Unlike an addiction to heroin or amphetamines, alcohol will appear on a weekly, if not daily basis. Grocery store aisles, TV commercials, restaurants…these are basically unavoidable circumstances. Learning to live with the trigger of alcohol is essential in sobriety.
Other well known craving-heavy settings are birthdays, holidays, and weddings.
On Saturday, I attended my first wedding since being in active recovery, and I’ll spoil the ending: I stayed sober.
I won’t lie though. It wasn’t a piece of (wedding) cake.
In everyday life, alcohol doesn’t usually get to me. The aforementioned grocery aisles don’t make me twitchy like they did in the early days. I’m also not immune. It’s not the appearance of alcohol on it’s own; it’s a combination of factors – emotional stress, nostalgia, feeling left out or wanting to fit in – these culminate to create a “trigger” (the situation) and an urge – an intense physical and/or psychological craving.
This wedding was special to me. My best friend was getting married and I had the joy of helping, including curling the hair of her two beautiful daughters. Arriving early in the morning at her hotel, I stopped to get breakfast and coffee, but realized I hadn’t brought any water for an 8 hour day.
Grabbing a glass off the counter in my friend’s room, I filled from the tap, took a sip, and spit it out making a face. “The water here’s disgusting!” I said. My friend’s eyes went wide. “Yep there was lemonade in there last night.” I clarified…”Not JUST lemonade, was it?” No… It was definitely spiked.
Figures. I’d started my sober wedding by using a glass with remnants of alcohol in it.
The wedding went beautifully, despite a few bumps in the road. One minor cake disaster that happened on my delivery (but not my fault I swear!), and due to rain we had moved the wedding from outside to inside. Otherwise, it went gorgeously smooth, and I was honored to help the bridal party prepare.
Throughout the day though, I spent many hours in my head thinking about my lifelong friendship with the bride, transitions, and my own failed marriages and relationships. A lot of emotions bubbled to the surface and not a lot of time to think them through realistically or pause to hold them compassionately.
Weddings can be hard for this exact reason. Single guests, including myself, may start to think they’ve missed out on something. Jealousy may rise up along with sadness, regret, and worry about the future.
It didn’t help that I scrolled through my emails and staring in my face was a note from someone I haven’t heard from in a long time. Someone who at one point I thought would stand at an altar with me. One made of snow, to be fair, but an altar nonetheless. The timing of the message couldn’t have been more distressing.
Regardless, even if the sober person in question is partnered up perfectly, there are still challenges. Time consuming, or difficult family members/guests to attend to can make one long for escape in a glass. Celebrating can be just as tough to withstand sober. Wine and champagne advertisements exclaiming “Elevate the moment with every drop” perpetuate the idea that a happy moment is made even happier by a poisonous, addictive substance.
The wedding turned into a cocktail hour, then a reunion. Open bar. Flowing pints of beer and glasses of wine. I stood near the door, partly to avoid the bar, although it wasn’t a conscious thought. I didn’t know many people, didn’t have a date, and was there sort of helping, so I didn’t cozy up to a table right away.
“Not the easiest day to be a non-drinker” I said casually, to the person next to me. Turns out it was the exact right person – brother of the bride. He smiled enthusiastically “I’ve got a six pack of La Croix in my car, want one??”
I could have kissed him. Which would be weird because he’s married, and might as well be my brother. He’s the guy I called an “atrocious butthole” when I was 9, trying to get a reaction using big words and ended up grounded for a week.
26 years late, he’s also the guy who was totally there for me in my moment of need. (I hope you read this and feel my gratitude)
La Croix gripped in one hand, I sent out a couple SOS texts. One was to a dear friend who’s not an alcoholic, but is a teetotalling, single, badass woman who somehow sees right to my heart.
“I delivered a smushed wedding cake, drank from a tainted glass, got an email from you-know-who, and am hanging out at an open bar reunion.”
“I need a drink. Or a cigarette. Or a brownie. Any of them will do.”
She’s a genius, and texted back:
“None of it’s going to fix it. No hot guy. Or drink. Or brownie. Or whatever. It’s just heartbreak. It’s awful and ugly and no one is prepared for it. So you just have to feel it. And know that it’ll pass. In a way. Just breathe through it.”
That could have been hard to hear – that NOTHING is going to fix it. But it wasn’t. With all the mindfulness I’ve been reading and practicing it made sense to me; it was reassuring. She was saying: ‘this is suffering. This is part of life. We all experience some of this, and we all survive in our way. You can meet it with compassion and acceptance, or you can continue to feel resistance and aversion and make yourself freaking crazy.’ I chose not to be crazier than I’d already been.
All the tools I’ve learned about surviving events sober were utilized that afternoon:
- “Keep a drink in your hand” I had LaCroix, coffee, and water in front of me.
- “Reach out to a friend” – Yep. Did it and felt better.
- “Eat something sweet” – Wedding Cake. Times two. Check. (I don’t always buy into this one, because I was out of control for a long time with dessert. But it was prudent this time.)
- “Breathe”- This is essential. It brought me back in to the present, and allowed me to let go of disturbing thought patterns.
I enjoyed myself, smiled, chatted, had pictures taken, then I hightailed my ass to a meeting.
(It also doesn’t hurt that I remember in the back of my mind the random tests done to ensure my sobriety. Accountability is a crucial part of my success.)
An additional suggestion would be bring a sober buddy. In fact, that could have eradicated most complications.
My friend was right. Nothing would have “fixed” my feelings, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to realize this. Learning how to be clean and sober has been an education in learning how to tolerate emotional and physical pain. Running away, numbing with substances, controlling with restrictive eating disorders – none of this has ever solved a problem. Self compassion, gentle awareness, and connection with others goes a long way towards easing them though. And I have an abundance of that these days.
I’m not invited to any upcoming weddings, I don’t think. But I won’t be avoiding them either (Please don’t throw out my RSVP!). My goal is to LIVE, to participate in all aspects of life, and to learn how ride the waves with grace. Weddings are stellar grounds for this lesson.
(P.S. Congratulations to the Bride and Groom. My dear bride friend apologized on my way out for the drinking that was happening around me. I’ll write on this another time, but the bystanders are never at fault. And there was absolutely no drunken debauchery – you would have hardly known anyone was drinking. I’m simply hyper-aware. The reason the wedding was triggering has NOTHING to do with the wedding itself – it’s all about my relationship to my emotions, my current circumstances, and my process. And frankly, it made for a great sober blog subject matter and hopefully will help another who may be heading to a summer wedding themselves. So THANK YOU. And may you live happily ever after. I love you.)
Cheers and Gratitude,