365 Days Off the Sauce
This past Sunday marked a year since I had my last drink. At some point during the day I saw it on my calendar, smiled to myself, and went back to unpacking boxes. A couple of people congratulated me. No parades were held, no plaques put up.
I’ve written five different introductions to this essay, profound lead-ins that teed up long, intimate reflections on my experience. Each time I hit a wall around the fourth paragraph. It felt like I was trying to write a book report on a novel I hadn’t read for years.
The truth is that after drinking weekly for two decades, ensuring that booze had a spot at every social event I even considered attending, and spending most Sundays knelt in front of a toilet or lying catatonic on a couch, alcohol has become a complete non-entity in my life. I often forget that it exists. Liquor bottles displayed loudly on bar shelves, the promiscuous beer fridges at 7-Eleven, walls of wine in the middle of the grocery store: none of these register in my visual cortex. The idea of drunkenness is distant, unimaginable. I have trouble remembering what it feels like.
I do remember why I drank. I drank to avoid my problems, and myself. I drank because alcohol offered a crutch, however harmful it might’ve been. So I anticipated some level of difficulty when I removed that crutch. I didn’t expect to be crouched in a corner with the shakes or anything, but I figured I’d at least miss booze in the way one misses an abusive ex-lover.
At no point in the past year has this been the case. And this is far and away the strangest thing about getting sober: how ridiculously easy it has felt. It was as if I’d been walking around with a pebble in my shoe that I had assumed was just part of the shoe, and then when I realized I could take it out, I thought, oh, yeah, this is what walking is supposed to feel like. Then I mostly forgot about the pebble.
This, I realize, is how the right decisions are supposed to feel: like nothing at all.
We spend so much time fighting—fighting our circumstances, fighting each other, fighting ourselves—that when parts of our lives are tranquil and harmonious, we find it almost alarming. The void of effortlessness must be filled with explanation. Something grand, profound, exhaustive. All good things must be justified by a unifying theory of their goodness and a celebration of their significance, or they cease to be good at all.
It doesn’t have to be this complicated. When I was drinking, the problems I avoided piled up like sharp pebbles in my shoe. I stopped drinking, stopped avoiding, and the pebbles disappeared. Life became easier, lighter. And then I moved on.
It is, of course, important to reflect in order to understand ourselves. That’s why I write, after all. But understanding is a means to living better, not an end in itself. The point of removing the pebble from the shoe isn’t to spend the rest of eternity studying the pebble. It’s to get back to walking.