When you walk through the gates at DisneyLand, no one has to tell you what you are there to do. You are there to have fun! The same holds true for attending a college or professional sporting event, going to a concert, or clicking into your bindings for a day of skiing. No one goes to the beach to pay taxes or work on the company’s P&L statement (does anything scream, “LOSER!” like a laptop under a beach umbrella?).
Some signals for entertainment and enjoyment are clear. Alcohol is one such signal that it is time to relax and have fun, too.
I know that our society has adapted alcohol as a tool to manage a lot more than enjoyment. We drink to relieve depression, stress, anxiety, physical pain, emotional pain, and potentially anticipated pain. We drink to celebrate, but we drink to mourn, too. Those of us with particular expertise in alcohol manipulation even learn to use alcohol to get more work done or to stay awake when we are exhausted (that is graduate-level depressant twistification).
But no matter how we invite alcohol into all the corners of our lives, it’s main intent is to enhance our fun. That’s why Bud Light sponsors beach volleyball tournaments and not funeral parlors…at least not yet (what would the discount be for the coffin with the beer logo on the side?).
Alcohol equals fun. I learned that math as a five-year-old kid watching my dad drink beer with the other men at the neighborhood party. I relearned the connection in high school as my friends and I spent Friday and Saturday afternoons in search of alcohol for Friday and Saturday nights. And in college, when the minimum required effort had been directed at the stated purpose for my matriculation, all remaining energy was used for fun (which always revolved around alcohol). As a young professional, the inventors of the after-work socialization must have been concerned that we would forget the equation, so they named the time we spent together, post five-o’clock, “Happy Hour.”
So when I finally admitted the growing truth I’d spent a decade ignoring, and I got sober, I had a huge problem.
I had no idea how to have fun.
OK – that’s not completely true. I knew that a trip to DisneyLand or a beach vacation would be fun. But what about Tuesday-evening fun? What about after-I-mowed-the-lawn-on-Saturday-afternoon fun? The math didn’t work anymore, and I couldn’t jet away from mundane reality to extravagance everyday. I was screwed. I didn’t know how to have fun sober.
There is so much to learn in early sobriety. I had to understand brain chemistry, recovery nutrition, reprogramming the subconscious mind, managing emotions, patience, the power of recovering out loud, and repairing my trustless, loveless marriage. Learning to have fun sober wasn’t exactly high on the priority list. Maybe it should have been. Maybe it would have made all the work of recovery more palatable. Maybe it would have made the life transformation smoother.
I’m in my fifth year of sobriety, and I still struggle to have fun. It is so much easier to let life’s little stresses overwhelm my thinker with worries, regrets and fear of the future. For example, my kids are great. I really mean that. They are the best little humans I could have ever hoped for. Yet, as we navigate the pandemic, I can spend hours spiralling into worry about their education, their mental health, and when the last time they showered might have been. If you want the world to come to an end, you can will it so with catastrophic worry and fret. Sometimes, I feel like I am trying to be living proof of that hypothesis.
Will my kids suffer a setback from the shit-show of pandemic decision making? Sure. But will they bounce back and lead happy, productive lives? All signs point to the affirmative – from my middle schooler’s enthusiasm for his quarantine mullet, to my elementary schooler’s love for making church videos with his Sunday-School-director mother. They’re fine. I’m the one who can’t relax and enjoy their ever presence.
Alcohol equals fun. That’s because alcohol brings on an acute case of the, “fuck its.” It can’t bother me if I don’t care about it for a while. Not caring is one of alcohol’s diabolical superpowers. But what if I want to care, but I still want to laugh? What if I don’t want to ignore reality, I just want to enjoy it? What if I don’t want to warp my brain function in order to find joy in the human experience? What then?
Achieving that kind of “high” requires a concoction I never learned to pour in my years as a bartender or home mixologist. Day-to-day fun requires humility. It takes skill in living life in the present without dwelling on the mistakes of the past or the unknown of the future. I need an eye for the beauty of simplicity, and a taste for the rawness of something new. I must laugh at my mistakes, find warmth in unexpected places, and look people in the eye even when it’s uncomfortable. Stir that up, and you’re onto something fun.
Joy is out there. Fun is available. I’ve just got to get over myself enough to feel it. Connecting, staying connected and appreciating the connection is the key. And alcohol is the ultimate disconnector. That’s my new math, and it’s a lot more logical and sustainable than that old alcoholic equation.
If you want help finding the fun in sobriety, we hope you’ll join our SHOUT Sobriety program of connection and discovery. All levels of math skill are welcome.