sober lifestyle

Rewards

My husband and I booked an ocean-view suite on the “concierge floor” of a quirky old Victorian hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Del., for a brief weekend getaway to celebrate my new job. The accommodations came with a list of perks, and the friendly young man in the suit who greeted us in the lobby (I think he was the actual concierge) was eager to tell us about them as he chaperoned us to our room.

I got distracted staring out the glass elevator shaft at the Atlantic, so I didn’t hear most of what he said. But I snapped back to attention when he pulled a pair of coupons out of his pocket.

“…and as a welcome gift, we’re happy to offer you BOTH complimentary alcoholic beverages at the bar!”

I burst out laughing. An inappropriate reaction, but I couldn’t help myself. It was like some internal pressure relief valve opened, and all the nervous energy and anxious tension I’d felt building up in my body throughout our three-hour drive came gushing out. And of course, because it’s me, this happened in the most awkward way possible.

The guy must’ve been used to all kinds of weirdness, because he barely missed a beat. “Orrrr…” he said, “if one of you doesn’t drink, it’s two drinks for the other person!”

“Thanks,” Hubby replied, taking the vouchers and handing the guy an obligatory tip as the elevator dinged and I dashed, still giggling, out the door down the hallway.

Nearly two years sober, and he still can’t take me anywhere.

Sobriety definitely hasn’t softened my social graces; that much is clear. A full year of COVID isolation hasn’t helped. And although my sensitivity to triggers isn’t nearly as raw as it was last year at this time — or even six months ago — I’m still pretty anxious about returning to old alcoholic haunts.

I’m still pretty anxious about going anywhere outside my little neighborhood bubble. Going places for fun? 🤯

The beach has been Hubby’s and my go-to “for fun” destination since we met in 2002. And until this past week, I’d never been on a beach getaway where I wasn’t drunk 99 percent of the time.

Come to think of it, the old me might also have laughed off the idea of one — or even two — comp drinks, for completely different reasons. I would’ve arrived at the hotel with enough booze for 10 people packed in my bag, and broken open the bottle before the door to the room swung shut.

Therefore, as you might expect, the memories I took away from annual beach trips with Hubby — from our 2007 honeymoon on Long Beach Island, NJ (shown above, top), to our 10-year anniversary celebration in Wildwood (bottom…doesn’t he look happy? 😬), with visits to Avalon, Cape May, Atlantic City, Dewey, and even Hawaii in between — got increasingly cringe-worthy as the years went on.

Some of those misadventures came up in conversation as we drove down to Rehoboth.

Him: Remember the time you were so drunk you walked into a curb wearing flip-flops on the way to dinner, and you had to soak your foot in the sink of a Wawa bathroom to try and stop the bleeding, and we almost didn’t make our reservation?

Me: Uh, yeah. That’s pretty much all I remember of the entire trip. 🤦🏼‍♀️

So, given my sordid past, and my enduring anxiety, it was pretty gratifying to sit on a tiny balcony at 6 AM Monday with a clear head and a K-Cup of coffee, watching the sun rise over the water and scoping out Google maps to plan my morning run.

About an hour later, after a few cathartic laps down the boardwalk and through downtown, I stood on the water’s edge, squinting at the fully risen sun with a huge smile on my face. The salty mix of sweat and sea air burned my eyes, but still, I felt about as good as I think it’s possible to feel.

It’s been almost 22 months since my last alcoholic beverage, and the tremendous rewards of sobriety have never seemed more rewarding. It can be difficult to gauge progress, much less articulate what it feels like. But moments like these really hammer it home: I’ve come a long way in the right direction.

Of course, a part of me still grieves for the reckless abandon of my drinking days, the ability to say “f*ck it” to everything and take the easy way out of reality. The old me did this to an extreme, especially on vacation, for 20 years, and yet there’s still a twinge of pain whenever I contemplate the simple truth: I am not a person who is capable of drinking responsibly.

I am an addict who must abstain from substances other people can freely enjoy, if I want to live a fulfilling life and do right by the people I love.

And I do want that. More than anything.

I wanted it so much back on July 7, 2019 that I was willing to give up what I thought I needed the most in the world: my precious escape hatch. After nearly two years of sticking it out, through all the maddening anxiety, discomfort and doubt, I’m standing on a beach in the sunshine, and the payoff is palpable.

Abstaining from alcohol is by far the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done. But it’s not just about me.

I joined a team of two on July 21, 2007; however, by the time our 10th anniversary rolled around, I had forgotten my role as a teammate and stopped pulling my weight. As an active addict, I was as selfish as they come.

In chasing my addiction, you might say I walked our marriage into a curb and mashed it into a bloody mess. 😐

So, beyond my own improved physical and mental health, the most significant reward of sobriety, by far, is the positive impact it’s had on our relationship. The fact that we still have a relationship after all we’ve been through is nothing short of miraculous.

As Hubby and I walked around Rehoboth together, arm in arm, past tourists enjoying cocktails (possibly those free ones) on the deck of our hotel bar, checking out the boardwalk sights and admiring the gorgeous beach houses for rent in town, I reflected on how far we’ve come as a couple.

(No stop-offs in public restrooms to treat injuries…progress! 😉)

It feels like we’re simultaneously back where we started, as good buddies who enjoy doing anything and everything together, and completely different people than we were in our 20s when we met.

I wouldn’t say we’re “mature adults” — at least not yet — but thanks to our work in therapy and 12-step recovery, we have more of a grown-up partnership where both members of the team share responsibility and contribute to the cause.

Being present, aware and engaged in our time together is a really good start. Maybe someday, I’ll get to a point where I contribute less awkwardness to social situations, and he doesn’t have to pick up so much slack when we’re out in public.

That would truly be a miracle. 😉

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