Playing the Tape Through

tapeI guess this is an AA thing: a recovery tool you can use when you are experiencing a craving is to “play the tape through.” That is, instead of rationalizing your way into a drink, you “play the tape through” by imagining what happens after that initial, satisfying “Ahhh! Fabulous.” It goes like this: “Fuck it. Might as well have another one! And another.” And… hangover. Shame.

I recently spoke to a lady who had fallen off the wagon and quickly regrouped — how fortunate! — and this was precisely her experience. A drink with dinner turned in to an all-nighter, just like that.

The thing is, I wouldn’t do that. The first 24 hours of my tape, even the first few weeks, would be pretty tame. But you really do have to play the tape all the way through, whatever that looks like for you.

I was thinking about this a little bit last night when wine was calling out to me: “Drink me! Wouldn’t I be lovely with that big steak you’re about to tie in to? Steak is a special occasion! You can do it just this once!”

But I know, I know I know what this would lead to. My tape plays out something like this:

“Well. A glass of wine with dinner. That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I really can have a drink once in a while.”

One or two weeks later: “I think it is probably safe to have a glass of wine. I’ve waited a while.”

One month(ish): “Well so long as I’m having wine with this nice dinner a beer while I’m cooking wouldn’t kill me.”

Then the caution starts to dissipate, and false confidence kicks in: “Hey, I’m a responsible drinker now! I’ve totally got this. I will only drink if we are having a nice meal on the weekend, or if we are going out for dinner.”

Going out for dinner: “It’s a going out night so I’ll have a beer or two before we go out.” *Ends up hammered that night.*

“Oops that wasn’t good. I’d better be careful. I’ll do better next time.”

At this point I’m well on my way to getting back to daily drinking. “Being careful” is vague and means nothing, so this is about the time you start making rules for yourself, and you’re back in to the hell of moderating. Then you get tired of trying to moderate, and you just give up.

So, if you are a “high bottom” kind of girl like me and prefer the slow dull daily drinking to the more dramatic binge/bender pattern, your particular challenge might be like mine. Your “tape” might play out longer and more slowly than that of someone who cannonballs in to the deep end and gets smashed the first time they pick up the next drink.

This is a little bit sneaky. Well no actually its a lot sneaky because your ability to moderate in the early days of being off the wagon makes for a longer slower descent. So I find I’ve had to really think hard about all the stages of my rationalizing, because my tape plays out over a much longer time period.

I know this because I have had one experience with it already.  I’ve mentioned I quit for about 40 days three years ago. The first few times I brought a beer home — just one! Not keeping it in the house! — I was delighted that I’d achieved normal drinking. I think it took about two months before I’d fallen back in regular drinking, and maybe a couple more months before I was drinking daily again. But I was drinking daily again. This is the inevitable consequence of that first drink, months earlier.

In this sense, past efforts to quit or moderate are really useful sources of information. This means that any effort to quite for any period of time is a good thing. It might not stick this time, but it’s one more opportunity to learn about what your “tape” looks like.

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“The Drinking Quiz”

If you’ve ever wondered about your drinking, you have probably taken a drinking quiz or two to figure out if you have a problem. I first did this a few years ago. Can’t remember the exact deal, but it would ask things like whether you blacked out, or missed work, or binged. In my case, quizzes would return something tepid like “you may have a problem with alcohol.”

In my head: “Okay this says I’m not an alcoholic per se but I may have a problem with alcohol? What does that mean? I’m not that bad right? I don’t black out. I don’t miss work. I feel bad about drinking sometimes but I like drinking. Do I have to quit? I don’t think I have to quit because I’m only a 7 out of 12. I’m okay. I’m mostly okay. I only may have a problem. That’s not the same as a problem, right? Now if I was a 10 out of 12…”

Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. How. Exhausting.

Probably about six years ago, my doctor casually asked me about my drinking:

Her: Ever feel like you should cut down?

