Sober Curious

Why it’s OK to dip your toes, multiple times, before diving into a life of soda water.

In Grade 8, my friends and I stole a bottle of Peach Schnapps from a parent’s liquor cabinet. I’d never been drunk. It immediately felt like one of the most liberating experiences I’d ever had in my life, an escape I never even knew existed. I’ll never forget reminiscing over how much fun we had, the photos we took, jack-assed in the park, how it was completely worth the sick, sick feeling afterwards. (I was young enough to handle it.)

Booze, felt like growing up, coming of age. And boy, did I ever grow up. I couldn’t wait until I was 19 and could strut into the liquor store and buy wine whenever I wanted. I was a writer, a poet, a romantic. I didn’t want much. Just to get fucked up, listen to good music and pour my heart onto paper. I didn’t care who I hurt, I was hurting myself much more than they could ever know. And it didn’t matter, this was the artist’s life.

Hit my mid-20’s, got into all the fun stuff. I struggled with the concept of “addictions” at this point. I was a raver, I surrounded myself with other people who liked to go hard like I did. So, I didn’t see a problem. By this time I suffered from debilitating anxiety at times, panic attacks and depression… but I chalked that up to the world being fucked up, not me. I was still just a kid having fun and I wasn’t nearly as fucked up as some of the other people I knew.

Now I’m nearly 30. One bad accident and two years of (f)unemployment later, I’ve done it all. I’ve tried not giving a damn what people think, living up to my Newfoundlander genetics and drinking like a goddamn fish. I’ve tried AA, legitimately and wholeheartedly for a few months, only to have my sponsor say to me, “I’m trying really hard to not resent you, but you smelled of pot at the last meeting, so you may be sober but you’re not clean.”

I’ve gone on non-drinking streaks. I’ve gone on drinking streaks. All the while trying to figure out whether I’m just a normal person who likes to drink or whether I’m an addict who needs therapy and serious counselling. I’ve had people tell me both sides of the spectrum, either “You need help,” or “You’re so healthy! You don’t even drink that much!” And one thing I’ve learned for certain, it’s that what you are feeling deep in the core of your being and how people perceive you can be and often are two completely separate things. The truth is, you probably lie somewhere in the middle.

Sometimes, deep in the pit of everything I am, I feel that I am bad. That I am broken. Especially on the days after I’ve definitely drank too much. I am an emotional person, and clearly, wear my heart on my sleeve. That in combination with drinking too much is not always pretty. I’ve embarrassed and shamed myself horribly in some situations, I’ve been taken advantage of in others. Leading me to consider decisions like complete abstinence.

So I toyed around with the idea of “alcoholic” and it never sat well in my heart. Yes, I certainly have a susceptibility to alcohol that a lot of other humans do and yes, it does have a history in my bloodline. Does that mean I should define myself as an alcoholic and subject myself to a lifetime of awkward conversations and meetings in church basements? Absolutely not.

This is an ongoing story and one that I am learning to not be ashamed of. It helps me immensely to share about my struggles with alcohol. I don’t think our society is designed in a way to promote behavior like mine though, it’s basically an all or nothing approach.

I lived with a self-proclaimed, ex-alcoholic for 6 months in California. He owned a pot farm. That may be laughable to some, it might make perfect sense to others. It made perfect sense to me at the time. But as I got to know him better, I learned there were parts of him that he liked to hide. Parts that were mean, punched walls, tore you apart in pieces by the soul, parts that would not mesh well with alcohol for damn sure. But was white-knuckling his way through sobriety really helping? He was still a dick, so no.

We all have unique chemical compositions and I know smoking pot certainly wasn’t calming him down like it does me. I ran away from that situation and told myself I would never, ever, claim the world alcoholic after that. I wanted to be nothing like that guy. Lord knows I ordered a glass of Chardonnay (or three) at the airport on my way back to Canada.

It’s been touch and go, my sober curiosity, for the last 5 years. I turn 30 in less than a month and I feel like I am getting to the point where I need to, excuse my crude laymen’s terms, but shit or get off the pot. I actually beat myself up so much about it that I’ve kind of created this unhealthy roller-coaster of indulging and then abstaining, or as my dear friend likes to call it, “going back to rehab.” I go on a bit of a bender, whether that’s a weekend or a week, and then I bully myself into not drinking for as long as I can until I can’t handle it anymore.

I struggle with this especially as a yoga teacher, a title I’ve only been owning for a year (and have difficulty owning it still.) This past year so much in my life has changed. I’ve grown. I went from an unmarried, unemployed person living with her dad to someone who is now none of those things. I am happy and for the most part, I am well. But, sometimes life smacks us upside the head either way, like for instance a pandemic rolls around.

