Does sobriety deliver what alcohol promised?

These days, blogging is a little old-school. Much more common than a blog post is a sentence, or a phrase, or even just a single word typed out against a square backdrop. I’m sure you’ve seen hundreds of posts just like this. They’re pithy. Straight to the point. I, in contrast, approach the point with caution, as if it might hit me or take my money.

Take the image below, for example, which I saw the other day:

“Sobriety delivers everything alcohol promised.” It took me a moment to determine whether or not I agree with that. (A moment is a long time for someone who who walks around compulsively forming opinions.) I actually thought through this one through paper: what did alcohol promise, anyway?

Here’s what I jotted down. Alcohol promised:

  1. You’ll never have to be alone. If you drink, you will always have companionship - in the form of other people who drink.

  2. You’ll never have to be yourself. In those moments where you just can’t tolerate being you any longer, there is an alternative. (Maybe a loud, obnoxious, morose, or thoughtless alternative, but definitely an alternative.)

  3. You’ll always have somewhere to hide. You can be surrounded by people (or thoughts, or feelings) and hide from them (temporarily) at the same time.

Glancing over the above list, I’m not convinced. I don’t think sobriety has really swooped in and delivered any of those things. As much as I’d like to tell the sober-curious that they’ll never have to be alone or uncomfortable or even themselves again, that’s not reality.

But here’s the thing: a happy person doesn’t wish for total self-erasure. A happy person isn’t looking for alter egos, and she isn’t scared to spend a night in. The wish list above was created by an unhappy person. Sobriety doesn’t fulfill alcohol’s promises; it actually fulfills promises of its own. And, spoiler alert: “completely disappearing” isn’t one of them.

Here's what sobriety delivers instead:

  1. You will definitely have to be alone. Sometimes. But you won’t feel ashamed of it. You might actually kind of like it. You might find that your own mind and your own home is a pretty cool place to hang out.

  2. You will definitely have to be yourself. It might be painful at first. But chances are, if you’ve been drinking for a while, you’ll be a bit surprised (and pleasantly so) by who “yourself” happens to be.

  3. There is nowhere to hide. (Sort of.) I’m not going to go so far as to say that, in sobriety, pain will be felt the moment it first strikes. Please. Anyone who is well-practiced in avoidance knows that it can take many colorful forms once alcohol is out of the picture.

That being said. Few hiding places are quite as effective as a drink or a drug. And when you feel like hiding, and you don’t because you can’t, that fear evaporates over time. You actually defeat it - which is way more satisfying than indefinitely avoiding it. That’s the principle behind exposure therapy.

Why do we tell newcomers that sobriety will deliver on alcohol’s miserable, misguided promises? I suspect it’s to get them in the door. I suspect it’s because we know there is actually something far better awaiting than what alcohol ever promised, if they just manage to stick around for it. It’s not water into wine -- in fact, just the opposite -- but it is, indeed, a miracle.