9/28 Sober Curious
“What did you used to do that was harmful to yourself and/or others? What did it take to unlearn your toxic ways? How have you changed? How does this change make you feel?”
The last alcoholic drink I had was a mediocre India Pale Ale from a micro brewery in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, May of 2019. It’s an easy date to pick out on the calendar; I was freshly celebrating my 31st birthday, and my roommate was performing with her band, playing fiddle for the weekend warriors. The crowd was larger than usual, and I was vibing high off of being in one of my favorite social settings. Listening to bluegrass music, people watching around the outdoor dance floor, and catching up with huge circles of friends is the perfect arena for beer drinking. In previous versions of myself, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Pour me a cold one and let’s get down. But something happened in the past year or so, a catalyst for the neurons in my brain to fire larger warning signs when mindless drinking is in the vicinity. My ability to turn down alcohol was like a muscle I flexed and trained, and it was getting stronger. So why, then, was this familiar setting so tempting? An old pattern of normalizing alcohol to have fun clouded my judgement. No, not the white, pretty cotton ball clouds at the end of rainbows type, sliding through like a screen saver. Instead, a forecast of grey and charcoal colored blankets, with whisps of smoke and whispers of regret spotting the landscape must have rolled through. And whatever blew them into my thinking mind was thirsty.
The first beer that night was one of my favorites, and I truly enjoyed it. My dear friend, the bartender, put that on her tab, so I thanked her and chatted with some locals. Business as usual. I was wearing a fun springtime outfit to embrace the warmer weather, and loved looking and feeling good about myself. But when my mug was empty, it felt like something was missing. Having a full cup in your hand and then not having a full cup in your hand is bizarrely programmed as wrong in drinking culture. We go into autopilot, and assume, yes, drink in hand is what I prefer. So I ordered another round. The second was okay; whatever, free beer, right? I was too busy tipping down my new hat or kicking my boots to the rhythm, I guess, to check in with myself in an authentic way. Picking up new conversations, studying live painters, and singing along to cover songs made that one go quickly, too. Alas, the pattern repeats itself. The cup is empty, the cup should be full. Reposition, wait in line, order another. Just one more beer, that’s it.
The last beer was, indeed, my one way ticket to jail.
If only the clouds had parted sooner.
I remember distinctly tuning in with my body, realizing I didn’t want that beverage afterall, and handed it to my partner to finish drinking. Wow, why did I even order that? I had neither the tolerance nor the taste to keep up with others. The past few months had been very distinctly “dry” months for me, and I only drank a handful of times in 2019 that were memorable. I was trying out being sober more and more often, and I was getting good at it. These beers were a few steps back, but I knew I didn’t like them, which was awesome. Go, Sal, go!
So I graciously declined when everyone switched to whiskey, and happily drank water for the rest of the night. A few hours passed, and I confidently stepped up as the sober driver for my crew. Everyone else drank way more than I, so it was the logical choice.
Logic, being quite subjective to environment, and even more so to intoxicants, is a tricky beast to tame. At one moment, fair and just, at another, clearly wrong with hindsight.
When I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw the notorious grill of a cop car too close, my logical brain said, “I am about to get pulled over.” Blue, red and white strobe lights decorated the windows, and time slowed down as I signaled to pull over. The logical sequence of events came to pass, and looking back now is like flipping through a comic strip. I’ve seen this in movies all too often, but in real time, it’s like a big fat joke the universe is playing on my soul. An internal giggle is shoved to the side by fear, or shock, as the officer explains I have a taillight out, catches a whiff of the passengers’ boozy breath, and asks me to step out. Logic dances around my head, reminding me to be polite, follow orders, and give thanks for my long practice of yoga. Breathe. Focus. Balance. Be graceful and gracious. I play the role I am given, prancing about in a series of movements that our dear justice system has deemed necessary. Walk this way. Stand that way. Look over here. After I am almost positive I have nailed the roadside tests, the gaggle of police who have gathered watch as I blow into a breathalizer. .07 beeps onto the screen. In most states, this would have sent me back into the driver’s seat, and home safely. In Colorful Colorado, however, it meant I listened to my rights, placed my hands behind my back, and wore handcuffs for the first time outside of a bedroom.
Going to the county jail was bizarre, overall. My brain was a wrestling ring for good versus evil thoughts, spewing hatred towards the man, and sucking it back in as resolution. Yes this is happening. No, I don’t have to claim anything hiding in my person. Yes, I would like a sweatshirt. No, I have never been here before. Yes, New York City is in New York State. That last one really fucking got me. How in the world does this officer not know where the Big Apple is? I’m not trying to hype up my birthplace, it’s an internationally known destination. Blah blah blah. Our dear friend drives with Kyle to get me a few hours later. After I have sat against the cinderblock walls. After I have crouched over the stainless steel toilet. After I held my head in my hands. After I have finished trembling and shaking. I smile and stay steady in my affirmations, “I am a good person,” until the cop tells me Kyle called to pay my bail and get me. That’s when I cry just a little, because, in truth, he is the best person, and right now I’m just okay.
The emotional hurricane that rained through my being over the next few days is next to comical. A spectrum of frustrated at the situation, infuriated by the legal system, deeply ashamed of myself, thankful for making bond, and delighted to be a free woman twisted like a cyclone, touching down every time a moment of clarity would bring me peace. And so I hovered, between lucky and livid. There was one string of thoughts that ran a steady course, despite where I was at emotionally:
“This is why I shouldn’t drink. This is a test. This is a lesson. Say no to alcohol.”
Questioning what I imbibe is a very important aspect of my daily routine.
Gluten and I had been drifting apart for a few months, and I had been toying with sobriety for a long time. So why, then, was a beer my downfall? Taking stretches without alcohol was easy. But something had always pulled me back. One month on, one month off, everything in moderation, right?
What does it take to make me learn my toxic ways? Apparently, jail. Thanks, universe. But also, really, thank you. Because the universe is overly kind to me. All of my charges were dropped because my Defense Attorney watched my roadside and cited me as clearing the tests. Thank GODDESS for yoga! She also said I had the lowest BAC she has ever seen in the county, and my non-moving violation wasn’t enough to warrant an arrest.
But, really, I had to go to jail, I suppose, to really hammer that nail in the coffin. I had played with not drinking for 6 months, and it wasn’t enough on my psyche. I needed real time consequences to slap me in the face to make the permanent decision. And the change feels fucking amazing. Let’s see if I can tackle nicotine next ;)
I DO NOT DRINK. I WELCOME SPIRIT GUIDES WITH MY CLEAR HEAD.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.