Melissa O’Brien

“If you were at the edge of the cliff once, and then you worked very hard to step away from the edge of the cliff, why would you do something that might move you back in that direction?”

The deadline for this issue happened to fall on the seven-year anniversary of my sobriety.

I kind of hate that word, and it’s been so long now that it’s not that big of a deal anymore, but I do think about it each year. The first year anniversary was kind of funny because I went to the Inn at Shelburne Farms to have a celebratory dinner and the waitress brought me a real mojito when I ordered a “fake” one. I panicked, thinking I needed to start the whole process over again, that year of sobriety had been erased with that one sip, which was silly, and I soldiered on.

Seven years ago I was hitting the bottom of the trough in my life, and not surprisingly the brand of drinking I was doing at the time wasn’t helping matters at all. I was a jerk — a lousy wife, a lousy mother, a lousy human being. Though I did not deserve it in the least, Good Fortune shone her light on me, and the very person I needed arrived at the very moment I needed him: an old friend from my childhood who had been sober almost 20 years gently took me by the hand and guided me back to the land of the living. And I’ve been there ever since. Drinking-wise, anyway. We’ll save the other stuff for another day.

Some of you know this already, but I will tell you that being a nondrinker in a drinking world is hard. Sometimes, when I’m around a bunch of people drinking great wine I want some, too. There’s the fabulous glassware, the terrific label, the smell. One would think, given the many mornings I woke up feeling like the inside of a 16-year-old boy’s sneaker, that the smell of wine would make me gag, would elicit all kinds of dark visions, but it doesn’t. The manufacturers and the purveyors and the drinkers all make drinking wine and other kinds of booze seem like lots of fun. 

It’s weird, the sobriety thing. And so a few months ago I started to wonder if maybe seven years was enough. I wondered if I had traveled far enough from who I was back then that it would be OK, that I could have a glass of wine and enjoy it with my steak and be done. Or maybe a Dark & Stormy. God, I loved that drink; it reminds me of every great beach trip I ever took. I loved Guinness, too. Come to think of it, I liked all the drinks that tasted a little like dirt, kind of earthy.

I started thinking that maybe I would re-integrate drinking into my life. And so when I was at Fordham taking a very intense pastoral counseling skills class a few weeks ago, I chose to talk about drinking in my afternoon practice triad so that two of my classmates could help me work through the To Drink or Not to Drink question.

It happened that that morning our professor had talked about using a cost/benefit analysis to determine if one should make a certain decision or not. So in the afternoon my friends and I applied it to my situation.

This is how many benefits I could come up with when we considered the possibility of reintroducing alcohol to my life: zero.

“If you were at the edge of the cliff once, and then you worked very hard to step away from the edge of the cliff, why would you do something that might move you back in that direction?” asked my very wise friend Moussa.

Excellent point.

That was it—that was all it took.

Seven years is a long time to sustain something in this life. I feel good about it, my kids feel good about it. I say it all the time and I believe it to be true: I have yet to see alcohol make anyone a better person. I have only ever seen it wreak havoc, ruin lives, decimate relationships, harm innocent bystanders and turn perfectly good human beings into jerks. My mom’s dad drank himself into the grave when he was 27. She remembers running around at his funeral; she was three years old at the time. Her mother’s heart was irrevocably broken and she too died young, of breast cancer.

There are so many good reasons not to drink; it would take me all day to name them. And now, thanks to Ye Olden Cost/Benefit Analysis and a couple of wise classmates, it’s perfectly clear to me that there are, indeed, zero reasons to go back to the edge of that cliff. Amen.