Sobriety is like a little car (#2)

Article originally posted on Medium.

image courtesy of Eoin Gardiner

Sobriety is like a little car.

Picture a light blue Ford Escort, rust on the doors.

When you first sit in your sober car, everything is new. You haven’t done this before. Pedals and signals and steering and changing gears all at once? Seems about as impossible as socializing and sleeping and having ‘fun’ without alcohol.

Which is to say that it all feels quite strange.

You remove your regular coping mechanism (booze) and you’re confused, no map, not even sure how to start the sober car let alone drive it. To top it off, you’re in Maine where it is decidedly foggy and grey, and you need to drive to San Francisco where it is sunny, warm, sober, and beachy.

(I have nothing against Maine in real life; do not send me letters.)

You set off in your sober car. It may have taken a push, jumpstart, and some fuel to get you going, but you are now on the road. All of the planning to begin is behind you. All of the dithering about whether or not to go is finished.

You are underway.

Being in your sober car requires a lot of concentration. You put your hands firmly on 10-and-2.

You have no idea where you’re going, although other people have assured you that there are good things ‘coming up’. All you can see for now is despair.

You have smartly asked a sober coach to sit alongside you. She is well dressed, nice sunglasses. She needs the sunglasses because she’s been to San Francisco and she knows what it’s like. Future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades. You admire her smile. She doesn’t look exhausted. Which is to say that she looks better than you feel.

Sober coach girl gives you tips. You only have to check your rearview mirror every few minutes, she says. Move away from Day 1, leave it behind, don’t look back so often. Keep your eyes on the road in front of you. Focus on where you’re going.

She guides you to move into the left lane to avoid an upcoming difficult situation. With a light touch on your arm she suggests that you begin to brake now, to ease up, to avoid overwhelm.

You’re doing well, she sings. I know that it seems like a lot of things to focus on at once, learning to drive this sober car, but it gets easier.

You drive.

The windshield wipers aren’t where they should be. You smack the horn when you mean to change lanes. You’re nervous. It seems like everyone has a drink in their hands except you. The voice in your head that says “drink now” has been there so long you didn’t realize it was coming from the Drink Now radio station, the one that broadcasts shit messages like “it’s time to celebrate, you deserve it, just have one, you don’t have a problem, here have another.”

You arrive in a new town, the weather is a bit better, you go through drive-thru and get a snack (homemade banana bread and coffee).

The sick and tense and headachy feeling has started to ease. The worst of panic seems to have passed for now.

You can see the sky is clear ‘over there’ and so you keep driving in that direction. You realize that you’re further away from Maine than you thought, and you trade in your Ford Escort with the rusted doors for a Volkwagon Golf, old model, but it’s in pretty good shape. The stereo is better. The Drink Now radio station is less clear, intermittently staticy.

A routine develops. The unknown hotels and pit stops now seem quaint. You see things you’ve never seen before, views you didn’t know existed. The waitress who drops off your tonic water, has a glass of wine on her tray that she’s taking to the table beside you. The smell makes you feel ill.

I used to drink that, you think.

In your sober car, you enter a tolled highway. The towns flick past, the landscape changes daily. There are other small joys. A t-shirt from the convenience store. A popsicle. When the Drink Now radio station is louder, you replace it with singing, with books on tape, with sober podcasts. You learn to change the channel. You regularly stop and get treats and t-shirts and clicky pencils and flip flops as sober treats. There is carrot cake. There is an early morning run in a strange town. New things.

Many days later, when you stop to get lunch (vegetarian tacos at a road side taco stand — made with roast potatoes instead of meat), you are startled to see someone who looks just like you.

Nice hair, looks well-put-together but something is off. Pale face. She stands beside her sober car, refusing to get in. Her coach is saying: you can try it, you might like it. Woman refuses. I want to walk to San Francisco my way, she says.

You watch.

You think: I was just like her. I walked around the outside of my sober car for SO long, refusing to get in. I wanted better things to happen in my life, but couldn’t figure out how to travel to the new place.

Watching someone else on Day 1, you realize that — for you — there will be no u-turns, there will be no more beginnings. You want to see what happens next, the city under the trees, the one coming up, around the next corner.

You’ve done plenty of drinking research. You’ve been in Maine long enough, now you want to try something different, a period of sobriety research.

(Nothing against Maine, nice people, good lobsters, it’s a metaphor. Don’t email me.)

There is a day, sooner than you think, when the Drink Now radio station is far out of reach, and there is barely a signal. You’re on a straight road, a flat patch of land, silent prairies. Great Plains. Land so flat you can watch your dog run away for three days. Views and sunsets and things you haven’t seen in a long time, if ever. How long were you in Maine, dreaming of getting out. Now you’re here. Holy. You’re actually doing it. On your way.

You can finally drive and drink coffee at the same time. You can socialize with a glass of tonic in your hand. Driving doesn’t take as much concentration as it used to. That first part is shitty. And then it isn’t.

In a better town, the lunch counter serves tiramisu in small glass dishes. It is made without alcohol. The cake is soaked in coffee. You sigh with relief.

You upgrade your car. Blue Volvo station wagon. The one you’ve wanted forever.

It all seems possible.


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I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

55 thoughts on “Sobriety is like a little car (#2)

  1. Been driving my sober car for 9 days now! I am so excited about the trip I am on, There IS life without wine and it is soooo much better! I was thinking when I got to day 100 I would drink occasionally but now I know I don’ t need it, don’t want it! I like the REAL me; the sober me! Looking forward to the rest of my journey! Thank you Belle and everyone else that has shared their journey; struggles, triumphs, new day 1’s! MUAH!!!!!!

  2. Great analogies! Have you ever read Anne Lammott? Here is another one. It’s like driving at night. You know where your destination is (long-term sobriety) but because it’s dark out all you can do is turn on your lights and make the next turn. You can only see so many feet in front of you and that’s all you have to worry about.

  3. I love, love, love this. Everything describes sobriety – from the early days to onward – so well. Thank you.

  4. Who knew driving a car from one place to another could be compared to stopping drinking? But it’s the perfect analogy. And it’s all true!

  5. Perfect. Just perfect. Day 15 for me here. I took my son to a birthday party yesterday where, for 5 hours, the adults around me guzzled beer and drinks while I sipped lemonade. I’m sure I feel better than they do this morning. Lol. In retrospect, using this wonderful car analogy, I realize that yesterday’s hurdles remind me of a road trip I took down the length of Baja, Mexico, decades ago, where I dodged pot holes larger than my little Honda Civic, and routinely got stopped, searched, and intimidated by armed policemen. I made it. As I am making it now. Yesterday was long. We had guests over for dinner in the evening. They brought a bottle of wine (my favorite) and enjoyed it as I sipped watered-down apple juice in a wine glass (looked identical to their glasses). No one noticed. For now, for the most part, sobriety is my business, nothing I need to broadcast, just a personal and very serious journey shared only with a few so far. It feels amazing. I thought about “Oh, just one” last night at dinner, but it helps that I have Day 100 marked on my fridge calendar, and I am not going to get there by cheating.

  6. I’m in the car. Day 6. I love love love the concept of treats. My treats so far have been my favorite shower gel, flavored decaf, an entertainment magazine, a tennis lesson. I love the “permission” to say No to overwhelm. These two things are keeping my little car putt-putting along.

  7. Day 20 in my sober car….we live on a lake and yesterday I was able to play on the lake and float on the raft as my husband drank his beer, I had my soda with lemon and had a beautiful day….I only had to say fuck you Wolfie a couple of times!!!!! Drive on

    1. Good for you! I had to scold Wolfie last night, too, when dinner guests enjoyed beer and wine while I sipped seltzer. Now I’ll have to watch while the unfinished wine bottle slowly turns to vinegar in my fridge this week, but it won’t be a problem. Wolfie is tied up in a corner while I get on with my LIFE.

  8. The commitment to 100 days has also stopped me a couple of times from “just one”…another one of Wolfie’s lies. I’m starting day 8 today slightly scared because it’s been fairly easy and so I feel like I’m waiting on the other shoe to drop.

  9. Thank you for this and love reading the comments. It helps. Day 3. A lot of noise in my head. A lot of fear. But I’m trying.

  10. It’s crazy how much energy and peace are wrapped into sobriety- it’s great! Peace was one of the reasons I enjoyed wine- I’m quickly realizing how much more peace and happiness I have without it!

    1. Exactly. A friend asked me yesterday over lunch how I am feeling (Day 19 here), and I replied, “I feel clarity, and energy, but it’s a really serene, calm energy, not manic.” I can, however, get tense in early evening. Not sure if that’s residual sugar cravings at drink o’clock, or just the tensions of parenthood, but I catch myself barking later in the day. I calm myself down by reading blogs or going to bed early. My sleep has been great.

  11. Another fantastic blog post with excellent symbolism. I am a week into my road trip, but have already steered around barricades and pot holes. Example, on Day 2, I served breakfast at my local Veteran’s Hall (I had already committed to it a week earlier) and watched many (most?) people enjoying lovely Bloody Mary’s and Screwdrivers. I guess I drove an armored car that day :-), but made it through and felt so proud afterward.

  12. I’m tired, foggy and fell like it would all go away if i drank. Day 3 here and determined with an extremely supportive husband and 2 beautiful children i don’t want to lose! I am just trying to get out of Maine….this is so dang hard!!! I’ll make it but it may not be as beautiful as your writing. Thank you for this post on my exact day of struggle.

  13. Oh I just LOVE this!!! Thank you. Day 5:) Lots of treats and clicky pencils to celebrate this weekend. I am sleeping SO much better. And I’m happier. All the sad blues i thought I had to drink away were caused by the drink!! Who knew??

    But still, it’s hard so thank you for this.

  14. Love this it made my early morning here not far from SF as I read this and ponder how very true this really is. I’m sleeping really well and loving what’s up ahead. No looking back. Thank you! Love Life!