Me: Yeah. Sometimes…

Her: Do other people criticize you about your drinking or tell you to cut down?

Me: Not so much. Not really.

Her: Do you ever feel guilty about drinking?

Me: Yeah… yeah I guess I do. It does bother me a bit.

Her: Do you ever drink in the morning or anything? To calm down or nip a hangover?

Me: (I totally got this one). Nope.

Her: If you’ve answered yes to one of these questions, you have a problem, you know.

Damn. I was so busted. First I didn’t realize she had been administering a very short, and very effective drunky quiz. Usually I’m smart enough to know when I’m being cornered by a shrink or doctor. Not this time. The four questions she asked me are part of the CAGE diagnostic, which has been found to be highly accurate for identifying problem drinkers. Second, my vague “yes” responses didn’t deliver a comfortingly vague diagnosis with a middling score that might help me to keep downplaying my drinking.

I’ll say I responded with that typical mix of denial and recognition that messes with your head when you are asking yourself “Am I an alcoholic?” But this quiz caught me off guard because aside from the reference to morning drinking, it didn’t include any of those extreme behaviours (DUIs, criminal convictions, job losses) that many take to be the markers of “real” alcoholism. I kind of had no wiggle room on this one. Obviously it didn’t change my behaviour right away. But it sure as hell didn’t let me off the hook as “not a real drunk” like some of the other quizzes had.

I was thinking about this because I’m extra-reflecting on the occasion of my 100 Day Thingie yesterday. I was thinking about all the exhausting years of trying to decide if I was an alcoholic. If someone asked me if they were an alcoholic today, I would ask them these questions:

  • Does drinking make you feel shitty about yourself?
  • Do you expend a bunch of energy trying to manage your drinking?
  • Do you expend a bunch of energy trying to figure out if you’re an alcoholic or not?
  • Does the idea of living without alcohol completely freak you out?

For me, these have proven to be the core questions to answer. There are many variations on this of course. Nothing here will be a surprise to anyone who’s been in recovery for a while. But if you just happen to trip on this blog as one who is “sober curious,” maybe you can mull these questions in addition to others you might be asking yourself. I think if I’ve got a big point here it is this: whether you use the label “alcoholic” or not doesn’t matter. In fact it just interferes with the process of honestly answering questions like those in the CAGE, or the similar ones I just asked.

PS: I am no longer nearly as freaked out by the prospect of living alcohol-free. Still a little freaked out, but not terrified like I was when I started. There is hope.

#selfcare WTF? (Oh yeah. And 100 Days)

I was listening to a recovery podcast the other day and found myself quite frustrated. Guests and host had been going on a bit about being able to tell the difference between taking care of yourself and being self-indulgent – the latter being that frantic trying-to-fill-a-hole-you-can’t-fill business that seems to underpin a lot of addictions and addictive behaviour.

All very interesting and worth thinking about. Until, no shit, they try to sell us something! Uggggghhhhh! Carefully selected wellness products, that somehow – in their minds anyway and bless their hearts – are distinctive in being offered being cognizant the aforementioned distinction between wellness and frantic hole-filling.

But isn’t buying shit pretty much hole-filling no matter what? Maybe they’re just confused? Maybe we’re all confused. I certainly don’t always know when I’m practicing “self-care” versus “self indulgence” either. I don’t always know when I’m working on my self-esteem versus just being a self-absorbed navel gazer.

The challenge is to figure out what healthy self-care looks like, I suppose. I’m not denying we need it. I go off my nut if I don’t keep up with exercise. I love my nice bubble bath, and writing, and new socks, and cooking something gorgeous, and clean sheets. But just as often I am self-indulgent, especially when it comes to buying shit. I’ll get some… thing. A new lipstick. Another shirt I don’t need. And realize I wasn’t self-caring, I was indulging a pity party/sense of entitlement of the variety that has in the past, preceded drinking.

