Day 12: My First Bar Experience.

There’s a saving grace in having been sick the last few days. Tonight, after a long and stressful day of work–a day in which one of my colleagues had an even more stressful day–I went out to a bar. It was my first time since I stopped drinking that I went to a bar and I’m happy to say on this twelfth day of sobriety (twelfth: what a cool word) I once again didn’t drink.

In the world I currently inhabit, an offer of a beer after work is a show of compassion and understanding. It’s an offer of “I understand you’ve had a rough day, let me show you I care, let me help make it better in some way.” So when my co-worker Stacy came to me kvetching about clients and coworkers, I offered to take her out for a drink after work–my treat.

Once we got to the bar I just ordered a diet coke, however. A diet coke was my plan all along, and I rehearsed that choice over and over in my mind on the way to the bar. When I ordered my soda and she looked questioningly at me, I simply said “I’ve been sick all week. And anyways, I haven’t been drinking as much lately.” Of course, switch “haven’t been drinking as much lately” with “haven’t been drinking at all because I’ve realized I have a problem” and you’d arrive at the truth, but at this point in my sobriety I didn’t feel it was necessary to bring her into that conversation. In any case, the beer wasn’t the important issue tonight (at least for me), it was the importance of letting her know I care in a way that was familiar to our relationship up to this point.

I won’t lie: it was strange being in a bar without a beer in hand. There was an initial moment when Stacy was making her drink choice that I thought “Just get a beer, no one will care.” But luckily the moment passed. I enjoyed being with Stacy tonight, and enjoyed that she had a nice time decompressing with me after a stressful day. But more than that I was happy to be present with her, to actually hear what she was saying instead of thinking about what my next drink would be. When she went for a second beer, I simply ordered a glass of water–“I don’t want to be up all night. The caffeine, you know,” I said. She seemed to not care, and for that I felt vindicated in my choice. The rest of the evening went off without a hitch and I drove her home–sober.

Tonight was my first real experience of being in a drinking environment and not drinking. It feels great to have this milestone behind me. It was a huge step in helping to assure me that I can do this (the temptation was there, I noticed it, and then it passed without incident). But perhaps more important was the knowledge that came from the experience of learning that as long as I’m present and vigilant I can do “normal” things with my friends like join them for a beer. Of course I won’t always be able to use the excuse “I’ve been sick,” but just knowing that I can be in a bar and not drink gives me a lot of hope for the rest of this journey.

Art: The Floor Planers, Gustave Caillebotte