One of the major misconceptions out there about people in recovery is that we hate drinking and drugs. Au contraire! We simply learned that we can’t do it responsibly. The fact of the matter is that we would never have become addicted if it all hadn’t started off being incredibly fun.
If you hang around recovery circles, you’ll hear people say, “First it was fun, then it was fun with problems, then it was just problems.” We like that expression. We get that expression. We wanted to have a column which examines that expression. And so we reached out to the most prominent recovery bloggers, writers and advocates out there to ask them about their trudge down that road.
This week, our focus is on Lisa.
What was drinking/using like when it was fun?
When it fun, drinking and using looked like long, breezy summer days on the beach with margaritas starting at noon, sitting in a row of chairs and laughing with my friends as we watched the ocean waves roll in. It was feeling comfortable and happy in my skin. It was blotting out the dark cloud of sadness and anxiety that otherwise followed me around wherever I went. When I was drinking and using in the early days, I felt beautiful, cool and confident that life would turn out okay after all.
Drinking and using was also the perfect add on to something that should have been fun regardless, but was best enjoyed with a buzz. Events like concerts, weddings, nights out dancing in crazy New York City clubs, even a Tuesday night dinner out with a friend—±drinking and using made them all a blast.
When and how did it become fun with problems?
Fun with problems started when I began working as lawyer in a big New York City firm. Alcohol and drugs switched from something I wanted to something I needed in order to cope with my stressful life and crushing anxiety. I lost my ability to hit the stop button. That’s when I started doing things like wrecking family events because I was smashed, blacking out and saying awful things to people that I didn’t remember the next day, and calling in sick to work way too often.
Before social occasions, I would worry about whether there would be booze available, what kind it would be and whether it could possibly be enough. I started to “pre-game” alone at home before going out. Then I started drinking every night and despite the fact that I could make glorious excuses in my head—“If you had my life, you’d drink, too”—I knew that there was something problematic about my growing need to drink.
What was it like when it was just problems?
For me, it became just problems when my mental obsession over alcohol and, to a lesser extent, cocaine took over my brain. My first thought upon waking became, “When can I start drinking?”
Going to dinners and parties switched in my mind from fun social occasions with friends and family, where alcohol was served, to something else. They became events where I had an excuse to drink, and friends and family just happened to be there. All I looked forward to was the alcohol. And I obsessed over it from the second my alarm went off in the morning.
When it was just problems I crossed one line after another, lines that I had attempted to set for myself. I swore I wouldn’t show up at work drunk. Then I showed up at work drunk. I swore I’d never drink in the morning because “high-functioning” alcoholics like me didn’t drink in the morning. Then I had to drink in the morning. It totally owned me.
How and when did life become fun again?
By the time I got sober, I was so miserable and physically ill, that life became fun in a relative sense almost immediately. Not puking in the morning and not having to spend my day chasing booze and drugs was plenty of fun for me. Being able to get out of bed in the morning without feelings of shame and regret over what I had done the day and night before was fun. Shaking the lie and becoming honest with the people around me was such a massive relief that I would call it fun.
But the real fun began when I realized that getting sober was going to allow me to do all of those things that I spent years sitting on barstools and claiming I was going to do. My best example is that I had always been the drunk in the bar who swayed and slurred, “I’m gonna write a book.” In sobriety, when I realized that without a brutal hangover I could spend some time writing each day, I actually wrote a book.
Also, rather than meeting the people I expected to meet in sobriety—dour, miserable people who didn’t know how to have a good time—I made some of the most incredible friends, many of whom were living out their dreams. There were musicians, journalists, stay-at-home moms, corporate executives and others. The one thing they had in common was that they were free to do what they wanted to do with their lives because they were no longer chained to the bottle or the drug bag.
By choosing sobriety, the people I met in recovery got to make so many other choices about how they were going to spend their lives. For someone like me, who in my 30s had stopped contributing to my retirement plan at work because I figured I’d be dead at 40 from alcohol and drugs, the kind of fun they were having was the kind of fun I wanted. And I still do, 13 years later!
Lisa Smith is a lawyer and author of the memoir Girl Walks Out of a Bar is her story. Her writing has been published in The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, After Party Magazine and Addiction.com