Just For (Sober) Fun


You may think those words are an oxymoron, sober and fun. Even if you are only in the contemplating and curious stages of getting sober, that fact that you cannot reconcile those two things may be the thing holding you back. I get you. I am a thrill-seeker, an enthusiast. I run screaming from anything that even smells of boring and monotonous. I had convinced myself, with the help of my friend Denial, that drinking was the thing that kept life spontaneous. And it did, for a long time. When alcohol came along for the ride (and it always came along for the ride), I never knew what kind of mischief I could find myself in. That thirty-foot cliff off of the river-rafting jaunt? Hell yes, I’m jumping off that cliff. Pull over for this dive bar and find some crotchety cowboy with whom to two-step? Get out of my way.

But here is how drinking worked for me: it stopped working. My decades of spontaneous fun and mischief turned into a sad, pitiful party of one, at home with my bottles of wine and the most spontaneous event was not knowing if I’d wake up on the couch or my son’s bed. The biggest mischief I could manage was trying to decode mysterious bruises that I couldn’t even remember getting. If I did actually leave my house for some projected “fun”, which slowly became less and less of an occurrence, the event could only ever be described as a Shit Show. I would inevitably lose something, like my purse or my car, or I would just lose my way home, as in I wouldn’t make it home, the only whimsical part left of the adventure was trying to determine where I’d landed for the night. Movies and television try and shed some edgy light onto this sort of scene, but that vibe is completely lost on a forty-year-old wife and Mom, whose kids wake up for pancakes and wonder why Mom is MIA.

So what is a fun-seeking girl to do when she’s faced with the reality that booze is no longer delivering the kicks that it used to? Well cry, at first. Mourn the loss of the silly, drunk girl who never knew what drunken adventure was around the corner. Hate to be the one to break it, but that girl is long gone and she’ll never be recaptured. Next comes sleep, and a lot of it. Sleep like you’ve never slept before. Sleep like you’re dead. But what can happen, when you finally wake up rested and clear headed is you will see this world and its thrilling opportunities in a whole new light. What surprised me most after I got sober was that my need for fun didn’t leave me. I always thought it was permanently married to alcohol, that drinking was intrinsic to every fun adventure that I would ever take but what I found was that fun-seeking was inherently me.

I remember my first spontaneous urge so well. I had just picked up my kids from an improv rehearsal. lt was a Thursday, early evening and I’d just noticed an email that Chris Hadfield, the David Bowie-singing astronaut, was doing a book signing at our local, independent bookstore. At the time, my kid was really into all things related to space and was enamoured by Chris Hadfield. The bookstore was downtown and it was rush-hour, we hadn’t had dinner nor even a dinner plan, but I called my husband and told him that the kids and I were heading downtown to meet my kid’s hero, with twenty minutes to spare. It may seem like such an elementary act, but I can’t tell you how thrilling it was. First of all, I was driving around sober at wine-o’clock, heading to a place that didn’t serve booze. That seemed magical enough. I’d only been sober for about four months, and I finally didn’t need to cry or sleep or even eat anything, I just needed to get us there. It pushed all the buttons I needed to push for an impulsive spree. We squeaked in right before he was to take the podium, slid into a spot on the floor in the standing-room-only space, and I had the biggest, impenetrable grin across my face. I knew right then that this sober life might actually deliver.

I could list all of the fun I’ve had since then, and will mention some just to rouse your own ideas. I have zip-lined and hiked up many mountains. I have jumped into ice-cold water and swam with the fishes. I have danced my tail off at live music shows, a silent disco, in my living room. I’ve seen impromptu comedy, improv and musical theater. I’ve started personal projects with no other supportive reasoning than, Because I Can. I’ve ridden bikes, horses and waves. I’ve dressed up for Halloween, I’ve dressed up for Tuesday. And those author signings? I’ve been to no less than twenty over the past four years. I’ve even jumped on stages to read my own written word. Just know that your idea of fun may look different than mine, but your own definition is available to you too.

This fun train hasn’t reached her destination yet, not even close. I envision having a whole Fun House, a space to house all sorts of fun activities and options for those of us seeking adventure, even mental stimulation, sans booze. A hub, if you will, for meetups, workshops, stories, parties and discos. You know what happens when you think, Someone should really create a (fill in the blank), right? It’s like a package, wrapped up in a pretty bow and delivered right to your doorstep, just waiting for you to open it. What’s more fun than opening a present? Not much.

Denial and Dreamcatchers

"I think you drink too much and that is your problem." 

