#3. Any Conversation About Alcohol Is Now Awkward
It's going to come up at some point. You simply can't avoid alcohol forever, and you're going to find that even complete strangers default to assuming that you drink. My neighbors drink, and if they happen to see me in the yard, they'll make friendly conversation and eventually offer me a beer. To them, it's the polite thing to do. I'll decline with a simple, "No thanks, I don't drink." And the reaction is always the same: "Really? Why?"
That's when it gets weird. If you tell them that you used to have a problem with drinking and you chose to give it up, now they feel like they've offended you in some way. They'll either tiptoe around the subject and wrap up the conversation as soon as humanly possible, or they'll try to relate. "Oh, wow. Good for you! I really need to quit, myself, someday." Then they'll take a drink and glance at their watch.
"Oh, hey, will you look at that. I need to go over here and not talk to you anymore."
If you try to blow it off with something generic like, "I'm just not a big drinker," they automatically assume you're an ultra religious "thou shalt not drink" advocate. Their tone and language immediately change into a more respectful version of their normal state, as if they're talking to a preacher, and I'm not going to lie here ... I find that reaction to be funny as hell.
But it's not just awkward for them. You will find yourself actively avoiding the subject, because if it turns into a full-on conversation about addiction, you're going to sound preachy. Nobody likes that guy who tells everyone else what they can't do. And even if you're not being that type of douche bag, you're going to come across as accusing and holier-than-thou simply by having an honest discussion about why you gave it up. You might as well be telling them, "Well, I didn't want to end up like you. I mean, look at you. Fuck your mother, you goddamn alchie."
And then you just stand back and soak in their shame.
And keep in mind that we're not just talking about my neighbor here. I run into this problem at least once a month, and it never gets any easier. Help a friend move, and they offer to buy you a 12-pack. Meet someone new, and they invite you out for a few drinks. Go to a restaurant, and every woman in the place buys you a drink with her hotel key in the glass.
We have a grab bag gift exchange every Christmas at my grandma's, and last year, I had to trade in three gifts back-to-back because two were bottles of wine, and one was a "beer of the month club" membership. The one I ended up settling on was a thermos -- in the shape of a beer mug. Which I ended up giving to my brother, walking away without a gift that year.
And again, I had to give him that quietly under the table because the conversation would have been too awkward to handle. "Why did you give away the gift I bought? What kind of asshole does that?" Then you'd have to explain to them how any little thing that reminds you of beer is dangerous. That something most people consider small and harmless can be the trigger that makes you relapse, and it's best to just avoid that altogether. There is no way to have that conversation without them walking away feeling insulted and offended.
God, just look at the expression on my grandmother's face.
You will have moments like these for the rest of your life.
#2. You Are Not Prepared for the Guilt
After you have a few months of clear-headed living under your belt, you're going to have a night where you put your past under a microscope. And all the little slimy, deformed crawlies you find in there are going to make you want to vomit.
It will start with the obvious: feeling guilty about all of the booze-fueled bullshit you shoveled on people. The pointless arguments at three in the morning. Waitresses who had to deal with you after pulling a 14-hour double. People you embarrassed by acting like an uncontrollable dumbass in public. Friends who took care of you when your head was dangerously close to sea level of an unflushed toilet.
"This is the last time, understood?"
But the next level will really get to you. You'll remember specific people who, at the time, seemed like the biggest assholes in the world. They criticized you. Made you feel worthless. Told you that you needed to grow up. Threatened to end their relationship with you if you didn't change. You'll remember thinking, "Fuck them! If they can't accept me for who I am, then they're not my friends." And that's when it hits home ...
The booze wasn't who you are. It was just something you did. Those people weren't trying to hurt you -- they were trying to fucking help you. They weren't the enemy ... they were the strongest line of defense you had, fighting tooth and nail to keep you alive, and you didn't even recognize it. At that point, if your gut doesn't drop into your shoes, there's a good chance that you were born of evil intent. Because if you're like the millions of addicts who all react in the same way, you cut them out of your life.
"Later, dickweeds. I'm gonna go get ripped, like an adult.
That guilt will follow you around until you do something about it. And I'll be straight with you here -- I just had to swallow my pride and start apologizing to people. Even the ones who had all of me they were willing to take for the rest of their lives, who I knew would simply give me the finger and say, "I told you so. Now fuck off. I'd rather spend the day drawing close-up portraits of my dog's asshole than devoting a single minute to remembering the many ways you made my life suck."
If there's another way to deal with it, I haven't found it. I'm not sure there is one, because the truth is, it wasn't the alcohol making you do that. That was you. You destroyed those relationships. You were the one calling the shots, drunk or not. You were the one who pissed in the dolphin tank at SeaWorld in front of 200 screaming children. Quitting drinking does not wipe away those old emotional debts you racked up. You did the crime, and you are accountable for it. A celebrity entering rehab does not wipe away the time he vomited a slew of racial slurs on stage. It was not alcohol's fault. Beer did not introduce those thoughts into his brain. He did. And he damn sure owes an apology for it.
And there had better be some goddamn chocolate involved!
#1. You Will Still Have Cravings Like It Was Day One Again
The longer you go without drinking, the easier it gets. But that doesn't mean you get to ride off into the sunset while victorious cowboy music plays you out. (Even though I actually do pay people to do that for me every time I leave a building.) But after two years of sobriety, I still have occasional days where the cravings for alcohol is so bad, it feels like I'm right back at my first day of quitting.
Obviously, it's not the physical chemicals that are making me want it, because that's been out of my system for quite some time. It's not like my body is screaming in pain because it's used to a steady diet of alcohol and doesn't know how to function without it. No, it's the broken cog in the brain -- the mechanism that makes an addict. That's the really crazy part of being an alcoholic: The actual alcohol doesn't matter that much.
It's the cravings chips that the government put in there when you were born.
Even if you were to completely erase booze from the annals of time, alcoholics would still find something to get addicted to. Drugs, sex, cigarettes, video games. It's a twisted form of obsession that we have to appease or we go nuts. The trick is to point that addictive behavior at something positive. Like I mentioned earlier, for me that's cleaning, cooking and work.
But every once in a while, for no reason whatsoever, that old feeling springs back up, and you would sell your own mother into Third World prostitution for a free pass to drink. Just for one day. One day wouldn't hurt, right?
"Alright, pray time is over -- get your bitchass in the boat!"
To give you an idea of how bad it gets, I had cravings last week that were so powerful, I actually considered calling my bank and having them put a 24-hour stop on my debit card so that I couldn't cave in to the pressure. The pressure that was coming from my own goddamn brain. Over two years after I quit drinking.
Like I said earlier, it's never over. Not for me. Not for any addict.
For more Cheese, check out Quitting Smoking: 6 Things You Notice About the Stupid World and 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Quitting Drinking.