…and why they may be utterly useless
‘Tis the season when a lot of us get invited to gatherings where the alcohol flows. If we go, we may find ourselves among normies for whom “drinking means conviviality, companionship and colorful imagination,” as well as some pre-bottom drunks. Because they’re outside recovery, chances are they’ll be a world away from understanding that for us, to drink is to die.
Normies view alcohol consumption from the perspective of a normal body and mind, which they assume (come on!) we must have, too – the kind that can moderate alcohol intake at will. Believing this, they may interpret our abstaining, not as avoiding the poison that can bring down in ruins everything we love, but as a party-poopy failure to “join in the revelry.” Even if we say flat out (as I do), “I’m an alcoholic,” some can’t seem to grasp what that means. They urge, cajole, and act baffled — or mourn for us. “What?! We’re talking a single glass of X, here!” (insert spiked punch, spiked eggnog, spiked cider, or plain old booze).
Standing by our own truth in the face of such reactions can be, for the more codependent among us, socially difficult. What’s more, watching others take drinks with impunity amid all the sensory experiences of alcohol – hearing the ice clinks, seeing it pour, maybe even smelling it – Whoa! – can rouse our addict from its slumber, enabling it to launch a marketing campaign about the radness of just one drink.
Yet the Big Book tells us, “any scheme of combating alcoholism that attempts to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure…. So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there.”
Everything hinges on spiritual fitness, which I’ll discuss a little further down. Meanwhile, here are six tips that have helped me feel more comfortable at events where alcohol is served.
- Go in the spirit of usefulness, not to “get” social points or further your “little plans and designs.” My sponsor used to tell me to see “what (I) could pack into the stream of life.” I show up to give. I can give others my attention, my humor, my encouragement, and my caring for them. If it’s a homemade party, I can ask the hosts what I might do to help. What matters is not how these offerings are received, but the spiritual flow they put me in.
- Bring a supply of kick-ass non-alcoholic drinks if possible, that is, if it’s not a fancy catered type thing. As above, bring them not only for yourself, but others. “Hey, I just happened to pick up some Reed’s Ginger Beer, Martinelli’s, and this amazing Trader Joe’s whatever on my way over! Enjoy!”
- Have a recovery buddy. Either bring a sober alcoholic with you, or arrange to check in with one before and after.
- Pray your ass off. Pray before, pray during (in the bathroom or just your mind), and pray again when it’s time to leave. “God, please help me remember what’s truly important, who I am, and that you’re with me” might be a better prayer than “Help me not drink.”
- Know your boundaries before you go. Once we get somewhere, it may feel loserish to leave early, but screw that. Know in advance that as soon as people start slurring and discussing their favored sexual positions, or when a certain hour arrives, you’re gone.
- Have something cozy waiting at home. This can be reunion with your beloved pets/people or some treat you decide on in advance: a good movie or book, a slice of cheesecake, blankie & PJs, or all of the above – whatever makes you happy.
Now for the spiritual fitness part: None of these tips will be worth jack if you don’t love your sobriety.
As a newcomer, you may not think you love it, but at some level you do, because it’s your core, your truth, your life. You want to grow and thrive, and while your addiction promises you guzzling will accomplish this, you know better.
I love my sobriety fiercely – as fiercely as if it were my newborn child. It’s only as old as today. Some people might bring their newborn to a whoopee party. I do so when I bring my sobriety, cradling it close. Some might set their newborn down on a table and wander off in search of social adventures, forgetting about it. Others may decide partway through the party that toting this newborn around really inhibits their having a good time, so they’re just gonna chuck it in the garbage tonight and cut loose.
Any time a well-meaning acquaintance urges me to have a drink, they’re holding a garbage can under my newborn. They have no idea what deep fury they’re fucking with. My sobriety is the source of my joy, my awakeness, my love for all the beauties of this life – and no dumbass party can tempt me to drop it. I don’t need to vent this at them; I just need to remember my life is at stake.
Yet, dear readers, the inescapable fact remains that I can’t always remember. Addiction lives inside my brain – the very same brain needing to remember. It can usurp the helm at any time and disguise a drink as a fine idea. AA’s ‘spiritual fitness’ refers to my connection to a god that, for reasons unknown, intercedes during these curious mental blank spots to let me pause (provided my steps 1, 2, & 3 stand in earnest) until the truth returns. To the extent that following these tips reflects my commitment to those steps, they may help me enjoy myself in the midst of boozers.
Yet the bottom line remains: Party or no party, tips or no tips, I’m safe anywhere if my god is with me, and nowhere if it’s not.