So asks regular reader Exile on Pain Street in response to my last post.
Great, great question. For the first year or two of sobriety going near anywhere that served alcohol was a major issue. There were some occasions I didn’t have any option. A family wedding only a few weeks after I first got sober was the first real test. I was nervous. I thought everyone in the place would of course be looking and seeing I wasn’t drinking and therefore instantly know that I was an alcoholic. Also how could I take part in the toast? Honestly like a rabbit caught in the lights of a massive truck I was all over the place that day. But frankly there were perhaps 10 people of the 100plus at that wedding that knew. I doubt anyone else noticed and anyway plenty were driving home afterwards so not drinking wasn’t really that uncommon. The toast? Cleverly the organiser, who knew, singled me out to a waitress who appeared quietly and professionally at my side with a bottle of fizzy cordial that was almost identical in colour to the champagne and just said as she filled my flute up “For the toasts sir”. I got through that of course, sweaty, concerned, sharing in meetings and with others before and after – even during in the fact that one close friend phoned in the evening to see if “you are ok”. I’ve learnt to make those calls myself now to others.
Over time though I realised I could go to functions and not drink and not be hounded out of town by hoards of torchbearing pitchfork wielding drinkers to strains of Rush’s Witch Hunt. Apparently most people take no notice and if they do rarely question if you say “I don’t drink” or “Not for me thanks” etc. One of two do question further – I normally start to wonder why, which isn’t my place but I try to attract rather than promote and say things like “I use to drink but it really isn’t good for me. So for some years now I’ve not.” At least one of those conversations has led to that person no longer drinking themselves (without AA which is fine) and a member of their family joining AA subsequently too. So me revealing my recovery in that way helped two others and a family get away from a chunk of unwanted pain.
But what does being in a bar do to me? Nothing normally. I only go to a pub or somewhere where there is drink if I have a really good reason to be there. A party for someone’s 50th or 60th. I’m there to be sociable – again I drive there and back allowing my wife or family to drink if they wish to. That is very important to me. I did once in my early days find myself on a business trip to the USA being driven by someone else. We’d gone to eat with some other colleagues. It was more a bar than a restaurant. There was a game on – baseball I think. It moved from convivial eating to hitting the booze. Shots etc. I was really really uncomfortable and a long way from the hotel, about 10 – 15 miles. In the end I stated I was unwell with a migraine, didn’t want to ruin their fun and paid a fortune for a long cab ride back. Never again! All trips after that I agreed with my boss I had my own hire car so that if I needed I could escape. Always, always have a self-reliant escape route is my advice to anyone in recovery going somewhere where booze is on the agenda. I’ve only used it once again on business trips where a similar unexpected quick meal after work looked to be heading to a night of debauchery. Oh yes – I always tried to stay in a family style inn without a bar on site if at all possible. It’s all about managing the risk sitting in a hotel room feeling sorry for myself separated by an ocean from my family and then hearing the carousing in a hotel bar drifting up the stairwell isn’t a smart move to me.
Whilst I’m back in semi-retirement from my music career (i.e. I can’t get any gigs!) most gigs are in pubs etc. However I’m there again for the reason that I’m performing not to drink. You’d be surprised though how often people want to buy you a pint in those situations but again a request for sparking water etc. saying alcohol ruins my voice (lol!) is a good excuse more often than not easily accepted. There are times though when I’ve been singing in a bar full of people knocking back booze realising that most of my songs have an element of my alcoholism in them but many interpret them as love songs… very true in a way I’m singing about the greatest love I’ve ever had to reject due to it being so unhealthy for me. My wife once said after a gig upstairs at the Lamb and Flag in London “What were you smiling at?” I shrugged it off but seeing people raising bottles to songs which essentially were about my alcoholism just had a massive sense of irony that night for me.
I rarely go to anything that is “just for a drink”. A couple of weeks ago we had a really intense all day workshop in my team which come 5pm we were all mind blown from. I did actually have an appointment later in the evening with my counsellor but there was an hour to kill before then. I walked to the pub with them all, wished them a good night explained I had a previous engagement and left them there. I had a coffee and a sandwich in a coffee bar at the station. I suppose that is my only line – I’ve occasionally gone to someone’s leaving drink or similar but it is rare, I don’t stay long and always have that escape route of my own whether via car, foot, bus or train. I am never reliant on someone else to get me home. That way there is never a reason I have to stay or put someone else out if I have to make an escape. I can’t stress that enough to anyone in recovery my experience is always have an independent escape route and never hesitate to use it if there is any doubt in your mind that you shouldn’t stay where you are.
Is all this a constant? No. On Saturday lunchtime I didn’t even think about it and went to the bar ordered food and drinks and never an issue. However there was a day a while ago when we were in the same place with a larger family group where suddenly I had a bad feeling about approaching the bar. Mrs F was happy to order for me and then just checked when others were talking a while into the meal if I was ok. “Yes but I’m not going in 10 feet of the bar today”. Why was that? Who knows but I know my limits and stick to it – again trust me if I couldn’t have stayed there I wouldn’t have regardless of expense of uneaten meals or embarrassment in front of family etc. I’d have made apologies left the car key with Mrs F and walked home. My sobriety is worth far far far more than any of that but that sort of dumb pride is what kept me drinking for years and could easily take me back there