Drinking and Identity

Since my friend’s death, I’ve obviously been doing a lot of talking and thinking about my own recovery. Trying to tell people who are blaming themselves to…NOT blame themselves. Some are receptive. Some are terse…like, who the fuck am I to be telling anyone anything. I wasn’t part of the scene he was immersed in for so many years. And honestly that was mostly by design. I knew that hanging out at open mics and good old fashioned Irish sessions would be a huge, huge trigger for me. It would make me want to fall back into my old “identity.”

Listen, I used to be super, super into being a “drinker.” I was proud of it. I thought it was pretty fucking great that I drank whiskey and craft beers, and I considered myself quite the bon vivant for all of it. And maybe I was, part of the time. The part where people DIDN’T see me puking, picking fights, sobbing hysterically in a restroom, and/or “taking a nap” at someone’s party. People didn’t see the bottom-shelf shit I took to drinking at home, because it got me where I wanted to be as quickly as possible…which was oblivion. People didn’t see my head and hands shaking violently at 6 o’clock in the morning, they didn’t see the huge bruises on my arms and legs I was getting because my liver was starting to revolt. But yeah – fucking bon vivant all the way, kids. It was hugely important for me to be seen that way.

So when I had to face an entirely different kind of music, when I had to acknowledge that if I kept doing what I was doing, I was certainly going to lose a LOT of things (I don’t think I QUITE accepted that I could die from it), it was terrifying. My entire identity was wrapped up in drinking. Let me say that again: my entire identity was wrapped up in drinking. Yes, I was a daughter. A wife. A sister. An auntie. A coworker. A bandmate. But first and foremost? I drank. That’s what I did. And drinking informed all my behaviors and it made my life so COMPARTMENTALIZED that it eventually became impossible for me to remember how I was supposed to behave around anyone.

It was more than just something I did to be social. It was NECESSARY.

Figuring out what I could and couldn’t do safely, once I got sober, took a long time. There were some relationships that couldn’t withstand the toll of my NOT drinking. That’s a heartbreaking lesson for folks in recovery. I could still play in my band. My bandmates knew the deal and had my back. But venturing by myself into a bar to play something I’d wrote on my own? Absofuckinglutely not. Not for several years, anyway, by which point I ceased to really be regularly in my friend’s orbit. Of course he supported me, and we would meet up and do things that didn’t involve alcohol. But I wasn’t a part of the world in which he mainly lived. The number of our mutual friends dwindled to a handful. That’s one of the sacrifices I had to make, to keep myself safe, and alive.

When he first got sober, I was so willing and eager to welcome him onto the sober dance floor to do the recovery stomp with me. I did try. But ultimately he had to make the decision to remain in recovery. That was on him. Nobody could make that decision for him. Because nobody could make that decision for me.

It’s just a guess, but the lure of that old “identity” might have just been too strong. Sometimes a toxic relationship feels safer than the unknown. I understand this on a cellular level.

I can’t tell him this now, so I am telling you.

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