The Truth Behind the Perfect Pictures of Sobriety

Evergreen Rotting with the Turkey Carcasses and Wadded Up Wrapping Paper

I spent way too much time on social media during the week between the holidays. I usually post about my writing and podcast, then turn it off, so anything more than a few minutes a week makes me feel gross. I probably only scrolled fb and IG for a grand total of an hour, but I still needed to take a hot shower, scrub my eyes with bleach and submerge my phone in Windex.


In case I’ve been unclear, I don’t enjoy social media. I think my dislike stems from my borderline-perverted curiosity about your messy, dysfunctional lives. I don’t want to see your family’s strained smiles wearing itchy sweaters in front of a dead evergreen adorned with LEDs and third-grade craft projects. Great – someone held Preston down long enough to comb his hair, and Bill really did a nice job sucking in his gut for the ten seconds until the timer on the phone camera ran down to zero. Precious. Send it to grandma. I want the truth, damn you!


I don’t know if the raw and ugly truth is allowed on social media. You can either scream into the digital wind about your perceived injustices, or you can tell us about the rainbows and cotton candy you have shooting out of your ass. Most of the accounts I follow are part of the addiction recovery community, so there is plenty of both wind screaming and unicorn farting.


Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to stumble upon some naked honesty on New Year’s Day. I don’t know why I did it, but I clicked to read the comments on one of the zillions of posts asking people to proclaim how glorious they felt to be waking up without a hangover. “Tell us how sobriety feels,” the Instagrammer requested.


“I have a sugar hangover from a month of eating candy canes and sugar cookies. I didn’t drink, but I feel like shit,” was the first comment. Juicy, I thought. I decided to keep reading. “I am two years sober, and I still want to drink so bad. HELP!” said the next comment. Well that was refreshingly real, I thought. “I haven’t showered in three days, so I feel gross this morning. Being sober on NYE sucks, so I didn’t make an effort,” said the third commenter. This is spinning gloriously out of control, I thought as I pictured the IG influencer in stunned silence as she found painful honesty where she had so carefully planted the seed for a fluffy litter of cute little echo chamber kittens to grow.


That one post made the requisite scalding Clorox shower worth it.


This was my fifth consecutive sober Christmas/New Years holiday week. I am no longer deeming showering pointless, and I don’t have cravings to drink anymore, but I did eat sugar like pudgy love handles were some dark and secret Christmas wish. I didn’t see any rainbows. There wasn’t a unicorn poking his horn out of my stocking. If there was cotton candy, I inhaled it too fast to appreciate it. That’s just not how sober holidays are for me.


This is how sober holidays are for me. Our family vehicle died on Thanksgiving weekend. At thirteen-years-old with over 130,000 miles, it doesn’t take too much of a mechanical issue to be terminal. Rather than search for the elusive time during the holiday season to replace a car large enough to cart all six of us and our luggage across country every summer, we decided to punt the automotive purchase to the new year.


The good news is, even under the stress of a dead car, I didn’t drink, I didn’t consider drinking, and I didn’t want to drink. In fact, the thought of drinking didn’t even enter my mind. However, the loss of our family truckster did leave us with some logistical issues at the busiest time of the year. I mostly won’t bore you with the details, but I will tell you how we facilitated our annual night-time drive around the neighborhood to look at the lights. We put the top down on my Jeep Wrangler, made some hot chocolate, and drove slowly with teenagers clinging to the roll bars while they hung halfway out of the vehicle. We laughed and squealed and complained about a lack of ball comfort in confined quarters. It was pretty great.


And I owe all the fun to my sobriety. Had I been drinking this holiday season, here’s how the situation would have been so much worse:


I would have lacked the creativity and imagination to suggest we drop the top in December and make our own little Salis Six parade through the neighborhood. Even if someone else had suggested it, I would have dismissed the idea for the following reasons: First, I would not have had any interest in looking at Christmas lights without drinking. And if I had been drinking, I would not have been comfortable driving one big seatbeltless moving violation. I also would not have trusted our teens to be competent enough to not fall out, nor would I have trusted my wife to be able to drive carefully enough to not eject one of the kids (I was a real gem of a life partner as a drinker). But none of that tense negativity would have come to the surface anyway because I would have been too embarrassed for our family and neighbors to see us without a car large enough to fit all of us. The week after Thanksgiving, I would have under-researched and over-paid for a hastily purchased and heavily financed vehicle that my wife would have hated because her opinion would have been transparently dismissed.


