When you go on record that you stopped drinking for 13 months, it feels a little awkward to finally admit you blew your streak. MotherBLEEEEP! I deleted my sobriety calculator, reset my mental clock and wondered what to do next.
I dug out my knitting needles and knit a few rows. My god, at this rate, it is going to take me a year to finish a scarf.
It seemed so anticlimactic to be at a writers conference in Saratoga Springs, NY–nervous as hell around a couple hundred writers trying to publish just like you are–and to decide: yes, I would like to sip a glass of wine during the first social reception. Yes, I am going to purchase a $5 individual bottle of pinot noir, pour it into a plastic cup and hold onto it for dear life as I try to make new friends to hang with for the next two weeks.
I slowly drank the plastic cupful of wine and walked back to my campus apartment where I socialized with my new apartment-mates for the next hour. I went to bed, woke up and felt fine.
I texted my husband and my core group-chat of writer friends. I texted my mom. No one panicked. I wasn’t panicked. In many ways, I was relieved.
Here’s why: A goal to never drink again is a lot of pressure, especially for someone who never had a problem with binge drinking or not being able to stop drinking. In the year I spent sober, I learned I’d drank since age 12 in an attempt to self medicate. In my 20’s and 30’s, it grew into a lifestyle and habit to cope with chronic back pain. Having never experienced life sober, I spent a lot of time crying, thinking about how much my back hurts, coming to terms with the way it feels on a daily basis, and getting used to being stone sober at family gatherings, holidays, social events, at restaurants and over dinner at home.
It was a long, sobering year. I got used to it. I even liked it. I enjoyed the advantages of never waking up with a headache, not feeling sick, not needing to wait until 5 to take the edge off, not worrying about driving, not wondering if I said stupid things, always feeling in control of myself. There are a lot of great aspects of sobriety.
So why drink again? I don’t know, I just wanted to. I wanted to see if I could, if I liked it, if I hated it, if I’d want to do it again. Over the course of a 12-day conference, I drank about 8 of those days according to this rule: only 1 and never, ever more than 2. A few times during long events, I did have 2. I stopped, went home and to bed and never experienced negative effects.
Then I got home. Which is an entirely different issue. Home is where real life happens, where bad patterns form, where the husband and kids live. It is where I struggle to write novels and wonder if they’ll ever be published. Where I submit stories to literary journals and receive endless rejection letters.
After a week at home, I decided to have a glass of wine when we were out to dinner. The Crow’s Nest has giant pours and awful wine. I drank a glass. Got a headache later at home, went to bed feeling like crap and woke up feeling even worse. I hated myself good and hard. I kind of still do.
Today I am one-week back on the wagon. I’m glad this happened because it seems clear that drinking is not worth it to me. I don’t want to. The fun of it has lost its luster. Also, breaking my streak took the pressure away. I slipped and I might slip again. The world didn’t end. Ultimately, to drink or not to drink is my choice. It might not always be one way or the other.
Knitting again felt good. There is nothing else to do but think when you’re in the middle of a row. Last year at this time, I was newly sober and felt lost. This year, I am newly sober and feel found. Or at least, not so lost. And, wanting to find the way is a gift.
An agent (an awesome, kickass agent) emailed me that she is almost finished reading my novel and really, really (she said really twice) likes it. I’m going to write and knit and write and knit until I hear from her again. If she takes me on as a client, she can expect a mediocre, functional scarf as a gift.