I just spent a little more than three hours on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, driving through relentless sheets of rain, fog and drivers constantly slamming on their brakes at 65 miles an hour for no reason, to get from my in-laws’ house near Scranton to mine in Bucks County. But my travel experience was nowhere near as scary as what I was escaping from.
THE FAMILY WAS PLANNING TO GO OUT TO LUNCH! 😱
Yes, I am scared of restaurants. I’ve only set foot in two since I got sober in early July, and the last time, I was so anxious I drank at least 12 Coke Zeroes, ate an entire ahi tuna appetizer AND an ahi tuna entree by myself (pro tip: there is such a thing as too much ahi tuna), went to the bathroom 10 times, bit off all the nails on my right hand and sang along to whatever song was playing on the PA system, out loud, while sitting at the table with eight other people, which I was taught as a small child is rude.
That was a few weeks ago, and I’m still not feeling the whole “going out in public places where alcohol is served” thing. I decided I need to avoid those situations in order to protect my precious young sobriety.
Fact is, at 112 days, I truly am a small child. Don’t get me wrong; I could sit here and list a thousand tiny ways in which this stage of recovery feels absolutely amazing. But it also feels like walking around completely naked, like all of us kids used to do when we were two or three…with one major difference.
The adults don’t think I’m cute.
It’s hard to explain to normal people why I do not want to go anywhere — except on walks in the park and to recovery meetings — or do anything — except snuggle up cozy in my house with my books, my scented candles, my blog, my “Bubble Hour” podcasts and my Diet Canada Dry Cranberry Ginger Ale (yum). It’s hard to articulate why I am so keen on cocooning myself in warmth, safety and predictability and so frightened of…everything else, including very tame activities such as sitting at a table with loved ones and being served food.
I mean, maybe it’s not so hard. You see, I used to drink no less than three alcoholic beverages every time I went out to eat, for as far back as I can remember. Near the end, my go-to was a double of straight top-shelf tequila. The cost of my drinks alone was, very regularly, more than the entire rest of the check combined. My husband and I used joke about it when we were out together (guess who was driving?)
But then, there were those times that I was out alone. And I was dangerous.
It was about a year ago that I hit what I now call my “behavioral rock bottom” (still a good nine months before full emotional and spiritual bankruptcy finally arrived). I had just left my journalism job and, feeling completely lost in a professional and personal abyss, I took a retail job while I searched for a new career path. There was a bar where I worked. I started hanging out there after my shifts. I drank way too much, every single time. I blacked out on more than one occasion, and my husband, who had no clue where I was or what I was doing, had to go hunting for me and drag my drunk ass home.
Only addicts who have been rescued over and over by people who refused to give up on them will truly understand the immense shame, and the overwhelming gratitude, I feel when I think back on those times.
In recovery, people refer to alcoholics who are still actively drinking as being “out there.” When I first heard that phrase, it immediately struck fear in my heart. “Out there” is the scariest place I’ve ever been. When you’re “out there,” you’re lost and helpless and far from home — sometimes physically and always spiritually — and the worst part is YOU DON’T CARE. It’s a f*cking horror show, and I never want to go back there. Ever.
So I have come in, quite literally. I quit drinking and unconsciously retreated into a safe, comfortable bubble, as the heroic ladies who founded the aforementioned “Bubble Hour” did in their early days of sobriety. I started listening to that beautiful, gift-from-a-higher-power podcast before I had a week under my belt, and later, when I learned that the name actually was inspired by the concept of a “sobriety bubble” where you surround yourself with all your favorite recovery tools and keep all the other shit out, it filled me with joy. I wasn’t the only newly sober person curled up in what felt like a permanent fetal position, feeling sensitive as hell and wanting to shield myself from any and all potential triggers.
Everything is a potential trigger, for a while. Earlier, I likened sobriety at 112 days to walking around naked. Well, some days, it’s like walking around without skin, feeling like even the invisible atoms in the air particles are attacking you.
Like I said, not cute. Insert corny comment about going as “Newly Sober Person” for Halloween here.
Of course, what got me here is ghoulish thinking patterns, and that brings me to one of those thousand little wonderful things about being almost four months sober.
With each passing day, I am becoming less and less scared of myself.
Yes, I am still an addict with mental health issues, and no, I will never be completely “cured” of either. But I have put in a lot of hard work here in my little sobriety bubble, going to regular meetings, listening nonstop to my inspiring new heroes tell their stories (BTW, everyone needs to buy Kristen Johnston’s “Guts” on audiobook RIGHT NOW) and devoting hours every weekend to writing these rants (THANK YOU ALL FOR READING), and I remain firm in my resolve that alcohol is not now nor will it ever be the solution to any of my problems. I am already a better person without it, and the only way I will continue to improve is if I continue a) not to drink and b) to work my program.
Doing that requires a certain degree of self-protection. As another popular saying in recovery goes, “whatever you put before your sobriety, you’re going to lose.”
I love everything, and everyone, in my life right now. So, I must stay safe here, avoiding everything that reminds me of being “out there.” I’m a small child, growing up all over again, and going through that obligatory awkward phase (minus the short permed hair). Someday the shy homebody will feel ready to visit the old sit-down dining haunts without getting spooked and acting insane.
Until then, she must respectfully request a raincheck.