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When I Got Sober

By Alex Tichelaar

Two years ago, I decided it was time for me to stop drinking. As so many of you who have wrestled with addictions know, this is not always a straightforward resolution. I have tried to get sober in the past. Tried is the wrong word. There was no try, to half paraphrase Yoda. This time was different though. No, it really was.

First of all, I was 43 and the idea of becoming (and continuing to be) a crepey-chested, white wine spritzer-drinking cougar blew me away too much. Secondly, well, I dunno, I guess I was just really fucking fed up of being a being a shy asshole masquerading as a loud bitch. Sure, it was funny when a twenty year old tried to pick me up one night and I turned to her all cross-eyed and said, “I’ve had abortions older than you”, but I think I’ve said enough outrageous things. I really have.

Over the past 2 years, I have not maintained perfect sobriety. That is why, when I go to my AA meetings, I do not pick up chips anymore. For example, I found being sober in Cape Town completely impossible. I drank there because I needed to get through a stressful work situation, which was compounded by that haircut all the Cape Town queer femme types have — the one with the little bangs and artfully positioned tendrils — it drives me mental. I had to be given an Ativan at a book convention several months back because I spent a lot of time shit-faced at literary events being deliberately provocative, and I was unhappy just standing in a corner not being recognized or flirted with.

At MCQP in December, after working myself into such a state of panic over possibly running into people I didn’t want to run into, I found myself reeling across Cape Town's streets at 6am, bristling with Ritalin and tequila. Know your provocations. Mine seem to be Cape Town, writers and groups of lesbians.

I joke about these things, but now that I have experienced being sober far more than being drunk, I want sobriety more than anything. I am very aware that I will always have to be cautious of what makes me want to drink. Life was so unhappy and so goddamn lonely towards the end of my nearly 30 year relationship with alcohol, and to see people I have rarely engaged with outside of a deep state of denial makes me very anxious. I have been horrible, yes I have. I have been imperious, odd and unpredictable, overly friendly then completely dismissive. I was very liberal with the “vexting” as well.

I am an introvert who has been impersonating an extrovert for the better part of my life. I don’t know a lot of things about myself for certain, but I do know that I am not meant to be a drunk. The sadness and confusion and self-doubt that dwell in me are not massaged into genius by liquor. They are better addressed with kindness and calm.

I am too easily swayed by what people imagine I am, and inclined to act that out without any consideration for who I really am. When you are an active alcoholic, nobody knows who you are because you don’t know yourself. We all have personal narrative we tell ourselves. I cannot hear the real one if I keep carving one out based on other peoples’ experiences with me, experiences that have ultimately been confusing and painful.

From Chapter 8, Because I’m an Alcoholic of AA’s Big Book: “I drank as long as there was any alcohol around. It was a reflex. I don’t remember liking the taste, but I liked that it seemed to bring me to life and get me through a date or a party able to talk. It moved me outside of that hole I felt in myself and lowered the wall I created between me and any person or situation that made me uncomfortable.”

The expression being “brought to life” is something I think about a lot. Alcohol brought me to life. By that I mean it brought me places I didn’t want to go but felt I needed to, to fit it. It brought me to a life I thought I was supposed to have—as a creative person, a wild one, a renegade. I felt I needed to be seen, that if people saw me it meant I was alive and I mattered. But I am the one who looks, a person who notices things. And I can’t see if my vision is always blurred.

I’m Alex. I am an alcoholic, an addict, gay and an atheist. And this is what happened when I decided I would get sober.

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