How people get sober

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

A good article. And the struggle to learn new habits:

The modern world is designed for loneliness. Podcasts, Netflix, Amazon streaming. All that technology can disconnect us, yes, but it can also keep us tethered when real human contact feels like too much work. I spent six months in hiding, and do you know what I discovered in that time? How common it was. So many people drop out of life for MUCH more dire reasons than mine. Medical diagnoses, family crises, depression. They disappear from Facebook, and they probably scroll through pictures on the blue side of midnight, imagining how happy everyone else is, what a wild party is going on out there in the world of wobbly legs and glassy eyes—although the fact that you untagged yourself in all those pictures, V., calls into question how much “fun” that party really was. Most of us are struggling. That’s probably why we’re so eager to post pictures that suggest otherwise.

One of the reasons I loved drinking was that it brought me closer to people. They spilled their confessions. They shared their secret hearts. But was this really closeness, or just some side effect of inebriation? I threw my arms around so many strangers on a street corner: “This is my new best friend!” And I never saw her again. Poof, smoke. People ask me all the time about drunken one-night stands, but my real promiscuity was with my friendship. Everyone at the bar got a little piece of me. How I loved being loved. And it wasn’t until I got sober that I started wondering: Which of these people are my actual friends, and which people are my “friends”?

Time revealed the answer to me. It took about half a year for me to start hanging out with people again, but when I did, I noticed something fascinating. I could feel, in a lightning flash, whether or not I felt safe with that person. It was as though I’d discovered a friendship litmus test, one I would encourage anyone to try. Hang out with your friends without a drop of alcohol. Notice how you feel. Are you comfortable? Do you have easy conversation? Is this a friend whose company you enjoy, or is this a “friend” whose dumb conversation habits and grating voice make you want to drink immediately? Is this a person you want to stay close to, and build trust by revealing your true self—or is this a person you really only liked because you had alcohol in common?

…I had been pretending with a lot of people. Pretending to like them, pretending to like myself. Sobriety was an opportunity to stand back, and ask what I’d been trying to hide. A new equation emerged: “Problem — alcohol = Opportunity to FIX THE PROBLEM.” In the first few years of my sobriety, I started to address a lot of my core unhappiness. A few solutions I found: If you can’t afford to live in New York, move away from New York. If you don’t like the way your body feels when you eat like a competitive hot dog champion, make different choices about how you eat. If you don’t feel comfortable with a guy, don’t sleep with him. Don’t sleep with him! V., do you realize how long it took me to figure that one out? I spent years drinking through discomfort with men, which is so messed up. Why would you want to have sex with someone you’re not even comfortable with?

…Every time I felt uncomfortable, in social or romantic or even private moments, I drank to override the feeling. When I finally broke this habit, and suffered through the adjustment period, I began to feel at home more places in the world. My friends’ couches. A baseball game. Prospect Park at sundown. You would not believe how big the world is outside a bar—it keeps going, and going. I know you’re worried that quitting drinking means no one will want to hang out with you, and nobody will want to date you. Actually, you just made room for the people who do.

….I started going to 12-step meetings. AA isn’t for anyone, but it was a return to the world for me. I went to dinner with a woman I met there. She reminded me a lot of myself, in a good way. She had a demanding job, and came from a nice family, but she had been drinking so much of her life away and she wanted to make other choices now. We ate at one of those sidewalk cafes, a bottle of San Pellegrino in the frosty silver canister where bottles of wine used to be, and we laughed. Oh my God, we were laughing. Honest-to-goodness laughter like sun piercing through storm clouds. She looked at me at one point and said, “Is it weird that I just thought about how I’d like to get drunk with you?” And I said, “No, that doesn’t seem weird at all.”

It was all we knew. We were smart, successful women, but drinking was how we had learned intimacy, and that day on the patio we were starting to learn a new route. You will learn one too, V. You will learn a new route to friendship, and you will learn a new route to sex, one that leaves you feeling happy and whole rather than scared and ashamed. You will not need to drink to be around the people you love, because you will no longer need to drink in order to be “you.”

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