This past August, I sat across the dinner table from a strikingly handsome American man 8 years my junior. We were in Rome at a restaurant, eating pizza and fried things and drinking fizzy water and macchiatos, and I was wearing this tight little dress, sans all underwears. We were on our fifth date in as many days and had been to flea markets and had risked our lives crossing the Autostrade on foot with bags of cured meat and had sat above the Roman forum at midnight talking about God and met for dates at various Bernini sculptures and kissed in front of the place Julius Caesar was murdered. I'd laughed so hard in his presence, I peed myself a little. Twice.
So when he asked me what I did for fun - me "being sober and all" - I was a little perplexed.
Our entire five days of extreme living without drinking, smoking, and drugging flashed before my eyes. "Off the top of my head? I travel to foreign lands by myself to observe countless objects of art, history, and culture, eat fried food, drink coffee at midnight, and sometimes I go on dates with younger men and leave my underwear at home." He laughed. "Right." And then he asked again. "But seriously."
A week later, off the Gulf of Naples, swimming in the Nostre Mare after dark with another man who was staying in the room next to me - under the full moon in 80 degree weather - the same question came up.
”Okay,” he said, “I have a question. I hope this doesn't sound rude. But if you don't drink, smoke, or do drugs, what the hell do you do for fun?"
"This," I said. "This."
I understand this question more than I understand most questions about sobriety. I understand it because I get exactly where it comes from and I understand exactly why people ask and I understand why it seems so incomprehensible. I understand it because it was my question. How does one vacation in Mexico without tequila, dinner without wine, brunch without champagne, party without shots?
How does one live without the distinct pleasure of being silly drunk?
Prior to October 2012, if you had asked me to describe what I imagined sobriety looked like, I would have said something that sounded like a fart noise while I pointed two thumbs down. A life without alcohol might as well have been a death sentence of boring. I life half-lived with half-smiles that smelled like Clorox bleach.
What I have discovered on this side of the bar scene is the exact opposite. My life without alcohol is where my actual living began. As it turns out, my drinking life was the one that deserved the fart noise and the two thumbs down. NOTHING was as half-lived, forced, sad, or redundant than an existence that required alcohol to have fun. I didn't need it before I found it, and my life today is lived from that same place - as if it never existed.
Below is how I have fun now that I'm sober. Which is essentially a list of how I live my life.
What I Do For Fun. (Now That I'm Sober).
One of the more appealing aspects of drinking was how much it enabled me to do crazy, risky things. My favorite memories were the times I would risk arrest for public nudity or have sex in a public place, the times I would tell someone how I really felt about them or something they did, the times I would steal a cup I liked from a restaurant or sneak a joint at a work event, the times I would get on a stage to do the Kid N Play (yes). While these things were ridiculous, they were the things that made me feel completely alive. I love breaking rules, I love being bad, I love thrill.
On this side of things, I've kept the same spirit, only without the need to be bombed to do it. Things like quitting my job with NO real plan eons before I was ready, blogging to the world the most private parts of my existence, starting a company with zero clue, traveling with no itinerary. Things like hopping on motorcycles with strange men in foreign countries, asking for things I am terrified to ask for, walking places that a nice girl shouldn't walk alone. I live from a place of "Why not?", and this new found sense of right-minded risk taking has led to some of the more fantastic moments of my life and - more importantly - given me major courage and freedom. One of my life time goals now is to learn to fly a plane, and I can say with certitude that if I hadn't risked moving from my comfort zone towards sobriety, and then hadn't forced myself to take all these new "sober Holly" risks, I would still be looking enviably at Angelina and wondering how she got the vagina to fly.
NORMAL THINGS ARE FUN, PEOPLE! This one shocked the hell out of me. I had forgotten the simple pleasure of reading a book, going to the movies, riding a bike, sitting down to a meal, hiking a trail, or simply driving in the car with my family. Towards the end of my drinking life, these things seemed out of range and torturous - things I avoided, or things I tried to incorporate alcohol into to make more interesting.
This is not uncommon - drinking artificially activates the pleasure center of our brains at above-normal levels, and over time the brain compensates for this overstimulation, trying to re-establish homeostasis by effectively dulling our ability to receive pleasure from normal things (or anything besides alcohol). So we literally aren't motivated to do the things we normally receive joy from, and when we do them, we don't get as big of a hit of pleasure. Removing alcohol has allowed me to enjoy the most mundane shit - and GENUINELY enjoy it. Just last week, I was THRILLED going to the Winco with my mom. Hear what I am saying: I was THRILLED to buy groceries at an outlet with my mother. Life, when lived in it's purest form, is actually more than enough fun than we need.
ACT LIKE A KID/NUT.