That’s why its so confusing when self-care and consumption get mixed together. I read a couple of articles about surging use of the #selfcare hashtag, both of which pointed to the relationships between wellness and consumerism. Examples were pointed to where our collective fascination with #selfcare is happily being exploited by advertisers on Twitter. We get conditioned to think that wellness is something to be found not in our relationships, but in our personal individual consumption of weekend retreats, or vegan facial treatments, or heirloom vegetables.

There’s this weird political angle too, where self-care is some kind of political act to validate your identity group. Justify it as activism if you will. To me, obsessively documenting your lifestyle on social media feeds the kind of focus on the self that, ironically seems to keep us unhappy instead of making us happy.

Here’s the thing: for me anyway, self-absorption is the enemy of sobriety. Much of my “sober journey” thus far has been trying to get my head out of my own ass, and challenge my tendency to self-isolate. It’s required doing something that’s scary for me, which is being more open to other people’s stories, more empathetic, and less selfish with my time. There is a deep paradox here that I don’t get but know to be true for me: self-love will come out of a deep regard and compassion for others. I have heard others in the sober community with whom this resonates. Maybe what I’m getting at is that “self-care” is a complement to, but not a replacement for the kind of care that is exchanged in community with others.

I hope this doesn’t come off too harshly. I don’t mean to begrudge anyone their lavender scented eye masks or Sunday lattes, or acupuncture treatments . I just think we have to be careful to keep our perspectives and priorities clear in a media saturated world that constantly tells us that we can’t be happy or well unless we are buying shit. We also have to work hard to strike that good balance between caring for ourselves, and caring for others. It’s not easy, is it?

P.S. Today is my 100th day of sobriety. I only committed to 100 days. In theory I could jump off the wagon again tomorrow. But I don’t want to. I will keep going. I like being sober.

 

 

 

 

New Head, New Habits

happy coffeeLast week I was working on a couple of projects I really wanted to finish up before bed. I’d been cooped up in the house pretty much all day except for my morning run. My husband got home, and he likes to just crash in front of the TV after a long day. I was still pretty wired to work though, so I zipped over to a coffee place on my bike.

Holy shit! Its five o’clock and I’m sitting in a coffee shop! I was delighted.

You’re probably already thinking: “Delighted? What’s the big deal? It’s a coffee shop.”

But I’m telling you, I was deee-lighted. Like a kid in an ice-cream shop. Five pm coffee never would have happened “before sober” because even when I kind of wanted to go for coffee later in the day Cap’n Mo would remind me that I had to go home and drink beer.

“But,” I said, “it would be relaxing to go for coffee and I could get some work done before supper!”

“No! You must go home and drink beer. It’s five. That’s what we do at five. We drink beer.”

Even at the time I knew this reasoning was absolutely bizarre. But I followed orders. Beer 3; Coffee 0.

So I was delighted last week because I am free to choose something besides drinking at night. Going for coffee was hardly an epic life change, but then a lot of the sobriety stuff is incremental, and the rewards insert themselves in to your life mostly quietly. You realize you feel better when you wake up in the morning. You find yourself investing in activities that you neglected before because you didn’t have time and energy for them when you were drinking. And maybe, just maybe, you try some new things.

At first you try new things and shake up your old habits because you desperately need to distract yourself from cravings. But for me, this is giving way to maybe trying new things for their own sake. I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of weeks because I’m finding myself not wanting to go to Tim Horton’s.[1] I’ve always been a Tim’s girl. Like always. I still love the coffee, but I’m finding it less pleasant to sit there and work. It’s noisy and stressful. And their bagels suck. And their staff always look unhappy and tired.

Thing is, even when I wasn’t enjoying going to Tim’s anymore, I kept at it. I kept going. It was a habit.

Even when I wasn’t enjoying going to Tim’s drinking anymore, I kept at it. I kept going. It was a habit.

