Life hack: Do a lot of reckless, dumb and dangerous shit at a very young age, and by the time you’re in your mid to late 20s, you’ll have gotten it out of your system.
I’m 26. I’m old enough to no longer qualify for my parents’ health care plan, but I haven’t yet escaped the “27 Club” (Jim, Janis, Kurt, and Amy, among others). That pretty much sums up how I currently feel mentally, and also what I need out of a partner. If the 27 Club reference didn’t give it away, or previous articles I’ve written you may have read, I’m sober. While in no means a chastity sentence, this fact certainly changes the way you date. Gone are the days of meeting and bonding over cocktails. Some can meet a perspective partner at a bar and actually only have two glasses of wine then go home. Others, who often later end up identifying themselves as alcoholics, say they are going to meet someone for “a glass of wine” and then hours later find themselves in a black hole of whiskey shots and bathroom blowjobs. Such behavior can be written off as fun experimentation in your first year of college perhaps, but not at 26. At least that is not who I want to be.
For someone with previous substance abuse issues, there is deep beauty to falling in love soberly. Going through early sobriety is messy and confusing as fuck, hence why some 12-step programs suggest not dating during your first year of recovery. Yet removing the beer goggles and looking at someone with a clear mind, being able to remember every detail of conversation, the sex, their smell, knowing the attraction comes from a clean mind rather than a dusty, cocaine-coated filter feels as refreshing as a cool outdoor shower on a warm summer day. It reminds me of Avatar: “I see you.” Let’s connect tails, baby.
I don’t restrict my relationships to only dating other sober people. So long as you are respectful (Read: Don’t try to pressure me into drinking, be mindful of where I am, don’t use my old favorite drugs of choice or become abusive while wasted, etc), you can carry on, have beers with your friends, enjoy a cocktail at a party. People may disagree, but for me, it’s not a problem unless they have a problem.
When dating, due to the “wining and dining” concept so strongly woven into society’s mating culture, the subject is going to arise. The wittiest response I’ve been able to come up with is: “It’s my gift back to society.” The decision to get clean most certainly must come from you, and for you. End of story. However once I heal myself, or at least begin to (I’m far from an enlightened being) I can act more compassionate and kind to all other creatures. If a partner ever pushes or further questions my sobriety, I’ll go ahead and share some war stories, ending with a simple “and I don’t ever want to be that person again, and you certainly don’t want her as your girlfriend.” If they’d rather have a partner who can get drunk with them, then it’s better for us both to go our separate ways and find a more appropriate pairing, which is why I find it more useful to be upfront about sobriety when dating.
Once someone asked me on Twitter what I’ve learned most from myself about being sober. My response was that I can still be the weirdest person in the room. This past New Year’s Eve, I went to a party where most attendees were drinking, but just me and my Red Bull were dancing, laughing, and kissing harder than ever. You don’t lose yourself; you learn yourself.
That, of course, was a good night. I won’t deny I still feel awkward and out of place sometimes in alcohol-oriented situations, but I am told this gets easier with time. As for my social life? I’m sober, not dead. No, I don’t spend as much time in dive bars or cocktail lounges. I have changed. I go to yoga and meditate. I write. I work. I work a lot.
I’ve grown up to have a more solid grasp of what I need and want, but I’m in no ways out of the woods. I must learn to survive alone, and know that I can, but—despite the slight complications of being sober and finding another person to spend your time with—I indeed want love. I want a love that is deeper than lust, than enjoying the fun times, but someone that is in it with all their heart, who wants me just as much when I’m curled up crying as when I’m dancing, who loves me, 26 and sober.