This is the first day of my sobriety. And this day — this decision — doesn’t seem as dramatic as maybe it should.
Maybe I want it to stay that way.
I want it to be the first day in 30 of not drinking.
Or the start of “only drinking on the weekends”.
Or attempting to drop a few pounds before my brother’s wedding.
But it’s none of those things. It can’t be.
While the decision doesn’t seem all that dramatic — I didn’t go on a bender last night, I didn’t wake up with (yet another) hangover, I didn’t get a DUI — it actually is pretty life-changing. Because this is not about trying out a “dry month” or saving a little money during the week or losing weight.
This is about finally being honest with myself.
I spent 30 days not drinking a few years back.
I was still married at the time, and I braced myself for the “Are you pregnant?” questions I knew I would (and did) receive.
I wasn’t pregnant, of course. I wasn’t even trying to get pregnant. (My marriage was less than a year from being over, at that point—and I had created a pretty inhospitable environment both in my home and in my body.)
I told everyone I was just doing “a little reset”; just trying to be a little healthier.
I was just trying to prove to myself that I could do it.
And I did. I went 30 days without a sip of alcohol.
No, I am not an alcoholic.
Of course I plunged myself back into drinking with all the force of a woman who’s been deprived of it for a month. I haven’t stopped since.
Perhaps the most outwardly dramatic moment so far: This morning, I poured the remains of a bottle of wine down my bathroom sink.
I don’t drink wine on Monday mornings, but I do on Monday nights. I took a step to protect my future self from having to decide how I might dispose of my last drops of wine — down the sink or down my throat.
A more subtle moment: Now, I sit at a pub not far from my house, sipping a soda water with lemon.
I’m at my weekly “write-in”, where I join a small group of other writers every Monday. We write. We chat. We eat. We drink. It is a pub after all.
Much like this morning, I’ve planned ahead for tonight. I considered what I’d usually order (“A glass of your White Rabbit, please?”) and I spent the day practicing — mentally placing a new order instead.
I’ve been drawn to books about recovery for years, but I’ve been insatiable lately. In the last week, I’ve read The Recovering by Leslie Jamison, Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter, and Recovery by Russell Brand.
Before I was willing to admit that I might need help, I have been silently begging for it—turning to books, my lifelong teachers, desperately looking for an answer.
Leslie, Kristi, Russell:
Am I an alcoholic?
Should I stop?
Can you help me?
A year before my 30-day self-imposed test of alcoholism, I was in a personal essay writing class. We had each come to the class prepared with a few topics we might write about. One of mine: I think I might be an alcoholic.
I was scared to share the prompt (and almost didn’t), but I trusted the teacher, I wanted to get the most out of the class — and, to be honest, I wanted a topic that seemed just as dramatic as everybody else’s.
My instructor thought the topic was interesting, worth pursuing. “Maybe you could treat it like a journalistic experiment?” she offered. “Go to a few AA meetings? Really dive deep into what it might mean if you are an alcoholic and start going through the steps of recovery to find out?”
I diligently jotted down her ideas, but I disregarded the topic as soon as the words had left her mouth.
Go to AA? Start the process of recovery? I would never go that route.
I already knew what I would find out.
I have been perhaps more resistant to the words “alcoholic” and “sobriety” than to the idea of never drinking again.
The insinuation of not just a physical, but a supposed moral failing is almost too much for this recovering perfectionist to bear.
If I say I’m one day sober, will it mean I spent so many days — too many days before this one — as a failure?
I don’t need to wonder.
I don’t need to test myself anymore.
There’s nothing to “find out” for an essay.
What I need to know: Am I brave enough to be sober?
Can I make it another day?
I don’t know.
But I do know I feel proud. I feel refreshed by my own honesty. And I feel grateful.
For now, as I sip on soda water at my writing meetup in this pub, that’s what I hold onto.
This is the first day of my sobriety. And that’s what I will take with me into day two.