Sobriety is a Struggle
My attempts at sobriety are a daily struggle. Really. After years of trying it’s starting to stick on some nights. Part of the issue is that drinking is so pervasive in my community. We just topped a list for most breweries/distilleries per capita. That’s not counting all the bars and restaurants. To be out in the community after 9pm is to be at a place centered around alcohol. The other issue is that I date drinkers. I meet them in the industry or at bars or through industry or drinking friends. They’re not all alcoholics by any means. Most have been casual drinkers. But it’s hard to be sober dating someone who can have a few drinks per night and not have a problem. It’s worse when that person wants to go out all the time. The cycle starts again. Rinse. Repeat.
I have two main problems that exacerbate my drinking: my inability to sleep and my dislike of my own body. Cliche I know.
I’m not sure where the sleeping issue came from. I don’t remember having a problem in highschool. I was always a night owl but rarely pulled the all nighter. It’s funny trying to remember all the times you didn’t have an issue falling asleep. It’s like trying to remember every time you brushed your teeth. You were there, it happened, you were a conscious participant. But your brain has a catalogue of rote actions and decided this is just one of them and doesn’t bookmark it for later. It just files it away in a muscle memory somewhere. Forgotten time passed. The sleeping issues started in college - in the dorms. Being in a new environment, sharing space with strangers, disrupting my usual diner routine of coffee until 1am and bed when home. And the boyfriend. Not having the body to curl up with (my parents were very progressive). My mind would run wild. Maybe i didn’t understand how anxious i was until i was removed from everything familiar. So I started to have nightmares. And sleeping became difficult. I was too uncomfortable in the city to walk long distances alone at night. I felt trapped.
First I used cigarettes. That little rush of nicotine would lull me into a chemical sleep. (it’s a gross habit I’m still working to kick). This was me at 18 so smoking was legal. The ability to get my hands on alcohol was still a task that took effort even in a city where bouncers would routinely hand my ID back to me, tell me it’s fake, and let me in anyway. I only used it occasionally but always found the alcoholic flush a pleasant way to drift to sleep.
I would return close to home after the spring semester and move in with the boyfriend shortly after. The diner routine resumed, late night games, coffee, and cigarettes until driving home and falling quietly asleep.
A note about my peer group at that time. It was mostly dominated by an older group of friends who all grew up together a town over. Most had gone directly from highschool to the workforce. These were adults who had bills to pay and families to take care of. The dream of college or upward mobility seemed to have been a possibility but not enforced and certainly not financially covered. Since everyone had to drive to each other’s homes, drinking was allowed but there always needed to be a DD unless sleeping arrangements had been made. Additionally, it was a mortal sin to get too drunk. Unless you were family, throwing up was cause for social banishment for an undisclosed period of time. I saw this policy routinely enforced.
So at 18 with little drinking experience minus a handful of times overdoing it, I was terrified to drink with this crowd and face possible excommunication.
By my junior year of college though, I had broken up with the boy, forged my own friendships, and started experimenting with cocktails.
Another side note: when my friends all moved in together to the infamous 1909 Nottingham way house aka: the Louvre Shack we collectively built a bar. It was awesome with checkered tiles and aluminum flashing. One of the roommates still owns it.
My family used to host dinner parties but after my parents split and remarried, their collective alcohol stock sat undrunk and unloved. So naturally they donated it to the house. The roommates also contributed over the years. Now I was single, living with people I trusted, but having little direction outside of my school assignments, I started drinking. A lot.
First is was at parties for birthdays or celebrations for little victories. I had made a lifelong friend who eventually moved in with me. Her friends would come over. We’d drink, get stoned, sing a long to bad pop songs, tell stories, play games, and smoke until morning. We had a friend who would play DD and drive our slightly tipsy butts to the beach. Honestly when I had a car, I was sober most of the time because I refuse to drive intoxicated. I was often that DD taking my toasty friends whenever we wanted to go. Or we’d all stay sober and smoke and sing on long drives to the ocean.
We had a few friends who noticed that my friend and I were hilarious when a little drunk. We started being gifted bottles of wine. German riesling. It was the same thing: drinks, sing a longs, giggles, general reverie. But there came a point where I could consume two bottles and not feel anything and not have a hangover the next day. Nights when I was depressed over a boy (and there were a few) were cause to drink something a little harder to take the edge off.
Senior year there were a lot of those. I had fallen hard and fast. And when it ended i hit a wall. At that time my dog also bit my face so minor facial scarring fed into the ‘unlovable, ugly, untalented’ sonata that played in my head. There was a lot of hard liquor. I started sleeping on the couch because that was easier than crawling upstairs to my bed.
One famous night my roommate tells me she came too from a dead sleep already running down the stairs because I was screaming for her violently ill on the couch. To this day I still can’t drink amaretto. It would be another few months before I removed myself from the couch and returned to my bed. I started making plans to leave after college. Started dreaming of where I would go within reason, being honest with myself about finances and social anxieties.
The other problem I mentioned was body image. There is not a single person I know who doesn’t have issues with this. Our capitalist hollywood media fueled society has crippled all of us. The invention of mass media exacerbated what was likely a common but a surmountable personal issue. Once we were flooded with images of ‘perfect bodies’ and copy trying to sell us everything we need to get that body we were collectively doomed. Happy couples who love each other still hate their bodies. We regulate through consumption. Everyone has their own neurotic tendencies toward food and eating. Some binge. Some purge. Some calculate every calorie and only eat organic. Some don’t care. Many exercise, practice yoga, run, or join casual group sports. Some let their bodies be and sharpen their tongues and minds. Their skin thickens. But the same self loathing lives within most of us.
My form of control for the last few years has been alcohol. Just after my father’s passing I lost a lot of weight from a combination of factors: stress, a job at a busy restaurant with a lot of stairs, a loss of appetite, and access to copious amounts of bourbon. I was in love with my skinny body. I fell in love with my kitchen manager and had the kinds of experiences in bed I had only dreamed about. I finally felt good in my own skin. And I was determined to stay that way.
Used to drink beer regularly. It was often cheap and easily available. Plus I could go longer into the night without being a mess.
The love affair died down and my heart shattered. And I started fixating on the calories in beer. It was too much. I’d get fat. Bourbon only. I would knock back a handle a week at home alone in the woods. No one really knew except the cats. And the boy I texted incessantly with links to music videos meant to illicit a response. To make him come running back. To make my body feel that good again.
That’s another story.
But the bourbon stuck. It’s still my drink of choice. I have to monitor it or it will sneak up on me and drag me down into a crying cesspool. I’m trying to remove my bias against beer, convince myself I can work it off at the gym.
But I put some weight back on and I hate the way I feel in my own skin. And bourbon just feels safe.