People, Places, and Things

One of the first thing AA newcomers are told is to beware of “people, places, and things.” Not all of them, of course, the old times would say, but those that trigger the urge to drink.

Unfortunately, for me in early sobriety, that would be pretty much all people, places, and things. My friends and I always met over drinks or dinner and drinks. I had worked for a long time in a very boozy industry, so any “meeting” after 5 pm, and there were a few, involved drinking. My family is chock-a-block full of functional (or dead) alcoholics — oh, excuse me, wine connoisseurs.

And places: I drank everywhere in the house, including bed and the bathtub (Bathtub gin — no thank you, but gin while IN the bathtub — sure). Things — things like insomnia, stress, anxiety, worry, worry about drinking too much — I drank for (to?) those. So how was this supposed to work?

At first, I thought, what the hell — I’ll just keep going as I was going, but pour soda water in my glass instead of (INSERT BOOZE OF CHOICE HERE). And I did, for exactly one night, a trip out to my family’s favorite Mexican restaurant for some celebration or another (probably nothing, in fact) — a place that makes the best margaritas in the universe, and trust me, I have made a statistically significant sample.

I went into the event shaking, a really lovely lady from AA’s number clutched in my hand, and my almost-non-drinking-and really-supportive husband at my side to intercept the double margaritas they always bring (brought) to me the moment I crossed the threshold.

I survived the night, sobriety intact (all 24 hours of it). But it was hard and miserable and I didn’t ever want to do it again.

And after that — I hid out as much as I could for the next 9 months. I am so lucky that I was in a place in my life I could work from my (remote) home. My kids are grown and weren’t ever that interested in partying with me in any case, so no school events (except one college graduation, at which I organized the large family presence, something I had planned before getting sober. Again, miserable from the “getting through while everyone else was drinking wine I paid for” standpoint but actually fairly amazing from the “wow, I am present for this great moment in my kid’s life, and I am not missing it in a haze of booze and self-centeredness” POV. Was I the life of the party? No. Did I behave appropriately and affectionally at an event that was, after all, NOT ABOUT ME? Yes. For once, yes).

I did really cut back on social events, something I needed my husband’s support to do. I started seeing friends at times other than dinner, and when I couldn’t manage that, I didn’t stay as long. I found out lots of people don’t drink, and most don’t drink anywhere near as intensely as I did. I hadn’t noticed because I was too busy pouring my own.

I think if I had not had the support of AA, and my husband, and my flexible schedule that allowed me to stay away from “people, places, and things,” I’m not sure I could have made it as far as I have (423 days according to the handy counter on my phone). It was not advice I would have thought I was capable of taking at the beginning of this, and yet it is what I did, and I’m sober. It is why I can see rehab might be a really great option for people who might have a lot of trouble getting away from people, places, and things. Sometimes, I kind of loved (and still do) the thought of a peaceful few weeks detoxing somewhere where I didn’t have to navigate people, places, and things.

Oh, and one other thing. I thought for the first few months of all this that I had lost this huge part of myself — the party girl, the sophisticated wine collector, etc. etc. I had lost a huge part of myself, but I wasn’t accurately looking at who that alcohol-defined person really was. Today, I still have the friendships, I still find a way to get to sleep at night, I still love cooking dinner and visiting my kids in their interesting new cities.

But I have learned that it wasn’t the booze that made those people, places, and things special. It was the people, places, and things themselves. And finally, I am getting to enjoy them straight up, without diluting them first in a bottle of Pinot Noir.


3 thoughts on “People, Places, and Things

  1. Amen
    One thing about rehab- I never went, but I teach yoga at one and hubby did, they aren’t the peaceful retreats I expected. Well, some might be, but many are rule heavy facilities full of on-edge newly sober people. Anxiety and stress run high.

    They are good places for security,n and are definitely necessary…

    Sobriety takes work. I know I always feel crappy when I put myself into situations where I feel left out or “different”. Early sobriety is not the time to prove how tough you can be.


    • Of course, you are right about rehab — I have no idea what I am talking about in terms of what they are like, and what you say rings true from what I’ve heard from friends who have gone. But it also, as you point out, rehab was what saved several of their lives.

      I hate feeling left out too, and that probably kept me from seriously looking at curbing my drinking for years. I like how you put it. It wasn’t that I had a choice between being social or not social — it was a choice between toughing it out or hiding myself away while in early days (in other words, there was no choice about getting sober — that had to happen — it was a choice about how hard I was going to make it on myself). I chose to hide out, and that made an otherwise difficult process that much easier.

  2. I hid out too, like you I have the flexibility to work at home. Now, I find that I am a lot less social – not because I am worried about boozy events, I just find that I don’t want to go out. I like meeting with people one on one now. I’m more at peace in my garden (which has turned into a kind of rehab, I guess). I agree with Anne, I worry about people who seem to want to “test” their sobriety by having wine in the house for example, in those early days. Seems like an unnecessary obstacle.

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