She may as well had slapped me across the face. Doctors aren't supposed to say that to their patients. I was pissed and clearly she hadn't listened to anything I had told her. Never mind the huge omission of bottles and boxes of my weekly wine intake in our original interview. She obviously didn't hear the part where I said I couldn't get anything done, like I'd fallen down a well and I couldn't climb out, like I'd been slogging through mud, that I'd been stuck for decades. How about testing me for adult ADD? Surely I'm experiencing perimenopause. You don't think this is depression? Tell me fucking anything but that I drink too much. You have no idea what you are talking about. 

Denial has big green Incredible Hulk strength. It can pick you up and throw you into another reality where your sight-line is very different from everyone else's. I read somewhere that it's the denial of death that promoted our species, but all grown up, it's killing some of us. It doesn't come as a parting gift when we're launched into this world, but how quickly we figure out it's effectiveness. Even when you do catch a glimpse of the actual cold, hard situation, it's like the tall guy standing in front of you at a rock show. He may shift his weight and you can see the band for a second, but then he quickly moves back to his original place, leaving you staring at his backside again. 

When you see someone die a particularly long, drawn-out death, you sometimes get to see them return to that baby-like state, before the layers of life's bullshit piled on. I got to see this when my Dad was dying and it punctured some well of compassion deep inside of me where I suddenly saw him as an innocent child. The child that knew nothing but love before his Dad drank too much, before his Dad's rage made him break chairs over little boy's heads and before his Mom pretended not to notice. Before my Dad carried that behavior into his little family, not even needing alcohol, he yelled and thrashed and hit and name-called. He didn't know that that wasn't how other families lived, he didn't share and he didn't care. So he worked, he provided, he bought jewelry and cars and motorcycles and vacations, so he obviously loved us and we would turn out just fine. When I watched him suck down a milkshake on his second to the last day of life, I saw a child that was full of unjaded, unfiltered, unaffected love. 

"The truth doesn't stop being the truth just because we aren't looking at it."

In the last ten years of my drinking I thought my children were safe because I stayed at home to drink. Not that I had never driven them around after a few, but at home, I was certain we were safe. I will never ever forget the look on their little faces, eyes big as plates as they watched flames shoot up from the stove to the vent after I threw too much Pernod into a hot cast iron. Or the time they discovered I left the bathroom sink running and flooded the whole bathroom. Or the time I missed a step carrying my baby girl and landed on my elbow instead of her tiny skull. These things didn't happen because I had a drinking problem. No way. I just forgot to eat dinner. I was over-tired. I just shouldn't have had that tequila shot, but that was a one-time mistake. And besides, my kids are safe. They know I love them.

The best thing I've heard when I was getting sober and voluntarily running my hand over the daily fire of shame was, "model the solution".  I've mentioned this on the blog before, but it bears repeating because I think it's the best message we can send to our children. Every problem is fixable, there is almost always a do-over, life gives us second chances and there is always a solution. Even when we have to swallow the cold, hard pill of reality, if we don't like it, we can fix it. Whether we are ready or not, children can be very adept at lifting the veil, giving the tall guy at the rock show a shove. Asperger kids are especially skilled at this and with his unedited honesty, my son said one night, "Mama, I don't like it when you're drunk." I guess the fifth time is the charm, because I finally heard the truth. And I've finally forgiven myself, forgiven my Dad and his Dad, for not being able to face reality and live accordingly. We did the best we could.

So now, I try and see things for what they are. I'm not perfect but if I was, I guess I would just ascend to Heaven now. I'm finding whatever I'm currently denying seems to pop up in my dreams anyway and since my sleeping head is running clear now, they are often fresh and ready for analyzation come morning. I occasionally have the typical drinking dreams that sober people have, but mine are less about the experience of being drunk and more about the sneaking, hiding, lying and covering-up. I know that is most likely because sober people are expected to show up in their lives with 100% honesty and that is still a tough row to hoe for me. Some habits take longer to die, so in the meantime, I have a dreamcatcher in every room. At the risk of committing a cultural misappropriation crime, I just love what they symbolize and I think they're pretty. I like pretty things. And in giving up my dreams to my dreamcatcher, I'm reminded to give up the rest to the Universe. As long as I can clearly see things for what they are, they can sort out the rest.

p.s. These are pretty easy to make with some embroidery hoops, string, yarn or fabric strips, some beads and feathers. For the center, I use pieces from already crocheted table cloths that I find at thrift stores. This and some glue, color and a tea-pot-filled afternoon, you are on your way giving your dreams a beautiful new home.