 19, 2018. My husband and I dropped our kids off with family nearby. We had a scheduled date night at this fancy place, that I had never been to before. I always wanted to try this place, I thought it looked romantic. It was an old school steakhouse, white table cloth, Sinatra playing, kinda place that had escargot (my fav) on the menu. A date night was rare for us, but I was trying to keep us together and I thought maybe some alone time and connection over a romantic dinner would do the trick.
To be completely honest, I don’t remember every detail of that night. I was drowning in alcohol dependence and depression at that point in my life. I imagine I probably had a glass or two of wine before dinner. I definitely had wine with dinner. I wanted my husband to join in my drinking. I probably always did and was resentful if he didn’t. Our history is one of being happy, social, party people together. We met in a bar. I was trying to keep the romance and party going with my drinking, but he wasn’t finding my over indulgence an attractive quality anymore. In fact it was causing him worry. It was causing him to Google how to help me. He was concerned about my health and happiness, and even my safety and ability to take care of the kids (I hate writing that). I was trying to keep it cool. Trying to go unnoticed. Trying to continue down my spiral of alcohol, which was the only thing that gave me an uptick of joy. I desperately needed the uptick.
I was unemployed at the time. Another surprise lay off. Not my first. It can be argued that it wasn’t my fault. I sure like to see it that way both then and now, but there were some things I can take responsibility for and that’s doing work that never made my heart sing the way it does now. That's going to alcohol to try to cure the fact that I was living out of alignment with myself for far too long. That's listening to what someone else thought was best for me or doing what I thought I "should do" in my career instead of what I really wanted to do, which was to use my social work heart for the greater good, by doing meaningful work that mattered to me and get paid for it.
On this cold and dark evening in February of 2018, I was unemployed, depressed, insecure, and anxious. It was the worst time of the year in Chicagoland. I was full to the brim with grief and sorrow. I was trying to reconnect with my very disconnected marriage. I was hoping pouring a few drinks on us would transport us back to the good times. I was lonely. I had a growing dependence on alcohol that scared me, but I could not admit this to anyone. Not to my husband. Not to myself. I was scared of what that meant for me and for us. I defended my drinking and protected it with a sheet of armour when it came to hubs. I wasn't going to let him be right. I wasn't going to let alcohol take the blame for us. I thought he was checked out and I was running circles around him trying to keep our family life moving forward. I could not admit that I had a problem. I knew everything and I was always right, even when I was wrong.
I also couldn't see any options for myself if wine really was the issue.
I didn't want AA, I already knew that. I could not see myself going to rehab. I did not know how to tell my children or how the house would run without me. Sure, I was drinking too much, but I was also making lunches, doing carpool, helping with homework, and keeping our ship running.
I couldn’t make conversation happen with my husband that evening, despite my attempts. It wasn’t working. Nothing was working. I was trying to share my struggle and my swirling thoughts about my job, my life, my grief. I needed him to see me as the victim, not the villain. I needed him to feel bad for me, sorry for me. I needed him to soften his stance and show he cared about me.
He was over it. He mentioned that alcohol wasn’t helping me. I hated it when he did this. I didn't want to hear it. Maybe if he would help a little more, I would drink a little less. I couldn't have this argument again. I could see he wasn't being snarky, he was being serious. Despite myself, I actually trusted him and his opinion, so this really scared me.
I wanted the problem to be him. Us. Not alcohol. Obviously. Alcohol was the best thing I had. My first sip was the only spark of happiness I had each day. It was the only thing that I looked forward to. This fact was alarming. Even to me. I lived a near perfect life. I had so much to be grateful for. I knew it, but I didn’t feel it. I was scared something was wrong with me. My childhood sunny disposition was gone. I always felt sad, afraid, and hopeless. I didn't know how to feel differently but after my first sip I felt a wave of relief. I felt a swing up towards euphoria. I needed more of that.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I tried to blame my husband, but I also blamed myself. My circumstances. Basically everything. Except wine. My wine was the solution, never the problem. I was sick of my husband blaming alcohol. I was sick of my kids making comments about my drinking. I thought it was disrespectful and really not their place, as children. I was the adult. I was sick of my friends acting like my drinking was somehow worse than their drinking. I didn't’ want to be the problem for anyone anymore. I especially didn’t want wine to be the problem. I was in a dangerous state of near hopelessness. This I knew.
