The Lubricated Social Environment.
I find that frequently, people can be cautious when I am involved in situations that also involve alcohol. Even virtual situations. Since revealing that I’m an alcoholic over on twitter, I’ve had a fair number of people apologize for talking about alcohol, or ask me if it’s ok to talk about alcohol, or just generally make trepidatious movements around me where alcohol is concerned. Last night I got a DM from a friend there specifically asking me if it was insensitive for them to be going on about booze “around me”. I was struck by framing the question that way, considering how dreadful the charge of ‘insensitivity’ has become.
My relationship with alcohol is my own issue. I am open about it because I believe that I have the opportunity to help people. But it is not my business what other people’s relationships to alcohol are unless they choose to make it my business. If I were to feel uncomfortable in a group, online or otherwise, with the discussion or consumption of alcohol, that would be my own problem, and no one else’s. I think the only insensitive thing would be if someone were to try to convince me to drink alcohol, or attempt to (literally?) throw it in my face.
But even then, my relationship to alcohol is my own issue and no one else’s. People don’t owe me sensitivity. I would argue that while sensitivity is a positive trait, it can also become its own kind of tyranny, when people are vilified for failing to adhere to the zeitgeist regarding the application of a particular sort of newly recognized sensitivity. But that starts to waft political, I suspect, and I’m not going to venture too far into those waters.
It has been quite a while since I left a place because I felt uncomfortable with the alcohol present in the situation. Actually, when my sponsor turned 50 (real years, not sober years) about three years ago, I left his party. I’d been sober about 18 months. He had an ordinary 50th birthday party. With beer and wine and cocktails and barbecue, the way normal people do. His wife keeps alcohol in their home, and it doesn’t bother him in the slightest. But I didn’t feel right at the party, and I’m not entirely sure why. The alcohol was part of it. So was the fact that my then-wife had once again canceled plans to go and be social with me. I felt isolated and uncomfortable. So I left.
The entire reason I got sober was so that I could have an ordinary, happy, comfortable life. I wanted to be a useful and productive member of society. Comfortable in social groups. Contributing in all the ways an ordinary, healthy man contributes to relationships, social circles, friendships, and society as a whole. Being sober means having a realistic perspective on the world, looking at myself as I am, and accepting where I fit in society. All while working hard to better myself and be of greater use to my fellows, and being a sustaining member of the systems which help others who need it to achieve and maintain sobriety.
I can’t do any of that while hiding from the world, from alcohol, or from my responsibility. Moreover, I don’t want to. If I have to isolate myself from situations that involve alcohol, then I am not free of alcohol, it still controls me. In that ridiculous and hilarious (and hilariously inaccurate) South Park episode about AA, they assert that not being able to drink safely is still allowing alcohol to have control over you, and that addiction is, essentially, all about will power. This is, of course, well-known nonsense. But there is a tiny kernel of truth behind it, and that is: I do not need to be drunk to allow alcohol to control me.
If I am so afraid of alcohol that I refuse to engage with people who consume it, if I am so callow as to need to bulwark myself against discussion on the internet with people who enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly, then I remain shackled to it. I remain powerless in a way that is not intended by the first step. I am powerless over alcohol, yes: when I consume it. I am powerless to control the fact that my body and mind respond to alcohol differently than most people. But I am not powerless to see images and participate in discussions. I am not overwhelmed by insensitivity when people who can drink normally talk about enjoying drinking normally.
Because I have no desire to be a person who can drink normally. I am not grief-stricken that I cannot drink. I am not avaricious for a taste of some new concoction invented by a friend on twitter. I actually enjoy the discussions, most of the time. If I don’t, I do something else. Because I have agency with regard to alcohol now. My decisions matter. I used to make decisions that didn’t matter about alcohol all the time: I’d decide not to drink that day and then three hours later I’d be pouring vodka into a 20oz plastic bottle of diet sprite and hoping no one noticed.
My agency with regard to alcohol means that people never need worry about offending me or being insensitive when it comes to alcohol. Now, of course, some people can be dicks about it, and try to tempt me, or whatever. That’s fine. Because I get to choose to not be friends with those people. Because my relationship with alcohol is my business. Other people’s relationships are their business. And if anybody wants to change their relationship to alcohol, I’m here to help.
Please note though: if you are still in early sobriety, you’re probably not there yet. Avoiding social situations with alcohol, and friends who drink, is an appropriate temporary intervention while you do the steps and unentangle yourself from alcohol. Don’t take this to mean that you should be comfortable immediately. You aren’t, you shouldn’t be. Take the time you need.