There are people from my past that are best left there. There are those too who deserve a slot in my sober life.
But, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. So many of my friends were drinking friends, bartender friends, restaurant industry friends. Friends whose lives still center around alcohol in some way, alcoholics or not. It’s a tough spot to navigate, knowing my limits, respecting theirs without being a killjoy or an AA zealot.
One of my best friends, we’ll call him George, was, and still is, the bartender at my old pub. The pub where I lived. George and I go way back. George has seen me at my worst. Pulled me out of my car after I’d driven home in a blackout and put me on my couch. He’s walked me home from the pub at 3:00AM, struggling to hold me up as my legs collapsed under me. And after all that, he still called himself my friend.
I’d walk into the pub the next night, after an incident I didn’t even recall, and George was my friend. And, it wasn’t because I tipped him or entertained him. It wasn’t because I was a pretty girl at the bar drawing in business. It wasn’t because he had to, because he didn’t have to. He cared about me. And, of all the people in my drinking life, he was probably the most excited of the whole lot to hear I was going to rehab and sobering up. He never judged me, but, he knew that I was close to hitting bottom. He bit his tongue, but, he cared enough to be excited for my grand exit from the pub.
When I started rehab, I stopped going to the pub, even for a snack and a soda. I only had to walk by it, or glance at it as I drove to the corner, and tears filled my eyes. Sober or not, it had been my home for the better part of two years. And, the employees and regulars there had seen me through the biggest crisis of my entire life. They protected me and sheltered me. And, saying goodbye, well, my heart still swells just thinking about it.
George would send me text messages: “I miss you. But, I’m so glad to NOT see you here tonight.”
I missed him too. But, I couldn’t even bring myself to meet him for lunch somewhere out and about town. I thought that seeing his face alone would move me to tears. Take me back to that warm place inside. The place where I idolized the pub, reveled in its healing grace. I was afraid. George was the face of the home of my alcoholism. The shrine where it was OK to be my miserable, drunken self.
So, when George texted me and invited me to go to the opera with him, I paused. We had been before. A regular at the pub gets free tickets and always gives them to George. I love going to the opera. But, I wasn’t sure how seeing George, after all this time sober, would feel. I couldn’t say what it would stir up in me. But, without stewing too long, I accepted his invitation.
Tonight, George and I drove across town, ate dinner, and went to the opera. It was strange, my friend and I, catching up. I caught a glimpse of the huge changes I’ve undergone, and, a glimpse of the past and how the people there have stayed the same. A flux that’s not something I can explain. A curious time warp where everything is as it was, but nothing is the same. It was sad and beautiful.
George is still the caring man I knew. Upstanding. Proud and fatherly in his adoration and concern. His respect for me unwavering, his stature still grandiose and strong. It’s me who’s changed.
I wiggle in my various seats. The car. At dinner. In the theatre. This new skin I’m in feels tight. It’s hard to be someone new when you face your past and try to place it in the present. Something is lost in translation. But, there are still those comfortable elements of home that feel natural.
George drove me home. We embraced. His arms let me know that while I may be gone in a sense, I’m still remembered and loved. And, it was nice to be reminded of that. Nice to be reminded that the thing to which I once belonged, still holds me dear, even in my absence.
Then, George drove away. I stood on my stoop and lit a cigarette. It was a lovely night. And, as his car turned the corner, his eyes set dead ahead, I knew.
He needed a drink.