The first thing I did when I got sober was immediately tell everyone that I was sober like, for real sober, like for EVER sober, like would never drink again one hundred percent like, I was an alcoholic sober. Like please treat me differently but also not differently but also ask me for incredibly deep thoughts on life etc because, after about a week of not drinking, I was pretty sure I’d figured out how to not drink and why I’d drunk so much and why I had waited to long to get sober but now I was just going to do it, and did anyone want to have their minds blown by the fact that I used to drink and now I didn’t or to be more accurate hadn’t, for a few days at least. And then the second thing I did when I got sober was pitched a story about it to an editor because if I couldn’t mediate my experience in public, I realized very quickly, I wasn’t going to be able to mediate it at all.
At the time, I was writing a monthly food column for a local fashion/cool stuff magazine, and I pitched my editor on writing a column about how I, low-key kind of a genius let’s face it, had gotten sober (for real, forever, etc etc) and I don’t remember exactly his answer but it must have been moderately positive because a few months later, an essay ran in which I talked about how I used to be mean to people with food allergies, but now I wasn’t, because I myself had a form of food allergy: alcoholism. Which was very very serious and no one should treat me any differently except that everyone should applaud and laud me all the time for the incredible strength of character and dedication and just general amazingness that I was representing simply by not taking a drink today.
Days turned into weeks. Into months. I left one relationship and got into another one. “No I’m like an alcoholic sober,” I said, to anyone who asked, and many who didn’t. At one party I’d be sure that everyone was noticing that I was drinking seltzer instead of vodka tonics; at another I’d wonder why no one had noticed, or asked me to bestow upon them the meaning life in the form of my deep thoughts about sobriety, thoughts that were mostly along the lines of, thank god i’m okay now, thank god i’m safe now, but that I still always thought might turn into some kind of poetic art, if pushed.
After six months, I’d stopped being able to sell essays about my sobriety. Maybe this is because my sobriety, by this point, consisted of just trying really really really hard not to drink, and somehow successfully not actually putting alcohol in my body, though I still went to bars, went to afterparties, passed plates of cocaine around, made out with people who’d done cocaine and got a mini contact high, offered to buy people drugs, went to the same Lower East Side street I’d bought so many drugs at, and basically clamped down on my entire self so hard that I wouldn’t actually ever have to ask for help. My sobriety wasn’t actually a present thing so much as a keening daily absence, a total lack. All I could feel that I was doing was not drinking. Not drinking was its own activity. Beyond that, I had no interests. Apparently my only interests had ever been: drinking, buying drugs, regretting what I’d done while drinking, doing every mental trick I could to shut my mind down so that I wouldn’t remember what I’d done, apologizing while having no idea what I was actually apologizing for, and repeat.
What was I waiting for?
Honestly, I was waiting to be discovered. I was waiting to sell a book. I was waiting for an editor to tap me on the shoulder and say something like, hey, I’ve seen you at the parties, and I’ve seen you with your seltzer and would you like to blow my mind.
But that didn’t happen. Neither did my fallback plan, which would have been getting tapped on the shoulder by a magazine editor. In my defense (this entire thing is in my defense), it was 2007 and most of the people who ended up getting sober after I did hadn’t gotten sober yet.
I’m a trailblazer! I was a pioneer!
One night, walking through Union Square, I ran into a friend I’d done a lot of drugs with. “I’m sober now,” I said, unprompted, because I didn’t have any other activities or thoughts to report, and then I said something like, “and I feel weird abut it,” and he said, “don’t worry, you’re not the only, you’re just the first,” and he was right.
This is the part where now I am supposed to be humbled and learn a lesson about something, but that didn’t happen, not for five more years, not until a cyst in the center of my brain ruptured and with it my life, at least the life I’d always thought I’d wanted. Instead, I asked for help and started hanging around other sober drunks, and the first thing I thought was, “I’m going to write about this.” I didn’t really care that there were traditions about not really talking about the thing, that there were writers who had gone before me and somehow managed to both have vibrant careers and talk around recovery without ever naming the thing that was the thing that kept them sober. Maybe they needed to do that. But me? I was smarter than that. I was cannier. Craftier. My approach, I thought, would be so wrenching, and so perfect, that the entire totally un-organized organization would say, you know what? “We have found our spokesperson!”
No one wanted a book about the minuscule amount of time I’d spent barely listening to people who had so much to teach me. And then no one wanted a book about nothing in particular besides how angry I was at everyone else, who wasn’t an alcoholic, and didn’t have to deal with this shit. And no one wanted a book about how much of a total brilliant exception I was, and how I’d gotten sober by myself, and so slowly I stopped thinking about exactly how I was going to articulate this particular experience in print, and very very very slowly started just … having it.
A friend of mine, Allison, a few years later, right around the time my brain exploded and with it my life, said that as soon as you start living life in capital letters you’re in trouble. WE’RE OUT OF TOILET PAPER I’M A SOBER ALCOHOLIC. That sort of thing.
That’s how I’d lived for thirty years. Everything in capital letters, all the time, everything as important as everything else, and most of all everything some kind of creative exercise in brilliance and posturing and ego and stock-taking and comparing and judging, and until Allison told me to maybe stop recovering in capital letters, everything everyone said to me was still at a remove.
The trick, as I learned it, wasn’t ever that I was particularly bad or wrong. I didn’t come to these answers because of something wrong with me. It was just that I didn’t have any idea how to live life not as a creative exercise. I got into and out of relationships because I knew they’d make a good story. I justified incomprehensibly cruel behavior by convincing myself that I was some kind of artist living outside the bounds of workday and ordinary responsibility.
And I finally wrote that book.
Eva Hagberg Fisher is the Author of “How To Be Loved” a memoir about asking for help. It can be purchased here.