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Is Nowhere Safe for a Sober Girl in the City?

We’re told, in the beginning, to avoid “people, places, and things” that could trigger a relapse. In other words, we’re supposed to avoid the trappings of our “drinking lives.”

When I got sober at 22, it was a piece of cake – literally. I only went to sober parties, meetings and dinners, or I stayed home with my then-boyfriend (and his dogs) eating cake.

Getting Real About Real Life

As a year came and went, I knew I couldn’t avoid “people, places, and things” forever. We can’t never eat in a restaurant again, where the people around us might be drinking. We can’t refuse to attend Christmas dinner with the family just because grandpa’s going to be there armed with his big jug of red wine.

We can’t quit our jobs because there’s free champagne and cupcakes in the break room every freaking time someone leaves, arrives, or has a birthday – or because the boss decided to start stocking the fridge with beer and wine as “a treat for people working late.”

So what’s a sober girl (or guy) to do?

Rewind to the Start

Let me back up and introduce myself. My name is Helaina and I’m an alcoholic. I’m also a trauma survivor, a female, a New Yorker, and good cook. But none of these things define me as a person. I got sober on November 12th, 2011 and, after working the 12 steps, my cravings for alcohol and weed were, as promised, removed.

My name is Helaina and I’m an alcoholic. I’m also a trauma survivor, a female, a New Yorker, and good cook. But none of these things define me as a person.-Helaina Hovitz
Before I entered “the rooms,” I partied at the “in” clubs and drank on dates. I knew something was wrong because I just couldn’t stop at two drinks – like I always intended to. But I maintained a 3.8 GPA in college, a part-time job, an internship, and had a byline at a local paper.

I didn’t drink every day and I didn’t drink in the mornings. I thought I drank like other people drank – as a reward, to let loose, to feel good, to have fun – because that’s what human beings did. And I never started drinking until after everything that needed to be done was done.

Yet, I couldn’t have one glass of anything alcoholic and walk away feeling satisfied. I couldn’t have four glasses and not cheat on my boyfriend. I couldn’t have seven glasses and not end up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning – several times before even graduating college.

After years of trying and denying, it finally sank in: We just can’t drink like “normal” people.

Living Happy, Living Sober

Now four and a half years sober, I don’t have to avoid anything. I don’t go to certain places, like nightclubs and dive bars, because they’re no longer fun places for me to be. But what happens if I can’t avoid alcohol or if someone tries to push it on me…like the waiter who keeps insisting I should “try the house drink” at a restaurant I’m reviewing? Luckily, I have absolutely no problem explaining to the server that, if I do try that house drink he keeps talking about, it will count as a relapse…because I’m an alcoholic and I can’t drink like a “normal” person.

Two minutes into the show, I caught a whiff of red wine. The woman next to me was chugging it from an adult “sippy cup.”-Helaina HovitzI’ve learned it’s not just about avoiding dive bars, nightclubs, or that one “crazy friend” who’s always good for a body shot – especially in New York City. In fact, lately, I’ve been encountering alcohol in a lot of unexpected places.

Let’s take, for instance, a painting class I recently attended in Chelsea…a class in which I realized (at the last minute) was actually a BYOB event. Luckily, I brought along some Vitamin Water; I sipped on it while everyone else popped corks and talked a little too loudly. As I tried to concentrate on making my “willowing trees” look less like pitchforks, another group of girls across from me started arranging a cheese plate to go with their wine.

What really blew my mind, though, was what happened when my mother and I recently went to see FunHome on Broadway. We’ve been going to Broadway shows since I was little, but this time something was different. Two minutes into the show, I caught a whiff of red wine. The woman next to me was chugging it from an adult “sippy cup.” Yep; people are actually bringing alcohol into Broadway theater productions and guzzling it like soda.

Unfortunately, my options were beyond limited. Simply put; this was my seat, that was her seat, and we had both paid to park our butts in them.

Removing the Dangers

We have the option to remove ourselves from a triggering situation – most of the time, anyway. But if you find yourself stuck in a potentially triggering situation or environment – one that you can’t or just don’t want to leave – the one tool you always have is to just take a few moments and think things all the way through, realistically.

Let’s say you you throw caution to the wind and knock back a glass of wine at painting class. Do you really only want the one? Are you content to stop there? What, historically, happens after that first drink, and the second, and the third? How does that night end? How does that afternoon at work end? How do the people who care about you react when they find out you’re drinking again?

The bottom line is always this: Something happens to your brain chemistry after the first drink – something that makes you want more, even though you know you shouldn’t. That’s just how you’re built.


Check Yourself

In my first few years, I turned to my sober network and my sponsor for immediate reinforcements. Today, I’m in touch with reality enough to know exactly what would happen if I decided to grab my own red wine after the show. Rather than the romanticized version of what a great enhancement that drink would be, I choose to remind myself of the way red wine tastes coming back up. I choose to think about all the mornings (that turned into afternoons) I spent hovered over the toilet, convulsing, shaking, throwing up, holding my head, whispering “help me” to nobody at all.

Whether you have 10 days or 10 years under your belt, avoiding that first drink is the most empowering thing you can do for yourself. Because what you think you’re missing out on isn’t your reality.

The reality is, we can’t have one drink, stop thinking about alcohol and just move on. We’ll always be searching for something else after that first drink – and what we find is never really what we’re looking for.

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