As I continue to think about what it means to settle into a place and find my people, I would be remiss to ignore one of the biggest challenges I’ve been facing on this journey– my sobriety. I am not struggling with sobriety itself, but with what it means to be sober in a society hell-bent on being hammered.
This September will mark my 6th year of being sober. I never really talk about it because on one hand yes, that’s an amazing thing, but on the other hand, I don’t know if most people realize how hard it is to be outside of that world. I spent 24 years in that world. It’s where I made a lot of my “friends” (which I put in quotes because without drinking we no longer had anything in common). It’s how I tortured myself, escaped my life, and sabotaged many relationships. I haven’t missed it for a day and am 100% certain it was the best thing I ever did for myself, but I have really had to come to terms with a different kind of lonely than I’d experienced before. In addition, I’ve had to figure out who I am without it. It was something I battled without anyone ever really knowing, and that is more a commentary on the state of our society than it is my attempt to hide it. No one notices an alcoholic because alcohol is so prevalent. It’s a part of everything everywhere.
I’ve moved all over the world throughout my life. Knowing that everything was temporary, I never fully settled in anywhere or became a part of a community. I never felt a need to. I’d go out for drinks with co-workers at whatever job I was working and meet and build a circle of people I would call friends for a time. I would drink to prevent the feeling of emptiness consuming me. Drink to escape the loneliness. Drink to avoid my own mind. I would drink just because I didn’t feel that I had anything better to do. And the worst- drink for the courage to just be more myself. I look back on that girl and feel so sad for her that she thought so little of herself. But I also know she wasn’t ready to know better. She wasn’t ready to tear down the walls and face her demons, her traumas, her past mistakes, and forgive. She always forgave everyone around her no matter how poorly they treated her because she just wanted to be loved, but she couldn’t love herself. Until she did. It took many screw-ups and near-misses, and a lot of close-calls, but the day finally came that I wanted better for myself. I wasn’t ready for how hard it is to do that.
When I move to a new place, and I ask where someone my age meets people, I’m given a list of breweries, pubs, happy hour spots, etc. I tried to look up events online and everything centers around drinking. Even the running club- half of their groups start and end at a brewery. Now I like breweries just fine, but it tends to make people uncomfortable when you’re just hanging out with a glass of water all night. It’s amazing how my decision to quit drinking is immediately a judgment on everyone else. People get quite upset. When I ask where someone meets people that doesn’t involve drinking, they’re stumped and confused about why I would even want to know the answer to that. Our world can’t seem to function without a social lubricant.
So, I joined a gym hoping I would meet like-minded people there who care about their health. Turns out not only do people pretty much stick to themselves, I remembered I hate the gym. I prefer to struggle in private without people worrying if I’m dying. Nothing like paying for something you have no intention of using. I’ll make myself go eventually just to feel like I got my money’s worth, but it’s not at the top of my list. The question remains, how does one find a place they belong when they are on the periphery of the life that’s happening where they are? When the culture is set up in such a way to keep them out? It’s a conundrum. The better care I take of myself, the more isolated I become. Seems backwards. Not worth changing it though. I’d prefer to be alone.
Needless to say, it’s been quite an experience these past few years shedding an identity that was so familiar and ingrained and figuring out who I am with clear eyes and an open mind. Navigating the new places I go and how to really engage with them without the quick and easy pathway through alcohol. Trying new things and finding new interests that are healthier for me and experiencing ALL of the emotions that come with life. Every up and down has been worth it, but it would be a lie to say it’s been easy or without incredibly difficult days. I still struggle with allowing myself to feel and facing my demons head on, but I wouldn’t give up the challenge for anything. As long as I’m at home in myself, I always have a place I belong. That’s all I ever wanted anyway.