Often, the contrast between drinking and not drinking is dramatic and obvious. Like the time my next door neighbor called over the fence for me to come try a new whiskey he found at the mega liquor store. He found a winner this time, and he invited me to share it with him and his friend who was visiting from San Diego. I don’t remember the brand, but that would be beside the point, anyway. My neighbor bought it because it was distilled with liquid smoke, and it smelled like we were drinking a barbeque grill. It was delicious, but that was beside the point, too. The new and interesting blend and the friend from out of town were just excuses for the three of us to drink most of a bottle of whiskey, with some beers mixed in, and become numb to the rest of the world around us.
My wife and kids were home that night. We didn’t have big family plans for the evening, but my chair was empty at the dinner table, and I left the bedtime responsibilities to my wife exclusively. She wasn’t mad any more than she was surprised. My familial neglect was minor, but it was noticeable, and it didn’t do anything to strengthen my marriage.
Drinking like that had a really magical, euphoric period for me. There was about an hour between when I was finishing my second glass of whiskey, and when I poured my sixth, that I felt absolutely sensational. Every cell in my body was standing on its tip-toes and screaming with delight. But after five whiskeys, those cells went numb, and my cranial lighting started to flicker and fade out.
I probably spent six hours with my neighbor and his friend that night. One of the six was glorious, and the other five were filled with dull conversation, repeated stories and exaggeration. The six hours cost me most of the following day sulking and hydrating, full of anxiety and depression from another night of pointless overindulgence. It took a chunk out of my self esteem, and put another dent in my marriage. No disaster. No calamity. Just hours and hours of minor disappointment.
Staying home that night would have meant missing out on one euphoric hour. It would also have meant loading the dishwasher and watching something boring on TV. But here’s the subtle but important part of the contrast between drinking and not drinking that night. Staying home would have meant giving my kids a little attention as I listened to their stories at dinner and tucked them into bed that night. It would have relieved my wife’s parenting burden ever so slightly, and it would have made her feel just a smidge closer to me.
My alcoholism came down to this: would I choose an hour of euphoria with its necessary baggage of a hangover and a slightly neglected family, or would I pass on that utterly blissful feeling choosing instead the minor satisfaction of nurturing the ones I love the most?
For a long time, I chose the euphoria because the price I had to pay wasn’t that high. But eventually, the toll increased and the hundreds of little disappointments complete with snippets of shame and depression added up. They tipped the scale. Sobriety won because the “cons” list got longer than the “pros.”
I’ve dramatically oversimplified the excruciatingly painful experience of choosing recovery over addiction, but hurt aside, that is what it boils down to.
My reasons to stay sober are subtle and understated. I have to think about them. I have to make an effort. On the other hand, the reasons I loved to drink were loud and outrageous. They occupied my brain and were effortlessly ever present.
The contrast between drinking and not drinking is dramatic and obvious.
Do I prefer peace or excitement? Do I prefer taking two steps forward each time I slide one step back, or would I rather race full speed ahead unsure what direction I’m really going? Do I want to build something slowly over time, or do I want to roll the dice and see what happens?
It is no wonder why we glamorize alcohol like it is the answer to every last question. The contrast between drinking and not drinking leaves us no choice but to dress booze in a sequin gown with fireworks shooting out of its ears.
Some of my fellow recovery warriors glamorize sobriety, and frankly, I don’t understand. I see posts on Instagram and Facebook about how great my comrades feel in sobriety – how they wake full of thankfulness and energy, and every new breath they take is better than the last. Rainbows and unicorns around every corner. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, my sobriety is nothing like that.
My sobriety is full of relationships slowly improving through patience and effort. My sobriety is about learning to absorb sadness and quiet anxiety without the aid of my 80 proof medication. My sobriety means listening and learning and becoming a better version of myself one seemingly insignificant life encounter at a time. No rainbows. No unicorns.
Last week, both our dishwasher and refrigerator crapped out within a few days of each other. The dishwasher didn’t break as much as it sprung a hardly noticeable leak in the water supply line. I found it when water dripped on my head in the basement below the kitchen. It was Sunday morning, and my family was scurrying around getting ready for church. I got a flashlight, traced the drip in the basement ceiling to the kitchen sink above it and prayed that a pipe hadn’t burst in the wall. When I found the leak a few inches downstream of the valve under the sink leading to the dishwasher, I calmly turned off the water to the dishwasher and continued getting dressed for church.
If you think my story about dealing with my busted dishwasher in sobriety is dull, contrast it with what would surely have happened back when I was a drinker. When the first drop hit my head, I would have gone into a panic (regular alcohol consumption results in anxiety during sober times). I probably would have turned off the water to the whole house making finding the source of the leak impossible. I would have ushered my family out the door to church as I changed into grubby clothes for a full day of plumbing exploration. And I would have opened a beer. I would have needed it to relieve stress, and I would have deserved it because my Sunday – my day of relaxation – was ruined.
As a drinker, my fritzing dishwasher would have been much more dramatic and heart wrenching. I would have brought unnecessary stress to my family and surely spent unneeded time and resources remedying the situation.
Instead, in sobriety, I came back from church and spent $18.60 on a part on Amazon, and enjoyed my Sunday afternoon with my family.
A few days later, I took a swig of some nice warm milk from the refrigerator. It was Saturday night, and my wife and I were just settling in to watch a movie before bed. I pulled the refrigerator away from the wall, released about 10,000 dust bunnies from captivity allowing the compressor fan to spin freely, and went to bed without my movie.
Just like with the dishwasher, the scene would have been dramatically different back when I was a drinker. Being Saturday night, I would have had the alcohol content of five or six IPAs flowing through my body. I would surely have overreacted and begun putting food in coolers and barking at my wife to go buy bags of ice (and probably more beer while she was out). I would have cursed and slammed and stomped and snorted through an unnecessarily dramatic evening of complaining and feeling like a victim of the evil appliance gods. My wife would have absorbed all the snarling she could tolerate before going to bed, and I would have drank myself silly (think vodka, not beer) until I passed out for my kids to find me in the morning.
The contrast between drinking and not drinking was still dramatic and obvious in the bad times just like it was in the good times. Drinking was flamboyant and obnoxious while sobriety was calm and efficient. I can almost guarantee at least one of those two appliances would have cost me a $500 service call as a drinker, while the $19 valve was the total expense in sobriety. And my raised voice and exasperated attitude would have been unattractive to my spouse in the drinking scenario, while she actually bragged to a neighbor about my handiness in sobriety.
Sobriety is better for me and my family. There are no rainbows, and I’ve never seen a unicorn. I have no intentions of spouting off on Facebook about my plumbing awesomeness, and I don’t plan to post a beaming, smiling picture of me and my dust bunnies on Instagram.
But it’s better. The contrast is stark if I take the time to analyze it. I think my sober reactions are how we humans are probably designed to behave, while my alcoholic handling of situations drips with drama and turmoil.
This blog post was boring to write, and I’m sure it’s probably boring to read. But boring isn’t bad when compared to the alternative. The contrast between drinking and not drinking is pretty dramatic making my decision quite obvious – even without the rainbows and unicorns.
If you are ready to choose boring progress over dramatic backsliding, check out our new SHOUT Sobriety program designed to help high-functioning alcoholics navigate early recovery. It is built from my experiences and incorporates everything I’ve learned about leaving alcohol behind, and we offer it free of charge because we don’t think people should pay for their freedom.
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