One of the benefits of working in a grocery store is that we are encouraged to try new products. Holiday cookies trays are eagerly ripped apart and new cheeses are paired with grapes and crackers in our breakroom. This is routine in our store, which is more relaxed than other locations in the company.
Recently, we received a new beer cheese that everyone had been eyeing all morning. We broke down the morning load and soon enough, a few hunks of cheese laid in the breakroom with an assortment of crackers and sliced fruit. As an alcoholic and food-lover, I am never surprised to see alcohol spread beyond it’s liquid purpose into my everyday life. Between beer brats and chicken marsala, this coexisting is something I understand and since this cheese contains no alcohol, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t indulge.
I sliced into the stiff wedge and nonchalantly popped it onto my tongue. I didn’t even need to chew it to know that I made a huge mistake. It was as if I just spooned the head of a foamy lager into my mouth. In the past two and a half years of my sobriety, I had never tasted anything so similar to alcohol. I immediately grabbed a paper towel and rushed out of the room, spitting the mess into my cupped hands.
Fortunately, my coworkers only know me as a sober individual and are mostly understanding of my choice not to drink. Despite their comfort, I was embarrassed by my reaction. It was the first time I felt vulnerable to my addiction in quite a bit. For a brief moment, I felt shame. Many coworkers assumed that I was appalled by the taste, but I was truly overwhelmed with its dangerous familiarity.
It had been awhile since my confidence was rattled, but I tried to look at this as an important reminder of the fragility of sobriety. I have attended parties, been in bars, even served drinks while being comfortable and all it took was a piece of cheese to rattle me.
As this unfolded in our break room, a copy of Neil Steinberg’s Drunkard was tucked away in my locker saved for ritual lunch breaks at Starbucks. Even then, I discretely pressed the cover and spine flat against the table as I read to not display the title. Although aptly named, I felt that the mere possession of the book was a public declaration of my alcoholism.
Steinberg, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist details his descent following an arrest for domestic battery back in 2005. Steinberg’s candid admissions made me uncomfortable and his relapses made me angry. His honestly allowed me to look at his life as a complete outsider void of an addiction of my own. This book pulled the blindfold off and I got to see my life in a way those close to me saw mine. This book took me a long time to read because it often forced me to hold up a mirror and look at my own horrific actions and the consequences of my addiction. I could never fathom hitting my significant other, but then again, I couldn’t have fathomed being arrested for drunk driving either, an offense I was guilty of years prior.
Steinberg shares intimate details in this book that most people would choose to hide from, something I find admirable. It gives me hope that I can one day be as candid about my past and inspire others to shed that guilt that some of us have been conditioned to hold onto. It continues to build until it cannot be held any longer, then that anguish feels uncontrollable. The day I quit drinking, I broke down in front of my father.
“I am such a bad person,” I sobbed as my father held my helpless body.
“No, you’re not,” he said calmly. Despite his assurance, I had never been so convinced by any emotion in my whole life and that certainty drives me to this day. I have spent a lot of time becoming comfortable with myself over the past few years and it is remarkable how many pieces of my life fell into place when I became confident with the person I had become.
Authors such as Steinberg continue to prop me up during my sobriety. The more I learn about people, the more comfortable I become with myself. While I am unique, my pursuit of something better is not.