Let the one-woman parade commence: I did it! Not only is today one whole week after my quit date, but I also managed to complete my “first night out” with no slip-ups. Woo, hoo, a party whistle and a whole raft of brightly coloured balloons for THIS girl!
No slip-ups, no…but I have to admit (putting down my balloons and whistle for just a moment) that there were a few challenges. In earlier blogs I talked about the fact that I was going out for dinner and then to the theatre with my partner and some friends, and outlined some of the strategies I had decided to use to help me get through what would, ordinarily, have been a drinking opportunity with a bit of food and entertainment attached. The pre-prep was really helpful, as it turned out, but there were one or two unexpected things that wobbled me a bit: it reminded me that I’m going to need to keep alert and keep on making decisions, and that all the planning in the world isn’t going to form a protective booze-free bubble around me. C’est very much la sober vie.
Wobble Number 1 happened earlier in the day. I had decided to go to Hipster Trendy Part of Town™ during the afternoon, to wander around and hopefully find a sober treat or two for myself. One of the most useful tips I’ve picked up from reading sobriety blogs and books is the notion of consciously treating yourself to small things as rewards for doing the hard – and often invisible – work of getting and staying sober. This is a very good idea, as no one else, thank god, gets to see the behind-the-scenes work that’s going on in your head, and they’re unlikely a) to understand how hard it can be, especially if they’re a moderate drinker with a functioning off-switch and b) to throw you the goddamn parade you deserve. So sober-treat hunting I went.
Now, Hipster Trendy Part of Town™ had gorgeous crafty vintegey stores galore, and I mooched very happily. Having browsed for an hour, I bought two perfect treats: a book of lists and a mug that says “love me, love my cat”. With an hour or so to spare before I had to meet up with my friends, I decided to get myself a coffee, but as I wandered around the lanes of an area I love, that I’m so familiar with I could write one of those TimeOut/City Confidential pieces about, I realised something I’d not really processed before.
Everything that’s not a boutique store or a piece of witty street-art…is a bar.
Even the coffee places.
It was a shock that it was a shock – if that makes any sense at all. How had I not noticed that before? I looked through the window of one old favourite haunt that I associate far more with good cake and cold-press than with booze, and realised that it had a glistening back-bar full of enough whisky and gin to make an old lush blush.
My options were: haul ass and sit in a Starbucks on the other side of town for an hour, or pace around in frustration and lose all the good vibes of my successful shopping expedition, or suck it up and go into one of the least booze-ish and most food-and-coffee-ish places I could find.
So I did. Walked right in there and up to the counter, which was a bar, and stared through the beer-pumps, which were all offering excellent IPAs, until I identified a menu and a coffee machine. Everyone at the bar was ordering beers. I had galloping anxious stomach knots. When the server came over to me I ordered my flat white, and then concentrated on watching her make it and not on the other server pouring pints, and then took it over to a nice corner table and looked around. I did a quick inventory of what everyone else was consuming, and they were having the following: a pressed juice and a water, a bowl of soup, a big coffee with cream on it, a small coffee with nothing on it, another coffee and what looked like a coke. And then I started to relax. I sipped my flat white, and it was delicious.
Wobble 1 was over. Lesson 1? A lot of the things I love, including Hipster Trendy Parts of All Towns™, have booze – particularly craft beer and boutique gin and cocktails – pretty much embedded in them. I need to be much better prepared for that.
After that, the plan ticked along rather well. I met my friends in the café near the theatre, went to the restaurant and ordered exactly what I had pre-planned so I didn’t have that disorientating moment of being bewildered by choice and thus blurting out my habitual “a large glass of red wine, please,” and then went to the theatre and saw a bloody good play.
Wobble 2 happened afterwards. One of my friends, WHO WASN’T EVEN DRINKING, said, “shall we go on to a bar and have one more?”
He had joined us after dinner and so wanted to catch up with us properly, and the two friends who were drinking wanted a drink (and I would have been one of those friends, every other time, saying yes, yes, let’s definitely go on to a bar and have one more. Two more, maybe three more, woo hoo, thank god we’re drinking!) and so I completely understood why they all wanted to repair to a nice bar at 10:15pm and round off what had been a nice night.
What I should have said was, do you know what, guys? Not for me. I’m in my first week of quitting drinking and I’m not going to enjoy going to a bar at all, so I’m going to bail.
Addiction recovery experts warn us about HALT triggers: being Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired can all trigger at best a very difficult headspace and, at worst, a relapse. I was TIRED. I was tired from spending a good chunk of my day, and my mental energy, planning and preparing for keeping my promises of not drinking, and I was tired because I had left the house at 2:30pm and hey, it was gone 10 and I wasn’t getting the energy bounce that comes with a few stiff drinks. I had thought it would be easy to assert my boundaries with my good friends…but it wasn’t, and I didn’t. Instead I went along to a bar and felt like there were ants under my skin and fingernails scraping down an internal blackboard in my head for an hour. I did my best to cheer up and be sociable, but I DID NOT WANT TO BE THERE and I did not want to watch other people drink.
By the time we were in a taxi heading home at 11:15, I wanted to cry a little bit. But I got home, and I got to my bed. And I was sober when I got there.
So, overall, it’s been…
A week – my last drink was last Friday.
A win – I didn’t drink last night, and I enjoyed most of the afternoon and evening.
And a wake-up call – as happy as I am that my plans to reinforce my not drinking actually worked…I’m a bit more aware today that the surprises will keep on coming, that boundaries will need to be stated and reinforced (and that people-pleasing will not be the best route if I really want to shore up and protect this little sober fortress), and that this, my friends, is just the beginning.