Prior to getting sober, I couldn’t imagine spending a Chicago summer without drugs and alcohol. Summer in Chicago is sweet solace after months of dodging ice falling from skyscrapers, wearing two layers of thermal leggings under your pants, and contemplating moving to the West Coast every other day. All of my summers here have revolved around drinking on the harbor; smoking on rooftops with my best friends; going to parties, shows, festivals — all of which seemed to require some level of well-meaning intoxication. How was I supposed to spend a day at the beach without a cooler of beer and a flask of something stronger? How could I possibly enjoy Pitchfork without a personal cloud of pot smoke following me everywhere? HOW WOULD I ENJOY BBQS WITHOUT BLUNTS?! I’ve learned a few things since then:
I can do everything sober that I used to do drunk.
It took some time away from Chicago’s fast-paced, party-centric DIY scene, the theater world, and, unfortunately, many of my friends before I could comfortably socialize without using or wanting to use. I spent much of my introduction to sobriety in the rooms of AA or home alone doing puzzles and sitting out the cravings. However, I’m happy to say that I’ve figured out how to be a person again. The beach is still the beach, with or without my cooler of beer. I’ve replaced the beer with water, and, unsurprisingly, I’ve become better at beach volleyball and not vomiting in the lake! I would rather have BBQs without blunts than no BBQs at all because I will not lie….I love a good brat and potato salad. As for events like festivals, parties, or friends’ artistic endeavors — I’m more present for them when my focus isn’t on where my next drink is coming from. As my mind got clearer, my senses got sharper. Food tastes better now, listening is easier, and I can actually feel the embrace of a hug when I’m blessed enough to receive one.
Summer in Chicago is more vibrant than I remember it being when I was using.
Like I said, my senses were sharpened when I got sober. All of a sudden, I’m out here appreciating sunsets and noticing the coolness of the breeze in the afternoon, and I’m nearly welling up in tears because the city is so damn beautiful. When I was using, it felt like I was existing outside of myself, watching my body walk through life, wearing a human outfit, and pretending to be a functioning adult. I thought I’d be missing out on this city if I got sober, but it turns out I’d been missing it all along.
I have the fellowship of AA now.
It’s so much easier to stay sober when you have sober friends. It’s not necessary to have sober friends, but, for this alcoholic, it’s been a lifesaver (literally). I can hit up one of my sober friends, and my confidence in social situations doubles. If nobody is available to come along, someone is always available to text or talk on the phone. I don’t have to face anything alone if I don’t want to. AA also facilitates tons of sober events. Last summer I went on a sober yacht cruise on Lake Michigan and got a killer tan and had like 45 strawberry smoothies.
Looking back, my summers weren’t that great. Often I spent days inside, paranoid and drunk, writing bad love songs and binge watching The Blue Planet. I held my partner captive as I tried to drown my social anxiety in whiskey. “One more glass and we can go out. I promise.” I think I romanticized my summers so I’d have an excuse not to get sober. Alcoholics are fantastic excuse-machines.
Lastly, I have to fess up. I owe an amends to the citizens of Chicago, my family, and my friends.
I don’t drive in the city. If I did, I’m sure I would’ve gotten behind the wheel drunk. I know this because I chose to ride my bike through the busy streets of Chicago drunk or high every day in the summer. I did it because I didn’t care if I died. Many addicts engage in risky behavior, subconsciously hoping for an accident to occur. I am so lucky I wasn’t injured or killed on my bike in the six years I’ve spent riding recklessly. On one occasion I got lost, had no phone, and had to follow the lights of the city back to where I stayed. On another, I cut myself on something and didn’t notice until I looked down and saw my handlebars covered in my blood. Not once did I consider how my family and friends would feel if I hurt myself or, god forbid, another person as a result of my riding under the influence. Selfishness and self-centeredness are the roots of our troubles, indeed.
Have a happy, safe & sober summer! You can catch me on the beach with my Pamplemousse La Croix and a good book.