Finding Joy

Before I got sober I thought that I’d have to lock myself in my house to keep myself from going to the liquor store or the bar, and that I’d never have fun again. Lots of TV-watching, maybe an occasional board game with friends I didn’t have at the time but would get one day, probably through whatever boyfriend I had, and possibly an outing to the local bowling alley. Lame.

But when I got sober I found a young people’s group who actually goes out and does things. Fun things. Camping trips, beach trips, amusement parks, events, dinners, dances. The idea of doing all these things sober—and having fun—blew my mind. A part of me felt like maybe it was fun for all of them, who were mostly in their 20s while I was 35, who were extroverted while I was introverted, who were happy while I was not, who liked popular music while I liked indie, who were this while I was that—well they could have fun but I was incapable because maybe I’m just a boring person.

One of my first sober events was a formal dance, when I had only a week sober. I didn’t go on purpose; a woman I’d met had invited me, telling me it was a dinner, and then at the last minute mentioned I should wear a formal dress. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gone. And it seemed so lame at the time, like a wedding or a prom without alcohol. It was in a hotel and everyone was dressed up, and people danced. When I drank I loved dancing, but the thought of dancing sober terrified me. I didn’t even like leaving the house without drinking. I sure as hell didn’t want to talk to anyone without alcohol and no way could I actually move my body, uninhibited, in front of the world without some social lubricant to release those fears, some liquid courage. Luckily lots of women there were nice to me, and they talked to me, which made me feel comfortable. And I didn’t dance that night, or any other nights after that for a good four years.

Then my husband and I split up, and I decided I’d try getting out more. I tried another dance, and something amazing happened. I had fun. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought because this is what I enjoy doing, and I can either lament the fact that I’m too afraid to do something that gives me joy, or I can just push through the self-consciousness and move with the music. The funny thing is that it turns out just about everyone feels the same as I do. Since that time I’ve had dozens of conversations about how self-conscious everyone else feels, how weird it is in the beginning to dance without drinking, to be at an event without alcohol. Almost everyone feels like they’re not a good-enough dancer, or that they look funny.

Last night I went to a 90s-themed dance, which is really my decade, because I started high school in 1990 and graduated college in 1999 (I was on the five-year plan in which I took a year off to focus full time on partying). Although I’m almost 39 now I still have fun dancing, because dancing knows no age limit. Last night was even more fun than usual, because although I still love to dance, I still get in my head about who’s dancing with whom, why no one dances with me, whether or not I look funny, how half the people there were born in the 90s yet know all the words to “Santeria” by Sublime when I don’t because I was a music snob from early on and Sublime just wasn’t “underground” enough for this Smiths-loving, PJ Harvey-worshipping, brooding artsy persona I’d created for myself (which clearly served me well, isolating myself from everyone so I could feel superior), when really I like Sublime just as much as everyone else. But last night was different because I just allowed myself to dance wherever with whomever and not let the high-school worries of how that group over there looks more fun than this group I’m in, because I have the grass-is-greener syndrome and no matter where I go I have this old idea that something’s better somewhere else.

I’m grateful that I’ve made the decision—or really, the decision has been made for me—to stay in Maryland and allow the roots that have taken hold to ground me here in this place where I’ve found a home and my chosen family, a network of women and some men who have shown me how to live. Because I’ll still be here, wherever I choose to dance. I’ll still be me. No amount of worrying about how much more fun or easier it will be if I dance across the room with a different group of people will make anything better for me—in fact, I feel worse when I spend my time focusing on what I don’t have here and now. Because the joy can be found right here and now, inside of me.

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