This weekend I went out.
Yes, I left the comfort of my own apartment and the safety of Lars’ apartment, with their respective cats, and got out into the real world of 20-something America.
My friend from rehab and I went out to support a few of our friends from the program in their various metal bands, who happened to be performing together. It was a free event with four bands down in Portland’s East Industrial district. I was excited, not only to go out with my friend, but, to get back out there. I feel like I’ve been cooped up, in hiding, for months. I’m not really one to go out on my own, especially without a drink in my hand, and it’s been hard to find things in sobriety that are stimulating without being tempted to drink or use before, after, or during.
My friend and I met at her apartment and did our hair and make-up. Something I rarely spend time on. It felt nice to primp and prepare. But, it also brought on those anxious feelings of needing to impress. That weight of judgement. Something that I impose on myself and then assign to others. But, regardless of its origin or significance, it’s a pressure that I began to feel building in my chest.
We left the apartment and headed to the grocery store where we bought, and pounded, sugar-free Red Bull. I chain smoked as we drove to the venue. Nervous as all hell. And, my friend was feeling stressed too. We’re both still getting used to doing “normal” things in sobriety. It’s hard to readjust to a life that had such ease when you had a few drinks in you just to relase the tension. Now, everything tightens and palpitates in real time, and there isn’t that magic, healing relief that liquor always provided.
When we arrived at the venue, metal-heads stood, clad in leather, smoking out front. My friend and I continued to chain smoke before we both decided we should just bite the bullet and head inside. As we entered the dark venue, presented our IDs, and got our wrists stamped, I felt my stress fall on my shoulders like an iron vest. There was the bar.
The crowd gathered around it like an oasis, grasping at beer cans, mixed drinks, and twirling straws. With each drink purchase I watched, I observed that ‘settling in’ feeling buying a drink provides. That comfort. The old routine of, I’m here, let’s get a drink, OK, now I’m ready. My friend and I ponied up to the bar and ordered more Red Bull. It should have occurred to me that the excess of caffeine that I’d consumed in the last twenty minutes was only further contributing to my rising anxiety, but, I needed that can in my hand. I needed something that gave the impression that I’m here, I’m cool, and I can hang.
So, we eased ourselves in, listened to the first band on the bill. I looked around me, surveying the crowd. I wondered if anyone had noted that I wasn’t drinking. I just had a Red Bull. Did they know? Did they know I was in AA? Did they think I was underage and had sneaked in? My line of thinking was ludicrous. I suggested to my friend that we go smoke after the first set. I needed air. I needed my mind to stop running. I wondered, will this ever be comfortable? I hate feeling so, othered.
Outside, God gave me the reminder that I needed. The wake up call. The return to reality. Yes, the Sloppy Girl.
As we stood against the wall smoking, we saw her coming. She stumbled haphazardly and uncontrollably toward us, rushing, loudly, to hug a friend of hers that was smoking next to us. Her coat fell from her shoulders in the cold air, and her feet could barely sustain her stance. She crashed into the black, metal railing across from us, practically falling over and cracking her head open. She righted herself, and shrieked out a laugh at her own expense. People stared, appalled at her ridiculous and obnoxious behavior.
In that moment my friend and I looked at each other and shared a knowing glance. This was why we had gotten sober. This, at one point or another, was me. Though, I was never quite so loud as the woman before me, I too was easily toppled. I thought I was on top of the world. I thought that nothing could hurt me. I thought everyone wished they were as cool as I was, but, no, I was this woman, this sad and pitiful mess.
All my anxiety melted away. I may not be drinking, but, the soda water that I was now clutching looked as good as any mixed drink. And here I stood, upright, cognizant and chatting with my friend. I’d escaped this fate, narrowly, but, I had. And, whatever I was in that moment, anxious, uncomfortable, different, I was not the spectacle I’d imagined myself to be. This girl was the spectacle.
After the show, I drove my friend home. We had had a good time. And yes, it was different. It wasn’t like going to a show drunk. It was an opportunity to be present. To hear the music, feel the bass vibrating through the floor. I felt it. The show was the show, not the accompaniment to the drink. And, it felt good to drive home, safely, and take a hot relaxing shower before bed.
I’m not that sloppy mess anymore, and, it was good to witness, firsthand, what a blessing it is to have this new, different life.