So, I decided after about a month of mulling over the fact that I was beginning to drink almost every day in March when COVID-19 threw us all for a loop, to do a month sober. It changed me immensely. I built this website for instance, I started writing again, I started doing live yoga streams, cooking more. I could see the positive impact not drinking alcohol was having on my life. Was I still smoking pot? Hell yeah I was, every day.

Going back to work, the BLM movement, the general malaise of everyone around me since the lockdown put an end to that streak. But hey, here I am, refusing to beat myself up about it. I’m beginning to learn that sobriety does not need to be a prison sentence. Yes, I am very much open to the fact that one day, perhaps I will go longer than a month, maybe even a year, without imbibing. But for right now, my wins are small and they are gentle.

I am slowly learning to mother myself. Rather than feeling like a joke, a poser, a complete fuck-up, I’d rather feel like I’m progressing. What does progress look like? It looks like this. Talking about it and not being ashamed to say that hey, we live in a pretty fucked up culture that idolizes alcohol in movies and shows (seriously, try not drinking for a while and watch anything mainstream, you’ll see what I mean.) I am trying. I will continue to be sober curious.

If you’re in a place like this yourself, I hear you and I am here for you. It’s not an easy place to be. We have to work our way from the ground up and that means building a solid foundation. You don’t need to get all the sober days consecutively in a row, you just need to keep on building them, stringing the streaks together, forming new neural pathways. Passing by the liquor store after work is a win. I don’t need to feel like a pathetic, piece of shit for saying that. It IS a win.

Am I going to have a glass of buttery Chardonnay on my birthday? On my one-year anniversary coming up the month after? Perhaps. I’ll focus on that decision when the day comes. Am I going to drink today? That’s what matters. I’ll pick and choose my battles as I see fit.

Becoming sober is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and to be perfectly blunt. I don’t think that AA and the Twelve Steps are conducive to healing, not for people who don’t claim the gender identity of male. That’s for damn sure. It’s a program created by men, for men, and it’s built around a culture of shame. You are the one that is broken, if you don’t follow the program, that’s on you. You are the person that needs to reach out to everyone around you and tell them how sorry you are for being a fuck up. Oh and also, you better remember that if you slip up even once, you’ll probably be a toothless hag in the streets with a bottle of rubbing alcohol up your sleeve.

Anyone who doesn’t qualify themselves as a male (or even if they do) probably already knows what it’s like to be in a world of self-loathing. Especially for women, for those who are non-binary, we don’t need a reminder of how fucked up we are. Or how we should change, or how we are forever looking for ways to amend and say I’m sorry for existing. That’s what drives us to drink in the first place. We don’t need to be berated, stripped of our self-worth anymore than we already do to ourselves.

The Big Book, AA’s bible, states,

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.

Well fuck me.

I’m choosing to not subscribe to a program that feeds itself off of shame, coffee and cigarettes. Have I figured out a perfect program? Nope. Have I come a long way from where I started? Absolutely. I’ve explored a myriad of ways to keep myself away from alcohol, hard drugs and not loving myself and guess what, a whole bunch of them work! Let me give you some examples:

Working out, walking, yoga, writing and journaling about my feelings. Making healthy meals, a lot of different varieties of tea, reading about harm-reduction and recovery, following Instagram accounts and podcasts that inspire me to not drink (especially when I’m in the midst of very much wanting to drink), opting to smoke a joint or drink some kratom instead, going into the woods with our dog Cosmo, calling one of my parents, talking to my husband, talking to a friend, bingeing on Netflix, going for a cycle, making a fancy soda and herbal/fruit syrup drink, crying and allowing myself to get frustrated, eating fried or salty things, sex, music, candy, ice-cream, essential oils, anti-anxiety medication, and meditating.

Maybe not all of these are perfect, but they are better than tapping out with booze. I continue to build my arsenal and when things get intense or I just need a way to unwind I have a whole rucksack of goodies that I can fall back on that won’t hurt me (especially not as extensively) as drinking does. Am I perfect? I think we’ve established here, no, I am not. Am I striving to be perfect? Hell no! Nobody deserves a life of failure and misery where you can never live up to your own expectations. Let alone a bunch of old men in church’s expectations.

I am a human. I am perfectly good the way that I am and I have come a long way. Do I wish I’d spent some nights of my life differently? Sure, but I am not going to hate myself for it. I can only move forward, keep growing, keep loving myself more. I’ve accumulated many days of not drinking, I’ve lost 20 pounds since Christmas and I am not going backwards. I’m moving forwards in a way that feels conducive to me and that’s what really matters here.

So what I’m trying to say is, wherever you may be, whatever your struggles, addictions, behaviors that you don’t like may be, there is a unique and perfect way for you to work on that. It’s not shaming yourself, starving yourself, depriving or isolating yourself, but it is opening up to other possibilities. It’s being curious, listening to other people’s stories that relate to your own, it’s just asking: Where am I now and where do I want to take the next step. It’s trusting that you know how to take the next step, on your own, without someone else telling you how it needs to be done.