Please be aware of the “content” in this entry before you continue reading. (I still don’t know how I feel about the labels “Trigger” or even “Warning,” because they can sometimes be alarmist and also paint my authenticity as negative. If anyone has suggestions for how to label blog posts with sensitive topic material, please let me know.) This entry is going to deal with some of my histories with addiction, substance abuse, emotional abuse, and my current relationship with sobriety.
So I made my official decision to stop drinking and using cannabis around Labor Day of last year. I am hesitant to scroll through text messages to figure out the exact day because I don’t want to quantify my sobriety in terms of an anniversary. I’ve found that sobriety, much like many other things in my life, has been a very fluid, spectral concept. I know it is not always this way with other people and it may not always be this way during my trajectory. Growing up in a music scene that was heavily populated by straight-edge folks, I know that some may frown upon what appears to be a lack of commitment, but the ideologies behind abstinence make me really squirmy.
I decided to stop drinking as a response to many years of binge events, nights where I would use alcohol to allay social anxiety but instead I would turn into a monstrously abusive person. When drunk, not tipsy, not buzzed, but full-on hammered, I would become so reckless that I picked verbal fights with loved ones, had sex with people without even learning their names, drove drunk, pissed in public (my first experience at age 15 was on a cop car in Spain after downing a pint of vodka), threw up, chain smoked, and did virtually anything I could think of to be the center of attention.
My first year at undergrad, I was on the planning committee for one of the biggest LGBTQ events of the semester, and I ended up getting alcohol poisoning before the dance even started. I was one of a dozen students that ended up being hospitalized for acute alcohol intoxication, and DIVA Night was cancelled for almost a decade following this incident. So many people from my Pride Alliance, the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, and other feminist organizations I was a part of were commenting on how, if you needed to be that drunk for a night based in Drag and “gender-bending,” you clearly had some insecurities about attending an LGBTQ event. Even more humiliating, a fellow student had filmed me getting carried out of my dorm in a stretcher into the ambulance, and used it for her documentary about DIVA night. So there I was, outed to these organizations I was a part of, a queer kid with a drinking problem whose irresponsibility had now been lumped in with speculations of internalized homophobia.
And I did nothing to improve my reputation. I moved out of the dorms to the LGBTQ off-campus housing, which was a huge deal because I was a freshman living with all seniors, and we ended up being one of the bigger stoner houses in our complex. I lived in LGBTQ houses for the rest of my years in undergrad, carrying the stoner reputation with me in my social life, battling a brief cocaine addiction in my antisocial life, and drinking what I thought were normal amounts according to college standards. I mean, I hung out with kids who had a phrase called “Puke and Rally,” where you kept drinking even after throwing up. Drinking to the point of vomiting once a month is totally normal, right?
College ended, and the local microbrew scene greeted me with open arms when I moved back home. My dad and I began brewing our own beer and we enrolled in our local pub’s beer program, where you had to drink every kind of beer they offered in order to win all sorts of points, perks, and prizes. All my friends became obsessed with this pub, which I had been eating at since I was a small child. I became really chummy with the owners and staff…I even got a tattoo of their logo on my forearm one drunken night in my basement by a guy I was buying weed from and cheating on my current partner with. Most of the beers there were high ABV (alcohol percentage), and I would still chug them like they were Bud Light. I did gain an appreciation and knowledge of different beers (along with 30 pounds), but it was mostly just an excuse to binge drink three times a week, go to my friends house down the street to smoke weed, and attempt a very foggy drive home. How I have lived my life without any DUIs is an absolute blessing beyond comprehension.
When I moved to California for six months, I began to develop a completely new relationship with cannabis, using it medically to replace my prescriptions for insomnia and anxiety. I found that by smoking, I rarely drank alcohol, and my cannabis use was also relatively infrequent (maybe once or twice a week if I was having a tough time sleeping or had a big social event in San Francisco). The level of responsibility and accuracy of treatment, plus the attitudes of my friends around me towards cannabis was totally foreign. It was no longer a substance to abuse, but a medium to titrate in order to regulate daily life. I don’t want to glorify it, there were certainly still people abusing cannabis in California, but the general attitudes were much more mature than anything I had ever experienced on the East Coast. When I moved back home to Jersey, I brought what little of my prescribed cannabis I had left and lived off of that until it was gone. I will not buy anything illegally here, mostly because I have no idea what strains I am smoking or whether it is benefitting my mental state, but also because a lot of the mindset around here still treats cannabis like a fucking novelty. It has its place for recreation, I understand, but I can’t be around people who use it like that given my efforts towards sobriety and clearer thinking.
So if I were to ever start using medical cannabis again… would that mean I was no longer sober? I’m not sure. I was able to maintain self-awareness and was never abusive when using medical cannabis. At my SMART meetings, they tell us that if we are on psych meds, it is absolutely acceptable. I had to take Norco (an opioid) during my back surgery, and I did so responsibly. There is a difference between using chemicals as medicine and as an escape. When I think of my sobriety, I think of a very strong mindfulness that comes with levels of responsibility to myself and others.
What I do know is that I am not abusive when I am sober. That is the only sure thing I understand so far. Living a sober life these past ten months has taught me new introspection, new methods of social interaction, given me new confidence, and kept my anger at bay. Most importantly, sober life has saved my relationship with my primary partner. Where we spent every night drinking and every weekend drunk, frequently blowing up these intoxicated evenings into fights and days of not talking, my partner and I communicate more now than I have in any previous relationships (poly family excluded, they have been outstanding communicators). We emotionally process each other’s feelings now, we slow the pace of our conversations, and we check our assumptions.
During these ten months I have had a drink or two, and I don’t consider it a “fall from the wagon.” I have enjoyed a nice glass of red wine with my family for my father’s 60th, and I definitely had a Manhattan to honor the death of my grandma who drank one before her evening programs until the day she died. My beautiful partners in Philadelphia made me a soul-warming Hot Toddy for Boxing Day with their family. These have been significant moments with what I consider libations in the most fundamental sense of the word. I have not consumed these drinks for the sake of intoxication, but rather to honor the moment and its rarity in my ongoing commitment to remain sober for the sake of myself and the ones I love.
I still pee in public these days, but with a much more discerning eye, and usually with a functional objective rather than drunkenly marking my territory.