Well, as of Monday I have completed a full month of not drinking. For those who know me in real life (as some of you do) you may recognize this as highly uncharacteristic behavior. I’ve tried to think back, and my best estimate is that this is the longest I’ve been booze free since sometime around the turn of the millennium. That’s not to say I have been a total lush, or even that I drank every day. But alcohol was something of a hobby.
In the right setting I could tie one on, and in front of an open bar… just watch out.
Why did I quit? I could say it’s because I like a good challenge (which is true), or because I am trying to be healthier (which is also true), but that may sound like it’s not the whole truth, because it’s not. As I alluded to in an earlier post, I made some personal choices at the beginning of January that I was not too proud of, and that caused me to reflect. When someone I care about insinuates that I have a drinking problem and advises me to “try being sober,” I actually take it under consideration.
Not drinking sometimes feels awesome, and at other times it feels like I’ve been exiled from a magical funland I used to love visiting. It’s certainly tough when you’re touring wine country with friends, or when another friend lovingly (drunkenly) texts you from the bar every Friday to tell you how much your company is missed. Self-control is also a double-edged sword. Part of the reason I drink is because I consider myself quite introverted in real life. I’m much more likely to express my opinion when I drink, and I’m much more likely to stand up for myself. I’ve caught myself withdrawing when I’m out with my friends sober. I get bored, I get annoyed and frustrated about not drinking, and when someone makes a tasteless joke or talks to me the wrong way, I swallow it rather than saying anything. Yet now, I also don’t get into shouting matches or send angry texts, and most delightfully I am always able to drive myself home at the end of the night. The thing is, can’t I find a happy medium?
I’m not sure I’m thrilled with who I am when I’m not drinking either, but maybe that’s the point. Pema Chodron discusses the importance of mindfulness, and the need to not hide behind addictions of whatever sort. When we’re not distracting ourselves with drugs or booze or sex, we have the opportunity to view who we really are, to accept ourselves in this moment, and to work on our own growth. And there has been growth this month. Since Christmas, I’ve lost 15 lbs.–Due not only to not drinking, but also to working out, running, and the mostly vegetarian diet I’ve been on since the start of 2012. I’ve been meditating most days, reading and talking a lot about substance abuse with professionals and others who share the same problems. I’ve also been thinking in a more rational way about things that scare me, fears about my career and my future. I don’t know that thinking has resulted in any more productive response to those fears yet, but perhaps in the future it will.
Much like how I felt at the end of the Vegan Challenge, I’m going to continue not drinking for a while because I like the effect. I like fitting into my old clothes, I like having extra money, I like feeling healthier, I like never waking up hung over or with the feeling I did something I shouldn’t have.
That’s not to say this is permanent. It’s still hard to imagine never taking a drink again. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. But I will continue doing it for now, for myself. I am not going to do it for someone else, or in the hopes that the person whose comments started all this will come back into my life. That’s the other weird thing about sobriety and mindfulness: Clarity. It turns out, most of us have our own issues and vices. People who really love each other tend to do so in spite of all that. It’s sometimes only when you step away from a situation or a relationship that you see what the pot is doing to the kettle. I do recognize when I’ve done something wrong, I miss the person in question every day, and I feel sorry about behaving in a way that was childish at best. However, all this has caused me to look at myself and take control of my problems. It’s easy to tell someone else what their problems are and to use those words as a weapon. It’s a lot harder to look at your own problems and make a change.