Make Mine a Club Soda

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The Beginning

The first time I refused a drink was at 30,000 feet. I used to fly internationally regularly, and I was always perplexed by the folks who would refuse drinks as the trolley rolled by. Almost as puzzling as the abstainers were the people who refused a second or a third drink. What was the point of having just one drink on an 8 hour flight? These thoughts were swirling around my head when the cabin attendant asked me what I wanted. With some hesitation, I said “club soda, please.” Anyone who may have been paying attention did not see anything amiss, but it was a monumental moment in my life.

I had been visiting my late father and was returning home to NYC. It was April of 2005 and my mother had joined me in visiting my father who was getting frail. My parents were still married but had been living separately for some years. It was a rare occasion for the 3 of us to be in the same room. During that visit I saw how they related to each other and something in me shifted. I realized that I did not want to live a life like theirs, together yet apart, loving but estranged, isolated in memories of days long gone. I felt that I was on a trajectory that would lead to a destination like my parents’. I needed to reappraise my path.

I can’t say for sure what brought me to that moment when I ordered soda instead of gin but somehow my mind was changed. In that split second, I handed in my identity as a drunk and addict and started a transformative journey, for which I am grateful daily.

The Middle

When I got off the plane and came home I didn’t know how to proceed. I called a friend who had been sober for over a decade and she helped me on my way. On this journey I have met the most extraordinary and selfless people who sat with me in my disoriented state and patiently helped me find new bearing. The early months and years were the hardest since I had to essentially find a new identity, and a way back to my true self. Bars, drugs, and parties were no longer part of my reality nor were most of the people, places, and things that made up that life. Now I had a lot of time on my hands where I would normally be at bars or parties, or hung over.

Beyond the voids in my time, there was the core void in myself. The reason most turn to substances, food, sex, gambling or other compulsions is often that we feel there is something missing in us: a hole in our soul. We turn to them to modulate emotions that we find difficult to handle. I’d heard that spiritual development stops when addiction starts and I had many years of catching up to do. Through engagement in the world I started to strengthen the spiritual muscles that atrophied during the decades of using chemical crutches.

The things that helped in the early days were simple: routine, like-minded people, helping others, and self-care for my body and spirit. First it was 90 days, then six months, then a year, and so forth. What was once a struggle is now just a part of who I am.  

No end

It’s been twelve years now, and part of me feels like I have this recovery thing under control. However, I know I don’t. I know this because every so often I go to a meeting of addicts which is specifically for those who are new in recovery. I attended those meetings when I started and I continue to go because it’s there that I see how cunning, baffling, and powerful these compulsions can be. I hear of people who after 20 years decided to try drinking or drugs again and lost another five years to addiction and were now back in this room with all the other beginners.

I am sure that some people can do controlled drinking but I’m not one of them. For me one’s too many and ten are not enough. I’m still perplexed at those who pass up a refill on a plane. As for those who order soda, I wonder if they are a fellow traveler and if this is the first time they have said no to a drink.


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