Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"I only saw you drink beer."

Today was a frustrating day in being sober. I was out with a very close friend for dinner, just to reconnect. She's been having a rough time of it. We met as co-workers, and we actually left our jobs within a month of each other, so the ups and downs we've had to face have sometimes mirrored each other. She's been crucial for me to talk about some of my work-related, job-hunting-related, and life-is-stressful related things, and I try to be there for her in the same way.

She'd had a terrible day at work, and so she ordered a drink to take the edge off. I happen to know that she isn't quite comfortable with my sobriety so I saw that there were "non-alcoholic slushies" and I ordered a peach one "in solidarity." A few sips in, though, and I felt like something wasn't right. What if the waitress had misheard me or the person who made the drink had misunderstood? Was there rum in my drink? I honestly couldn't tell. I started to feel a little light-headed and worried that it was the beginning of a buzz. I asked my friend to taste it, but she said she couldn't taste anything alcoholic. I ended up calling the waitress over and asked her, but she promised me that it was a non-alcoholic drink, as I'd ordered, and that she'd been there when it was made: just slush and syrup blended together, but she'd be happy to get me a new one if I wanted. I said that was fine. I could trust her, right?

I tentatively took another sip, and this time I couldn't taste any alcohol, just super-sweet peach syrup. My light-headedness was passing and it occured to me that it might have been a symptom of my panic*. Even so, I had to set the drink aside for a while because I just didn't trust it. Having it in my eye-line was kind of upsetting to me in a weird way.

After the waitress left, I apologized for my little ex-alcoholic freak out, and she said something like, "You aren't really an alcoholic, though, are you? I've only ever seen you drink beer."

Like I said, this friend is very close to me, and I love her always, but the only times I ever get frustrated with her is that she's made comments like this before, and I feel like I have to do "alcoholism 101" with her every 3 months or so.

So, I explained that it doesn't matter if it's beer or not, I'm addicted to the alcohol, not the delivery method. I explained how I would monitor what and where I drank, so that most people only ever saw me drink beer, but that I usually had a big ol' bottle of vodka or whisky somewhere at home. I explained that when I said a 12-pack of beer would last me to the weekend, the truth was that 10 of those beer would be gone the first night and I'd suppliment the 12-pack with a six pack the next day (or else the vodka). I told her about how I was stealing booze from my parents and getting a regular buzz on every weekend from about age 14 or 15, and how 3 to 5 nights out of the week I'd just stay home and get drunk, even if I'd told myself I wasn't going to do that. I explained that even if I had one drink by accident, as soon as that drink was done, I would be craving the next one until I was drinking all the time again.

All this explaining happened in a conversation, and it was nice to vocalize my reasons for being sober again. But's frustrating. Frustrating because it's not fun to have a booze-related panic attack in public, frustrating because I didn't necessarily want to "out" myself to the waitress (she was totally cool), and frustrating because sometimes I wish this didn't set me apart so that I could be so casually reminded of how different I am, just from one careless phrase.

And most frustrating, is that even though I know I'm not drunk, even though I'm confident the drink was booze free, I had no lasting buzz other than that (possibly panic-induced) moment of light-headedness...even though there's no evidence at all that there was any alcohol in the beverage at all, there's still a part of my brain going "....but what if it was....what if you just drank alcohol...what if your sobreity is back to day one...."

That, my friends, is frustrating.

*I'm using the word "panic" but it occurs to me that this was more of an anxiety attack. People who've had both know that there's a BIG difference between the two, so just replace the word "panic" with anxiety if you're sensitive to that difference.


  1. I hear ya. I hear all of this, I understand the frustration. And that panic. I think you're amazingly strong though. We just have to accept that there are some people who will never understand and we can bust our balls trying to make them or just accept they don't get it. I have a group of girlfriends and we meet regularly and whenever I bring up the non alcohol thing they nod knowingly and smile lovingly but have nothing at all to say. They don't get it or understand it .. it's kind of sad but I try not to judge them for that. I know they love me, I don't think they have any idea at all what we've done in beating that addiction. Lots of love to you xxx

  2. i had a very similar panic experience recently when i took a big gulp of champagne and OJ when someone passed me their glass and said "does this taste funny?" i was running around afterwards trying to find something 'strong' to pour in on top, like coffee! i can relate to the light-headed feeling of 'holy shit is this going to blow it?' but thankfully, like you, i just kept on trucking.

    re your friend, i guess the only good side is that she really didn't see you as troubled (that is kindness), and she listens when you explain the story (that is also kindness). sounds like the waitress was completely cool. and if you had a ... mango allergy, you'd have had a very similar response. your friend may not remember your explanation in a month's time. and while it might be a drag to re-explain it, the alternative would be having her say something like "yeah. you were a bad drunk, weren't you." and that would be gross.

  3. Last weekend I had a similar thought when I ordered a club soda at a bar. I started to suck on the straw before at least smelling it, and by that point it would have been too late if it in fact had been booze. It was not. But I guess that's just one more reason to stay out of bars whenever possible.

    I hate trying to explain alcoholic drinking to a non-alcoholic. I also hate explaining it to someone who drinks like an alcoholic but doesn't identify as one. Maybe I just hate talking about it because it makes me feel different, flawed. I don't know. You sound like you did a wonderful job describing what it's like for you. Maybe one day this information will help her. Maybe she'll "get it" this time.