Well, it’s Week 1 Sunday of the football season. I have some mixed feelings about this… and not just because I’m a Bills fan. Football Sundays for the past few years have been marked by weekly trips to my favorite local bar for snacks and beers and hanging out with the football regulars. Today was different.
I decided to stop drinking waaay back in January and, although I have given myself a few exceptions (such as a beer on my birthday and wine at my friend’s wedding), I haven’t had a drink in months. Not drinking is not particularly hard anymore, but I did feel wistful for the “old me” today. The roommate and I did, in fact, go to the bar because he wanted to watch the Packers play and I wanted to eat a gigantic pizza after running 9.5 miles this morning. I saw all the old regulars there and got a few hugs; two people told me they almost didn’t recognize me because I’d lost so much weight. But socializing wasn’t the same as it used to be.
Why did I stop drinking? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Ultimately, I stopped because I knew I had a problem. I stopped because I felt I had hurt someone I loved, and I stopped because I didn’t want someone I cared about to use alcohol as an excuse for not being with me. Equally important, though, are the things that are not reasons why I stopped drinking. I did not stop because I wanted to win someone back, I did not stop because I believe the drinking is why we were no longer together (I don’t), and I did not stop because I believe I am or was an alcoholic. I do believe that I drank for the wrong reasons, and I do believe that I abused it, but I’ve talked to a number of people about this decision–friends who are recovering alcoholics, friends who still drink, my therapist. It is notable to me that the only person who seems to think “alcoholic” is an appropriate term is the person who had a reason to find fault and who, incidentally, is guilty on his own part of some genuinely shitty behavior that he has yet to acknowledge or apologize for.
This is not totally about bashing someone else or abdicating responsibility for my own actions, but I did take those words seriously enough to seek out the opinions of others and to research the issue. I even went to a support group for a while, but I stopped because I realized I just couldn’t relate to alcoholics. I am not the person who can’t wake up in the morning without a drink, can’t go a day without a drink, skips work or school or shirks responsibilities in favor of drinking, has physical withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink. I never was. Most importantly, I am the person who stopped and changed when someone I loved told me I had a problem, and I am the person who doesn’t pick up a drink day after day because I remember the commitment I made to myself.
I didn’t drink because I was an alcoholic. And I’m not sure whether I even believe that he truly thinks I was an alcoholic. I did, however, drink because I have depression and I am an introvert and I was lonely. When I moved to Arizona and had no friends, department happy hours and football Sundays and Meetup pub crawls were how I met people and how I made friends. I felt popular with the drinking crowd (though I know a few people just came to the conclusion that I was an ass) and alcohol helped me talk to strangers and overcome the social anxiety I’ve had for a very long time. But those are terrible reasons to drink, and years of drinking that way made me act stupid, gain weight, and probably put me into a lot of situations that I was too damn smart to be in.
What is life like after drinking? I guess I look a lot better, because I’ve been told so by two people today and by two others on Friday at happy hour. I’m proud of myself for having willpower. I’m a bit less depressed overall, and I try to use the time I don’t spend drinking productively. But I’m still lonely, I still sometimes feel like I’m punishing myself for no good reason, and I feel like I avoid certain social situations because I don’t want to deal with “the alcohol question.” Life is never perfect. On Friday at happy hour two of my friends asked me why I stopped drinking. I tried to avoid answering at first, but I finally said this: “I stopped drinking after the man I loved called me an alcoholic and moved out-of-state without telling me.” The female friend who had asked me said nothing at first, but she actually had tears in her eyes.
Yeah… just imagine how I’ve felt.