Most of the times when I’ve really, really wanted to drink, it’s not the alcohol that I crave. I’m chasing a feeling of belonging. Drinking seems to magically grant that gift to everyone else, so why can’t I have some, too?
Almost all social situations start out awkwardly. Figuring out how to navigate the world of other people, with all of its expectations, unspoken rules and vague decorum seems to peak in our awkward teenage years. But it doesn’t end once we pass the post marked “adult.”
And so awkwardness reigns, but rather than embrace it, we look for ways to mask or eliminate it. That can mean staying in spaces and groups where we think we know what to expect. And it can mean drinking.
We call booze “social lubricant” and “liquid courage.” If nothing else, these common allegories state the obvious: socializing can be hard and also terrifying. And learning how to do it again, but sober, was like going through a second teenagehoood.
During this reprise of heightened awkwardness, that anxious voice whispering to me that everyone else is in on something that I just seem to be missing was actually about half right. While others are somewhat mildly empowered by their liquid courage, as a sober person, I’ve just got whatever plain old courage I walked into the room with. And some days, it's not really all that much.
I don’t miss the feeling of being drunk. But even if I decide I don’t want to drink, there’s a part of me that wishes I could drink, just to prove that I can do the thing that everyone else can do without thinking so hard about it.
With every casual laughed-off comment of “no fun” and “boring,” I feel a little bit more like a broken exception.
I long for the idea of what sipping on a boozy beverage would give me: to be in a similar headspace to those around me, to have a little bit more ease in navigating the world of people and to feel like an insider rather than an outsider.
That’s what I think alcohol will grant me, but did it ever deliver on those lofty promises? Nope.
In my own head and in my own home, these kinds of thoughts rarely visit me. They surface out in the world, as I compare my way of living with what I perceive of those around me, and I get caught up in how sobriety seems to set me apart.
But sometimes, a different strain of offhand comment breaks this illusion open: a “you’re so lucky you don’t drink, you never have to be hungover,” or a “you seem a lot happier now,” or an “I wish I could be sober too.”
As much as I crave a piece of what drinking seems to give to others, they may also see some of the perks of sobriety – and they may want some of what I’m having.
Sober folks and drinking folks have at least one thing in common: we all think someone else has it easier, that they’ve got that peaceful belonging feeling and are totally comfortable navigating all the weirdness of life. But we’re all just muddling through the awkwardness of living with each other in this world in our own ways – and that’s totally okay.
Anastasia Chipelski is the managing editor at The Uniter. She is patiently awaiting the second adulthood that should supposedly follow her awkward second teenagehood.
Published in Volume 71, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 23, 2017)