I went out last night.
“So what?” you may wonder. “Who cares?” It’s a reasonable question if you’re a normal person
Let’s review some terminology. “Going out” is a basic unit of measurement of social interaction. If we ask someone to go out, it’s a request to spend time together; to do something fun; to stop re-binging Downton Abbey and go somewhere interesting. “Let’s go out!” is the clarion call of the fun club. If someone says, “I usually go out on the weekends,” they’re not talking about Bible study or an AA meeting. While going out is two clicks more virtuous than partying, it’s not a euphemism for wholesomeness.
Another use of going out is to describe a tenuous state of monogamy. They’re going out refers to a couple that is dating, yes, but aren’t quite at the boyfriend or girlfriend stage. And besides, all those words (dating, boyfriend, and girlfriend) are dorky and adolescent, so we prefer to be going out.
Further, I’m a flannel-wearing, Subaru-driving member of the LGBTQ community, and am required to include that being out has another meaning entirely to people like me. Interestingly, LGBTQ people come out while the rest of the world goes out. So much coming and going, it’s like rush hour. (Or like me on that bar crawl in NOLA that one night, but that’s a different blog post.) I came out at the age of 39, and can report that it’s nothing like going out at all. There was less Zydeco and nobody checked my ID at the door.
In the circles I travel in now, going out is something really dangerous, and it’s not because we might get stood up or might not like the band. When an alcoholic goes out, it means they’ve left the shelter of recovery. It means they’ve picked up drinking. Probably more than once. (For reasons I’ll not get into here, I’ve spent hours Googling the difference between a slip and a relapse. It’s a dotted line, but going out means more than a slip, and if you need a glossary you’re not alone.)
When I heard that multiple friends had gone out over the past handful of weeks, I wasn’t happy for them: they weren’t moshing or singing karaoke. (Though, maybe they were. What do I know?) They were drinking. And they weren’t doing it socially. They were doing like the pros that they are: alone and in secret and in a desperate way, hoping not to get caught. I mean…I don’t have the details, but I know because I know that they weren’t having any fun. This kind of going out can kill a person and often does.
When I went out last night, it was to a brew pub. I’m a musician who performs as part of a duet, so learning to function in spaces that are little more than altars to the god of drinking is a skill I had to develop early in sobriety. I not only had to learn to be there, but I had to figure out how to perform on stage while breathing in pungent aromas of hops and yeast. Sober. (I know, right?) In sobriety, I’ve become pretty good at furiously not noticing what other people are sucking out of pint glasses, stemware, bottles, or cans. I have developed a steely ability to aggressively not care. I’ve turned not caring into a martial art. When other people are drinking, I don’t care at them.
Watching a bar from an onstage vantage point is as close to being a fly on the wall as humans get to be. We’re even less visible than the bartender. (My bartender, by the way, knows full well not to serve me. Ever. He lets me open carry a twelve-pack of seltzer into his pub. He likes our music and knows it would be harder for me to perform if I were dead. He prefers me to remain alive. Best bartender ever.) From stage last night, I watched the pub’s patrons, lifting and setting down their pint glasses, their laughter getting louder as the hours passed. Their food arrived, they cleaned their plates, the tables were cleared, they leaned on their elbows and kept drinking. They were out.
My duet partner (aka my wife) and I played and sang. We traded bantering jokes. I drank a lot of seltzer. I heard the call of craft beer more than once, but I fiercely let those calls go to the cognitive equivalent of voice mail. It was all very normal. I was out of the house for the evening, but staying in my recovery. In. Not out. Standard stuff, except that the soundtrack in my head was not the usual travelogue about this well-worn dichotomy. It was about my alcoholic friends who had recently gone out. For years, I had heard stories about alcoholics who burst out of recovery in a blaze of rebellion or weakness or flawed thinking only to die. Some die immediately. Some wither away to grisly ends. The CDC says that almost 90,000 people die of this disorder in the U.S. each year, which equals the staggering loss of 2.5 million years’ worth of human lives annually. I sat on my stool, arms around my guitar, doing my job, and watched people who were out for the evening doing the same thing that my friends had done by going out this other, terrible way, and the unfairness and the worry made me miss more than one chord change.
People go out. Tides go out too, as they ebb away from the shore. Fires go out if we douse them with water or neglect them. Same for lights, which are extinguished. But there’s hope. Tides also come back in, fires can reignite, and lights get turned back on. Onstage last night, I strummed my guitar, sang my harmony lines, watched the in crowd being out, and sent strength to my friends. I hope they come back in soon.