Holy shit (again). It’s a metaphor. Sort of. Anyway, I am not an adventurous person. I don’t generally seek out changing anything in my life without a lot of navel-gazing preceding it. I’ve always considered this a bit of a character flaw — well flaw is probably too harsh — but I do think that a lot of my rigidity around certain habits is rooted in a fear of change.

I might never know this for sure, but I suspect that the overall feeling of being “stuck” in my drinking may have something to do with that fear of change. This is something I need to find out, so I need to keep staying sober. It’s Day 98 today. I had originally committed myself to 100 days of sobriety. It’s gone by much faster than I thought it would! According to the deal I made with myself, I could “celebrate” on Thursday with a glass of wine. I’ve even pictured this event. But then I’m kind of… “Nah. Meh.” I don’t want to quit quitting. I’m already eyeing that “four month” virtual chip!

[1] For my friends outside of Canada who don’t know the big deal with Tim Horton’s coffee/doughnut shops in Canada, here it is: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/tim-hortons-why-the-coffee-giant-is-genuinely-beloved-by-canadians-1.2748530

Sometimes You Just Suck It Up

Out for dinner a couple of nights ago, and boy was it EVER one of those nights. Wine on the table at the cottage has settled in to a mild distraction/annoyance that quickly passes. I did most of the cooking the nights we were there with family, so this is always a great distraction for me. Being physically busy really helps me to stay grounded in all kinds of ways, including staying sober.

This time, though, we were in a restaurant. It was a beautiful summery night, and everyone at the table (except my ten year old niece) was drinking beer or wine. I was so agitated, and missing my best defense: the ability to move around. It was really tough. I suppose  I could have gone for a little walk, but this was a last resort. I just pretty much decided I’d have to suck it up. It was not fun. But it passed, as I kept reminding myself it would.

Meditation has helped a lot. When you’re meditating and cultivating mindfulness, one of the aims of it is to observe and accept your feelings as things that your mind comes up with. But Your feelings aren’t “you.” They are things you can acknowledge without letting them define you. You get the gist of this in meditation, and then in a very weird and wonderful way, it starts to pop up on other areas of your life where you aren’t thinking at all about meditation. How cool is that?

So let’s say your craving is like an annoying office colleague. You have to work with this person and you don’t like her very much, but hey — she’s there and you have to cooperate with her to get shit done. So when you have to meet, you acknowledge her politely, and have necessary conversations. You don’t get all pissy, or aggressive, or passive aggressive. You just stick with business, and think about something pleasant you’ll get to do later. In other words, you have to have the interaction, but you don’t get all emotionally invested in it because you don’t want a few difficult moments to wreck the rest of your day.

So I had an annoying, unpleasant, annoying interaction with craving. Sometimes it is just like that. Some days suck. Some moods suck. Intense cravings really suck. But you really can just sit with those things and not invest a pile of emotional energy in to them. You don’t have to dwell. You can acknowledge the suckyness is there, but still stick with business. This is a really hard thing to learn if you are someone like me who has spent a lifetime reacting sharply to every feeling that’s ever entered your body or head. I’m a work in progress for sure. But the little victories feel good.

 

 

Kinds of Chocolate and the “Addictive Personality”

This morning I was eating yogurt-covered pretzels. I buy them sometimes at Bulk Barn, but with the understanding that whatever I buy must be consumed within 24 hours. ChocolateThis is not because there is someone with a gun to my head telling me eat the pretzels. It is because I will not be able to resist eating them. In this sense they “must” be consumed immediately. There is no other way.

So I ate the last of them this morning. I had a familiar moment of something like panic and disappointment when I looked for more and the bag was empty. I also have this reaction and feeling when I have a milk-chocolate bar in the house, or god forbid, white chocolate. I devour it mindlessly, and then realize its gone, and I STILL WANT MORE.

You probably know where I’m going with this. Chocolate. Booze. Same thing. 1) There is never enough. I always want MORE. 2) I feel shocked and unsatisfied when the treat/drink is already gone. Why did it go so fast? