The Loneliness of Sobriety & Chronic Disease

The Fourth of July: America’s birthday! History! Fireworks! Cannons! And beer. Lots o’ beer. Being in my 20’s, this holiday (and pretty much every other one) involves a heavy amount of drinking. I went to one such holiday event this year, but I don’t drink. I prefer not to inflict extra pressure on my liver in addition to that brought on by my medications despite the fact that my liver is, as my rheumatologist says, “a champ”. My doctor and I have decided that it is safer for me not to drink – that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

So many of our cultural traditions involve drinking that it’s no wonder that people confronted with a teetotaler are sometimes a little puzzled. And though most people seem to accept my refusal of a drink without much curiosity, I do encounter hesitant questions. “You don’t drink? Not ever? But surely occasionally? May I…may I ask why?”. Sometimes I think people who are drinking are uneasy around sober party-goers because it’s outside of the cultural norm, and they can’t understand how we can possibly be enjoying ourselves.

People tend to assume that if I’m not playing drinking games with them I’m not having fun. Add to that my generally reticent nature and my tendency to find and claim the lounge chair in the corner because of the fatigue I feel almost all the time, and I might begin to look like the very picture of misery. But I am able to have a good time in the midst of all the bacchanalian activity. It’s just not recognizable to most people. I’m so happy to sit in the company of other people, have the occasional chat, and just enjoy the sunshine – not to mention the large spread of food.

Look, the truth is that being chronically ill and sober can be lonely. But it’s not lonely because I can’t or don’t want to participate in the same activities that you do. It’s lonely because many people don’t understand the reality of my life and the choices that I make because of that reality. I don’t mind being on the periphery. Some people, really healthy people, have a hard time understanding that. They don’t know how much effort it takes me to get through one day. They don’t know that I settled on making a trifle to bring to the barbecue because a) it tastes like sunshine, b) it feeds a crowd, and c) it takes minimal energy and that’s good, because minimal energy is what I have left after walking to the store, shopping for ingredients, and walking them up the stairs. And I know it’s a hard thing to understand. I don’t think it’s ever possible to really truly understand it, even with the help of the Spoon Theory, unless you experience it yourself. Fun and happiness for me means hanging out and relaxing.

So wild fun-havers, don’t worry about us sober folk. Have faith that we know to manage ourselves in such a way that if we’re uncomfortable or not having fun we’ll just remove ourselves from the situation. We’re not there to judge you or “harsh your vibe” (as the cool kids say?). We’re there to have fun in our own way, hanging out with you.


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