What Happens to a Non-Alcoholic Who Is Sentenced to Sobriety? - Page 2

By Will Godfrey 10/17/11

The first few months of drying out are incredibly tough for any alcoholic. But for a “social” drinker who’s forced to quit for medical reasons, it’s easy enough. Right?

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You don't have to be an alcoholic for sobriety to sound horrifying.

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A frantic work week followed. I started drinking ever-more coffee and Diet Coke to help me work late. Then I’d be unable to sleep, the only time that my mind drifted to booze (Nyquil was also forbidden to me).

Then that Friday I went to a wedding. It was held on a rooftop on Manhattan’s West Side, with an amazing view. The ceremony and the company were great. Before the toasts, a glass of Champagne was poured out in front of me, the bubbles glistening invitingly. Champagne’s one of my favorite drinks, along with Scotch, beer, red wine…

As my wife frantically googled medical advice on her phone, I ordered a beer and it felt like that first hit of Percocet all over again.

At the end of each speech I touched the sparkling liquid to my lips, then licked them, as the setting sun bathed everyone at the reception. It would have been bliss. But I nobly handed over my still-full flute to my happy-to-be-of-service wife. As the hours passed and everyone drank more, I began to feel left behind again. I wandered away from the dance floor and on to the open rooftop on my own. An unknown Englishman followed me up for a smoke, very drunk in a very amicable way, and pushed a cigarette on me.

“I don’t smoke.” (I don’t).

“Come on, mate!”

Not knowing why, I accepted. After a couple of coughs, dragging on the smoke gave me a little buzz that I’d been missing. So I went back downstairs and even managed to dance slightly, or to do what passes for it if you’re me.

It was mid-August, a little more than a month after my mishap, when something really changed. I was grabbing a weekend in the Catskills with my wife, gazing at mountains without climbing them, and catching up on sleep. Strangely, as we sat in a hotel restaurant one night, and she—with her usual “sincere” apology to me—ordered her first glass of Pinot noir, I felt completely indifferent, just as if I had no need of it. The thought of drinking actually gave me a mild sense of distaste. Was this how it felt to be seriously sober?

I can’t pretend that feeling stayed with me for long, but neither did I get a strong craving for alcohol after that point. Two months in, my routine was established.

I’d work hard. I’d drink caffeine all day and sleep not much. I’d feel in control. My emotional range was reduced to the narrow band between “mildly annoyed” and “quite pleased.” I’d go to parties and nights out with low expectations, and leave before eleven. My nights would feel a bit worse than normal. My mornings would feel a bit better.

I was in the zone. But here’s my confession: I fell off the wagon on my 86th day of sobriety, just short of my three month target. I’d passed a vascular Doppler test that week; my high dose of blood thinners was reduced, and I was set to be cleared completely on finishing my meds a few days later.

That Saturday night I went with my wife to a speakeasy-style place in our Brooklyn neighborhood that we hadn’t tried before. We honestly went for the food, but I’m sure there’s some phrase about barber shops and haircuts... Anyway, I felt totally in the mood. As my wife frantically googled medical advice on her phone, I ordered a beer—and then a second—and it felt like that first hit of Percocet all over again.

It’s good to have the choice. But I’ve still got no urge to drink hard, although I’ll need to build up some tolerance before I visit London next. And I'm glad that these three months happened. I learned how I don’t need alcohol to feel close to the people I care about most—even though we’ve always used it to bond. And how I do rely on alcohol—too much—to make me feel comfortable when I’m out socializing with people I know less well.

I changed in a few ways during my sober spell. As a bonus, I lost ten pounds—nothing to do with exercise, as I was barred from soccer, and wouldn’t wish running, or gyms, on my worst enemy. I also became more switched-on, more serious-minded, tenser, and less sociable. Whether any of these changes are permanent remains to be seen. I somehow doubt it.

But I hope I can take away an ability to pick and choose my drinks more, rather than opting for alcohol by default. And when I do drink, I want to appreciate it properly. I may not be an alcoholic, but thinking twice about what I order next still makes sense.

My respect for my friends and colleagues and others who are alcoholics—and who maintain their sobriety in the long term—has grown. After all, holding out for a few more days to complete my three months wasn’t difficult…or so I thought. And to do that forever?

But while I admire them more, I pity them less. There really is a great, different life to be had without booze; I began to feel sure of it during my “experiment.” I just think it would take me longer than three months to get there.

Will Godfrey is Managing Editor of The Fix. His previous articles include interviews with TV chef Andrew Zimmern and the founder of Overeaters Anonymous, a look back at Amy Winehouse, and a guide to drug-smuggling in prison.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.