Games lend themselves surprisingly well to drinking, even though your hands are full most of the time. Drink while tweaking your settings. Drink during the opening cutscene (it’s always too long anyway.). Drink during load screens. Drink when characters on the screen drink. Drink before you even start playing. Come home from the bar and boot up Overwatch and play with your friends and try not to sound drunk. Drink during respawns. Drink between matches. Say you have to log off to go to bed. Sit down on your couch and open another beer.
Don’t drink when you’re playing games for review. Feel principled about this. Calculate the hours in a day that you’re not drinking and come up firmly with most of them. See this as a sign that you’re fine. Admit that, given the option, you would rather be drunk than be anything else. Realize this is probably not fine.
This step is easy: Just stop putting booze inside yourself. Go to a games event one Thursday evening and decide to wait until later to hit the open bar. Keep seeing how long you can wait. Wait through that Friday. Spend the weekend frightened and sleepless and still waiting. Crave a drink so badly that you run out of your house. Pass two little kids selling lemonade. When they pitch you lemonade, manage not to scream “I want beer, you assholes!” Wonder if not drinking has turned you into a monster, or if you were already a monster and drinking just covered it up.
Decide not drinking is a stupid idea. Go into one of your beer stores and read every label on the rows and rows of craft IPAs. Actually press your head against the cold glass of the cooler in longing. Be disgusted with yourself.
Buy a pack of ginger beer. By the time you get home, the craving will quiet to a mean little roar inside you. Sit on your fire escape and watch the happy flow of traffic into the bar below your house. Feel how nearby the easy answer is. Drink all the ginger beers until you feel sick from sugar.
Try to play games
After a few days, stop being a monster. Instead, become someone whom nothing will satisfy. Open up your Steam library, your Epic account, your Origin account, your Switch library, your PS4 home screen. Boot up Spelunky. Boot up The Witcher 3. Boot up Fortnite. Boot up Red Dead Redemption 2. Worry that you only enjoyed games, or anything else, because you were drunk. Remember that you have enjoyed games while not drunk. Remember that you have enjoyed anything while not drunk. Worry that you’ll never enjoy things again. Find out from sober people that this feeling is normal. Keep not drinking, even though it feels like it’s making everything worse.
Survive E3 sober
Face the hardest work week of the year without alcohol. Survive the demands and responsibility and stress. Feel guilty when you don’t feel the excitement and joy that other people do.
Without the quick fix of alcohol, be forced to sit with all these feelings. Be present with them, even when they’re uncomfortable. Learn that the bad feelings are surprisingly survivable. Watch your feelings change.
Try to think of healthy ways to cope through the week of E3. Go to a kickboxing class and roundhouse kick the bag so hard you hurt your thigh and have to limp home. Decide you need a different way to cope.
After E3 is over, hang out at the bar below your house drinking seltzer with cranberry juice and talking to your gaming friends about the show. Realize there were games you were excited about after all; you didn’t notice because you were too busy being stressed and guilty about your guilt and stress. Realize, in your friends’ eagerness for your opinion, that maybe you did okay. Imagine the possibility that you don’t deserve to be punished because this is hard.
Feel good about making it through a stressful time without drinking, even though that’s something most people are pretty good at. Catalogue all the things you did well during the week, no matter how private or small. Admit it was probably more things than usual. Feel—you will be shocked—happy about being sober.
Find new things to do
Fill the absurd amount of hours in a sober day. Watch too much TV. Take walks. Buy armloads of books. Write fiction again. Go to new restaurants. Do a sensory deprivation tank. Suck at baking. Take a rock climbing class and fall in love with it. Buy a gym membership and climbing shoes. Spend your evenings scaling rock walls, solving weird puzzles with your body, the body sobriety is teaching you that you are going to have to live with, despite your best efforts.
Realize you are two months sober on a hot Monday evening in Texas, watching your niece barrel race. Celebrate with a giant sweet tea in a styrofoam cup. Believe that sober cliche, which you once found stupid, that you can have alcohol or you can have everything else. Understand, for the first time since you started this, how much everything else there is worth having.
Remember how to like games
Start Breath of the Wild again. Struggle to be interested at first, but stick with it. Drink kombucha while you play. Find yourself playing all day, drawn in as much by the game as by yourself playing it. Enjoy a game in your free time in a way you worried was lost.
Pick up Control because everyone you know is talking about it. Find it too scary and stressful to play for very long. Feel silly about this, and decide to keep playing. Drink non-alcoholic beer while you play. Eventually find yourself playing all night. Wonder if learning to love new things has reminded you how to love old things. Marvel at all the things there are in the world to love. Be embarrassed about how sappy this is.
Wonder if games are bad
Listen to other sober people talk about games as part and parcel of their drinking, as another vice they needed to shake off in their new life. Wonder if games are escapism and if sobriety means you’re not supposed to have that anymore. Decide that being sober doesn’t suddenly mean you don’t get to be human.
Try to only play games you’re actually excited about. Try to stop when you’ve had enough, or when you can still go to bed at a reasonable hour. Try to be more responsible with everything, but fail sometimes. Don’t feel as bad as you usually feel about failing. Wonder if this is some kind of personal progress, a sign that sobriety is making you a better person.
Don’t drink in games anymore
While playing The Outer Worlds, find yourself not picking up the booze items in the game. Feel sad about this, because you’ve always been intrigued by alcohol in games. Later in the game, scoop up a bottle of “mock apple juice” but misread it at first as “mock apple cider.” Say “oh shit” out loud as you hurry into your inventory to check if it’s alcoholic cider. See that it isn’t. Feel weird and a little uptight that you had worried about this. Wonder if fake drinking is a slippery slope to real drinking, but don’t think it is.
Realize your decision doesn’t come from avoidance so much as having ingrained the key habit to staying sober, which is not picking up booze. Be surprised that this effort has filtered from your real life into your virtual one. Wonder if one day you’ll never think about alcohol at all, which is something you’ve heard sober people say. Realize that the sober people who say they never think about booze have all gathered in places where people go to talk about booze, so they are probably full of shit. Wonder if being sober means you have to be a little full of shit. Decide you are thinking too hard about video game booze.
Find out games aren’t better sober, but you are
Don’t have some new revelation about games now that you’re sober. Realize instead, much to your chagrin, that most things are better when you’re not drunk for them. Admit that you play games better sober. Pay attention to the cutscenes instead of running to the fridge. Remember what the buttons do, most of the time.
Go to the bar below your house and drink seltzer and talk to your friends about games and actually remember their answers. Remember the games people recommend. Actually check them out and talk about them the next time you see the person who loves them. Be better at talking to people in general. Be mostly better at everything.
Be happy with your life without alcohol. Feel afraid about this, because that means now you have to keep doing it. Wonder if something will happen that could be so bad or so good that you would drink again. Imagine how impossible it will be not to drink in future situations, like weddings or travel or someone dying or if one day you get a dog and then something happens to the dog. Feel like you’re not strong enough for all the things that haven’t happened yet.
Go to a house party, where you run into the ex-boyfriend who’s the hardest to run into. Don’t drink about this. Tell a sober friend about your fear of the future and your pre-emptive planning to drink during it. When he laughs and says “I do that too!” remember, in the most comforting way, that you are not special. Talk to the ex-boyfriend. Don’t drink about it. Have a nice time. Don’t drink about that either.
Feel bigger than your problems when you don’t help them hurt you. Realize you’re doing the thing you’re so afraid of. Feel excited for the future, even though there’s no promise it will be good. Believe you’re stronger than you think.
(H/t, with her blessing, to Casey Plett)