Sunday I go to visit my best friend’s family in Panama City, Florida. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen them, and they’re like family to me. When I was a freshman in college I had a room in their house. The difference is that back then we all drank together, and now I’m sober. At first I felt nervous because I haven’t really been around a lot of drinking since I quit, but after talking to my bestie, who I’ll call Kim on this blog, I think it will be fine. They don’t drink as much as they used to when she’s around (she’s sober too), and I don’t mind if they have a drink or two, or even if they get drunk, as long as there’s not a falling-down, throwing-things yelling match. That happens sometimes when alcoholics get drunk.
It’s not like alcohol makes me freak out. When there’s alcohol nearby I don’t start jonesing for some. Drinking is not something I think about very often. While alcoholism is an incurable disease, I don’t obsess over drinking anymore. At the same time, I don’t take it lightly, because I’ve seen people start drinking again after 20 years of sobriety, and I never want that to be my story.
Drunk people are annoying more than anything. I won’t say it’s ever funny, because I don’t find drunk people funny at all, but it’s interesting to watch people act like how I must’ve acted, repeating themselves, stumbling, speaking loudly. It’s like watching a live performance of my previous life. Maybe I can look at it without judgment, of them, of me, and just observe. Even better, maybe I can look at it with compassion, and remember that drinking was once my way of coping with life.
The thing that really bothers me most about alcohol—other than the obvious fact that it destroys lives—is the smell. It just makes me feel nauseous now. It’s worse the day after. The smell of stale alcohol breath—there’s nothing like it. The best way I can think to describe it is that it smells a bit like garlic, and when someone breathes that smell in my face I have to hold my nose because it makes me want to vomit. It also makes me grateful that I don’t have to live that way today, hung over, vomiting, wishing I was at home in bed, or dead.
What’s beautiful to me about my life journey so far is that my oldest sister and my best friend drank like I did, and now they’re sober, and we all got sober around the same time. First my sister quit, which was the catalyst for me to quit, then I quit, and nine months later Kim quit. Even more interesting is that my sister and Kim have become friends in recent years because now they live near each other. I always thought of Kim as my soul sister, and I think of both my sisters as my soul sisters too—all three of them are sisters who I’ve journeyed through many lifetimes together, though we may have had different roles. I believe Steven and my mother are also part of our soul family.
What I really don’t get is why God takes those who are most beautiful. Some might say 66 years is a long time, and while it is a full life, it’s not long enough for the rest of us. How do my father, his father, his uncle, and so many other people live to be in their late 60s, 70s, and even 80s, with this disease that blocks God from them, that keeps them from fully loving others, when my mother, who dedicated her life to be of service to others, had to go? Mom rarely drank, and after my sister and I quit, Mom decided never to drink again. She was so supportive of us, so proud, no doubt more so because her mother couldn’t quit despite Mom’s efforts to help her so many times. Our grandmother finally quit a year before she passed, after she was diagnosed with cancer.
I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t take, he receives. For whatever reason, it was Mom’s time to go. But the rest of us, those of us who linger on, we have more lessons to learn before our time comes. We have miles to go before we sleep.