Anxiety. Fear. Agony.
Those are the words that come to mind when I recall the first wedding I attended sober. It was a scant sixteen days after I’d given up the drink. I was still in withdrawal, and probably had no business going to a wedding of a fraternity brother. Still, I was committed to attending and even more committed to not drinking.
I gave myself the out and canceled the Friday night room at the hotel, opting to drive up to the Philly area on Saturday, the day of the wedding, in order to minimize the exposure. As my wife and I drove up I95 my neck and shoulders tightened. I’m sure my pulse quickened. My stomach turned to knots.
When we got to the hotel, many of my fraternity brothers were already well oiled. I felt left out. I ran an errand, and while I was out got a call from a large client about a TAC case that was going sideways with a critical piece of gear in their network. I desperately wanted to drink.
I gritted my teeth. My knuckles turned white. I managed.
Well before the wedding, well before I passed the table of Manhattans that was awaiting the guests after the ceremony, I was in agony with a migraine.
I wish I could say that I had fun, but if I’m honest, while it was nice to see my life long friends, that night was pure hell for me. There are photos of me with smiles, but that was all a front. I always have been good at hiding what’s wrong.
We split early, shortly after cake was served. I’d done my duty, and I was done.
Last night, I attended the wedding of one of my pledge brothers, Dave. I was surrounded by the same group of friends who drank heavily two years ago and many of them were drinking heavily again. But this event was different.
Gone were the feelings of apprehension, anxiety, and fear. I did not feel left out. I did not miss the drinking. I socialized with my life long friends and enjoyed myself.
No migraine, just fun.
I was in the moment, and at peace. We laughed, we sang, and we danced. I smiled genuine smiles and loved every minute of the wedding and reception.
So much has changed in my world in the last 22 months. I’ve learned how to have fun without alcohol. I’ve learned how to have fun in the presence of alcohol while abstaining. I’ve learned how to embrace my sober life.
Many times you’ll hear folks say that being sober isn’t just about putting down the drink or the drug, and there are usually a lofty words that follow about connecting with a higher power or your spiritual condition. And for many people I’m sure these words are genuine.
What I’ve come to realize is that recovery is not about simply abstaining it’s about living a full and rewarding life. If that means that I’ve connected with a higher power, then so be it, but the resistant self in me doesn’t fully accept that. And that’s okay.
I’ve learned that there will be cycles in my recovery. Times when I feel that the spiritual side of things is of the greatest importance and times when I will see it as a less important. There will be times when I resist the program and times when I embrace it. And that’s why people talk about this being a life long journey. That’s why people talk about staying connected to their recovery and their higher power, because we’re never cured — we only get a daily reprieve.
And still, we do heal. That’s the only word I can use to explain the difference between the two experiences. Aside from geography and time, the only significant difference in my experience of these two weddings is the healing of my mind, body, and spirit.
We do recover.