Couldn't We Just Go To The Movies? The Trouble With Hanging Out Sober

Lately, I have trouble hanging out.
Publish date:
August 17, 2012
friendship, sobriety, hanging out

I’m restless at a dinner party. Most people have finished eating, are rounding their 3rd glass of red. I'm playing with a salt shaker at a cedar table surrounded by men, a handful of whom I've never met before. A friend of mine is sitting across the room, a little drunk and giggling, taking pictures on her phone and touching her fingertips to the knuckles of the fellow next to her as she talks. Her eyes have an elfin sparkle to them, she’s having the kind of airy fun, it seems, that lets the night lead you anywhere.

I'm next to a guy called Peter, he’s regaling a review he read of the new "Total Recall."

“Did you see it?” I ask, and he says, “Nah, don’t go to the theater much.”

He talks on and I drift, counting 9 people at this gathering.

“If 2 heads are better than one,” I think, “what does that mean about 9 heads?”

I imagine what we could be doing instead of sitting around this table, accompanied by the remnants of a quinoa- mango salad, warm inches of wine, my stale seltzer. We could lay Peter across the table and try and levitate him. We could create a pully system from this third floor window and send down snacks to passing pedestrians. We could pool our resources and rent a limo for the evening. We could make these handsome boys up to look geriatric, video them attempting to fit into a running bathtub. Anything. We could even, for the love of god, go to the movies.

Wondering if I should suggest these things, I realize Peter has asked me a question. If I’ve seen a certain Schwarzenegger video on YouTube. I check my watch-less wrist, offer an “Excuse me, Pete” and palm my stomach to communicate nausea. Walking backward, I wave to my pal across the room, make my way to the street, and beneath dark yellow lamp light, walk home.

Lately, I have trouble hanging out.

Save for an awkward possibly mute year in pre-K, I’ve always loved to be around others. I'm extroverted, have always had friends, and enjoy being in a lively crowd. I love people, and in the past, have always been game for good group outing or a shindig. These days, it’s just not working for me.

Since sober, I’m becoming much more intentional and specific about how I spend my time. I write, make video art projects, read, run, wander around the city just to wander. I love it. I feel much more in charge of myself than ever before, more powerful, like I’ve grown a welcome little set of wings.

I have some great close friends in New York, too, and with them I talk, explore a bit, go to the beach, have a sleepover.

When I want to be with a crowd, though? When I get an invite from someone new or run into old classmates? It’s that same old thing; dinners, brunches, bars, parties. All activities that include, if not revolve around, drinking. If I go, I’m inevitably antsy or bored or reaching for a connection that just. doesn’t. seem. to materialize.

More and more these days, I don’t go to the party. I decline the hang out. I leave early. And that means I find myself living the life of a solo flier. Which is fine.

Most of the time.

Being sober can feel like having an enormous, unending expanse of time you have agreed to be on the alert, so I look for activities that are transformative in other ways. The most fruitful connections I make are usually creative ones, experimenting with art or bodywork or dancing, so I figure maybe I can try and make that the bulk of my social life.

I still want to gather with a group of people I love, though, I still want to get together with a bevy of old friends. I just don’t want it to always be a drinking hangout. Can’t we just do some Thai massage? I want to say, Fabricate a terra-cotta warrior helmet or interpret our dreams? Discuss some books? Practice stillness? Tennis?

One night I get a text from a friend who’s coming through town for a few days.

“You want to get a drink or something? Do dinner?” she asks, and I grunt audible like a tired kid.

“I’m a bit ti --” I begin to write, then pause, erase it. I think of an idea I had the other night at that dinner, and knowing she’s a pretty open gal, I write back.

“You ever tried to levitate someone?”

Returning from our meal together, I collapse onto my couch, notice a sleeve of Lorna Doones I’ve left beneath it.

“I can figure out new ways to be social,” I announce to no one, biting a stale cookie. “I just need to keep my options open.”

I realize all the different ways I already do connect with people, strangers even, people I’m around while I’m at yoga or on the subway, people I meet talking about movies at work.

“I just need to open my eyes to the opportunities already presenting themselves.”

The next day, a favorite customer comes into the video store; Henry, a poet nearing 85, wearing a gargantuan tan visor and a well-worn “I love NY” t-shirt.

“I’m going for a gallery walk with the guys,” he announces, returning a copy of "We Need to Talk About Kevin. "

“How many do you hit?” I ask.

“3 to 4,” he answers, removing the visor, patting his hairs down with a small paper map, popping the hat back on.

“Usually takes me a solid 5 hours. Then we go for a little cinnamon toast at the diner to discuss what we’ve seen.”

“That sounds great,” I say. A small jealousy pang erupts in my gut.

Henry coughs, loogies a little into a napkin he’s removed from his tiny leather knapsack. “You should come next time,” he offers, waving goodbye without looking up.

I’m reminded of what I said the night before; new ways to be social, keeping my options open.

I place my elbow on the counter, put my palm in my cheek, watch Henry’s beige visor inch across 9th.

“I need to get his number,” I say just beneath my breath. “This is exactly what I’m talking about.”