O’Doul’s In Sobriety
O’Doul’s In Sobriety
Drinking O’Doul’s in sobriety can be a good, or bad experience, depending on what mindset you are in. I cannot give you a straight answer on whether it’s a good idea, or not, to drink O’Doul’s when you’re in recovery. That choice is up to you. What I can do is share my experience with this beverage, and hope it helps.
Not a sufficient substitute.
For starters, for those of you who don’t know what O’Doul’s is, it is “Non-Alcoholic” beer, or “Near beer”. It has .05% alcohol per bottle. It tastes like the real thing, without giving you that “buzz”.
My journey with this beverage started a little over 2 years ago. One night, someone I was hanging out with said he drank O’Doul’s when he would go out with friends. I thought, “Well, he’s in sobriety, and he drinks it, so it must be okay.” This was when I was about 7 months sober. What I didn’t take into consideration was, he had been sober for a while. And, he was doing it when he was (I assume) in fit spiritual condition.
So, I started researching. I wanted to know if more people in sobriety drank it too, and if it was a good idea or not. But, I was also fearful that it would be considered a “relapse”. That was my biggest concern.
All through my sobriety I told myself that if I ever relapsed, I was done. If I was going to relapse, there would be no coming back. I would be done with meetings, and I would be done with living. My plan was, if I drink I’m dead.
As I was researching though, I didn’t find any definitive proof of that it would be a “relapse”. No one said “yes, drinking O’Doul’s is considered a relapse”. Some said it wasn’t a good idea. Some said it was up to the individual. But no clear yes or no. That’s what sold me on giving O’Doul’s a shot.
I would love to sit here and say that my initial “test” with O’Doul’s was because I was curious about what it tasted like. But sadly, no. The first time I tried O’Doul’s, it was because I was emotional over a guy, and I did it because real drinking wasn’t an option.
I remember the night clear as day. I was fighting with a guy I knew, and kind of liked, through text messages. I was also texting back and forth with my sponsor. After texting for a couple of hours back and forth, they both quit responding. I was full of anger, selfish and self-centered “he can’t do that to me!” pity. Basically, I had all the feelings and characteristics of how I was when I was drinking, except I didn’t have any alcohol. I was in a dry drunk.
That’s when I decided to say screw them, and went to the store to buy O’Doul’s. I made a conscious decision to leave my phone at home. I left my sobriety chip in my pocket, but thought for a second about taking it out. When I got to the store I told my Higher Power that if someone from the Fellowship was there, and they saw me, I would back out.
No one showed up.
So, I bought it, drove home, and sat in my driveway chugging 2 of them as soon as I had the car in park. If that’s not old drinking behavior, I don’t know what is.
After I got back inside I had the sneaking feeling of “what did you do?” I had the feeling in the pit of my stomach that I wasn’t being too wise, but since I had bought it, I didn’t want to waste it.
While I was gone, my sponsor text me back. His first text was a response to my previous text, and then “Are you there?????????” He was concerned about me.
I thought for a moment about not telling him that I was drinking near beer. But up until that point I had been completely honest with him, I couldn’t start lying now. So I told him. He said “If they made non-alcoholic flavored vodka, I wouldn’t drink it. Too close to the real thing.”
That night, I drank two more, and then poured the remaining down the sink. It did give me a “buzzed” feeling like I used to get while I was drinking, but I thought it was because I hadn’t eaten anything.
The next night I started to panic. I was worried that it was a relapse, and I would have to start my time over. If I had to do that, I would have said “fuck it, I’m drinking for real”. But, I had been sober for a minute, liked my life, and I didn’t want to do that.
I text my sponsor that night and asked him. He said don’t panic, don’t worry. It has less alcohol than a dose of Nyquil. Phew. Bullet dodged.
That night was the start of using O’Doul’s as a coping mechanism. When I felt like life was getting overwhelming, I turned to O’Doul’s to cope.
The next time was in October, over my dad’s birthday. I wasn’t speaking to him at the time and I was panicking over the thought of calling him.
In December, it was because I was anxious over communion at church. They had the wine, and white grape juice, but I was still uncomfortable going up for communion. I got anxious every time I went up. That night I was already in a bad place, not spiritually fit. I was at the store already. Decision made.
In February, the guy I had been fighting with back in August, my first O’Doul’s night, sent me a text telling me he lied to me. That resulted in a tail-spin of emotions, asking myself what I did wrong, why I was such a piece of shit. I put the blame on myself, instead of him.
After that, I don’t remember drinking O’Doul’s. I realized where I was headed, and noticed a pattern forming, so I decided that MAYBE it wasn’t a good idea anymore. Plus, I received a very loving response from my sponsor, after I told him I drank it again.
