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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Renken

Iced Tea with Lemon

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

I wasn't prepared for the shame that can come with being true to my recovery.

I beg to differ, Sir Elton John. "Sorry" does not seem to be the hardest word.

Saying "I'm sorry" has never been a struggle for me. (In fact, I wish it were more of a struggle sometimes because why the hell am I apologizing to the guy who holds the door open for me at QT?)

"I love you" has generally come pretty easy because when I like you, I tend to really, really like you a whole super lot.

"Iced tea with lemon," though? Those four words can get my heart rate going in certain crowds. That's the stuff of sweaty palms.

When I say them in front of people who don't know me, I convince myself that those words brand me as one of two things: 1) a dud, or 2) a drunk who's two sips away from ripping her clothes off and dancing on the church altar. (I go back and forth as to which of these stereotypes bothers me most.)

When I say them in front of people who already know I'm an alcoholic (but who don't really truly know me), I worry that my drink order is conveying four entirely different words: "I am judging you."

Don't get me wrong--there's not enough money or peer approval in the world that would make me go back to the dark, lonely place of active addiction. But let's be honest--sobriety isn't the most effective wingman. Most folks don't make a beeline to get to know the intriguing woman holding the glass of iced tea.

Sobriety isn't the most effective wingman.

So if I'm rusty on my 12 steps and I find myself outside of my people comfort zone, "iced tea with lemon" is all it takes to start drafting everyone's scripts in my head.

My new co-workers are most definitely thinking that I'm a prude who never should have made it past the first round of interviews. They're thinking about how they'll have to plan happy hours behind my back because there's no way they're going to let me suck all of the fun out of the next one.

Acquaintances who date back to my pre-sobriety days must be thinking that, if I've diagnosed myself as an alcoholic, I must have diagnosed them as well. They're thinking that I've been sucked into a cult called AA that has made me vow to eliminate all fun from my life from this day forward. They are wishing they had the old Mel back.

When they find out the reason for the iced tea with lemon, the school moms must be picturing me selling breast milk in exchange for pills. And the business acquaintances have

to be wondering if I staggered into court with a pint of vodka in my briefcase.

And then I start drafting my scripts.

The script of how I'm going to tell people that I'm an alcoholic without everything getting all awkward. Of how I can make it sound cool and witty. Maybe something like "it's not a matter of me not liking alcohol--it's a matter of liking it too much" so they can see that I'm totally one of them. One of the cool kids.

The script where I convince people--through my outstanding wit and charm--that I am the same old Mel. Where I explain that I'm so much less judgmental now that I'm sober, and they should never feel like they have to justify their drinking to me. The script where I tell them that my sobriety has nothing to do with them or their addictions (should they have any), and the last thing I want is for them to be uncomfortable around me.

And last but not least, the damage control script. After I've explained how I'm not a teetotaler and was the president of beer's fan club, I need to convince them that it's okay to leave their children with me. That they can trust me to represent their business interests. Because I wasn't that kind of a drunk, if-you-know-what-I-mean.

But I don't say any of it because--really--TMI, right?

Then I remember. The scripts aren't real and my sobriety isn't about anyone else. It's about knowing, when I order my iced tea with lemon, that I'm not going to waste the next day ranking the night's behavior on a scale of no-different-than-anyone-else to God-please-never-again. It's about placing a drink order that allows me to rest assured that I won't end up in a hospital, jail, or prison because I had too much caffeine before driving home.

I love you, iced tea with lemon. And I'm not sorry for it.


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