Loneliness of Alcoholism

My Dad's Lamb Grilling MachineI imagine my summer vacation with my extended family is a lot like most. Lots of warm, squeezy greetings between adult siblings and cousins who live across the great expanse one from another. Sincere desires to keep in better touch that are, in reality, words wasted due to busy schedules and naturally occurring self absorption. A Christmas card. Maybe a birthday text. Then the one week spent together every summer rolls back around.


Kid cousins play together like no time has elapsed since last year. Grandparents bursting with enthusiasm for grandchildren, while my generation looks and feels hagarred from cross-country travel. “How’s work?” “What sports are the kids playing?” “What grade will you be in next year?” The questions roll off our tongues like icebreakers among people we’ve known all our lives. We’re genuinely interested in the answers both because we’re genuinely interested and because we’re looking for some fun nugget to kickstart the inevitable laughter.


The kids play, the grandparents gush and my generation catches up on 358 days of normal. Family fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, and everyone knows his place. At least, almost everyone.


I’m the only adult in my family who doesn’t drink. My mom goes out of her way to have non-alcoholic beverages I enjoy, and it has been a long time since I felt any shame from my sobriety. Still, being the only one comes with at least mild discomfort.


My brother-in-law’s beer reminds me of the summer afternoons when we used to put away seven or eight each while we forgot to reapply sunscreen. My sister sips some sweet and fruity summer breezy concoction that I would never have dreamed of consuming, but still, I wonder why I’m addicted while she moderates effortlessly. I’m mostly fine. Mostly proud of my sobriety and mostly glad I’m not them. Mostly.


Then comes the tray of frozen margaritas, carefully portioned into festive glasses – exactly as many icy tequila-treats as there are adults, minus one. There is no obnoxious celebratory toast. The glasses are distributed in a subdued manner. No one makes me feel like I’m missing out.


But still, I’m missing out. There is a togetherness involved in drinking, and the round of margaritas-for-all exacerbates it. It’s a connection. A bonding. I’m not jealous, but I am ever-so-slightly isolated.


I feel lonely in a room full of people I love.


And there’s nothing any of us can do about it. I would never want to stand in the way of their hard-earned release, their connection. And I certainly can’t join them. It is what it is. And what it is, is lonely.


The feeling is short-lived. There will be great meals and gallons of morning coffee – lots of opportunities for me to join in the bonding. I’ll tell jokes and laugh at my family’s funny stories, and the loneliness will fade into forgotten nothingness.


At the end of the week, I ask my dad if I can help him clean his rotisserie machine he uses to grill the most delicious lamb shish kebab. He’s very proud of the machine that my grandfather made for him, and he retells me stories about how you have to load the skewers just so and the little trick about starting the rotation motor. He repeats over and over that the cleanup is easy because the machine is made from stainless steel as we polish it to a gleaming shine. Although I’m 46-years-old, and we celebrate his 70th birthday this week, it is as though I am his young apprentice and he is enthusiastic in his sharing of an important part of his world.


He guides me with love for his lamb grilling machine. But even more so, he guides me with love for his son.


And just like that, the loneliness is gone.


Being sober means missing out on some little things. But it also means being present – awake, alert and fully open – for some pretty big moments disguised as insignificance.


If you are ready to be open to the big possibilities for your life, I invite you to join our SHOUT Sobriety program designed to help drinkers and their loved ones navigate the very treacherous waters of early recovery. The program is absolutely free for participants because we don’t think you should have to pay for your freedom. We depend on donations from people who are passionate about recovery from this deadly disease to keep the program going. For more information, to enroll in the program or to make a donation, please click the button below.

