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Going Out Without Bottoming Out

By Jack Ferver 06/17/11
Many newly sober people assume the fun is over. Jack Ferver explains how it’s only just begun.
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Dancing without drinking Thinkstock

You are dancing and dancing.  Everyone is looking at you because you look amazing.  And you get your drink and go out onto the balcony of this club that you breezed by the line standing outside to get into.  You meet a guy on the balcony and bum a cigarette.  You say something profound and he is looking at you with awe.

Actually he is looking at you with disgust because you have just burped your drink up onto yourself.  And you got into this club because you saw a name on the guest and lied saying that was you.  And everyone was looking at you because you weren’t dancing, you were just bumping into them.

There is a big misconception we have of how fabulous we think we are when we are drunk or high and out on the town.  I was just in a bar last night where this man, who maybe could have been cute if he didn’t look like a zombie, was careening around everywhere begging anyone and everyone to go home with him.  It was gross. It was pathetic.  It used to be me.

When I got sober at 23, I felt, as many do, that my life would be over now.  I would be stuck on Saturday nights in some church basement listening to people complain about how much they missed alcohol.  I couldn’t handle that.  So I went out to bars and clubs, a lot.  More per week than when I was an active user.  And it sucked.  I didn’t know how to dance (rather stumble around) or flirt (rather leer and act like a whore) without alcohol. It was all tremendously uncomfortable, so I stopped going out. 

But this dilemma, like most of the challenges I’ve faced since getting sober, changed.  It was a slow build.  In my first year, I would ask a sober friend to go with me.  Now I don’t mind flying solo. The greatest tool I found for my arsenal of being sober around people drinking was to turn my alcoholic belief that I am “terminally unique” into good use.  People are generally fascinated to meet someone who abstains from alcohol.  This is especially true if you are in Europe.  And, well, I like people to be fascinated by me.

This grew into my wanting to push the dichotomy of being abstinent from substances while appearing to be having the best time at the party.  Here are three more tools I have found useful.  And, quite frankly, fun.

1:  Get a crew.

Fellowship exists in and out of the rooms.  Being with people is important.  We are social beings.  I found people who don’t use but can enjoy nocturnal playtime.

2:  Dress to shock.

I was recently invited to an art opening and so I decided to wear, well, basically not much.  It was with a sober friend, who I had forewarned out of respect as he had invited me.  I had more photos taken of me than anyone else.  And I was no one anyone knew.  It wasn’t about ego.  It was about having a hilarious time in this game of life.

3:  The big one:  Get safe and then lose yourself.

Some of my deepest moments of freedom have come when I have danced with complete abandon in a club.  I used to have to drink to feel free.  But I wasn’t free.  It was false.  I was blocked by alcohol into entering a true sense of oneness with my body.  This is all sounding like I should be veiled in various colored – well, veils, but I mean it.  Dancing as a spiritual experience is rooted in our ancestry and appears in many religions and spiritual practices.  Scientifically, the endorphins released just make you feel really good.  And we can all use cardio.  To get to a place that feels like you can “dance like no one’s watching,” I suggest going with your crew, or that one good friend, to a place where you dig the music. Fuck what anyone else there thinks about you.  If anyone judges you, it is true -- they hate themselves.  Period.  You’ll see it in yourself when you do your fourth step.  But I digress.  To get into the groove, maybe start with your eyes closed at first.  And then just move.  See if you can get into a place of no judgment. And then just keep dancing until you really feel done.  And then get a burger with your friends.

It’s funny.  When I used to go out to bars, clubs, premieres and wherever else, I would be dying inside.  From fear.  From loneliness.  From obsession. And after three whisky’s, I would feel like I could handle it.  I am so grateful that fear has been lifted from me in those settings and for realizing that everyone, alcoholic or not, is at least a little afraid to step on their feet or not look great under the sparkle of the night glamour. Some of us just don’t come home covered in our burped up drinks.

Jack Ferver is a writer, performance creator, and teacher living in New York City. His work has been written about in The New York Times, The Financial Times, Time Out, The New York Post, The Village Voice, Artforum, and Modern Painters. He also wrote about ridiculous recovery gifts for The Fix.

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