Hello friends, I’ve been feeling the tiniest bit inadequate lately, so I thought I’d write in my journal! The blog has gotten a few new subscribers lately, which hadn’t happened in some time. It’s actually had a bit of a resurgence, which is nice.
I celebrated my eleventh sobriety anniversary a few days ago. I quit drinking eleven years ago, in 2010. It’s no longer as big a part of my identity. Sometimes I forget I’m sober. It just doesn’t come up that often, especially since we’re not doing big gatherings.
In recent years sobriety has had a resurgence. I started hearing about dry January, for instance, and a few friends have quit drinking in the same way you’d quit, like, eating processed sugar. It’s a major change, or you wouldn’t need to do it, but probably not as epochal and life-defining as getting sober was for me.
Still, I welcome all sober people into the big sober tent. I’ve even made my peace with people who never started drinking alcohol in the first place! I don’t understand them (alcohol is so good, it makes you feel very happy), but it’s fine. They’re cool. I sometimes see people who are less on the addiction-recovery side of sobriety write about how they resent that our culture is "so centered around drinking."
Personally, I wouldn’t call our culture centered around drinking at all. I can’t think of the last time I was around somebody who was really drunk. At the gatherings I go to (went to?), it’s not socially acceptable at all. But the world is a big place, and I’ve definitely been to parts of the country and to social scenes where drinking to excess is extremely common. Mostly I just find this impressive! I quit drinking at age 24, because I was certain that it would kill me if I continued. Like, I would die next week or next month, or, at the latest, sometime next year. To see people still drinking heavily well into their fifties and sixties is just impressive! Of course, those are the survivors. The dead can’t represent themselves. And some people take up alcoholic drinking at older ages too.
You know, when I used to go to AA meetings, the people who were also drug addicts would always, always, mention it. They definitely thought their addiction was more legit than just being addicted to alcohol. I personally never bought it. Alcohol is just as deadly as any drug. You can overdose and die on alcohol. You can die from alcohol withdrawal. Just because you recovered from heroin doesn’t make you better than other people.
But being addicted to heroin has its own contours. It certainly sets you outside society to a greater degree. And people wanted to retain that identity. They felt apart from mere alcoholics. And that’s okay. In the same way, I feel apart from people who merely quit drinking, but I also don’t feel that proprietary over the term ‘sobriety’. It’s okay. The purpose of these labels isn’t to set ourselves apart and to find an identity, it’s to help people. I genuinely think that drinking, even relatively moderately, is harmful, and that most people would be better off without it. It’s okay if what for me was a major turning point is for other people merely a lifestyle choice. Just like yoga is a religious practice for some people, and it’s a form of exercise for others–c’est la vie.
It feels like people today are so hungry for an identity, but identity isn’t individuality. The whole reason there’s a label for something is because that label denotes some commonality of experience. Maybe as a trans woman of color, my experience is different from white trans women, but it’s also similar in some ways. I don’t know. It just seems pointless and petty to police boundaries this way. Ultimately, everyone is an individual, and everyone has their own individual experiences. Nobody is more unique than anyone else. Obviously, other peoples’ sobriety experiences don’t mirror mine exactly. My experience has nuances and contours. For instance, I took LSD and psilocybin mushrooms well into my sobriety (though no more), and found these to be pretty positive experiences. Does that mean I’m a demi alcoholic? That my alcoholism is unique and different and excluded by mainstream sobriety groups? I mean…sort of. But this story also isn’t that uncommon. I know more than a few drug addicts who stopped using hard drugs, but can now use alcohol moderately. It’s just an experience.
We always want to know what a person is: to pull out their race, gender, politics, profession, mental health and disability status, to tug on all those strings, and in the intersection of those characteristics you find the person. I’m not immune from that desire. It’s like when trans people online are like, "It’s rude to ask about a person’s genitals!" Well, yeah, it’s most definitely rude…but don’t you want to know? Or if you see someone who’s racially ambiguous? Don’t you want to know? I love to sum up and categorize people. He’s rich, she’s snobbish, they went to Harvard, he’s a first-gen college student, they’re Republican, she’s a hard-core feminist, but sort of the old school type that’s in favor of tougher criminal sanctions for sexual violence and domestic assault. I think there’s a lot of value in categories, in finding patterns. It’s a dynamic tension we all have to navigate not just in our own lives, but when we look at other people. Everyone is unique, but everyone is also a type.