One of the first Christmases I spent sober I invented Holly Crab Hands and chased my niece around with crab legs extending out of my sweater screaming "I am Holly Crab Hands!" On my first sober Girl's Trip, I convinced my five best friends to play hide-and-go-seek, and we capped off the night by playing dress up and recording our own version of the Harlem Shake. I have run through fields, rolled down hillsides, and skipped through streets. I have played chase, freeze tag, dress up, and more board games than I care to admit, bought a trampoline for my cubicle at work, and most recently, convinced my girlfriend Courtney to buy Rollerblades so we could, um, Rollerblade. Basically, if it sounds fun and immature, I'm totally into it.
Get my introvert on.
I had always thought that because I love people/love knowing a lot of people/love being around people/come alive around people, that I was by nature an extrovert (and scored as one as well, ENFJ). And so for my entire life, I forced myself into a big social life, thinking that was who I was. I felt deeply inadequate if I wasn't doing something, flawed if I wasn't part of a big group, and guilty for wanting alone time. What I have found on this side of things is that while I love my friendships, love people, love being around people - I also really love my sweet alone time. Fun for me is doing yoga classes at home by myself, snuggling up with a few hundred books, turning up the music and having a dance party of one. I now get that this is who I am and what I need, and there are no apologies for being introverted. Alone doesn't equal loser, it equals healthy and it equals FUN. Alone also doesn't negate or lessen my extrovert tendencies. I know my social life awaits, I know I can still put on a kimono, heels and red lipstick and be fabulous amongst the many, I know that if someone calls me on a Monday and asks what I did and I say "read three books, took five baths, drank tea, meditated, and sang to my cat" all it means is that I partied the way I needed to party.
In those spaces in between the life that I was swimming from and the life that I was swimming towards, there was a lot of time to fill, and also, a somewhat preternatural drive towards creation. I started with a set of crayons and some blank pieces of paper, and an Instagram account - filling my time with mindless drawing and coloring, photography and filtering. As time expanded without the numbing agents, as the world became more vivid and big, so too did my need to bring forth things inside of me. I started getting more adventurous in my clothing, more dedicated to my photography, and one day - out of a desperate need to speak - began a secret blog so I could write. Today a LARGE part of my fun comes from creation. I get completely absorbed in writing for this site, taking photos and editing them, designing my website and blog posts, and doing the sound editing for The HOME Podcast. Equally, I get lost in researching addiction, and harnessing that information into something that feeds my work. These things are more than fun. They are total absorption.
See the world with new eyes.
One of the biggest side effects of sobriety - we begin to see the world with new eyes. For me, this started out simply enough. One day, as I was walking down the street, I noticed the clouds moving across the sky. I was downtown on a crowded street, and I stopped and stared up, mouth agape, looking around like “Do you guys see this?!” I felt like Will Ferrell in Elf when he goes to New York for the first time. I began to stop looking two minutes a head of me and began to move through my life with total awe for the magic that surrounded me every day, the wonder that is this world. How we got here, how miraculous it is that we make it through a day, how insane it is that we are a tiny dot within an infinite universe, what a privilege it is to be alive. This translates into fun in that it is a really big deal to live in a place you have reverence for. It's made me hungry for travel, and makes even the most simple experiences grand. (Seriously, I feel like Elf.)
Okay, it sounds weird. For fun, I am myself. But it is true. I spent 33 years avoiding looking at myself, thinking that if I looked too close what I would find would destroy me. I thought my tastes were wrong, my style immature, my heart too messy, my opinion too strong. I was a liar, a cheat, a falsity, inherently fucked, and it was only a matter of time before the jig would be up, before I would be found out for the pathetic thing I believed myself to be. As you can imagine, this was not fun.
John Dupuy says “The disease of addiction has become the adventure of creating our highest and best selves,” and for me, this is 100% true. My path has not been to simply abstain from alcohol - it has been a journey through the layers of self-hate, and the discovery of a most authentic thing pulsing below. The adventure of recovering Holly. And the shocker? I actually LIKE what I found buried down there - I actually LIKE myself. I like my tastes, style, preferences, opinions, movements, and peculiarities. I like the books I read, the clothes I wear, the music I listen to, my dry sense of wit, my big hearty man-laugh, my maniacal drive, my deformed big toe, my big messy heart, my big messy life. All of it. And because I am the person I am with the most, this means I get to spend a lot of time with a person I dig. As you can imagine, this is fun.
EVERYTHING I DID BEFORE, MINUS BORING.
Last but not least, I have to mention that for me, I went on living my life as if I was still drinking - as suggested by Allen Carr's The Easy Way To Control Alcohol. Carr suggests that everything we can do drunk, we can also do sober, and that we don't have fun because of alcohol, we have fun because of what we are doing and who we are with. In a point that hit home, Carr says that if we need to drink to do something, we probably shouldn't be doing it anyway. I tested this concept early on - going on the same business trips, to the same dinners, and running with the same circle of friends. I found Carr's observations to be true for me - some things were still fun sober, some things were TERRIBLE AND LOATHSOME. This has led to one of the larger guiding principles for me - I don't do things I don't want to do, and I don't force unfulfilling relationships. I spend my precious time doing things that infuse me and with people that make me feel alive and good. In other words, I spend my precious time having fun.