I’m usually not bothered by my sobriety; the time when I drank openly, illegally, recreationally and privately are over a decade in the past. I was twenty one when I got sober, and that was after an almost two year dry spell. I don’t dwell on it, and it’s been fairly easy to avoid. My life as an adult has been spent with a sober man by my side, us against the world. When our son was younger all my activities revolved around him and his well-being, but now that I’m taking time for myself and am back in school I notice how deeply alcohol swills through my adult world, how easily clinking cocktails and wine glasses seep into academia; how present the hipster craft beer and barrel-aged whiskey. It’s nothing that I want but it’s something that’s so common in socializing, so we often keep to ourselves and our small group, most of which, if they do drink, only do so occasionally. Again, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel cheated, I don’t desire it. It sometimes makes me feel sad that so many adults can’t seem to enjoy themselves without it. That was something I had to learn when I was younger: without alcohol, there are mountains to be climbed, sex to be had with a clear head and the absolute absence of numbness, starry nights to look at without the spilling of ash, conversations that are truthful and remembered the next day. Of course I realize that not everyone drinks the way that I did — where I was destructive they are only loosened. Their gears don’t rust and then break like mine so often did. Shirts stay on, police are not called, strangers are not fondled.
Recently, I’ve read a few articles offering advice for sober adults living in an alcohol-soaked world. Most of the advice is stupid, and likely doesn’t come from someone has ever had a problem with alcohol. The suggestions range from, “Don’t tell people you are an alcoholic.” (derp) to “Get a club soda and put a lime wedge in it, people will think you’re drinking and you’ll fit in.” Hm. Should I stumble and slur my words, too? Will that allow me to blend in? I’ve always asked for coffee, and told the truth if asked. That I don’t drink. No sob story offered or needed.
Before I met my husband I had never had a sexual encounter while sober. I was so worried about seeming awkward, new, afraid that I became either the happy, easy, drunk girl or the quiet, shy, girl, surreptitiously sipping something I’d hidden away to gain confidence. My shoulders never went back unless properly lubricated. I didn’t allow myself to look someone in the eye unless my vision was blurred. Sex while sober was and remains a full body experience, no longer is my mind cut off from my body as it was when I drank. I don’t think we need to enhance what’s already fucking incredible without the influence of outside chemicals. Why numb the intensity?
Now that I write that — I think I kept on drinking because I couldn’t handle the intensity of my young adult emotions — typical growing pains were too much for me, or I thought they were too much, at least. I began drinking to fit in, to add something to my social life that I thought was lacking. Looking back to the way I was before I drank, when I was fifteen or sixteen, I wonder who I would be now if I hadn’t started. I see a girl who used to go the pool with her friends, an impossibly blue place that sat in the middle of the city her parents, and she, grew up in. Surrounding the pool was a wide green lawn, changing rooms from an era when women became WACs and WAVES and were never without red lipstick. This place was surrounded by a river full of paddle boats and swans, canoes that could be rented, shuffleboard, giant carp who ate Wonder Bread. The girl used to stretch out, brown her skin on an old white quilt, eat hot dogs from the concession stand, drink Dr. Pepper, swim for hours, and then go home to fall asleep on a cool bed beneath a ceiling fan. Her head was full of fireflies and passages from the books she read and reread but it was clear. Her legs were tanned, her stomach flat. She gave history tours during the day and drank fancy coffee drinks at night with her friends. In the winters she danced and sang on a historic stage; her life was too full to hold anything that might dizzy her. Until it did. She felt old before she turned twenty.
But again, I don’t regret a thing (non, rien de rien). I’ve been given the gift of feeling younger now than I did at nineteen. My legs are still tan, my stomach still relatively flat. I’m still sitting on grassy lawns next to swimming pools. I’m still here.