Well, not exactly the end of the word… But definitely the end of who you used to be.
As a chronic drinker, occasional binge drinker, or every-day morning-to-night drinker, the alcohol becomes a part of you. It is how your friends and family see you. It is how you see yourself. Sometimes, it becomes a part of your identify.
I have recently been acutely aware of how friends will tell me to “go have a beer” or “have a glass of wine” if I am stressed or over-worked. It’s not a function of their coping – but how they understand my coping mechanisms.
Recently, a friend (that does not drink often) was asking me about doing some side work for him. He said “I will pay a reasonable wage so you can get liquored up at your favorite winery.” He then sent me a funny GIF of a gal drinking from a GIANT glass of wine. This was just a few days ago. It occurs to me… this is how he sees me.
As I said before, I am not sharing this AF journey with many of my friends (actually only 2 know for sure). This exchange with my well-meaning friend did not trigger me. He sent the message and GIF as a joke – but it was a subtle clue of how he does see me. I’m not angry or hurt by this. He didn’t create that image, he is just holding a mirror up to it.
It is very difficult for others to see you in a different light or with a different definition than they once did. I have been through this before, but with a much more significant change (in my opinion).
I “came out” as bisexual at age 33. I had never openly dated women. I knew I was attracted to women as well as men, but being brought up in a very strict Baptist home (the no-drinking, no rock-n-roll, no pre-marital-sex, pray-away-the-gay kind), I was never able to express that part of myself. But then, I met my future-(ex)wife and all that changed. I found the courage to tell everyone and to be with her openly. I committed myself to her and damn the consequences. It changed “my” people’s perception of me, of course. Some were very supportive, some were confused, some were angry. I lost friends and family. I was judged by some. I left a very comfortable existence. I had to start over (financially). But I was never happier than in those very stressful, early days. And even though we did break up after 13 yrs, I would not change a thing. I opened up a part of myself I had kept hidden for years. I became more “myself” than I could have been had I not met her. I will never regret it.
It was very stressful for those around me to see me differently- to have to change their definition of who I was. I lost a very dear sister-friend (we remained estranged for several years). She said “we just don’t have anything in common anymore.” It broke my heart. Another friend said “So… all the guys you dated? Was that fake? I just don’t know how to see you anymore.” Those things were very hard to hear. Hard to internalize. But I knew I was on the path of my own truth. I knew that this was what I wanted.
I kind of feel like sobriety is going to be the same, but to a lesser degree. I used to drink with many (read: all) of my friends. It is how we unwind. There is an unspoken rule to never bring up how drunk someone is / or was, because we have all been there. Many “bad behaviors” go ignored or laughed at later. I am sure my sobriety is going to cause some stress in a few relationships when I no longer engage in this behavior. They may feel I am judging them (I will not be) or that I am boring (maybe I will be).
In the past, I have shared with my drinking friends that I would like to stop or control my drinking. I have been met with everything from “Good for you!” to “That’s fine, but I’m not going to quit” and “That’s stupid. Why would you do that?” In my sexual-orientation journey of self-discovery (going from fake-heterosexual to open-bisexual), I had my ex wife, and her (straight, bi, and lesbian) friends to support me. I also had many friends of my own to support me, even if they struggled to understand. I am not sure I would have told anyone this truth about myself (even now) had I not met someone who could relate to what I was going through and been willing to hold my hand through that difficult journey.
This is why I say (and am practicing) find a sober-buddy. Find someone that understands what it is like on day 5, 12, 60, 120, or is willing to share those experiences as you both experience them. I have reached out within my sober online group and have made a couple wonderful connections. These people are going through or have gone through the same things I am. We can encourage each other when we are down in a way that I’m not sure my real-life friends can. A sober-buddy can understand the drive to drink when shit is bad, or good, or just because it’s Tuesday. They know the drive because they also have it.
I do realize that this can also backfire, especially when you choose friends on the same part of the path as you. You may both decide to hit the “fuck it” button. That can be catastrophic for you both. That is one way to look at it, and a reason to get a seasoned sober-buddy (or sponsor, if you will). For me it is easier to relate to someone that has about the same number of sober days behind them. They are not removed from those early feelings. They can understand viscerally your feelings right now, on this leg of the journey. You can also do the same for them.
I choose to look at it like having a running-buddy. Both of you have a goal. You’re both there with the same running experience, running at the same pace. When one of you wants to stop, the other is there to encourage you – saying “you got this- come on, let’s go.” You are not always going to feel the same level of motivation as your sober-buddy. When one of you is weak, the other may be strong, and vice versa.
I will say that finding a sober-buddy has been great for me. She has no expectation that I will do X or Y in any situation. I am able to “become” the sober-me in a safe place, free from the old baggage that has made this task so difficult in the past. More than once, in the short time we have been connected, we have encouraged each other needed it. Said “Come on, you got this… let’s go” when it was required. In addition, I think there is the added unspoken motivation to not let the other down. We don’t know each other well at all, but we are in this together, I think. I really do believe this has made a world of difference for me this time around.
Thanks for being a sounding board.
Much love, friends. Stay strong. Stay sober.