Some recovering people call this period the “pink cloud.” That period of time, be it 2 weeks, 1 month, 6 months – where you’re in absolute awe at the world as if you are seeing it for the first time since you were 7. You feel like a kid again, everything is exciting and invigorating and inspiring and you must tell everyone how you feel. You could burst at the seams and sparkling water would flow from your veins.
I call this phase “puppy love,” because it reminds me of that rough patch from infatuation –> long term relationship, which has always been a weird concept for my brain to navigate. How do we cope when the pink cloud of “omg everything is AWESOME” starts to fade? When stolen kisses turn into “not right now,” googly eyes become sleepy eyes and extended date nights are replaced with “let’s just stay in and save money”..
How do I know this is just my crazy neurons finally settling down, and not really a sign that I am making the wrong choice? How am I to know what’s real and good unless my skin literally feels on fire and I feel like I might throw up my own heart?
Alot like a new relationship that’s lost its infatuation-driven “my lover could do no wrong” facade, we quickly learn that being sober is not a cure-all. Eventually, you’ll wake up and realize maybe you have to actually do some introspection, and – here’s the best part (eyeroll) – no matter WHAT terrifying things you might discover about yourself, you have to do it completely sober. For me, and probably most of us, this is uncharted territory covered in an uncharted way – stone-cold present, and painfully, awkwardly, loudly aware.
At the time of this writing, my relationship with Steve is almost 6 months old to the day. We have a wonderful, open, honest, adult relationship where – while we certainly aren’t experts at BEING vulnerable – we could openly discuss issues of shame, stigma, fears and sometimes, on our best days, even how those concepts affected our partnership. In other words, every single part of it was completely uncharted territory for me. For the first time in my life I wasn’t just co-existing in the same little world as someone, but we were relating and communicating and sharing our true selves with one another. For several months things went swimmingly and I thought to myself “wow, is there anything not drinking DOESN’T fix?!” My skin was glowing, my bank account was plumping up and my confidence was through the roof and now – gee, wow! – the perfect relationship with the perfect man. But then, as the reality of life set in around 6 months, just as the last of the confetti of my quit-drinking party was falling, so did the reality of being in like, a real relationship. As we transitioned from the honeymoon (“no YOU hang up first!”) to the wild wild west of long-term relationship land – when I was left jaw-dropped after our first fight thinking everything must be over, if this were meant to be then it would “just work” – the ways in which I have questioned my decision to quit drinking could be found in the echoes here. The same doubts were unfolding in parallel, through both my relationship with my boyfriend and my relationship with drinking/not drinking. If this is how I am supposed to live/if this is who I am supposed to be with, then why does it feel so shitty sometimes?
But here’s that second part: I am now coping with these new stressors, with the dismay of realizing there is no silver bullet, completely sober. Guys, fellow travelers, this is where Lewis and Clark cut the map off: I have no fucking idea how to navigate a relationship completely devoid of alcohol. Every relationship I have since the age of 18 has involved alcohol (and drama) to varying degrees, and I can think of atleast one traumatic incident or fight related to alcohol in each relationship and – I am not realizing this til just now – started by meeting each of these men while actively drinking/significantly drunk. I have no idea how to fight, have sex, flirt, deal with awkward dates or feign vulnerability AKA spill secrets over a bottle of wine (it took me over a month to tell Steve I was divorced and about as long to tell him I don’t drink). Instead of recognizing this new form of stress for what it was, I tried to rationalize it and every moment of vulnerability for me turned into an opportunity to fight. “I’m divorced” became “well maybe you’re too judgmental and that’s why I can’t tell you things.” “I’m realizing I am someone who requires alot of space and alone time” became “omg you’re SMOTHERING me,” “I love you” became “I refuse to say I love you to someone acting so childish right now.” Not only was I denying Steve my vulnerability, but I was snatching his too. Real piece of work.
So that’s it. That’s where we are at. Sorry I made you read through all of this and I don’t even have the secret to sober relationships to offer you, if that’s what you came here looking for. This is something I, we are currently working through. But throughout the process, I now have to – I mean, get to – be present, to feel everything happening in my life and in our relationship, the good with the bad. I am wide awake and every second, every nerve is emanating life and presence. The good times, the joy are purely ours and ours alone – no artificial love buzz to be questioned (except maybe from sugar, but who doesn’t get a little more googly-eyed when said eyes make contact over a Ghirardelli sundae??). The bad times, they sometimes feel worse purely because we don’t have anything to help us forget, to fall asleep, upon which to lay blame for our issues. The bad, is just bad, and its us. This is where we are learning to navigate together. It requires vulnerability and feelings get hurt nearly daily, but we are both putting in the work to build resilience and understanding, something I have never and would never have done while being a drinker.
I am learning now that pain or disagreement or fear (as it arises in both realms of my life, personally with quitting drinking and inter-personally in my relationship) does not mean I have made the wrong choice, that I should question my decision to stay, to change my mind and hit the road and go back to my old ways. There are days where I have this incredible wanting – alcohol, sure, but also for sugar, for attention and companionship, for anything I can waste my money on. Scarcity takes hold; nothing is enough, including my boyfriend and our relationship or me or anything I’ll ever be capable of doing. It’s all distraction, distraction, more more more. A need for escape. But the most beautiful part is that I am able to now recognize it, in both my own mind and in my relationship. I am dismayed to find that stopping alcohol doesn’t and can’t fix everything its broken in its wake, I really am. Sometimes I even shake my fist to God because it just isn’t fair, I did the right thing, I followed my god damn heart, I do yoga, I meditate, I listen to all the self-help podcasts and audiobooks instead of music, I take baths and I don’t eat bread, and here I am having to deal with drama or hard life decisions without anything to numb or ease the way. How dare life?
But you know what, I don’t want to be numb. I want to be here, and present, and I want to backpack this uncharted territory, take it all on with its overgrowth and undiscovered species. And I don’t have to do it alone; I’ve got a compass, a companion and a canteen full of Trader Joe’s Berry Bubbly Mineral Water.