What happens when an alcoholic accidentally drinks? Today, we're featuring this question from a reader.
I'm [name] and I’m an alcoholic. To celebrate my two years [anniversary], I went with my girlfriend on a weekend trip to the beach. After dinner we stopped at a local brewery that also has an extensive coffee menu… Instead of just the nitro cold brew the bartender poured me a half beer half cold brew drink and I didn’t realize it until after the first drink. I immediately gave it to my girlfriend and she went and screamed at the bartender and I was so embarrassed that we had to leave.
I'm not too shaken up by the incident. It did bring back a ton of memories, and I craved the taste again for a couple days, but I'm pretty much back to normal writing this roughly a week later. My question is, how do I tell my mom about it? I feel that it is something I need to share with her as she was instrumental in me going to rehab in the first place. My worry is that she will freak out and won’t trust me for a while, or will take it out on my girlfriend every time we visit. Do you have any advice on how to bring it up?
Let's start with some perspective:
Three and a half years ago, alcohol was a permanent fixture in my life. If I were ever served an exceptionally weak drink by a bartender, I was crushed. Those were six heart-wrenching words: "I can barely taste the alcohol."
These days, a different six words are much scarier. "I can almost taste the alcohol" is cause for concern. If I'm at a bar, I ask others to taste my Diet Coke. On vacation, I seek assurance that my virgin piña coladas are, in fact, virgin. As much as I hate sharing my drink, I'd hate to risk my sobriety even more.
What happened to our writer isn't rare. People accidentally consume wine with communion, a soda water turns out to be a vodka soda, the wine reduction at a dinner party isn’t quite “reduced.” The other day, I heard a woman in recovery mention that she and her sober friend were served alcohol on a European vacation. The waiter didn’t say the dessert was made of frozen champagne.
Folks, you know I enjoy a good ride on the high horse. Today, I'm seriously considering taking this pony to righteous indignation town. (Population: Me, almost all the time.) It's a little insane that the world is this oblivious to alcoholics. No, accidentally consuming alcohol doesn't change your sobriety date. No, we won't be flushing away five or ten or twenty years of sobriety with an honest mistake.
But it's not meaningless, either. We might wrestle with whether we secretly wanted the alcohol. (Did we purposefully take the risk?) We might wonder whether safe places like restaurants or coffee shops are really so safe. And for those who were farther along in their disease before quitting, actual physiological cravings might set in with one mistaken gulp. And it's all because the world doesn't make our sobriety a priority.
Personally, I want the waitress to defend me like I'm that annoying kid with a peanut allergy, and she's my hyper-vigilant mother. Is that so much to ask?
Actually, it is.
Like most resentments, this one is fear out-loud. I’m worried about how I would feel if I accidentally consumed alcohol. I’m worried I’m powerless to prevent this from happening. And, on my worst days, I'm worried that the only reasonable solution is isolation: if the world isn't safe, maybe I should just stay away.
I worry less about the phenomena of craving, and more about the phenomena of resentment. Both can get you drunk.
Good thing I thought for a second before I hit "send." Here’s what I told our writer.
I can imagine feeling shaken up, too. As long as you are feeling emotionally and physically recovered from the incident, that's the most important part. I don't personally think it's necessary to tell your mom, but I know that every family works differently.
If I were you, I'd wait a couple more weeks to tell her until you are fully emotionally recovered and it genuinely feels like no big deal, like water under the bridge.
When you do tell her, framing is important. Frame it as a victory - because that's what it is. ("Mom, look what I was able to do. I'm so proud of myself.") You were exposed to the taste of alcohol, which for many alcoholics sets off an insurmountable craving, and you were able to immediately give the drink away. This story just shows how resilient you are and how strong your recovery is.
It's natural for your mom to feel shaken up, and she has permission to have her own reaction, too. Maybe she'll be emotional and play the blame game, or maybe she'll surprise you. However, you get to choose how you respond to her. Be gentle with her, and most importantly be gentle with yourself.
Our writer experienced something scary, and then followed it up with something amazing. Others may or may not see it that way; that's really not the point.
In sobriety - and moreover, in life - we sometimes forget to be our own hyper-vigilant mothers - our own best advocates, our own party planners, our own most enthusiastic cheerleaders. The truth is, if I do something amazing, I'm responsible for making note of it. I'm responsible for throwing the party. (Even if party means buying Oreos and going to bed early.)
Very often, no one else will throw you a party. Not because they're assholes - but rather, because it isn't their job. It's yours. After all, how strange would it be if you were assigned one body to live in, but a wholly separate body to take care of? Chances are you're meant to be the steward of your own soul.
The key to making sure that your victories are acknowledged, that they don’t go unrecognized, is to throw the damn party yourself.