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  • Writer's pictureJack Shain

Playing Ain't No Luxury

Over the weekend, my wife (of almost 3 weeks) and I went for a drive up the PCH into Malibu. It was sunset. After being cooped up inside for 2 weeks, it seemed like we were driving on the Autobahn in Germany. Coming off the 10 and turning onto the PCH, I was hit with feelings of adventure, freedom, and joy. For about half an hour, we forgot about everything. We cranked up the radio, and had some fun. It reminded me of being in college and the many road trips on which I ventured. Among my favorites were Atlanta to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Kansas City, and multiple trips from Los Angeles up to the Oregon Coast. These memories are shared with friends, my brother, and my peers. But every trip during college was an escape. Like I have mentioned before, I was a mess in college. I was trying to escape a relationship that didn’t work out, or a class that I knew I was failing, or the nightmare of shadow people. The return trips were always somber and filled with a quiet fear of returning home.

When I got sober, I still struggled with this fear and wanting to escape. It didn’t magically disappear overnight. I struggled to look people in the eyes, I struggled to make it to class, and I struggled with any sort of responsibility. Luckily, I got kicked out of college, which made my responsibility level an absolute zero. So, I started from there and made a strict schedule over the next six months that I was unwilling to waver from. Although it helped me stay sober, I no longer knew how to have fun. This unfortunate result lasted about 2 years. A friend of mine gave me some advice after an over-dramatic share in a meeting. He took me aside and said, “Jack, I didn’t get sober to hide in the rooms the rest of my life. I got sober to have a life worth living.” He was the first person to make me realize I could go anywhere in my sobriety.

Since then, I have navigated the trains of Tokyo. I have strolled through the quiet streets of Okinawa. I’ve sat cramped in a van at 14,000 feet driving over the Andes Mountains en route to Machu Picchu. And I have cruised up and down the Madre de Dios River in the Amazon. My life has been extraordinary, and I owe it to sobriety and to my friend’s advice.

Now this post is not going to be one long humble brag. I am grateful for my friend’s advice. In early sobriety, I was too serious and rigid. It was as if I had blacked out during my teenage years (It makes sense -- that’s when I started drinking). When I finally came to, I was 22 and had to relearn how to brush my teeth. It is baffling how quickly I regressed. I ultimately had to relive my adolescence during my early 20’s. And it was awkward. It took time (I won’t say that dumb 12-step slogan). But it was worth it, because I got to travel as a result. And as we drove up the PCH looking out onto the Pacific Ocean, I couldn’t help but think what it would be like to see the ocean for the first time. I don’t think I have that memory.

That was the highlight of my week. A simple drive up the coast. As we enter week 3 of this stay at home order, I cannot help but feel both acceptance and restlessness. Staying in my apartment with my wife and our two cats appears to be getting easier. We have our schedules and duties that we each perform. If one cooks, the other washes dishes. If one has a Zoom call, the other works in a different room. The routines have settled. But what I am struggling with is that sense of adventure and freedom. My wife appears to be content playing Animal Crossing, and I am truly jealous. I wish so badly I could escape to a virtual island and invite all my friends to come over and catch butterflies and tarantulas.

To this day, I sometimes still flirt with being too serious. If I am not learning or putting my mind to something productive, I feel icky and restless. But as sobriety has taught me, I have to remember to play. This Friday is April 10th - the day my wife and I were supposed to be getting married (also my brother’s birthday). To have fun on that day, my mother-in-law has planned a Zoom dance party for our immediate family. My dancing is atrocious, and throughout this whole wedding planning process, the thought of people watching me dance has terrified me. But nevertheless, on April 10th, I will be dancing with my wife and my family. I can’t wait!

This article was written by Jack Shain, CADC-II and founder of Keep Left Recovery.

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