Okay, I'm a total anomaly. Along my travels I've met a few people who like me, don't drink or use drugs, and people like us are few and far between. Maybe even people who choose one or the other, or people who are taking a break. A lot of people I know frequently take a break. But at the end of the day, there is a lot of drinking that goes on the music scene, and why not? It is socially acceptable. Not everybody I hang around with gets blackout drunk every night, or even every weekend. A lot of my friends drink casually, while I don't at all.
I get the same question every time I meet somebody new who finds out I don't drink.
"Is it hard?"
It's a hard question to answer on the spot, because I want to say yes and I want to say no.
When I first moved to Victoria I was completely entranced by the music scene. I had gone to local shows when I lived in Duncan, but I focused a lot of my teenage years on the rave scene and all that goes along with it, the copious amounts of party drugs. Drinking wasn't necessarily a thing. In my teen years drinking was almost a last resort. So to come to a new city with music, instruments, and booze was almost like a complete and total culture shock for me. I couldn't believe that people could be so talented, and that they were just you know, regular people, that I could have a beer with. The lifestyle left me starstruck. I started drinking more than I ever had in my life.
I frequented a minimum of three shows a week, just because I could. Because in this city there is always live music, on any given night you can wander into a bar, lounge, restaurant, and find live music. And I drank at every single one, because I simply thought that it was what you were supposed to do. I drank at the afterparties, I drank at the bars, I had pre-drinks beforehand to save some cash.
I associated live music with drinking, and when I quit drinking I felt a cloud of sadness as I thought to myself that that was a part of my life I would have to give up as well.
About three months into my sobriety I had spent it all avoiding bars, music, and the scene. I started to get that familiar itch, that craving, that desperate feeling that something was missing in my life - but it wasn't booze. It was music.
I started to think to myself, can I do this? I can probably do this. I'm going to try to do this and see how it goes.
The first show I went to was hell, I'm not going to lie. I was riddled with anxiety of being in a bar. I quickly ordered a ginger ale so I could have something to sip on. I was shaking and afraid, and the only time that I felt remotely calm was when the music was playing, when I reminded myself that I was there for the music. I drank my ginger ale. I walked about the crowd and got beer spilled on me. I stayed strong. Looking back I was totally playing with fire. I also had my trusty defense mechanism, my car. I knew I wouldn't drink and drive, therefore I knew I wouldn't drink and leave my car somewhere. I also had the power to leave at any point.
After that initial first experience I didn't necessarily feel any stronger, but I had the sensation that I could do it again. Maybe the anxiety would lessen, maybe over time, things would and could get easier. I went home and I stocked up on ginger ale. It's become my security blanket.
So I decided to do it again. I don't remember if it was any easier. I remember it felt like an accomplishment. I felt like I knew that I had done it once before, and I was going to do it again. I started going to shows again. Not three a week, maybe one every two or three weeks. Just to prove to myself that I could.
Slowly, and then quickly, my life started to become about music again. Not only was I going to shows, I was coming home afterwards and playing my guitar. I was going to karaoke and I was singing. With each and every show and time I went out I had another night under my belt. I had a brand new sense of pride. I started introducing myself to people, meeting people, making friendships, and it felt so good.
Initially I was afraid to tell people I didn't drink. I thought that maybe people would judge me, or hound me on it. I wasn't ready to tell my story or answer any questions. I let people assume there was either booze in my ginger ale, or they wouldn't notice. Initially, only the bartenders knew my secret and grew to know my drink. Then it started happening and I started using my voice. People started to know that I didn't drink. And then the question - "Is it hard?"
So my answer is - yes. Yes it was fucking hard. It didn't happen overnight. I had to dip my toes in the water and weigh out the options. I knew that a life without music and all of the stuff that comes along with it, was going to make me miserable. So also my answer is no. Because cutting music out of my life for me just wasn't an option. It will never be.
It's been almost two years I haven't had a drink. It's been almost two years of me going to shows, of me going to the afterparties, the pre-parties, the campfires, the open mics, the festivals. It's been almost two years of ginger ale, and sometimes I mix it up with cranberry juice. It's been almost two years of clarity, of always getting myself home safe, of never blacking out, it's been almost two years without a hangover or the mental anguish of the way I used to drink. It's been almost two years of doing what I love, with a fresh perspective, and loving myself and taking pride in it. It's been almost two years of finding out that even though in this scene drinking is a norm, that there are countless people who support me. That there are people who take pride in me as much as I do in myself, and aren't afraid to open up to me about their own struggles with drinking.
It's been almost two years of shedding the alcoholic skin and being comfortable in my own skin.
On December 24th I celebrate my two years sober. This year, like last year, my sobriety will be my greatest Christmas present to myself, but every day it is the greatest gift I could have ever bestowed upon myself.
Sobriety for me has become the norm. I've spent more time now of my life in Victoria, in the scene, beside and part of the music, sober, than I had before drinking. The sober times outweigh the drunk times. The memories outweigh the blurred regrets.
Once upon a time it was hard. But slowly and so slowly with confidence, with support, and with enough love for myself ... now it's easy. Sober is just who I am.