Sobriety: A Long-Term Disability (Part V)

This is the fifth post in a five-part series discussing addiction, recovery [relapse], and long-term sobriety. As I celebrate five substance-free years, I am taking the time to [publicly] look back at where I really was in the months preceding my “clean date”, how I got to where I am now, and the ongoing implications of sobriety in my life today. While I’m not secretive about being sober, it isn’t a facet of myself that often comes up in any area of life. This is something I’ve decided it is time to change.

[As this post is coming with a great lag after the the rest of the series, I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with the story in it’s entirety]

Part 1: Addiction
Part 2: Life or Death
Part 3: Getting Clean
Part 4: Sobriety

This post, or the issue that it encompasses, has been floating in and out of my mind for months. While it’s clarity has waxed and waned, a few situations have snapped the distorted premise back into focus and reminded me that this needs to be said and that, more importantly, it needs to be heard. (And I will add, the writing of this post has literally taken me two weeks. Partly due to a crazy life with higher priorities, but partly due to the complexity of this issue and the degree to which properly conveying a different perspective is near and dear to my heart)

A Long-Term Disability: There’s something to be said about being pregnant or breastfeeding for all but ten months of the last five years. As an “in-production” mother I have a socially acceptable reason not to drink (or drug, but that one doesn’t usually come up). Having a baby (i.e. being pregnant) in my first year of sobriety was quite helpful as I was “obviously” off-limits.

It is bizarre to me how liberally people react when they hear you don’t drink. I am greeted with significant less astonishment when I tell someone I don’t eat gluten (among other things, of course). This is amazing to me because the gluten-free movement, and it’s emergence into public conscience, is really only the past 2-5 years. Sobriety, on the other hand, has been around for decades–if not centuries.

As with most areas of oppression (yes, I said it, the sober are oppressed) it’s so much more than overt actions or reactions. It’s more even than dinner and drinks, BYOB BBQs, champagne brunches, open bar wedding receptions, and career-advancing (or at least co-worker bonding) happy hours. Though that shit can suck. Because it’s exclusive. Of course, you are welcome to go along and (for some; at some point) it’s not really an issue of temptation. It’s just a different lifestyle.

You have to exclude yourself from more than the imbibing. You are excluded from the free-ness (even if, for some, it’s a masquerade. Or the high before the inevitable low). You are excluded from the chemically lubricated chumminess (this may be my introvert speaking here). Most of all, your are excluded from any excuses. Sobriety requires one to stay in control and, I think, this can be one of the most daunting parts of long-term abstinence. Sometimes life [seems to] call for some loss of control. And the entrance of a state with excuses.

An excuse to be a different version of you (if not a different person all together).

The closest I get to a reprieve from myself is exhausted. Maybe even fucking exhausted (one full night’s sleep in 11ish months, what can I say?). Not the same. May rival the incoherence but lacks any fun or festivity.

It is life with a lack of excuses that I feel most many people have never taken the time to comprehend. I encourage you to think about that.

And then think about this: a few paragraphs up (five, to be exact) I said “it’s so much more than overt actions or reactions.” And that brings us back to the oppression piece. The actions, the obvious, may at times be difficult but it’s the layer of unspoken beneath that makes me want to throw a non-alcoholic drink in someone’s face.

It’s using alcohol to promote events because “that’s what sells.” As if the sober somehow have less purchasing power.

It’s adult beverages being used as a reward (or bribe) for work well done (to help a friend move, the overcoming of an obstacle, or arrival of a weekend). Like what is rewarding for one is rewarding for all.

It’s a tentative hand raised, wondering if alcohol will be served/available/present at an event, met with a resounding “of course.” And an implied, “why not?” As if this assurance is easing to all minds and with no recognition that it may mean exclusion to others.

It’s giving a bottle of wine/champagne/spirits as a gift. Good intention. Sweet thought. But you may want to really think such a move through first. I mean, really. This social tradition speaks volumes.

It’s saying you “need” even a small amount of alcohol to get through a task, survive an interaction, or unwind from a day. If you need it, you may want to look at your own relationship with alcohol. More likely you are choosing to indulge or participate. Saying that you “need” a drink cuts two ways: it implies that those of us coping through life without alcohol are somehow doing it wrong (we are not meeting our “needs”) and it distorts the reality of a life lived truly “needing” a drink.

It’s only/always offering to meet for happy hour. It’s joking about a hangover/wasted night like it’s a badge of honor or a rite of passage (or normal). It’s glorifying unhealthy behavior, promoting moderation, and casting not an eye to the third camp in the equation.

For a society that shows such little pity, and often overt disdain, for addicts (see: our tendency to jail users instead of providing access to comprehensive treatment–not to mention a near complete lack of follow-up sources like sober living, job training, and/or family counseling) we sure do a shitty job of supporting the change we demand. Instead of applauding and truly bolstering recovery, we pretty much brush the nuts and bolts of it under the rug. As long as you don’t do “that” anymore, we’d like it if you acted and lived as closely to the overall American ideal as the guy in the next cubicle over.

There seems very little overall understanding that if you don’t want an addict to do that than you need to embrace and support his/her decision to do this.

I’m confused as to where the education around this is. Where is the call to action? Where is the awareness campaign? Where are the seeds of understanding and acceptance among the people who plant this progress? Where?

I’d like to think that I run in some pretty progressively-minded, exceptionally aware, and anti-oppressive leaning circles. In the social work realm of my life, most people I know work with people effected by substance abuse in one way or another. And yet, there is no acknowledgement that some of us may practice (and others may need to) what we preach. Without any acknowledgement how can there be understanding or proper accommodation–not to mention acceptance?

As much as I’d love to, I can’t change the world. But I can plant seeds. I can point out disparities. I can call attention to oppressions. I can [maybe] alter the mindset of a few and I can hope that some new and different actions will follow. I can believe that things get better and I can be transparent about the places my life has taken me.

I thought long and hard before embarking on this here series. I consulted my husband. I tried to assess the impact it may have on our life (currently, and in the future). And I decide that, ultimately, any judgment or residual shame is a small price to pay for what I truly believe opening up, speaking out, and saying what needs to be heard can do for any issue.

Thank you for following along. Thank you if you found it in yourself to offer support or express appreciation. And thank you those I know will carry the torch. No matter your past, no matter your present; we need both addicts and allies to change the face of addiction and recovery.

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