We’ve been there – the after work gathering, with it’s impromptu patio patter, unwinding after a rough day, laughing at each other, gossiping, tossing barbs at those not present, back patting, flirting, telling bad jokes, all the while hoisting, sipping and slurping adult beverages of every colour and shape. Oh the civility, the pomp, the ritual, the oh-so-adultness of it all. We felt that somehow we had arrived. We let ethanol’s acetaldehyde give us the warm and fuzzies as we progress into more jocularity and perhaps delve into sequestered, deep metaphysical discussions in the corner. For most non-alcoholics, it usually doesn’t go much further than this. They pack up their handbags and purses, their backpacks and suitcases and motor on home. For alcoholics of my type, that doesn’t cut it. We of course need to go blotting out our own existence and drinking into oblivion and getting into a drunken stupor that eliminates us from being in our own skin. Most often we do that on our own and alone, once everyone has gone home and continuing to live normal lives.
Now, for us alcoholics, it wasn’t always like that. There was a time when alcohol worked. There was a time when we could take it or leave it. I know there was a time when I could shut it down after a few drnks. I would not get wrapped up and hogtied to booze and its effects. I could have those after work / celebratory / preprandial / leisurely drinks and then move on with my life. I could have those hearty laughs, that feeling of connection, that sense of well being. Of course it was an illusion, a false front, a side effect of the poison I was putting into my body. Not to say that having a few drinks doesn’t loosen people up and give them a sense of fun. It certainly does, and it did for me, for a time. But at some point, I don’t know when, I just crossed a line and I can never go back to those days. Ever.
Now, there is this sense that we recovering / recovered alcoholics are a dour set. That once we remove the “fun juice” from our lives, that we are relegated to live a life of stone cold dullness, of spinster-like dowdiness, of liver-healing boredom . Our once vivid and visceral Bacchanalian lifestyle has been replaced by one of Victorian rigidity and temperance. We feel that we are the stone in the Shoe of Fun. We begin to believe that we will never ever feel a part of anything ever again, that no one will ask us to come play after school or invite us to the sock-hop ever again. We feel that we no longer have what it takes to face those few folks from the office at quitting time, let alone the world as a whole. It feels that we have been ripped away from the one thing that has kept us connected to the ground, to others and to the Universe.
And we have been, for the most part.
I wasn’t a huge bar guy in the last few years of my drinking. I didn’t socialize much. I didn’t do the drinks after work thing. I drank alone. Secretively. So for this alcoholic, I never had a problem with the idea of not having fun at a party or gathering, because frankly, I stopped having fun a very long time ago. Even when I was drinking, I never had fun. I was too wrapped up in my self to enjoy the company of others. I didn’t enjoy the company of me, so how I could I extend that to others?
I realize that for many of us, social gatherings are a problem once we sober up. Certainly I had to avoid social gatherings for a short time, as I just needed to be away from anyplace that had alcohol. But for many alcoholics, one of the biggest first challenges is the get-together. Alcohol is almost always available, and indulged in, when a group gathers in the name of “fun”. So we fuss and worry and struggle with how we are going to feel, and more importantly, how we feel we are going to be seen as. The boring alkie. The grey lizard propped against the wall. The soda-sucking sober gal. The teetotaling tosser in the corner.
This is pride talking. And is, of course, hogwash.
Just because we sober up, doesn’t mean that we’ve shut the door on connecting and laughing and being with others in a playful and light way. We don’t turn into stone figures. We may feel like that for a while, and certainly during very early recovery it feels like things will never turn around, but we start to plug into life in a whole different way. And one way of plugging in for me was going to meetings.
One of the great things about meetings is the camaraderie, the joy, the laughter that emanates from the rooms. For those who haven’t had the experience of being in a room of drunks, it’s quite amazing. We laugh when we hear about someone’s arrest record, we giggle when we hear about the attempts at hiding bottles and street fights, we snort and chuckle when someone talks about the hospitalizations or the bankruptcies. To a non-alcoholic observer, they would be horrified to hear this, and worse, to see everyone else making light of it all. We find humour in it because we’ve been there. It’s like someone telling a weight loss group about their attempts at the grapefruit diet, the Atkinson diet, the Zone, etc. You would hear guffaws and belly laughs because most people can identify – they have been there before and are really laughing at themselves.
Rule #62 – Don’t take yourself so seriously.
“We are not a glum lot”, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states. We don’t get sober and recover to not enjoy life. Life is for living.
And that’s really what it comes down to it – we don’t take ourselves so seriously. When we lose the booze, we are struggling with something that is life threatening, we are trying to find ourselves in the world again, we are transforming ourselves, we are trying to stop the bleeding and picking up the pieces of our lives. Not exactly fun stuff. But as we start to find the ground beneath our feet, clenching the soil between our toes, and find that yes, we are going to be ok, we start to see the sunlight more. We navigate from the darkness and melancholy and forlornness and start to focus on the things that bring us joy. Family, friends, hobbies, work, play, etc. We start to smile again. We start to realize that the worst is behind us and we have life to start living again.
For me, it took me time to do this. If you’re only three days sober, still shaking, still vibrating, still ill, still reeling mentally and emotionally, then the sight of seeing other alcoholics joking and joshing might seem foreign, like you just landed on another planet. I was that guy. I couldn’t understand what was so funny about things at the meetings. This was serious, folks…what’s with the laughter? Keep it down. I’m in pain. But soon after, I found myself in there, smiling quietly when someone described their detox, or how they felt after a bender. I could identify. I truly had arrived.
I have fun now. I joke around. I smile a lot more. I can go to a party and not worry about what people have in their hands as they walk around and talk. I feel more alive inside when I laugh and make others laugh. I can see that my past isn’t something to harvest for doom and gloom, but to be used to help others, and to occasionally remind myself of where I have come from. My past is something I share when another alcoholic in pain needs to identify with me and vice-versa. It’s the prep work that the Creator needed me to have to do the work that He requires me to do here.
I take my recovery seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously.
And that is something to smile about.