On Sobriety: Back to Day Zero

For the past several months – almost six months, in fact – I’ve been working on my sobriety. By “working on,” I mean that I haven’t had a drop of alcoholic beverage or so much as a Vicodin to numb the hard pinch of reality. And to be honest, it’s been the best time of my life.

I’ve been reflecting lately on what I’ve accomplished with the money and time that I would have previously squandered on alcohol. I’ve returned to school; I took my lovely boyfriend on a lovely trip to Vegas for his birthday. Thanks to the lack of empty calories, I lost enough weight to need an entirely new wardrobe; and thanks to the newfound income stream, I was able to afford it.

Over the weekend, Eston and I were out of town for a bit of decompression. We went out to get lunch on a busy Saturday afternoon, stopping at three crowded establishments before happening on a quiet pub.

I’ve learned over the past few months about the importance of substitutes. Dealcoholized wine and nonalcoholic beer have been lifesavers; they allow me to hang out with my friends in a variety of environments without social discomfort, and they provide the psychological relaxation and meditative actions inherent in drinking, all without the inconvenience and unpredictability of an alcoholic buzz.

So going to bars is no challenge for me. On this particular occasion, I sat down at the pub’s bar and asked the bartender for a nonalcoholic beer. He recommended a wheat ale facsimile that was supposed to be a great interpretation of the original; some Belgian beer maker actually made both a traditional and an alcohol-free variety. I asked for a bottle of the nonalcoholic version in a glass with a lemon.

The bartender dug a bottle out of the bottom of a cooler, poured it, and tossed the bottle into a large trash can.

As I sipped the wheat ale, I was surprised at how remarkably like beer it tasted. It had the same creamy fullness of a Heffeweizen, and the lemon was wonderful.

For some reason, we began chatting about nonalcoholic beer varieties and brands. The bartender mentioned that his mother, a nondrinker, also enjoyed the taste of beer and drank quite a few nonalcoholic beverages as a result. I had recently discovered Bitburger Drive, a nonalcoholic German beer that was wonderfully hoppy. He mentioned that Guinness made a nonalcoholic beer, but that it wasn’t anything like their traditional stout. I joked that if Guinness made a nonalcoholic stout, I’d have quit drinking ages ago.

The wheat ale was amazing. I asked the bartender what the brand was again. I enthused aloud, “I can’t believe this isn’t really beer!”

A couple minutes later, about a third of the way through the glass, I noticed something barely perceptible but enormously uncomfortable. It was almost as though a thin, hazy, tingling veil was beginning to materialize a few inches from my nose. A feeling that, though I had not felt it for almost half a year, was as familiar to me as my own name.

I started to panic; I thought I was imagining this feeling. A placebo effect.

I handed my pint glass to Eston and asked him what it tasted like. I don’t remember what he said; all I knew was that I wanted to see that bottle. I needed to be sure. The nonalcoholic beer was starting to seem too good to be true, as far as its taste was concerned, and too bad to be true, considering what I thought I was beginning to feel.

Eston asked the bartender if he could see a bottle of the nonalcoholic beer. The bartender again went to the bottom of the cooler. He looked confused. He pulled another bottle from under the bar. They were identical.

“Oh my god,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”

My face immediately fell into my hands. I was crumpled in half and sobbing as Eston led me out of the bar. I sat with him on a stoop outside, cursing myself for my stupidity.

It tasted too real to not be beer; even though I hadn’t had beer in almost six months, I should have known. I should have asked for the bottle, not the beer itself in a glass. I should have been more careful.

And I felt so violated. My sobriety – the one thing that stood between me and certain personal, professional, and financial doom – had been taken away from me against my own choice. I wanted to sue that bar into a crater.

More than anything, I hated that feeling, that so-familiar veil that had begun to wave in front of my face. That feeling had been the precursor to the darkest times of my life, some of which I only know were as bad as they were because of their consequences, since I lost hours and whole days to physical activity accompanied by mental blackness.

As I began to come to grips with what had just happened, I mourned the loss of progress. Six months of work, gone. I told myself what I’d heard in every AA meeting I’d ever been to: that I now had to start over, that today was day zero of sobriety for me.

