Editor’s note: This story openly discusses drinking alcohol. Please beware if this is a trigger for you.
I didn’t think it was a big deal at first. I took a drink and, as I swallowed, I thought: “Huh, he said ‘virgin’ before setting down my husband’s mojito but he didn’t say ‘virgin’ before putting this blue mule in front of me.” Naturally, the drinks weren’t delivered by the waitress who carefully heard our orders as well as our explanation of being sober.
Weirdly, I felt it in my ears first. My first exhalation of ethanol in over four years and I feel it in my ears? But then came my nose, throat, and the burn-trail all the way down my esophagus, settling in my solar plexus. There, the little flame slow-burned its way to my stomach and brought with it the reminder of a time not long ago that this feeling was what stopped my hands from shaking so I could go back to work.
Ironically, the first mocktail-turned-cocktail I’m served as a sober woman has vodka in it, the drink I hid in water bottles, under the seat of my car, and in drawers throughout my house. Vodka: A deceitful old-friend that coasted me straight to a full-blown intervention.
I took a drink and, as I swallowed, I thought: “Huh, he said ‘virgin’ before setting down my husband’s mojito but he didn’t say ‘virgin’ before putting this blue mule in front of me.”
I was one of the BAD ones, if there’s a hierarchy for that sort of thing. My therapist called it being a “chronic alcoholic.” This makes sense to me as I only fully commit to things I’m really good at. So, there I sit, on date night with my husband and our best friends, our collective four children at our church for “parent’s night out” and I’m leveling my gaze to them saying, “Guys, that’s not a mocktail.”
“Holy shit, no way” “Are you sure?” “Are you okay?” Our friends (who drink) both take a sip, only one could taste alcohol and he said he barely could. Meanwhile, here I am beginning a kind of adrenal allergic reaction. I don’t do well with unexpected attention and I don’t like making a big deal out of things but THIS WAS A BIG DEAL and my body knew it.
The thing is, I have a newly budding and tender relationship with my body right now.
I’m emerging from 9 months of post-partum depression and trauma recovery that makes me feel like a badass that I made it through without a relapse. So, I’m learning to trust what my body tells me and that sip sent it out of the atmosphere. I felt drunk. I know this isn’t possible but, at the moment, that’s the only word I could attach these sensations to. I felt light-headed, my toes tingled, and the burn from my chest had bounced back up to my cheeks and eyes. One sip. We notified the waitress who said, “I am so sorry, you’re not allergic or anything are you?” I said “No… but I’ve been sober for four years” to which she said, “that’s even worse, are you okay?” I appreciated that she saw the seriousness but in all reality, I just wanted the subject changed because the more we talked about it, the more my body seemed to betray me. I shoved the discussion in a box after we got the drink corrected and changed the subject with our friends. But I was quietly reeling for the next hour, at least.
I’m emerging from 9 months of post-partum depression and trauma recovery that makes me feel like a badass that I made it through without a relapse.
So now, I’m processing through the seriousness and trying to understand what happened. I did not get intoxicated from one sip of ginger beer, lemonade, blueberry juice, and vodka. So instead, I think my body recognized the dopamine rush and the burn and instantly attached them to an electric billboard in my body saying “FEAR THIS.” The exaggerated warmth, light-headedness, and tingles seemed to be my body’s response to the sheer panic of consuming the thing that almost killed me.
So here are my takeaways.
1. Restaurants need to step up.
Restaurants need a separate and dedicated drink menu for non-alcoholic beverages. Living in Denver, there’s been a movement for more sober-friendly offerings but admittedly, ordering a “Blue Mule” sans alcohol isn’t safe for me and isn’t fair to the establishment’s ability to ensure the safety of its sober patrons. But, if we’re discussing fairness, neither is having a waitress say “well, we have soda” when asked if they offer nonalcoholic beverages — but that’s for another story.
2. You need to verify it’s a “virgin” drink.
You’ll do well to verify the virginity of your drink multiple times if you’re stuck in a situation where a separate mocktail menu isn’t available. Actually, even if it is, still verify. Until the world catches up with the potential gravity of a slip like this or becomes more compassionate toward sober folks, you’ll need to take every precaution possible. Ask your server again; smell your drink beforehand — do anything you can.
3. It’s okay if it happens and your body freaks.
If you’re accidentally served, or you pick up the wrong drink, know this: Your body might freak out for a hot second and your mind most definitely will. But just as Tempest Sobriety School teaches, this budding relationship with your mind and body are powerful, symbiotic, and healthy.
Breathe deeply and ground yourself. Look at your surroundings, push the drink away, and say to the person you’re with “I was just served alcohol and I need (blank.)” While you’re reading this, consider what you might need in a situation like that. I wish I would’ve known to say, “Kyle, that has alcohol in it, please don’t freak out, I need a second to think and calm down.”
If I’d been in my first year of sobriety, I might’ve wanted to leave or cause a scene and there’s not a damn thing wrong with either of those. When it comes to safeguarding our sobriety, little else takes precedence.
4. This doesn’t mean that you’ll slip up.
If this happens to you, which I hope it never does, you can choose to take credit away from the booze and give it back to your body. I’m really proud of the length mine took to protect me that night. It made sure that the old familiar burn wasn’t pleasant at all, it was disorienting, alarming, and my mind won’t soon forget it. I feel strong today stringing words together with the hope of empowering someone who still believes the voices that say a slip up like this could steal your progress or send you back into the dark.
I believed that for a long time and, turns out, we have a say in that. Even if your sensations seem to betray your resolve and the drink feels good, you get to dialogue with that body in a non-shaming and positive way. “Hey body, it seems like this is still a slippery slope for us but we both know where more of this lands us so let’s get some accountability, and set some stronger boundaries for a bit.”
It doesn’t matter if you have a month or 10,000 months sober, if you’ve embarked on the journey of self-love that is sobriety, you’ve made yourself the priority; and all healing stems from that. Even when there are hiccups, setbacks, relapses, and accidental cocktail sips, we can take these lessons, drop the shame or fear, and funnel all of it into the muscle-memory of love our body builds every day we wake and choose sobriety.
And for the record, the drink tasted like shit.