I went to a baseball game this weekend — not the little league kind, but a minor league game, complete with hotdogs, cotton candy … even mixed drinks in the swanky area where we had free passes. I’m no sports fan, but we had good friends visiting who are, and they had invited us to hang out with them.
I knew this would represent a challenge to my sober path, and I do not take challenges lightly this time around. Had they not been great friends who we rarely see, had it not been an afternoon game, had I not been able to leave at any point, I would not have gone. In the past, I have over-accommodated other people to the point of drinking with them so that they would not feel awkward around my sobriety. What a great plan for how NOT to stay sober. Still, I followed this plan to the letter for a long time.
I’d had a lot of caffeine on our drive to the city and was jittery by the time we made it through the gates. The blaring sound system and crowds didn’t help. I knew that feeling: being in a strange environment, feeling a little anxious, needing to relax.
I needed a drink. I could feel it in my bones. It would counteract all of things I didn’t want to feel. It would make everything OK.
As we walked through the crowds, however, the sun came out and my spirits lifted. The smell of popcorn and the kids running around felt like we were at a carnival. It was fun. It was a celebration! People were smiling and laughing and the slanted afternoon light made everything seem surreal. I was at ease and having a good time, but my eyes kept lighting upon the frosty beer mugs, the glowing amber liquid that people held to their lips and drank. I could feel how it would taste … how cold and satisfying, how the bubbles would tickle my nose, how I would gulp it, because it was only beer, after all. But I couldn’t have one. I wasn’t allowed.
A deep sadness washed over me. This isn’t good, I thought. I need to change this. I felt bereft, but it was more than that. It was a physical pain. It was a yearning that hurt my heart, with the same feeling I got when I was trying not to cry.
And then someone in the universe threw me a lifeline with this thought: A meditation book I had been reading suggested separating yourself from your emotions, the theory being that you could maintain some level of control. You are not your emotions, it claimed. Experience the feeling, but from one step removed.
So I let the feeling continue to wash over me and tried to analyze it. Why was it so powerful? It was nothing like yearning for ice cream or food or water. I stepped back mentally and observed myself like I would a child, because that is where the feeling brought me. There was no adult element in this feeling. It could not be reasoned away and it could not be ignored. What was it? I needed to know the power behind the liquid that had flooded my life, that made me still want to open the floodgates, even after the pain and anger and depression and havoc it had caused.
The feeling was heartbreak. And it hurt.
OK, I had named it. Where did that lead me? When had I felt this before?
It was losing my mom in a store when I was young. It was running away from home at five years old and not being able to find my way back. It was accidentally dropping a puppy in the sixth grade and watching it whimper and crawl away. It was knowing the boy I liked but was too shy to talk to liked someone else. It was watching happy groups of people walk around a college campus and not knowing anyone myself. It was being betrayed by a lover. It was watching my own first child struggle to fit in. It was realizing the battle was over, divorce was inevitable, and wondering how to tell my kids. It was loss and grieving and guilt.
It came from a place without words and without reason. And I understood the powerful draw it had on me … on everyone. I honored that feeling for a minute and forgave myself for wanting to drink because I felt like I was losing something irreplaceable and precious … that I was fooled into thinking alcohol was a friend worth keeping.
I breathed in deep and then let the feeling go. And after a few minutes, it was gone. My eyes welled up and I felt an insane gratitude for everything — the crowds, my friends, the sunshine. It was all good. And I was one step further along the path.