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New Drugs, New Drinks, Same Sober Me

Having recently celebrated 11 years sober, it occurred to me that drinking and using has changed since I stopped. Not changed in a way like “Poof! No one uses drugs or drinks any more!” Far from it, I think our substance use disorder crisis has gotten far worse since I got sober.

No, I mean changed in like now in 2020 there are so many new products, new avenues and new ways to get inebriated. And while I cherish my sobriety and work pretty darn hard to hang onto it, I would be like if said there wasn’t just a teensy bit of FOMO when I hear about the plethora of new cool drugs and trendy new alcoholic beverages that all the kids are enjoying. 

For example, the other day a friend of mine was talking about going into a dispensary here in Portland. She said it was like a jewelry store and there were all sorts of glamorous options and different flavors of edibles all of which promised their own unique mind-altering high. I wondered as she spoke and my first thought was “Gee that sounds like fun. I should check one of those out.” My second thought, however, was “Oh wait. I don’t smoke weed anymore and like I didn’t really ever love it to begin with.” Likewise, another sober person in my life and I were laughing about all the cute, chic little cans of fancy wines that are on the market now, things that did not exist when I was drinking daily in 2008. I sighed and said out loud how nice that must be to go to events with adorable little to-go versions of wine. My friend was fast to remind me that a mini serving of wine would barely scratch the surface for a seasoned daily blackout drinker like myself. It’s definitely the same with smoking. I loved smoked cigarettes and started when I was 13. I didn’t stop until I was 37. Yet I totally missed the entire vaping phenomenon.  Despite not having a cigarette in 9 years, I really considered vaping over the summer. My brain convinced me fairly quickly that vaping could work and after all, I’d had a lot of loss over the summer. What harm could a little cupcake scented cloud of nicotine actually do? I already knew the answer to that question in the pit of my stomach. It wouldn’t be vaping just that once. I know that my inner addict would be off to the races after on puff.

Since 2009, I have seen lots of drug and alcohol trends come and go. I watched hipsters sip Moscow Mules out of fancy copper cups in 2011. I read articles about people being worried, understandably, about the presence of elephant tranquilizer showing up in heroin supplies in 2017. Just last summer at the swimming pool in my building, I saw skinny blondes guzzle back White Claws while tanning on deck chairs. I’ve also missed out on the big-time return of cocaine (But really? Did it ever leave?), the deep obsession with IPA, the momentary blip on the radar of frightening Flakka, Skittling, tainted CBD, spiked Kombucha, Kratom and probably countless others. Working as a recovery mentor in a hospital, there was no end to the new drug combinations or varieties we would see in the patients who wound up in the emergency room. I said “missed out” but when you see them in a list like that there’s zero real FOMO involved.

The daily screen time report at the end of the year on my new iPhone was, metaphorically, like looking at one of my old bar tabs. Let’s just say it was a daily average under 10 hours but not by freaking much.  It also started to make me feel depressed and filled with anxiety and not the fun entertaining thing it once was.

Yet I am reminded regularly that when it comes to anything that makes me feel good, I am not wired like “normal” people. As part of starting my new year off right, I decided to take a 90-day social media detox. Granted this in no way at all compares to quitting drinking or using drugs. It’s the luxury kind of detox that bored sober people like myself get to do when they have enough of a clear head to see other things in their lives that are problematic. The daily screen time report at the end of the year on my new iPhone was, metaphorically, like looking at one of my old bar tabs. Let’s just say it was a daily average under 10 hours but not by freaking much.  It also started to make me feel depressed and filled with anxiety and not the fun entertaining thing it once was. Thus, I decided a little break from social media would and maybe even helped me feel less anxious and depressed about the state of humanity. Also, maybe a social media break could usher in new healthy habits. I went to the bookstore to hopefully return to my love of reading and started practicing better sleeping hygiene. A few weeks in, I can honestly say this experiment is going well. I feel better and I’m getting more stuff done without being a slave to likes and notifications. But it definitely has highlighted how addicted to social media I actually am. It took a few days to not look at my phone out of sheer habit. I also found myself with a plethora of thoughts that I couldn’t instantly share. Thank god I’m a writer.  Also, it simply unleashed the inner addict in other parts of my life. Like the minute I deleted social media from my phone, I bought an AppleTV and started watching tv, in the same manner, I used to drink and reading books just like I chain smoked. Sigh.

In the end, drugs have changed and will continue to change. They may even be some validity to my thoughts that maybe these new drugs would be the ones that could work for me, the ones that wouldn’t destroy my life. Maybe vaping crack and drinking White Claw is the missing combination to help me use substances like a normal person! But I don’t want to find out because while the drugs have changed, I certainly have not. 


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Sean Paul Mahoney is the author of the new collection of essays Now That You’ve Stopped Dying and the co-host of the LGBTQ recovery podcast Queer Mental Condition. He also works as a recovery mentor and peer support specialist in Portland, Oregon.

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