Humans are so enamored of metrics. We love to enumerate. We love birthdays and anniversaries. We love percentages, grades, pounds and ounces. Measurement is, in fact, our core method for evaluation. But numbers only represent a small part of the world around us; the most important values we have defy enumeration. We can’t come up with a metric for love, for example.

While I might have plummeted to “day zero” of my sobriety, I hadn’t willfully relapsed, as I had, in fact, done in the past. I hadn’t gone on a bender. I hadn’t lost sight of why I was sober. I hadn’t lost my desire to remain sober or my love for a sober lifestyle.

Day zero, yes. Rock bottom, absolutely not.

Although I lost something that was precious to me, it was just a number. The greatest treasure I’ve uncovered this year hasn’t been the painstaking accumulation of days without drink or drugs. It’s been slowly realizing that I don’t hate myself enough to destroy myself with booze. It’s been regaining the respect of my peers and family and the love of my partner. Most of all, it’s been learning how to confront my problems like an adult, and being able to take pride in that.

This incident also served to assuage a fear I had when this journey started. I had relapsed in the past; how could I be sure I wouldn’t relapse again? Having a taste of that alcoholic buzz, I very quickly realized how important my sobriety is to me and that on every level – emotionally, spiritually, logically, and fundamentally – I do not want to drink or use. And I will not willingly relapse.

In the end, I still do regret the loss of “my number,” but during a lifelong commitment to sobriety, six months won’t make much of a difference. And I’m grateful to have this confirmation of my commitment, that there’s something fundamental inside me that absolutely does not want to drink.

I’ve been counting the days of my sobriety in a journal I keep; it served to reassure me of my progress. What I understand now is that the number did not inherently hold the lesson; the number was never the point.

22 thoughts on “On Sobriety: Back to Day Zero

  1. Your perseverance is inspiring, Jolie! The relapse, in this case, was not your fault, yet you’re willing to assume responsibility and make sure it doesn’t happen again. This is the sign of a truly changed woman! Keep up the good work, and, day 0 or day 1,000, take it a day at a time.

  2. Wow, that’s a tough lesson to learn but you should be proud of what you’ve done…not only in the months leading up to this but also in realizing what happened and reacting so strongly. That’s the sign of the will not to go back. I have a cousin who recently went through rehab & told me about recognizing all of the benefits you’ve mentioned. I only hope he’s got the same drive that you do if he’s ever in the same position.

  3. This is my mantra, which I like to recite during meditation when I’m having a hard time quieting my mind, and I think it fits well with this story:

    Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe. As much as the trees and the stars you have a right to be here. And whether or not you understand them, things are unfolding as they should

  4. Wow. This post is honest, focused, practical and flat-out inspiring. It’s not the “drug” that drags us down, you put into perspective thats it’s the reliance on something besides reality that persuades us to keep going back, not forward. Thanks for your thoughts and perspective.

  5. You nailed it. You didn’t purposefully or recklessly cave in to your own bad habits, it was an honest mistake. Your response is far more a vindication of your commitment than an indictment. You were torn up precisely because you are so determined to build a healthy lifestyle. That’s good news! And its an inspiration to all of us who, one way or another, fight our own little demons every day. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Recently I wrote on my ‘sober journal’ something very similar to your “The greatest treasure I’ve uncovered this year hasn’t been the painstaking accumulation of days without drink or drugs. It’s been slowly realizing that I don’t hate myself enough to destroy myself with booze.” Somehow it’s reassuring to see those words on someone else: through your strenght I grow stronger too, thank you.

    Keep it up! Even though this is the first post I’ve read from you, I can tell you’ve come a long, long way and you have to be proud of that. Congratulations on the confirmation of your commitment to yourself!

  7. Congratulations, Jolie. When I’m training for my fights, it’s always a refreshing breather to experience the fullness that life offers without the poisons that we are so accustomed to (caffeine, alcohol, among many others (refined sugar!)).

    Keep up the good work and don’t look back!

  8. Back in high school I brought a case of beer to a party. At first my friends thought I was the bomb diggity for managing to snag the real deal. You should have seen the look on their faces when they found out it was actually N/A (i.e. Buckler’s). I had to finish it all myself, and to this day they never let me forget about it. LOL

    While you’re on your journey, try not to pay too much attention to this Time article on why heavy drinkers outlive nondrinkers.


    Keep up the great work!

  9. I know the bartender made a mistake but it’s an unconscionable one for someone in his profession to make. Period. What if you had not been someone whose condition is in hand? If you were someone who teetered closer on the brink of deep alcoholism, his negligence could have been a serious disaster. Not altogether different from the sloppy server who once gave a friend of mine who has heart trouble a caffeinated coffee after very very strict and specific instruction that it HAD to be decaf. Her palpitations almost led her to pass out.

    I commend you for being strong … and while technically you reset the clock, you do not start over … especially as I saw in your other post for which comments are closed, you have regained a sense of spirituality that is really at the core of all of this anyway. Brava to you.

  10. I say keep the number! I’ve been off of alcohol for more than a year now. However, there were occasions where a few sips of alcohol creeped in because the pressure to look like I’m drinking only gave me a choice of fist fights or do a sip or two. It sucks but it happens.

    Just as I was celebrating over a year of no drinking, I had a shot of tequila. It was a good occasion and I drank it. My head swirled and for a minute my whole world seemed to implode. It was a strange feeling. However, I braced myself. I stopped right there. For the rest of the week I couldn’t shake the sensation. “Wow, I had a shot of tequila”.

    The dumb thing to do is to go into self-blame and torture myself. I knew from falling off a variety of wagons that, this is where I forgive myself and move on. Do I want to throw away a year of dryness and prove that I am dependent on alcohol and trash all my self-esteem? NO. So I pretended not to see alcohol, which became practically invisible until that tequila. Now I’m back to where I was.

    I still say, “I haven’t touched alcohol in over a year” and I think you should hang onto that streak because you deserve it and it’s more powerful. It’s not day zero again. It’s 6 months – 1 day. It takes way more control to have a drink and then pull it back together. You did great! Just keep trying to keep the 1 day from incrementing. Also, ditch the substitutes. Anything you replace alcohol with is alcohol unless it’s water or tea (fake beer, soda, coffee, or anything with caffeine) quickly occupy that empty space. I went crazy on Red Bull and coffee during the last year until I realized, “this seems familiar”.

    I’m so grateful that I’m not an alcoholic because then I wouldn’t have the luxury of “one sip”.

  11. Wow, that’s so terrible the bartender didn’t check the bottom. After trying to quit drinking, I caved to peer pressure after one month of absolutely no alcohol and felt as if I was back to square zero. I totally understand how you felt (but even worse as it wasn’t even your own choice!) I love how you phrased it “But numbers only represent a small part of the world around us; the most important values we have defy enumeration. We can’t come up with a metric for love, for example.”

    Your blogs posts are so inspirational and phrased so eloquently. Thank you for this post. ❤

  12. “-Day zero, yes. Rock bottom, absolutely not.” We are proud of you- but just know that if you hit rock bottom, I will come get you.

  13. It definitely feels different to practice sobriety after a long period of time being used to drinking. I had a good 8 years of drinking which started off at a young age of binge drinking in high school and college to regular daily drinks after work or at work with co-workers daily as well. It was blacking out several times–1 is even too many–which brought me to a low point in my life as well. I had to quit drinking and didn’t drink for several months, possibly 8 to 10 months, I don’t recall. However, what I did learn was restraint.

    No one needs to drink themselves into oblivion. If you drink anymore than just a few drinks, you are headed down a dangerous path. At least if you have a problem with drinking, and lets face it, if you drink more than a few drinks you probably have a problem. I treat alcoholic drinks just like any other beverage nowadays. If you drink 8 capri suns, yoohoos, pepsis or jolt colas in a day, you probably also have problems. One has to overcome the idea of alcohol as way to get away from one’s own thoughts and problems. They seem to return tenfold when a hangover hits.

    Its very brave of you to bear your soul about this topic to those that you don’t know and some that you do on this blog. I’m sure you’re bf and family appreciate this positive change in your life and enjoy having the non-inebriated Jolie back in their lives. I was going to say cheers (bad choice of words), but I’ll leave it at Kudos to your sobriety. 1 day sober is much more impressive than none.

  14. Remember that you didn’t “loose” the six months of sobriety, You still were sober during those entire six months, the half a beer or whatever it was doesn’t take that away from you. Build on your knowledge of sobriety one day at a time, and remember that the day count doesn’t mean anything, all that matters is that you don’t drink right now, in the moment, this day.


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