Sober on Valentine's Day

Maybe Valentine's Day stress you out. Maybe you can’t imagine a sober one. Or maybe it's no big deal for you; maybe you'd even forgotten about it it until now.

(If I just saved you an awkward interaction with your partner, you're welcome.)

In the scheme of holidays, drinking for me was less central to Valentine’s than, say, New Year’s or Independence Day. Blessedly, Valentine's Day was a day to be celebrated with only one other person, when I had such a person, and with no one at all when I didn't. In general, the fewer people, the less I needed a drink. Theoretically, that meant Valentine's Day could be downright temperate.

Of course, it never was - but it could've been.

Please notice the rainbow flowers so that we can move on.

In one sense, I haven't had a sober Valentine's since I was 15. No, I haven't been drinking since then - alcohol terrified me right up until college - but I've been acting out my alcoholism in other ways. To me, alcoholism is defined by my desire to stifle or sublimate unpleasant, inconvenient, or confusing feelings. I've been doing that for as long as I can remember.

At 16, I had a rather scarring Valentine's Day with my high school boyfriend, the result of poor communication and exceptionally strong Christian guilt. At 17, I belabored the question of how to communicate my too-strong feelings for my best friend. The following year, I was sober and silent as I sat in a too-nice restaurant with a handsome stranger I'd only spoken to drunk. We would date for over a year, but at every subsequent outing I would remember to bring a game to generate conversation.

Romance is hard work, folks.

Those were the years before I drank in earnest. And when I quit, the disease persisted. I still needed to hide from myself. On my first sober Valentine's - at which point I was a mere three weeks without a drink - my plans to get high with a wonderfully distracting stranger fell through. The following year, I was busily silencing feelings for someone I liked but around whom I felt terribly inferior. By the following year at that time, he and I were bored of each other, and three days from a breakup. Last year, my boyfriend and I elected not to celebrate. He brought flowers and chocolate anyway, and I felt scummy. We weren't going to do anything - but why hadn't I known to do something anyway?

Re-reading these words, it strikes me that Valentine's Day has never been much fun. It's the perfect storm of intimacy and expectations, both of which freak me out. Even though I'm sober from alcohol, reflecting on the Valentine's of yesteryear reminds me of the things from which I'm not yet sober: from shame, self-blame, from searching for security in others that I can only find in myself.

In the scheme of things, Valentine's Day without alcohol isn't that hard. I'll save any FOMO for July 4th. But a truly sober Valentines? A day where we challenge the patterns that long preceded (and arguably caused) our first drink? That's uncharted territory. And way too much to fit on a Hallmark card.