As a recovering drunk myself, I was especially interested in the new memoir, Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z. Scoblic, a writer in Washington, DC, and a contributing editor to The New Republic.
I thought I’d ask her more about what she thinks about life without booze.
1. If you knew all that you do today, what would you have done differently your first year of sobriety?
Sacha: The first year of sobriety is riddled with basic epiphanies most adults have sooner than do addicts (like: Paying bills is not optional and I don’t have to drink just because it’s Arbor Day) as well as turbulent emotions rising to the surface after years of self-medication through alcohol, drugs, and denial. And then there’s this feeling that no one understands your loss, cravings, or anxieties, because all of your friends and acquaintances are drinkers and users, which leaves you alone in the harsh glare of sobriety — chain-smoking and mainlining Diet Coke. So, if I could do my first year differently, I’d go to rehab.
I am always jealous of my sober friends who started out in rehab. Not only did they immediately have a safe, drug-and-alcohol-free environment to begin their journeys (while I walked by bars, liquor stores, and tantalizing outdoor cafés with clenched fists every day on my way home from work in my first months of sobriety); they also had an instant cohort—people just like them, struggling just like them. I, on the other hand, slowly tested out the 12-step waters on my own with a major chip on my shoulder (This feels like a cult! Why are people speaking in unison?) and therefore had no one to talk to or even relate to when I had a craving. At the time, I was more likely to detox with a juice fast than go to an actual rehab detox, because I instinctively sneered at “institutions” and “rules” and “sharing.” But now, I think a 28-day program would have been an incredible jumpstart for me—and for anyone with an addiction.
It took me a long time to realize that a 12-step program was just what this lush needed to walk the line, that I couldn’t stay sober alone, and that each time I white-knuckled my way through the day, I was actually doing it the hard way, the lonely way, the insane way—not the tough-independent-chick way (which is what I told myself). The gift of rehab is the instant support, those ballasts that keep you from white-knuckling it or telling yourself the lie that you can do it alone. Rehab will also provide an introduction to a program I took to long to open up to, one that keeps me sober—even on those tempting walks home from a hard day at work.
2. What has been most surprising about sobriety?
Sacha: For me, sobriety has held a raft of surprises—meted out as I had each of my sober firsts: my first office party sober (Surprise! Making small talk sans elixir with people I barely tolerate is unimaginably hard), my first weekend alone sober (Surprise! It turns out I have no hobbies or discernible interests at all aside from drinking), my first karaoke attempt sober (Surprise! I have no business singing Alicia Keys—ever), my first episode of “The Surreal Life” sober (Surprise! Drunk Sacha had a sensationally low bar for TV).
In early sobriety, I was also constantly surprised at how little most “normal” people drink. In my previous active-alcoholic worldview, any instance where alcohol was served was an obvious occasion to get drunk. Whether it was an office schmooze-fest, a regatta, or a Bris, I found the booze and got down to business. I was always stunned in sobriety to see how few people were drunk at events at which I would regularly and happily get hammered. Even now, I still marvel at all of the half-empty glasses scattered across any dinner-party table I attend. The idea of not finishing a glass of wine is still both perplexing and amazing to me.
Now, with six years of sobriety under my belt, what surprises me are the quieter truths, like the serenity and quality of life I have today thanks to attempting to live in rigorous honesty. As a drinker, I was a schemer. It took a while in sobriety to realize that I no longer had to manipulate every situation or to be the coolest, funniest, most outrageous person in the room. I am amazed by the simple pleasure of telling the truth and hoping for the best. By living honestly, I now also have an authentic relationship with a man who six years ago had been on his way out the door. I have a better sense of who I am, too. I have hobbies other than drinking now—like the easy pleasure of gardening, the intimacy of museum-going, and seeing the world go by at a jogging pace. And I never cease to be thrilled when morning arrives and I do not have a hangover. But, mostly, what surprises me—what astounds me—is how much freaking happier I am sober.
3. What would you tell a young woman—or anyone for that matter—who can’t think beyond her last glass of wine, who can’t imagine a life without booze?
Sacha: I was that young woman. Heck, I used to think I’d never have a child because I couldn’t imagine going nine months without a drink. What I tell anyone struggling with the idea of abandoning alcohol—especially after a real crap day at the office, or a break-up, or a family blow-up—is to ask herself: How is a drink going to improve this situation? Is it going to make my job better? Will it bring back my boyfriend? Will it make my family normal? Nope. In fact, pouring a drink on top of any of those situations just might make them worse—drunk-dialing, anyone? Throwing a depressant (alcohol) on top of a bad day just adds fuel to the fire.
And then there’s the question of potential: What are you meant to do with this life? Because I doubt using alcohol—to the point where you can’t imagine a life without it—is going to help you get there. You’ve got one shot on this ride; make it count. Luckily, there are lots of us comrades out there, and you will never have to attempt the wild feat of getting sober alone.
Photo credit: Kaveh Sardari