He said “Now here’s an unpaid non-political SUGGESTION… Lose the O’Doul’s. As I said once before vodka was my end game weakness. If there was a non-alcohol vodka flavored drink developed I would not buy it. I know the flavor might be enough to send me back down that dark street and I’ve been sober for a while (7 years). Just a suggestion.”
That, along with a lot of grace from my Higher Power, was enough to make me think twice about drinking O’Doul’s again. For a while anyway.
The rest of that year I did well. No major life moments happened during that time. No major hang-ups that turned over the apple cart. I focused on my sobriety, on learning, keeping in touch with my sponsor, and the Fellowship.
And then the shit hit the fan.
In October, 2015, my nieces were taken into foster care. My brother-in-law decided to be stupid. The end result was my nieces getting taken away. When I found that out I went into full-on meltdown.
There was something else going on in my life at the same time, but I don’t recall what it was now. I only know it was the perfect storm for me to reach for the O’Doul’s again. But this time was different. I was in a bad place that week. I was in a funk, for days on end. Beaten down and not even close to a point where I could “pull myself up by the bootstraps”.
I kept telling myself that it was just a funk, it would pass. But it didn’t. It kept going. Praying didn’t help. Talking to others didn’t help. I was in a black hole, falling and falling.
Until one night, October 19, 2015. That night I hit bottom in sobriety.
I had already bought O’Doul’s, and still had about 5 left, I think. I knew they were in the fridge, but I had that crawling sensation in my skin, knowing that wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t take the edge off. It wouldn’t lift this mental fog that had been hovering over me for days. It wouldn’t relieve me of the utter despair and pain I was in.
Thankfully my Higher Power stepped in, or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this now.
That night I decided to go to my meeting, and then drink after. On the way, driving to my meeting, I was challenging cars to hit me. Just fucking hit me so I don’t have to feel like this anymore!
But no one did. I made it to my meeting in one piece.
I sat through the whole meeting, wallowing in my disgusting mess of self-pity and emotions that I was feeling. I wanted to reach out and tell someone I was hurting, but also not able to because I wanted someone to ask me if I was okay. Willing them to read my mind. Wishing I had a ticker tape on my forehead that would tell them “hey, Mindy isn’t okay tonight. You’d better ask her if she needs help”. But no one did.
Then, a message from my Higher Power came through. Someone said something, and I honestly have no idea what that was, but it gave me that little glimmer of hope to keep going a few more minutes. That glimmer of hope that if I just reach out and tell someone I’m not okay, they could help me.
And that’s just what I did. After the meeting, I told a friend that I was struggling. I told him that I was not okay, and I almost didn’t make it to the meeting that night. I also confessed that I was thinking about suicide, and I had drank O’Doul’s.
Sitting here today, thinking about that night, fills me with so much awe and wonder. I can’t help but think “But for the grace of God, there go I”. Because it is only by the grace of my Higher Power that I am sitting here tonight, recounting my experiences with my fickle friend O’Doul’s.
There are so many reasons today that I should be dead, instead of living, and sober. So many times during these past 2 years and 9 months that I should have drank, but didn’t. All those times where I went to the store to buy O’Doul’s and didn’t reach for the real thing.
I shake my head and say, that was not my doing. I am filled with the grace of my Higher Power, and I am grateful for that.
I still ask myself today, was it a relapse? Mentally, yes. Definitely. But physically? Still not sure about it. I think what matters to me today isn’t whether it was a relapse or not. What matters to me today is that I have taken the grace from my Higher Power for granted too many times in my sobriety. It’s a wake-up call to me that if I rest on my laurels, I might not get another chance.
Do I suggest you go out right now and buy O’Doul’s? Yes and no. Yes, if you are in fit spiritual condition. If you could walk into a bar right this minute, and not have the overwhelming urge to pick up a drink. If you are secure in your sobriety, and you have a good group of sober friends to lean on.
No, if the above does not fit you right now. I used O’Doul’s as a temporary fix for what turned out to be a spiritual malady. I was trying to fix what was inside of me, with something outside. I would suggest only drinking it if you are not trying to mimic actual drinking. Because it does taste like real beer. And for some, it could be a trigger for relapse.
If your intention is to drink it to “fit in” with your friends who drink, again, make sure you are in fit spiritual condition. But even then, it’s still a rocky road.
If you want to mask feelings of pain, inadequacy, etc. I would highly suggest you don’t. Sobriety isn’t a game. I learned that the hard way. I’m either 100% in this sobriety deal, or I’m not. As it says in the Big Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” – Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon. – Pg. 59
For me, it’s all or nothing. I can’t half-ass this sobriety deal. In the end, I did not consider it a relapse. I did consider it a big wake up call. And, a foreshadowing of what’s to come if I don’t take my sobriety seriously.
Originally published October 26, 2016 – medium.com