Last night my husband and I enjoyed a spontaneous “date night” adventure.  The day had been a little emotional for me – we’d attended a family function for my relatives and I’ve been struggling with some tension there (see: No One’s Favourite).  We decided the remedy was to shift gears with a night out.  We wanted to hear some live music and I was willing to endure the bar scene if necessary.  We checked our small town’s event listings and found the perfect venue – the local folk club.

It’s been a few years since I’d been to the folk club, which is understandable since it’s only open one or two nights per month.  I’d played there twice myself, on open mic nights, and enjoyed the seniors-centre-meets-church-basement atmosphere.  The tables and seats are mismatched and practical, the bathrooms are hobbled together, the bar serves canned drinks and popcorn.  The stage is low and close to the attentive audience, and the sound equipment is excellent and well manned.  Nothing else matters more to a performer.

Within moments someone approached me who remembered my last performance.  “Are you still playing?” he asked; a question I hate because the true answer is ‘no’.  I have two small charity gigs over the summer and that’s it.  My voice is out of shape, my daily rehearsals have dwindled to weekly efforts at most, and even my guitar-player calluses have disappeared.  I just don’t have the heart for it right now. I gave my standard answer, “I’m writing my next album so I haven’t been on stage much.”

I continued to chat with a few more musicians and the familiarity felt as warm as a hug.  It’s an older crowd; an eclectic, welcoming mix.  I was misfit there myself with my stylish clothes and highlighted hair – my identity defined by a magazine and purchased at a mall.  Compared to the folksy vests and hats, the grey haired fellow in the sun dress, and the mom jeans everywhere, I felt silly in designer jeans and heels but knew I was accepted anyway.

We picked up our drinks from the cash bar at the back of the room – a paneled affair like that which might have graced your grandmother’s basement circa 1969.  “What do you have without alcohol?” my husband asks on my behalf. The volunteer bartender’s eyebrows fly up as he thinks for a moment. “We got some kinda fake beer but in all my years I’ve never sold one.  I don’t even know if they’re good anymore.”  “I’ll take it,” I say.  It’s fine and somehow suits the room and my mood.

It felt wonderful sitting in the darkened room, surrounded by others who love music more than they love fashion, status, alcohol, or being noticed.   It was a comfort to watch someone else on stage and not wish it could be me — performers often spend so much time working on their act and trying to book gigs that it can be torture for them to sit in an audience instead of being on stage themselves.  I confess I’ve often felt this myself and I was pleased to be free of it.

Our good friends had invited us to come by their home for drinks and snacks later in the evening.  We left the club and stopped to pick up a bottle of Perrier for me.  My friend knows I have stopped drinking (in fact, she was the one who I first opened up to, the first who said, “you’re right, you need to quit”) but I haven’t told her husband yet.  It just hasn’t come up and the longer I wait to tell people the less I feel I need to.  It just is what it is.  I drank my Perrier, they all enjoyed their cocktails, and we stood in the kitchen for hours laughing, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. Four friends.  Good times.  Nothing’s changed.

Well, something has changed.  We didn’t have t take a cab home.  I didn’t have to find a way back over the next day to pick up my car.  I didn’t wake up worrying if I’d made an ass of myself.  I didn’t berate myself for drinking too much, or promise myself I would change.

Instead I drove home, sober and still chuckling over the jokes and conversations.  My friend had told a hilarious story about quitting smoking as an anniversary gift for her (now ex-) husband and being so twitchy as a result that she screamed at him for not appreciating it enough and tore up the anniversary card.  We had laughed until we cried trying to determine which musician I physically resemble most: Steven Tyler or Shania Twain.  We had (literally) wrestled for position around the platter of nachos that we inhaled somewhere around midnight, and when we left it was with laughter and jokes following us out the door and all the way to our car.

I’d had fun, and so had everyone else.  I’d been fun! I’d been funny! I’d been sober and still made others laugh – something I’d forgotten was possible. The lack of alcohol was a sidebar, a footnote.  Resistance was not the axis of my thoughts.

This morning as my husband and I spend a lazy Sunday morning drinking coffee in bed, two sleeping pups cuddled between us while he reads his book and I write about my new life, I realize that I am feeling less fear.  I can cast my gaze a little further into the future and feel confident that my life will continue without alcohol.  I surprise myself by looking forward to summer getaways and other events.  Through reading other’s blogs and connecting online with sobriety supporters I have learned to focus on the present, that there is danger in looking forward or backwards.  So I use this new feeling, this freedom of fear, to live confidently in each moment without anxiety.

Before I left the folk club last night, I handed in a volunteer form.  I’d never offered to help out with the club before because my only focus had been in getting on the stage.  Last night left me wanting more of the camaraderie behind the scenes so I checked the boxes that appealed to me: “I am willing to help out with….set up/take down (yes); concession sales (yes); ticket sales (yes)…”

And then, after some thought, I considered the last box as well:  performing.