When I first got sober, I lost most of my friends.
It wasn’t because they abandoned me or because I was that much of an asshole when I was drinking either. It was because I needed to distance myself from people, places and things that could serve as potential triggers.
I remember when I was about three weeks sober, I had to attend the funeral of an ex-girlfriend’s dad. I sucked it up, did the obligatory condolence, apology thing and went on my merry way.
But it was extremely hard. I don’t think I made eye contact, I wasn’t listening to anything that was said, and I was irritable.
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
After breathing in the fresh air in the parking lot I ran into a kid I had gone to high school with. I had actually knocked his teeth out in a drunken fight after a few of his friends had assaulted one of my friends. Long story short, I was sued, had to go to court, won the court case and continued to drink for the next twenty years.
So I run into this guy outside the funeral home and the first thing I say to him is “I’m sober now. I’ve been sober for three weeks.”
He smiled, shook my hand, and said, “Welcome to the club. Come on in. The water’s wonderful.”
And just like that my irritability and anxiety were gone.
We chatted for a few minutes and although I didn’t get too personal or too deep, it felt really good to be able to talk to someone who simply understood where I was coming from.
As I drove away, I got a text from another high school friend, telling me they were at the bar around the corner and that I should swing by.
I almost did.
But for some reason I didn’t. It may have been because of the short conversation I had in the parking lot or it may have been because I inherently knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but either way, it didn’t matter.
What mattered was that I didn’t go.
Would I have drunk if I went? Maybe.
But I didn’t go, so it wasn’t an option.
Things progressed slowly in the beginning of my recovery and I felt lost more often than not. I went to an insane amount of 12-step meetings and it helped. It was comforting to be able to identify with other alcoholics, even if I just sat there and didn’t say anything. Just listening to their stories was enough to let me know I wasn’t alone.
But because I wasn’t yet comfortable in social situations (and certainly not comfortable in a bar or night club), I said No to every invite given by my old friends for the first two years of my sobriety.
“Want to come to our 4th of July cookout?” No thanks.
“We’re having people over after Christmas dinner, just like always. We’d love it if you could swing by.” No thank you.
“Pearl Jam is in town and we have extra tickets. Want one?” No. Thanks anyway.
I didn’t feel bad for declining these social engagements nor did I feel sorry for myself that I couldn’t participate. I knew I was doing the right thing.
I slowly started to develop friendships in sobriety and although sometimes it was just a simple phone call or a cup of coffee with a fellow addict, it was enough.
The more work I did on myself, the more comfortable I became in my own skin. When I was drinking I couldn’t do a damn thing without being drunk. Nothing.
But as I gained confidence and started liking myself again, I eased back into society, so to speak. I started going to family gatherings. I could sit at a restaurant and not obsess about drinking. Eventually, I was even able to dine by myself, and sit at the bar to boot.
For reasons unknown to me (I stopped analyzing things a long time ago), the obsession to drink was lifted. I don’t know when it happened, why it happened, where I was, or what I was doing, but one day it simply vanished.
Ironically, because it had taken me so long (in my mind anyway) to be able to be social, my friends had stopped inviting me to things. That hurt a little.
I’d see these amazing parties via social media, with all of my high school friends there, or I’d here about a wedding, after the fact, and it stung that I wasn’t invited. But I wouldn’t stay on my pity pot for long.
My recovery taught me that I had done the right things at the right times for me, and my payoff was living a life of sobriety.
So I didn’t get invited to a couple of cool parties. So what?
So people who didn’t understand alcoholism looked at me as a kind of leaper sometimes. Big deal.
But here’s the funny thing; after my seventh year of sobriety, people started reaching out again. Lucky #7 maybe? Who knows? But this time I started accepting.
I started going to parties and social gatherings. I started being an active member of society, and doing so with a smile on my face. And this time it was genuine, thanks to sobriety.
A few weeks ago, I met up with my high school friends for a U2 concert and ended up running into a kid I had only seen once in twenty-five years.
The last time I saw him was at a 12-step meeting. I was delighted and surprised. I walked right towards him, expecting a handshake and a “Hey, how the hell are you?”
Instead, he looked down, turned in the other direction, and shuffled away.
He wasn’t ready to admit he had a problem with alcohol. Or maybe he was ashamed or embarrassed. God knows that’s exactly how I felt when I first got sober.
So I accepted it.
He was on his journey and I was on mine.
I prayed for him that night, and didn’t think about him again, that is, until I saw him at the U2 show.
He walked to me, embraced me in a huge bear hug, and whispered in my ear, “Great to see you. I read your book and it was fucking awesome.”
I didn’t say a word.
I didn’t know what to say.
But I knew, deep down, that he was sober.
He had found his path.
Maybe it was because he had attended that 12-step meeting years ago or maybe it was for another reason only known to him, but, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that he’s sober today.
And so am I.
The Addictions Academy Staff Writer, and Director of Happiness
National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer
Published Author of “And Drink I Did”
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