The Boredom Of Sobriety
The sun is here. After one of the wettest winters in memory, it’s a big deal. We can’t depend on an eventual arrival of hot days like you can almost anywhere else [insert Mark Twain’s, “the coldest winter I ever spent...” quote here], so even two days in a row of big sun has a particularly profound effect on us San Franciscans. Truly sunny days—no specter of fog reaching its tentacles over Twin Peaks, no breeze that is just cold enough to keep you shivering—bond all of us together, even those of us whose interactions would under normal circumstances be reluctant at best. Our shared marvelling is furtive, distrustful; we know better. But still. We allow ourselves a bit of celebration, enjoying it while we can, before the fog returns until September and we resume our typical grumbling.
The city is so pretty it hurts. I walk my dog around the neighborhood and the nasturtium leaves are as big as my face, wild lilac climbs higher than I can reach, the air is fragrant with rose geranium and jasmine, fig tree leaves unfold overnight, and everything is so green, I forgot how many different shades of green could exist. The days are of course longer. We’ve even had a couple of warm nights; this, the most glorious of SF miracles. Seventeen years here, and I’m far more accustomed to concrete covered in spit/piss/feces/used condoms on my daily walks, to having to walk many blocks or take a bus for a proper patch of grass. My neighborhood now is different. It’s easy to park. We have a backyard, full of fruit trees, an oak tree, squirrels, succulents. I can walk easily to different parks, and dog is off leash more often than not. It’s a quiet neighborhood; no sirens waking me up in the middle of the night, car breaks-ins are a rarity, and neighbors knock on your door, or holler if you forget to move your car on the mornings there is street cleaning, lest you get a ticket.
I’m learning to accept this quieter life.
Early sobriety: I was Dorothy stepping out of the dull gray of Kansas into the technicolor dream of the Land of Oz, or the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes. The pink cloud buoyed me, gave me the spark to get through so much big life stuff: finishing grad school; ending an eight year relationship and moving back in with roommates; self-consciously downloading my first dating app, and then actually dating (so different now than when I was twenty-six, hanging out at bars, apps still mostly a thing of the future); spending most of March in Spain, where I celebrated a milestone birthday, returning home focused, clear awake. It was still raining when I got back, though spring loomed underneath, full of possibility: yet another chance to begin again, everything inevitably new, and fresh, and clean.
Online, it’s always spring. I’m part of a bustling, growing, invigorating sobriety community. We are working to create a new paradigm, one in which sobriety is aspirational for those who want it, instead of some weird prison sentence. We reject the deprivation narrative: “one day at a time,” is no longer the only option, and we believe it is possible to liberate ourselves from the cultural belief of “once an addict, always an addict.” We aren’t attached to labels, unless they’re helpful. We keep our eyes on our own recovery, and celebrate the unique paths that carry us along, instead of telling someone they’re doing it wrong. This is a huge shift in how we view substance use disorders, and though it’s changing fast, the movement is still very much a baby. Unlike any other drug, most people still think you only have a problem with alcohol after you quit, a perception we would not ascribe to any other substance (not even sugar). We have a long way to go, but it’s going.
Just as this movement is in its infancy, most of what I see online revolves around early sobriety: Tips on getting through the initial hump where you feel like a freak and you lose some friends and the weekends loom long; so many similar articles, listicles, How-To’s, repeated in slightly different ways: How to make it through your first weekends sober, how to have boundaries, how to talk to the people in your life about your choice, how to build sober community, how to meditate, all the ways yoga will be a powerful tool on your journey, all the dangers of alcohol, etc etc ad nauseum. These are vital, necessary, of course, and at first I was head-nodding my way along with all the memes and bright shiny social media accounts depicting how sobriety makes everything better, and how we don’t have to do this, we GET to, a distinction that made all the difference for me. But there’s another side, of course. And I’m going to go ahead and name it: BOREDOM.