  15. Really great post. Day 8, surrounded by booze and not tempted. Beginning to realize how much I have taken for granted– great husband, family and my 10 year old blue Volvo (for real). So glad I found your blog and class Belle. I was on the verge of throwing it all away. For some reason, I couldn’t stop the daily drinking cycle. Now I feel that I can.

  16. I have been reading posts and comments for a week now and considering stopping drinking for several months. I am basically a high functioning woman who is tired of thinking about drinking and tired of feeling less than 100 percent after almost nightly 3/4 bottle of wine intake. I have had enough and want my second fifty years to look different. Here we go!

  17. Love your blog. Looking for coffee and treats on a trip instead of the beer store sounds like such fun. A simple indulgence, enjoyed with clarity. Looking forward to it. I have made the same 230 mile trip many times in the past 5 years. I often wanted to stop and check out some of the places in the small towns that I drive through. Always in too much of a hurry to get where I am going, and get a beer.
    A new perspective on the road trip. Thank you, from Jan, Day 9. Think I am going to shift into second gear soon, and it is feeling good!!

  18. That was a great analogy because I couldn’t get in the right car now I’m in it and I don’t want to get out its been a nice ride and want to keep riding in my nice suburban

  19. I thoroughly enjoyed this article and will re-read it again here from my vacation in Maui and on day 4! Seeing and feeling the joy of things I missed before. Also now looking at this as an adventure!

  20. I love this, it is so good. I have discovered I am enjoying the ride when I am alone. It’s when I have other passengers in the car I forget how to drive and my car goes automatically to wine town.

  21. What a great read! Not sure if I am at the point where a glass of wine disgusts me though-lol. And not sure if ever will. Day 3 here and feeling super!

  22. Belle, I love love this story. I am a real car lover….. but never thought of connecting my “sobriety” to driving….. thank you !! Am wondering if you would mind if I share it with my online recovery group…called a The Sober School. ??

  23. I really love my sober car for about 3-4 months and then I always, always get scared,anxious, lonely, annoyed with not knowing where I am going and not having the map and I turn back. I turn back and head back for the fog because it feels safe to be in a place that I know. The place I know is not “so bad” it is just not everything I think life could be. It is just an ok place. You know? I know that I am gong to get back in my car and try again but not sure when. I know that i will try again because that voice that has been whispering at me since I was 25 years old saying “this is not your way” is getting louder and louder and more annoyed that I keep trying to ignore her and do it “my way” The knowing voice is only trying to guide me but I have to have faith even when I can’t see the road….this is hard (actually not hard…fighting cancer is hard, watching a child be sick is hard, taking care of a sickly parent is hard…this is just.. tricky and scary).

  24. Day 1 here and this is just what I needed. Have been reading and listening to you pretty much all day. I really appreciate all the emails that have been coming through the day.

  25. Julie Day 4. Love my sober car, the road ahead is still scary especially at night. But i am heading in the right direction and looking forward to sunny warm San Francisco

  26. Christina. Totally picking up what you are putting down. Began that drive so many times and always turn around half way there. I know what is right and I know what is wrong. Maybe be good to have that navigator with me next time.

  27. Thank you!!!! I just recently signed up , I’m on Day 10! These blogs have helped more than you know!!! Keep it coming 😘😘

  28. Today, day 4, I am just incredibly cranky with my Ford Escort. I believe what people say about how much easier it gets and the new landscapes will be terrific but today I simply don’t care! Saying that, I am going out for a bike ride and trust I will feel differently when I return. Good reading…just cranky!!

  29. I just made a week without booze! This little story was just right for me today! I’m heading for the VW right now! It’s a beautiful day here and I’m just back from walking my dogs. We always walked twice a day but now I have more energy and we sing as well! Life is really getting better and for the first time in decades I am guilt free!

  30. I’ve once again entered my Honda Odyssey (this is my 3rd time in but my last)… because yes I am a mum 🙂 and I’m plugging away…. only at day 4 but I know that the scenery gets better after the midwest
    (Maybe 60 days or so in) and I can almost feel the need for the shades…. it’s that pesky 6-8 month bug when I’m visiting San Francisco and forget what it felt like to actually get into my van and start over again. Love the analogies…. you are a true writer and inspiration. Thank you.

  31. Really enjoyed your piece. It was full of images that I could relate to. It also helped me to recall the pain of those early days navigating sobriety and to feel grateful for God’s grace that saved a wretch like me 10 years ago. Beautiful job explaining and expanding the sobriety car metaphor.

  32. Great read! Day 1 here. Looking forward to FUN and WINE not going hand in hand. I’m a stay-at- home mom and use my toddler, boredom and anxiety as my excuse to drink 1-2 bottles of wine a night. I’ve gained 40 lbs in 4 years-Mostly from the alcohol, and am OVER sabotaging my mind and body repeatedly with it. I look forward to becoming fit again inside and out and remembering how good it feels to wake up hydrated and find fun and joy in better, brighter places.

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