Yesterday one of my Buddhist recovery group members brought in a reading from Pema Chödrön about loneliness. There’s tons to unpack in the article, which is about how we experience loneliness. But what really stuck out for me in the bit we discussed was Chödrön’s claim that “as human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution.”
By resolution, I think she means we want the comfort of feeling like we’ve nailed down all our struggles, that we can control our environments, anticipate what’s coming, and repair or conquer anything that doesn’t please us. I read philosophy here and there — particularly the kind that tries to make sense of the mental and physical activity we seem to need to do as part of our essential nature. We’re a scheme-y bunch. We try to problem solve, fix, create, destroy and change our worlds. We pretty much suck at sitting still, and accepting the things in life that hurt us, even when this may be the better thing to do. because dammit we deserve control! We deserve certainty!
But do we in fact deserve these things? This was the part yesterday that gave me pause. Because yeah. I DO think I deserve certainty. Which is just… not true. I’ve identified self-pity as the main driver of my drinking behaviour. At heart the rationale goes like this: “My life sucks, so I deserve to drink. If only I could get everything to go right… etc. etc.”
If your definition of a good life is certainty and security — certainly these are things that I crave constantly — you can be pretty sure that your life is always going to suck, because things are always going to be changing. There is no big-R Resolution. This leaves one — well okay me — with a dilemma: keep pouring beer and wine into bottomless place of feeling uncertain, or figure out how to make peace with uncertainty.
I passed my six month mark of not drinking right around Christmas, and spent New Year’s Eve hanging out at my sister-in-law’s playing games. A very nice thing was that I was looking forward to the evening, with no trepidation at all about not drinking.
Of course this might have been different if I’d been at some alcohol-saturated New Year’s party, or just sitting on the couch at home. But I think that the reason why I had a particularly warm-and-fuzzy evening last night was because I was conscious that new perspectives and experiences can open up once you get past the idea that you can’t enjoy anything without drinking.
And boy is that “No Drinking = No Fun” thing real. When you are contemplating quitting, or even when you know in your guts you should, you must quit, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the dread that rises when you think to yourself, “I will never have fun again.” It’s a bullshit story (you know in your head that it’s not rational), but the feelings that come with it are big, and real, and you can’t underestimate them.
That’s why I thought early on that I would have to pay a lot of attention to people who said “Hey it was my first sober wedding/sober vacation/ sober birthday/sober New Year’s and it was AWESOME. These same people told me that they had once believed sober fun was impossible too. Then of course you go, “Okay well if they can do it I can do it.” For me, I couldn’t beat this message into my own head enough. It’s starting to stick now.
For all the times I can think about where drinking has left me feeling somewhere between vaguely empty and powerless, actually enjoying life without alcohol is an amazingly empowering experience.
Gee it’s nice to start 2018 sober. Not every day feels like a celebration. Not every day is easy. But this morning I am not hung over, and I’m happy. Happy (Sober) 2018 everyone.
One thing I don’t miss about drinking is the amount of psychic energy it takes to manage it: Manage how much you drink. Manage the guilt. Manage the shame. Manage your life to accommodate your drinking. Uggggghhhh. All of this thinking and thinking and thinking and feeling and feeling about alcohol that robs you of time and energy you could spend thinking about other stuff.
One of the things that got me really serious about quitting — or at least giving it my very best shot — was how that psychic energy needed to justify my drinking was creeping in to my day more and more. I’d come to accept that evenings were for drinking, and thinking about drinking. Starting at five o’clock, my activities and thoughts revolved around drinking, and this was acceptable. Sort of. Or I rationalized it that way. But the last year or so things started happening that made me really uncomfortable:
- I hadn’t got to the point of day drinking (yet) but I was thinking about it more. It was a subtle shift from “Yay! Beer o’clock!” to “Is it beer o’clock yet? How about now? Okay how about now?” In other words, it was earlier and earlier in the day that I was anticipating my first drink. Yikes.
- My evenings, more and more, were becoming anxious because I couldn’t handle the anxiety of not drinking once I got going with the first one. This called for an exhausting balancing act: trying to drink slower than I wanted to, counting my drinks, starting to drink later than I wanted to, and/or going to bed earlier than I wanted to.
- Hangover anxiety. Apparently this is a thing? I’m not sure if its guilt, or something physiological, but I was starting to have these *dread* feelings at night when I woke up. Then you get to think not only about your drinking, but the anxiety and health problems your drinking is causing you. Anxiety about anxiety.
Sometimes when five o’clock rolls around I still have that kind of itchy feeling like I want a drink. But oh my, I don’t miss all the bullshit that came with satisfying that craving.