Meeting old friends when newly sober
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The agony of meeting old friends when newly sober
I take the subway from Central Park West down to Brooklyn. I’m headed to a party that some old friends from college are having. These are my chique, New York friends who unintentionally make me feel like a country bumpkin. My winter coat didn’t look so boxy, and my boots didn’t seem that scuffed until I arrived in NYC, where style becomes more apparent, but I don’t care. I love the city at Christmas. I walk briskly from the subway toward my friends’ apartment, past the funeral home with the neon sign, past the Kennedy Fried Chicken. I am freezing, but I feel alive. I am in the middle of my first Christmas season without a drink.
I arrive at the party, ruddy-cheeked and out of breath. I surprise myself by naturally joining in conversations. I have things to say! I confidently decline cocktails, wine, and beer, but I have not yet put down the weed at this point in my recovery. I go ahead and smoke what is offered. I tell myself, Why not? It’s a party…, but within a half-hour, a mental fog rolls in and covers me in silence.
I bow out of the kitchen and look for a place to have a quiet cigarette. An old friend turns to me and says, “I know you’re not drinking anymore, but I don’t know what your deal is with coke. They’re doing it in the bathroom if you want some,” and she walks away. This is a punch in the gut. I know that doing that would surely lead to a drink. I have nearly four months without one, and I won’t throw it away tonight. I scan the apartment, and I feel inferior to all these fashionable hipsters, laughing, drinking, always finding things to say to each other.
Then I remember my plan is to sleep here tonight. I have nowhere else to stay, but I am done with this party. Now I realize why people in AA recommend always having an exit plan at a party with alcohol. I curse myself for lacking a plan, and I consider calling my sponsor. Since I’ve just smoked weed and kept this a secret from people in AA, I decide not to use the phone. I recall hearing in a meeting, ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets,’ and I know I am sick in my secrecy about marijuana.
Meeting old friends when newly sober is exhausting
I enter my friends’ bedroom, where the guests’ coats are strewn across the bed. Closing the door behind me, I collapse face down on top of all the coats, ignoring the fact that many of them are wool which I am allergic to. The skin on my face and hands winces at the scratchy fabric, but I lay still and hear muffled sounds of the party from the other side of the door. I feel safe on the coats, where I don’t have to attempt conversation or beat myself up for having nothing to say. My only concern right now is the increasing irritation of the wool against my skin.
I feel a light pressure on my back, tiny footsteps, and a soft meow. Oh no, the cats are in here…all three of them! I am horribly allergic to cats and am now surrounded by them. Almost immediately, I am sneezing, my eyes are burning, and my throat is so itchy that I want to shove the hairbrush on my friend’s dresser down my throat just to give it a scratch.
What a nightmare! I have a choice to make. I could head back into the party and risk the drink, the cocaine, the conversation… or I could stay in here with the cats and the wool. Either way, I am trapped, but I choose the latter. It’s a more manageable, safer kind of pain. I toss some pillows onto the floor and lay on top of them. I allow the cats to strut and traipse on top of me; there’s no stopping them. When party guests come in to collect their coats, I pretend I’m asleep. Before too long, I actually do manage to sleep a little. Tomorrow will be a new day.
You’re only as sick as your secrets rings true
Tomorrow is, indeed, always a new day. Although it took me two and half more years, an arrest for possession, and so much marijuana-induced social anxiety, I finally stopped smoking weed. I also have always attended AA meetings. Once I admitted my marijuana use to people in AA, I felt a huge weight lifted. The saying that you’re only as sick as your secrets rang true for me. When I began to share honestly about my addiction to both alcohol and marijuana, I became ready to find real recovery. It was no longer necessary for me to hide or lie. I am lucky that my marijuana use did not lead me back to a drink or to other drugs, and one thing that helped was that I never stopped going to those damn meetings. I am now nearly fourteen years clean and sober. I like my time alone, and I like my time with people. I no longer freeze or shrink with social anxiety, and I’ve become comfortable in conversations, no longer needing to either dominate them or disappear in them. I can truly say I am comfortable in my own skin, especially when there are no cats or wool around!
Patty Bamford is recovering from the disease of alcoholism and addiction, one day at a time. Patty works as an academic and career advisor for folks straight outta high school.