Honor the journey of the transition. This is something I heard recently that really rang true. I find that it is sometimes difficult to honor the journey of the transition from being a drinker to a nondrinker. It’s almost as if when you give up drinking you’re expected (mostly by yourself) to immediately be “great!” To be easy and for the process to be easy. But it’s not easy. It’s frickin’ hard! But, I believe that anything that is truly worth it is usually hard.
Yes, I have given up drinking and thereby drastically improved my life, but this does not make the actuality, the reality, of not drinking any less hard. I would not forfeit the advances I’ve made or the bonds I’ve strengthened for the world, I would not let go of the unexpected healing I’ve experienced for anything else. But. But I want to come out and admit that it is still a struggle, over a year later, to be around people who smoke and drink. I mean, I still work at a bar. Ha!
It’s not that I wish for others to quit drinking as well, and I don’t expect everyone to be hypersensitive or even sensitive to my situation, but then what? That’s kind of what makes it so hard: I don’t expect to find myself surrounded by like-minded individuals at all times, yet I yearn for a kind of peace that I have not quite found yet. I think it’s because I still work at a restaurant, where the breaks only come if you smoke a cigarette, where the energy and sound of the bar reaches a fever pitch. I think it’s because it’s summer, when the days are long and hot and events seem to happen every weekend.
But thinking about it as I write these words, I suppose I could come up with excuses at any time of the year, in any kind of job. The goal is to feel at ease and at peace no matter the environment. This I know, and I have made strides, but I also need to be okay with not quite being fully okay being around the partying and the craziness. That it’s okay for me to stay home and sit something out, or to head home early, which I did after a friend’s wedding last weekend.
What a beautiful event to be a part of, a backyard wedding on a beautiful sunny Saturday, a welcome breeze fluttering the handmade flags strung between the trees. I was surrounded by loved ones, by my boyfriend and dear friends, and I felt the love. My eyes welled with tears when I heard our friends exchange their vows, when I saw the way the groom looked at the bride. It was truly magical. But, as we all know, after the ceremony, the party really began.
Sangria and beer were flowing, shots were being taken; of course, I expected it. I sipped my “spa water” — lemon, cucumber, and mint — and made the rounds, hugging hellos, admiring the creative, homemade decorations. We headed to the front of the house, where most of our friends had congregated, and came upon the “smoking section.” When I first quit drinking I had my crutch of smoking cigarettes, of having something to do with my hands, of a way to dull the overwhelmed sensation I sometimes get around crowds. Not anymore.
At one point I asked a friend if we could go around to the back of the house, where smoking wasn’t allowed. She said something along the lines of, “Oh, you got this.” Perhaps that’s what I mean when I say it’s difficult to be around the revelry I am no longer a part of. Her comment, which I took to mean that she knew I wouldn’t waver, was in response to something she didn’t seem to understand. It’s not that I feared I would cave, it’s not that I even really have the desire to drink or smoke anymore. It’s that habits, even when they have been broken, are hard to break. It’s that I felt tired and rather overwhelmed when I was literally surrounded by everything I had given up not so very long ago. I was surrounded by smoke and booze. And I didn’t want a cigarette or a cup of sangria, I just wanted to… have a little bit of distance I suppose.
By ten-thirty I was ready to go. I left my boyfriend and friends and headed home, ready to go to sleep. I knew the party was going to continue late into the night, and I wished everyone fun and safety, but I was done. It’s nearly impossible for me to stay up past midnight these days unless I’ve had a lot of caffeine or there’s dancing involved (or let’s be honest, a Netflix binge). It was past the point of having coherent conversations with people, which was fine. I wanted people to enjoy themselves, to celebrate. I don’t begrudge anyone their right to drink and be merry. There just wasn’t anything left for me to give or to receive, you know?
Without alcohol blurring my vision or dulling my senses, I have come to realize that I am a person who is sensitive to energy. Four days a week I am surrounded by the energy of people imbibing, of my coworkers going to smoke a cigarette on break. It can be pretty draining, the intensity of busy nights when there’s people pouring in the door. So when I have a day off it is a reprieve to be surrounded by other things. Like nature, or even just the walls of my house. It’s a reprieve to do what I do away from the restaurant: meditation, yoga, walks, reading. These practices re-energize me. They act as fuel for my mind, my body, and my soul. I am lucky that I have found these avenues to sustain myself.
My life has become far more enriched in the absence of alcohol. I can’t say that I miss the late nights, the hangovers and the anxiety. When I am surrounded by people enjoying what I no longer take part in, I don’t dislike them. I just sometimes feel the energy of a place I used to be in, of the person I used to be. It can bring back memories that I wish to leave in the past, memories of acting like someone other than who I know I am. The energy of drinking and smoking used to be intoxicating, dangerous, undeniable. Now the energy is usually just tiring. It depends on my own energy level, on my current mood.
I wish to be a part of the world, to celebrate with my friends and family the milestones and events that we are lucky to experience in this life. I wish to accompany my boyfriend on excursions and adventures, to try new things. But I also wish to experience life away from the influence of booze and smoke, to enjoy energy free of my old methods of coping. As long as I can do the latter as much as possible, I’ll be okay.
I wish you a wild, free life.