If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I have a bit of a problem with alcohol. You people who can stop at a glass of wine or two with dinner and call it good?
Yeah…well…that’s not me.
However – truth be told – I wasn’t always this way. I was what most would call a social drinker for the first 40 years of my life. But after 40, I started seeing (and subsequently ignoring) warning signs of impending danger. One of the most glaring being that at some point – when I took an honest look around at myself and my life – I realized that most of my friends were actually just drinking buddies.
It’s interesting how my concept of friendship has changed since sobriety. When I was drinking a lot, it was all about having a good time and instant gratification. I could meet someone at a party, share some cocktails and a few laughs, and Voila! I had a new best friend. My two main requirements for friendship were pretty simple: First, you had to drink; and second, you had to be fun.
I couldn’t understand those boring non-drinkers. What did they even do in their spare time? Knit? Watch Dancing With the Stars? Play Pokémon Go? It was a mystery to me, because increasingly, my idea of fun “me” time always included getting my drink on.
It was after my first marriage ended in divorce that my drinking began to change – and along with it my friendships. I was in my early forties, my kids were getting older, and I was completely unprepared for life as a single woman. I had been with my husband – who I’d met in college – for over 20 years. It felt like I was embarking on a brand new life, one that was both terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures. Alcohol gave me a sense of confidence, and quieted my fears while facing a suddenly uncharted future.
Unfortunately, when you are newly single and all of your friends are couples, it changes the social dynamics. The usual gatherings left me feeling awkward – like a fifth wheel. But then I found a partner in crime – let’s call her Cara. Cara and I had actually known each other in our previous, married lives – but we were never especially close. Prior to my divorce, the people that I spent time with were mostly neighbors, friends I made through my kids’ activities, people I met at the gym, my book club, my women’s cycling club, or at work. We might enjoy a drink together sometimes, but alcohol was certainly not the foundation of these relationships.
But Cara’s and my world had radically changed. We now donned what we jokingly referred to as the Scarlett D for Divorcee, which was still remarkably taboo in our carefully crafted, well manicured, gated-community bubble-lives. Cara loved wine. I loved wine. Cara had a lot of drama in her life. I now had a lot of drama in my life. Cara and I were both learning how to navigate the dating world in our forties, and stumbling blindly forward on parallel paths.
But there was a slight problem. Other than our mutual love for cocktail hour, I didn’t really relate to Cara all that much. Take away the social lubricant of booze and the pain of divorce, and we actually didn’t have that much in common. Go figure.
Cara’s rather ditzy, man-obsessed persona seemed quirky, uninhibited and refreshing at happy hour, but left me unimpressed when I looked at it in the harsh light of day. There didn’t seem to be much depth beyond her latest sexcapade.
Chatting over dirty martinis at the bar, we thought we were being brave and interesting. Now, WE had the precarious lives that others contemplated with a combination of envy and disdain. Two unfettered women – out in the world having great sex, singing in bars, lapping up each other’s sordid and often hysterical transgressions over vodka sodas, and throwing caution to the wind. We regaled our former mommy friends as incredibly boring and repressed.
But really – how brave and interesting are you when you’re spending a sizeable chunk of your life ponied up to a bar?
Now, looking back on it, I doubt that Cara genuinely liked or admired me any more than I did her, yet we remained attached at the hip for a couple of years. Drinking was our mutual tether. Let’s face it – it’s hard to meet quality people when you aren’t behaving like someone with anything worthwhile to offer. How ironic that we both ended up in a friendship of convenience when we had so boldly denounced what had become our marriages of convenience.
Before long, most of the people I spent time with socially were people I’d met while drinking. I’m not sure how that happened exactly. Perhaps it was because when I wasn’t working, sleeping, or at the gym, my tendency was to have some sort of adult beverage within arm’s reach. Actually my gym served beer and wine, so even that wasn’t completely off the table.
Over the next few years, I met plenty of great people, and fortunately I still had wonderful friends from back in the day. But my ability to follow-up – to put forth the effort required to pursue and maintain genuine friendships – was less than stellar. One thing about addiction is that it’s a jealous companion. It always has to be number one.
Friendships of substance eluded me, and I had no one but myself to blame. I guess I thought people would be disappointed if they actually got to know the real me. I didn’t think I was capable of love or being loved. The inner turmoil my unhealthy relationship with alcohol created, seeped out and made my relationships with people unhealthy as well. It was easier to to stick with my fellow drinkers – they didn’t require much from me. I was more comfortable keeping healthier friendships at arm’s length.
Despite looking like a social butterfly on the outside, on the inside I still felt isolated. Because that’s what alcoholism does. It isolates you. And so many of the connections I made were being formed on razor thin ice. It became an increasingly common yet still disconcerting occurrence for me to be reintroduced to people whom I had absolutely no recollection of ever meeting. My life was becoming a blur.
I think that’s probably the worst thing about addiction. Losing yourself in its chaos.
Thankfully, these days I am remarried to a wonderful man and in recovery. In many ways I feel like I’m relearning what friendship is all about. And I’m finding that it is extremely important for me to have authenticity in all aspects of my sober life. I know that sounds cliche – but believe me, I don’t take the concept lightly. I’m old enough to know that the things that matter most in life take effort. Through that effort, I’m finally beginning to value myself and my hard fought victories, because I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and putting in the necessary work
I spend more time alone than I used to, but I rarely feel lonely. Because I like myself now. It also allows me time to reflect and take the personal inventory that I’ve neglected taking for far too long. When I choose to spend time with someone, I want it to mean something other than merely another excuse to drink. It’s amazing how boring bars and cocktail parties are to me now. Of course part of that is because I’m an introvert at heart, and I can only take so much standing around and engaging in small talk while nursing a club soda before I’m desperately searching for the nearest exit.
I’m changing the way I view and approach potential friends. I try to be brave enough to share my true self, battle scars and all. Whether the other person likes me or not isn’t what’s ultimately important. It’s not missing an opportunity for real connection. I’m also realizing that I’ve had many great people around me all along, but when I was drinking, I never really let them in.
I’ve made some amazing new friends while sober. Making friends is different now. Like when children connect – it feels more simple and real. There is no hidden agenda – it’s because I like the person and enjoy their company and they feel the same. Having a bottle of booze present is no longer a prerequisite. I want my friends and I to know each other as we really are – the good, the bad, and all those intriguing shades of grey in between. Ensuring a strong foundation takes more work, but it’s the only way I know to create something worth nurturing.