Being sober isn’t great because I’m sober. It’s great because I’m not as much of an asshole.


My parents made their annual visit for Christmas. Now that I’m not drinking, the tension is significantly decreased as we don’t have to pretend that no one noticed that I passed out mid-conversation most evenings shortly after dinner. I didn’t get loud and rude, and I wasn’t short tempered with the kids.


But it was still eight people living in a little Denver bungalow together for a week, so there was tension. I hurt my mom’s feelings when I insisted that she not “help” by unloading the dishwasher since she doesn’t know where its contents live in our cabinets and drawers. My dad repeatedly told us how glad he is to live in South Carolina where they don’t have to wear masks in indoor public settings. Our kids operate at a volume that is not grandparent-friendly for long periods, and I am too often too concerned about their freedom to express themselves to effectively reign it in.


There was tension, but I was sober, so the tension didn’t escalate.


Mostly, the holidays were a lot of memorable, healthy fun. We went to a Brazilian steakhouse for dinner a couple of days after Christmas. These places are set up like an eating competition. They have one price per person – it is an all-you-can-eat meatfest. But because it is nice cuts of expensive meats, it is a hefty per-person entry fee. A person can’t help but try to eat more meat than he pays for. And with a grandmother who will surely take an “L” because she just doesn’t eat much anymore, the pressure on the rest of us to eat our share and then some was palpable. Forks and knives clattered for over an hour as we tried to make our stomachs as big as our eyes and put the fine establishment that welcomed us with warm hospitality and a sizzling grill out of business. We won. We walked with unbuckled belts and various degrees of gastrointestinal discomfort out to the cars. But we won. Glorious victory.


And if I had been drinking, it would have been messy, tense, loud, and way more expensive.


This fifth sober holiday season was far from perfect. There was stress, tension, deadlines, mistakes, disappointments and a half gallon of expired eggnog that got shoved to the back of the refrigerator.


There were no rainbows, no puppy dogs and no unicorns as are so often promised in exchange for your commitment to sobriety. But there were memories made that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Memories of my kids singing out-of-tune and at the top of their lungs while dangling from the back of my Jeep. Memories of our third child eating the very last piece of meat grilled as the restaurant closed in defeat. Memories of wishing for a little more sleep on Christmas morning – not because of dehydration and headache, but because snuggly warm sleep feels good.


What are you looking for from sobriety? If you want shiny memes featuring unreachable aspirations of perfection, I suggest you check out Instagram. If you want a reality you can live with, and one that brings a grin of contentment from time to time, maybe give permanent sobriety a shot. It is far from perfect, but it’s got an upside you can live with.


If you are interested in exploring permanent sobriety with us, we’ve got room for you in SHOUT Sobriety – our program for high-functioning alcoholics ready for a change.

SHOUT Sobriety

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  • Reply
    Anne K Scott
    January 5, 2022 at 7:10 am

    Raw & real. Happy New Year Matt 🙂

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 5, 2022 at 11:00 am

      Thanks Anne! Happy New Year!

  • Reply
    Sloane Wilke
    January 5, 2022 at 7:54 am

    Christmas this year would have been a drinking WIN had I not gotten sober. Both of my kids [the boy child is 13 and the girl child is 9] have active social lives. Boy Child pretty much camped out at his best friend’s house the entire break and Girl Child went on a vacation with a trusted family friend. This would have been the perfect excuse to drink myself into oblivion….but instead, I relaxed and published my first pieces on Medium and Elephant Journal!

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      January 5, 2022 at 11:00 am

      Congratulation on publishing, Sloane! That is awesome, and I am a big fan of both the EJ and Medium communities.

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