I didn’t think quitting alcohol could fix anything. I wanted to rule it out, so I could go back to drinking and blaming everyone and everything else. I had a few too many fingers pointing in the direction of my wine bottle from a handful of people that I loved. This was concerning and I needed to get out of the spotlight. So I would tone it down for a bit. I was obviously on Team Wine. Wine and I were ultimately going to prove our point. And win. First I had to stop everyone else from blaming the vino.
You heard that right, my final drink was nearly revenge. It was definitely anger. It was resentment. It was me protecting my once-in-a-lifetime kind of love, that I had with cheap Apothic Red. I would quit now, so I could drink more later. Wine and I would live happily (hopelessly) ever after.
I set my glass down as a big FU to everyone who loved me best and worried about me most.
It brings me to tears to write this now.
This shows how turned around and confused I was. I felt like a wounded animal in the safe cage of alcohol, where I wanted to stay. I didn’t trust anyone’s best intentions. I didn't want to hear any critique of me. I was so defensive. My perfectionism was standing guard at all times. I didn’t want to have problems, pain, or suffering. I didn't deserve a space for that in my near perfect life. I didn’t want to create problems, pain, or suffering for others either. I wanted to go unnoticed but I also needed attention so badly. I wanted to be left alone, but I was dying of loneliness and disconnect on the inside.
It felt like my family had already given up on me. They threw their hands in the air as I drank myself to oblivion alone on the couch the way I wanted. I can now see that alcohol hijacked my brain.
At that table in that restaurant on February 19, 2018 I stopped drinking.
I had a half full glass of wine and I just left it.
I had never done this before.
I repeat, I got up and walked out with a half full glass of wine on the table.
I had no wine left at home, which was a regular predicament. Those cases of Two Buck Chuck bought from Trader Joe's "for company", "for bookclub", go fast! No company. Never hosted a book club. Earlier in the evening, I was hoping hubs and I would have so much fun at dinner, that we would stop for more wine and split a bottle (or two?) when we got home and keep the party going. To be clear, hubs never split a bottle of wine with me at home. That was just a fantasy. And also to be clear, I didn’t want to share a bottle with him. I wanted all the wine all to myself, so I was glad he didn't split the bottle even though it was a romantic notion.
Still, I held the disappointment in his lack of drinking enthusiasm against him. Instead of getting giddy with a buzz, we paid the bill. We left in silence. We drove home. We went to bed. I tossed and turned with rage and confusion that date night didn't fix us.
I decided again, as I had in that restaurant, that This. Was. It. It had to be it. I was done. The gig was over. I had to stop playing. Sober experiments were driving me harder down the path of addiction, when I returned to drinking. What I thought was me marked safe from alcoholism, since I could quit for periods of time, was actually alcoholism picking up speed with each reentry on the wine train. I was getting closer and closer to the point of no return.
Rehab and AA were staring me down the face and I vehemently didn’t want either. My marriage might not survive, but I had to give not drinking a real try in order to do my part in repairing us. If my marriage wasn’t going to make it, I sure as hell couldn’t be drunk for it’s collapse. I had to save myself. With or without my husband, I had to keep myself. I had to be a mom to my kids. This was not negotiable even to my most confused self drowning in despair. I would never allow myself off the hook for being the Mom that my precious, innocent, beautiful, and talented kids deserved.
I knew everything would change if quit for good. I knew I was losing my friends, my social life, my identity, my only coping mechanism, and maybe my husband, but I wasn’t losing my kids. Their respect and trust was starting to falter. I had to turn that around. I had to become someone they could respect and trust. I had to become someone I could respect and trust.
And I have.
So walking past that restaurant after my sober babe dinner I didn’t cry. I smiled. I got a spring in my step of celebration. I am not that sad person drowning in alcohol anymore. I found my way out of the dark. My marriage is thriving (celebrating 20 years strong). My kids are my biggest cheerleaders. I have a whole new circle of friends that I admire. I own my own company where I get to help other high achievers out of the confusing murky mess of alcohol. I found myself. I know how to make myself healthy and happy. I get to practice it everyday. And now my near perfect life is perfect, even when it's not, because I have the spiritual alignment to feel grateful for it every single day.
If sobriety had only taught me that one single prayer of thank you would be enough it would be worth it.
But there is so much more.
There is so much more.
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