I 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.