I've just had another dinner out. This time with my wife's two brothers and their wives. No kids (whoop)! It was a bit like the dinner out I had in Noosa (you can read about it here) but we had the full set of siblings this time. And it happened again. I didn't feel like I was missing out and I didn't miss alcohol - at all. I happily sipped my way through a couple of fizzy concoctions and a small-town's supply of water.
It was more than just not missing alcohol though. We all had a fabulous night; great food, total hilarity, classic yarns from the past, family camaraderie. Both the Noosa dinner and this last one have been among my favourite dinners out, that I can remember anyway, and I navigated them both without alcohol. There has to be something in that. Right? I actually consciously felt like I enjoyed them MORE - yes more - than the boozy ones. I had the clarity to go along with the good times. I was weary from the late night the next morning, but my head was clear and the memories of the night were intact.
I've known my brothers in law for 20 years, since they were young fellas. But I came away from the dinner feeling like I knew them a little better. Being sober is helping me to engage more effectively with the people around me. What a gift that is.
We spilled out of the restaurant about 10:30pm and took photos outside to mark the night. Then someone suggested going to a bar for another drink. My heart sank. For some reason I've always reacted negatively to the "going out for another" scenario. It could be that I'd been comfortable in one environment and dreaded having to walk into unfamiliar surroundings and start again. I've never really loved bars; the crush of people, the noise, the queuing for drinks. I said I'd go along with what everyone else wanted to do but I was privately freaking out. I mean I was stone cold sober. Then I thought, it would be a good chance to practice facing up to the uncomfortable feelings and getting better at dealing with them. I mean, I can't avoid bars forever.
We went to a beautifully decorated antique-themed hotel bar around the corner, where the waiting staff were dressed in early 20th Century garb. Small, not too rowdy, not particularly crowded. It was actually my type of bar, where you can sit around and talk rather than having to shout above the dance-floor throng. I had a lemonade, while the others had one last nightcap.
Then I ordered a coffee. I felt like one to finish the night (even though it would probably make it hard to get any meaningful sleep - and it did). I've never ordered a coffee in a bar before. I looked around at the other patrons with my sober eyes, and I realised no one seemed particularly drunk, apart from one lone old fella with a grey handlebar moustache who seemed a bit worse for wear. Most were deep in seemingly meaningful conversations. When I ordered the coffee I liked the feeling of being on the same sober level as the waiter. In control. Aware of my surroundings. Able to order a simple coffee without swaying on my feet or slurring my order.
It really was just one for the road. We said our goodbyes and departed into the crisp Christchurch night for home.
I'm truly getting to that place where I really don't feel like I'm missing out and I really don't miss alcohol.