On May 2, 2018, as we got off the plane from Stockholm, I said calmly to Anja:
I think I may try not drinking for a week or so.
Nothing dramatic had happened in Stockholm. We had just returned from a midweek staying with friends in the city, followed by a couple days at a cozy cabin in the woods. It was my first time meeting these friends and they are wonderful people: two kind-hearted, curious journalists and their young daughter. The father is an excellent home chef, and so we quickly bonded over soul food, shared political views, and wine.
Alcohol wasn’t on my mind at all. I didn’t drink more than three glasses of red during my entire stay with them. Instead, Anja and I were just… part of their warm family dynamic. Eating jubileumskaka for breakfast, reading stories before bed. I was overwhelmed by how secure I felt in their presence, so much so that I cried when we left. It was a week to remember. Looking back, I can see that it must have been this sudden sense of security, entirely unfamiliar to my person, that made me realize what I needed.
That one week of not drinking has yet to end (and I don’t plan for it to). Those first few months after our Stockholm trip, not drinking was embarrassingly easy. I had done it before, and Anja doesn’t really ever drink, and so our dinner parties, get-togethers, and outings were never awkward for me. I didn’t even celebrate my one year of not drinking because it just… wasn’t a thing to me. I didn’t even feel like I was sober. Not until the email.
I have a dear childhood friend who is as troubled a soul as I was for a long time. I’m not saying that to sound like a know-it-all, I’m just in a different place now. They have a habit of only reaching out to me when they’re doing well, and so whenever things are rough, they fall off my radar. We hadn’t spoken in a while and when they did in the late Fall of 2018, the good news was that they were entering into rehab. The bad news had been that they had fallen homeless and that they were battling a coke addiction on top of what I had already identified as a dependency on other substances.
By the time Valentine’s Day of 2019 rolled around, I received an email from their sister with the invitation to write my friend an intervention letter. They would be using mine, as well as those of another friend and a few relatives to support my friend’s treatment program.
Sobriety means alcoholic
My first draft of the letter was ready within the hour. I’ve always been at ease with writing, and so putting into words what my friend’s addiction had done to me was fairly easy. I let Anja read the letter right away. Once she finished, she looked up at me with a face full of discomfort. “What’s wrong?” I asked her. After hesitating for a few moments, she said:
I hope you won’t be mad when I tell you this, but I don’t think this is entirely true.
I wasn’t mad. I just didn’t really understand what she was talking about. My letter was heartfelt and kind, hopeful and supporting, and I had explained to my friend how their drinking made them an untrustworthy friend, how their asking for money was awkward, and how much it hurt. Anja saw more than that.
Slowly, she started uncovering some truths that I hadn’t ever acknowledged, at least not to their full extent.
You know, I recall you making comments about their drinking and drug use quite often, when in reality your relationship with alcohol isn’t super healthy.
I had known that for some time. Heck, I hadn’t even had a drink in almost a year. Not drinking comes with a few perks, though. One of them is that you don’t have to acknowledge that your drinking is actually a problem. That day was the first day that I realized that my relationship with alcohol makes me an alcoholic. I was in such denial about that for so long that my childhood friend’s problems had come to function as a lightning rod.
Filling in the blanks I had forgotten were there
Since I’ve emotionally transitioned from being simply dry to being sober, a whole new world has opened up. I get to look at my family’s relationship with alcohol with much more clarity. I can see how alcohol was my ultimate vice in battling feelings of unworthiness, and how it oddly enough magnified those feelings. My subconscious is slowly filling in the blanks that I had forgotten were there. To me, alcohol equates forgetting, forgetting, forgetting. So much forgetting, in fact, that I didn’t even know how much I’m supposed to remember.
What needs mending
With a minimized dependency on alcohol, I have started to work on things that have been with me for decades. And I have a sobriety counter on my watch. I don’t need the reminder every day, but I want it. I think of Philip Seymour Hoffman a lot. After successfully completing their rehab program, my childhood friend is back on drugs again, and supporting themselves with escort work. There’s a very fine line between me and that. For a long time I thought it was studying it in detail and deriving life lessons from it. Today, I celebrate 1095 days of making the right decision, and a little over two years of turning inward to see what needs mending.
Every journey with sobriety is different, and I am no expert beyond the experiences I have. Here are a few things that worked well for me:
- If you change, your friends may not (and they shouldn’t have to). Your sobriety requires that you curate your environment. Perhaps that means changing the time of day during which you meet friends that accompanied your use. Perhaps that means making some new friends. That’s okay.
- Non-alcoholic drinks are for non-alcoholics
- If you do decide to join an AA meeting, and you’ve experienced trauma, look up the work of Jamie Marich PhD