SHOUT Sobriety

Alcoholic Anonymity Kills
January 16, 2019
When Love and Alcohol Can’t Coexist
December 19, 2018
Uncomfortable Distance
June 27, 2018
  • Reply
    William Veanus
    July 18, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Another excellent explanation I haven’t quite been able to put into words. My family would say I’m crazy ( slightly true) and how can I possibly be lonely with so many people around. I deal with that everywhere I go. The drinks are always flowing freely and I’m declining happily to pass up a gifted alcoholic drink from someone. I’m grateful I have the power to do so and just get a Coke.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      July 18, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      Yeah, William, that’s right. I’m grateful to pass on the booze, too. But you’re spot on, there is an unavoidable missing out. We just have to stay focused on the big picture. Thanks for your support!

  • Reply
    July 18, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    A beautifully moving story as always Matt! Thanks as always!

    Your soul is in your writing – what a Gift you are and through your writing share so generously!

    This speaks so fully to us all about all that speaks to us – about who and what we hold high – too often on auto-pilot, or like being in an assembly line…

    Your beautiful share here began unravelling as though feeling alienated can come from losing focus, or maybe even briefly forgetting – that what we hold high is apart at last, from what has become the norm when we socialise or celebrate or commiserate – and everything in between.

    Your courage is all the more inspiring for taking such bold steps back, despite the discomfort of feeling separated – yet so worth it all, for gaining so much ground that actually matters!

    The precious snippet with your Dad – and how, alcohol-free, you felt every bit of the love most precious about your deepest joyful connection – moved me to tears!

    The gift that gratitude is – is best enjoyed while fully aware:)

    Thank you for keeping it so real! Please stay with your gift of courage too – that opens up possibilities for much more meaningful, conscious, simpler living – free from the web that alcohol too often, too easily, and too sneakily create around too many.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      July 18, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Thank you for your beautiful comment, my dear friend Cris!

  • Reply
    July 18, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    We all mourn those care-free drinking days before we became addicted. I find it’s not drinking I miss as much as the freedom I used to have without addiction. FYI, who’s to say that the person having a few beers & sweet cocktail may not have a problem with alcohol – no one in my family knew except my husband.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      July 18, 2019 at 8:47 pm

      You’re right, Emm. We’ve all got something going on. You never really know who’s suffering.

  • Reply
    July 19, 2019 at 5:40 am

    So true the FOMO’s came thick and fast for me when I put down the drink. But… I was the was the only one who felt left out! No one else noticed. No one is bothered if we don’t drink, they only bother if we are drinking and being troublesome! Sitting around and having special drinks with family and friends is even better sober because I am present and genuinely interested in what they have to say!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      July 19, 2019 at 6:33 am

      I love your attitude. I mostly can feel at peace about it like you. Mostly.

  • Reply
    July 19, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Such a beautifully descriptive story, Matt. I felt like I was there. And how wonderful that you found sobriety while your relatives are still with you, and you can truly enjoy moments like the ones you and your dad spent cleaning his lamb-grilling machine. Thanks you, as always, for your inspiring story. This was a perfect time and day for me to read this.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      July 19, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      So great to hear from you, Cathy! I’m glad the timing was right.

  • Reply
    August 11, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    This! This right here is one of the difficult parts of being sober for me now. I have navigated through so many of these kinds of situations that involve the fleeting loneliness and those memories triggered by seeing others enjoy drinks I once shared in social circles. Its not that I’m missing connection, but in those moments I’m missing THAT connection. And in that moment it is sometimes difficult to see anything outside of that loneliness and I miss the memories where I drank and others drank and I seemed to fit in so effortlessly. Now there is work involved in life, and I know that’s good, there should be. But it doesn’t come easily. And you put that so well here. I can easily relate to that situation. It’s a good reminder that those moments do fade and you are so much more able to appreciate those beautiful, real moments in life when sober.

    Thank you for this article, its nice to know I’m not alone in these feelings. I’ve just found your blog (I read your article on Elephant Journal and it led me here) and I’m grateful to have found it!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      August 11, 2019 at 4:33 pm

      Oh, Amanda. This sentence from your response, “Its not that I’m missing connection, but in those moments I’m missing THAT connection,” gave me a chill up my spine – no exaggeration. Thank you for your comment. I’m glad my story resonates, and I hop you’ll stay in touch!

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