I spent my first sober summer in treatment. I was 22 and my daughter was four. I was “taking time to care for myself,” but really I was just learning how to exist without alcohol as an option.
After the fog cleared and the desperation subsided, I realized how completely unfortunate it was that I had chosen to get my shit together during the most socially acceptable season to get wasted.
From detox, I went to a shelter in downtown Boston. There was (obviously) a swanky little bar across the street, because Boston has no shame in its game, and also because even the lot across from a smelly homeless shelter is prime real estate.
The world had gone right on spinning, when I got sober, and apparently had absolutely no regard for my feelings. I’ll never forget the name of it — The Good Life.
Those words could not have more accurately summed up the way I had felt about my drinking before my mail was forwarded to a homeless shelter. Every single thing I owned was crammed into a big red duffle bag, and no one was taking or returning my calls.
We had to be on our floor no later than 10:00pm, and I would often sit on the sill of the very large window staring at The Good Life. I would watch groups of women my age enter the bar dressed to kill with sexy high heels, my face hot with envy. I would have given anything at that point to go back in time to the fun of all night partying.
Eventually, I would make my way to my top bunk and stare at the ceiling; the sounds of the bar finding their way up every time someone opened the door to enter or leave. The music and laughter pulled so hard at my desire for “normal.” Why couldn’t I be over there instead of here? How had I gotten here from there? What did those girls have that I didn’t?
I would drift off to sleep with these questions on my heart.
Most nights – somewhere around 2am – I would be awakened by people leaving The Good Life. By that time, the scene had changed. The heels had come off, and the laughter turned to tears. Someone was usually yelling. And from that same window across the same street I would sit and watch. Watch as The Good Life lost its luster, and the realities drifted out and away. I could literally smell the disappointment and regret.
Every summer I reflect back on those first months of sobriety, and how none of it was terribly easy. I think of all the people who played a vital role in my existence without alcohol — some intentionally and others completely unaware of their impact.
When I start romanticizing a drink by the pool or convince myself that I miss The Good Life, I think of the relief I felt on the other side of the street at 2am. I think of how I got there and why I stayed. I thank God I got there and stayed; especially when I think of all the bunkmates I lost that year to “one more night.”
I know I’m not the only one who romances maybes and what-ifs, and the anxieties of a global pandemic don’t make it any easier. I imagine the highest rate of increased drinking and reoccurrence after a bout of abstinence, and I know and understand the why. I’m experiencing the pull and desire for escape even now, 20 years without a drink, and as I type this.
Unfortunately for some, The Good Life loses its luster when the clock strikes two. The shiny carriage turns back into a pumpkin, the people we arrived with turn into rodents and scatter, and no one can even be bothered to help us find our wallet, car, or underwear.
It’s okay to miss “the good life,” and sometimes I do. I just also keep in mind the very long, shameful walk that landed me to the other side of the road. I have to remind myself that I am not a Disney princess, and whether or not my story ends happily, is entirely up to me.