So yeah, I am awake and excited and looking at the world with eyes shiny with potential but I am also going to bed most Friday and Saturday nights before 10pm and I already deleted the damn dating app after one two many dud dates and my single roommate/dating coach got a boyfriend and they are in Bora-fucking-Bora right now and if I *truly* want to make writing my life I have to keep it going with zero external deadlines and I had to get a part time job doing work that is far less glamorous than the life of a working writer I’d envisioned for myself post MFA and I am so damn self-absorbed most of the time and I STILL can barely do a pull-up and on top of all this some very unhelpful thoughts I *thought* I’d put behind me are rearing their dumb heads. The types of thoughts that tell me I am a mess, that something is fundamentally wrong with me. Thoughts that have me compare my path to those around me. Thoughts that scatter my focus about anywhere but where I so absolutely so need to focus which is of course right here. UGH.
In the words of Jack Kornfield: After the ecstasy, the laundry.
People are so afraid to quit drinking because they are afraid that life will be boring. And a lot of what I see online (and a lot of what I myself am contributing) is convincing people that sobriety is not boring! I’M NOT BORING I SWEAR. And: It’s been 19.67 months since I took my last drink according the the sobriety tracker on my phone and after months of feeling like things are FINALLY arriving me somewhere suddenly I can barely sit in my own skin.
Turns out, I’m still me.
Turns out I never actually killed that familiar dervish inside me, oh no, she was just lying dormant for a while, and now she’s revved up and clamoring for my attention in strange ways, ways that have me staring longingly at the IPA’s listed at the beer bar where my now-ex and I fell in love over dumb card games and so many pints and I am THISCLOSE to bumming a cigarette from the folks at the dive bar across the street and those Norco pills I got after a minor medical procedure last week are asking to be popped just to get through the day. When the dervish spins to life inside me, an inner GPS ticks on, a signal that it’s time to flee ASAP and though I never know our exact destination, where we’ll end up, I know how it feels when we get there and the feeling is oblivion.
Except for now I don’t cave. This is what keeps me going: I now know what to do, so I do it, even though it’s uncomfortable. When I can actually sit with the void, when I can stay with this place I ran from for so long, this dark place inside that absolutley terrified me at times, what I’m finding is that it too is super fucking boring. Who knew. When I face the dervish, she is more of a tantrum-y toddler than anything that warrants the level of fear that kept me drinking, avoiding, numbing.
Everything is going to feel boring after the time I spent in the drama and chaos of my drinking. And for as much as I think the pursuit of moderation hinges on a total lie, I’ve also learned the hard way enough times to know that I must be just as vigilant of the highs as the oh-so-lows. Thus, if I reject both, what I’m left with is this middle place, all this SPACE that shows up between the time it takes to quit drinking, and the actual recovery of the lost parts of myself, and this space is, well, boring. Or maybe I am just not used to calm. Quiet.
My job now is to learn to find peace inside the quiet, instead of thinking something is wrong. Can I just sit here and eat this apple without opening endless tabs on my browser? Can I take a shower without bringing my phone into the bathroom with me to scroll for the thirty seconds it takes for the water to heat? Can I do some chores around the house without listening to all the podcasts? Can I accept that my phone is going to be much quieter now that I’m not keeping up dumb text threads with meh guys, that my social life basically consists of going to the gym and eating mochi with my roommates, that I stay out past 10pm maybe about twice/year?
I don’t miss the drama of my drinking days. The fog of always being one step forward, two steps back, of never knowing why life isn’t going the way I hoped. I don’t miss the magical thinking, I don’t miss stirring pots. And. It’s also true that life is so much quieter now, there is so much more space in my brain. So now I have to learn what to do, how to be, not so much to fill that space, or distract myself from it, but to create something new and different inside it. It’s so easy to kill time on Instagram/ Facebook, stuff my face with food, scroll endlessly on my phone, space out in all the ways I do, instead of asking myself, what do I want? Where do I let go, where do I dig in deeper? How do I transform this restlessness? What do I want the overarching feeling of my days to be? What would I have to do each day to lay my head on the pillow each night, knowing I did my true best?