I went to a big university football game last weekend. We won 41 to 8. Yay.
I wouldn’t normally know the score of a football game. I’m an artist, an art therapist, an addiction counselor, a coffee lover… But I am not a sports fan. When a friend invited me to the game, however, I decided to view the day through the lens of an anthropologist. Analytically-minded, I approached it as a social experiment. A study of culture. Yes, I would blend in with the locals, “do as the Romans do…”
9:00 We are leaving at 9:00AM for a 3:00PM game. We are leaving at 9:00AM. For a 3:00PM game. A hand reaches over and pours something into my coffee.
9:05 I haven’t even taken a sip of my coffee (so lovingly made and intrusively defiled), when someone throws me a Gatorade. “Oh I’m not thirsty, thanks.” Everyone smiles. I’m missing something.
9:06 It’s not Gatorade.
10:00 We arrive. (Defiled) coffee and (not) Gatorade in hand, someone throws me a beer.
I need to interject for a second.
I didn’t grow up tailgating. To be honest, I still don’t understand what a “tailgate” is. (I guess it’s a party… For a football game… Whatever.) So, when clients say to me, “I can handle anything else, but I don’t know how I’m going to get through football season,” I never quite understood what that meant.
I get it now.
10:10 Someone throws me a beer. I decline.
10:15 Someone throws me a beer. I decline.
10:20 Someone throws me a beer. My friend pulls me aside. “Just take the beer, dude. You’re being really rude.”
We visit two bars and three tailgates in four hours. I say “No thanks!” a hundred different ways, hold on to empty cans, pour shots on the floor. At noon, I’m doing whatever is asked of me because I’m so uncomfortable. I’m tired of people yelling at me, sick of looking like an outsider, sick of advocating for myself…
I’m an adult woman. I shouldn’t have to feel like that.
And I’m not an alcoholic. I just don’t like alcohol, I don’t like feeling intoxicated. I will try to muster up some assemblage of advice for people in recovery, who may find themselves in this situation.
2:25 Someone has stuffed me into a jacket emblazoned with a giant, fuzzy initial and shoved me into the back of an SUV. Who’s driving…?
I am not feeling 100%. There are so many people shuffling around, yelling, eating… expecting me to know where I’m going. For anyone with social anxiety, this is a nightmare. The only thing that brings me solace in situations like these is a sharp sense illusion of control. Starting with the coffee I was (over)served at 9:00AM, however, my sense of control has been taken from me.
No, I feel controlled by everyone around me. By the mob of sports fans pushing and pulling and dictating what to say and when to say it and how I should be dressed – and all I can do is follow, passively, like a (drunk) puppy. Not really consenting to any of this (“WE’RE GETTING ANOTHER ONE. FOLLOW ME.” “…okay…” “TAKE THIS. IT’S PAID FOR.” “…okay…”), not really not consenting either. It all feels like a twisted, second adolescence.
I split my collegiate years between art school and a liberal arts college. Purposely and intentionally avoiding any school that, if shouted in a crowd, would get a response (I say, “MICHIGAN STATE!” you say, “SPARTY… something or other!” I say, “ALABAMA” you say, “ROLLTIDE!”). As an adult I could kick my 18 year old self for so adamantly avoiding a Big 10 education in an effort to avoid (gasp!) sorority girls.
And yet, here I am, surrounded by sorority sisters. In a hideous borrowed windbreaker, eyes (too) wide, clutching a spiked coffee, locating all the exits.
The passive puppy I am, I take to people-watching during the game. There is family seated behind us: Mom, Dad, Sons 1 and 2. All in team colors, all munching on some sort of carbohydrate.
3:48 Son 1 is yelling,“Dad! Dad!!” But Dad is passed out. He’s slumped unnaturally to one side, laying on the feet of the folks sitting behind him. Mom is yelling. “Every time! Every f-ing time, Randall!! Aaron, shut up! F- you, Randall!! Get your sh-t together! Randall! Get up, you idiot- SHUT UP AARON!”
No one is really phased by any of this. Some people smile, most people haven’t taken their eyes off the game. Lost as my inhibitions are, this passive puppy is staring, mouth agape, and terrified. I nudge my friend, “I have no idea how you do this every weekend…”
“Oh, I hate football,” he says. “That’s why I drink…”
THE SOBER SPORTS FAN
I don’t know how to separate the two ideas: sports and alcohol. And I struggle to know what type of advice to give to sports fans in recovery. “How do I navigate a football game? How do I navigate any event, really?” Concerts, parties, family get-togethers… we are a culture that values alcohol. We believe the myth that alcohol brings us together, helps us relax, helps us to celebrate. To avoid alcohol must mean avoiding relaxation, connection, and celebration, right?
I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.
Alcohol may help us feel more “relaxed” (read: asleep on the feet of strangers), it may give us the illusion that we are celebrating as hard as we can. But there are a number of ways to celebrate, relax, and spend time with family, that don’t involve drinking. I can’t tell you the number of times alcohol has derailed an otherwise wonderful event… screaming matches, embarrassing slips of the tongue, violent sickness in unfamiliar bathrooms. No, I don’t believe it’s the alcohol that ensures us a good time. That sounds like black-and-white thinking to me.
I may have enjoyed the game, if I would have been able to think clearly and move around effectively and not had a massive headache. And Sons 1 and 2 would have probably benefited greatly from Dad’s presence. Dad sharing some quality time with them. Attention. I’m still wondering how Dad was loaded back into the car after the game.
But I don’t mean to judge… I’m simply an anthropologist…
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
- Know your triggers. Identifying the source of particular cravings places you in a better position to manage them.
- Get a plan in place ahead of time. How will I avoid beer in the AM? How will I say, “No.” when someone is insisting?
- Take your time. Don’t jump into an event or situation you don’t feel comfortable with. Especially a sporting event where you know there will be alcohol. Saying “No” may feel uncomfortable, but your recovery comes first.
- Fake it. Sip seltzer. Put a coozy on your Diet Pepsi. Prevent intrusive questions and comments from inquisitive minds.
- Start new traditions. Watch the game at home? Start watching at a friend’s house you can trust. Sip non-alcoholic beer at holiday events? Make a new (non-alcoholic) mocktail for the entire family. Unwind with a walk, bath, or brownie instead of beer (and football).
- Just say, “Not yet”. Or say, “No thanks, but please think of me next time.” Sobriety does not mean you can never go to another football game. Over time the triggers are manageable, and you may enjoy being the only one who remembers the game…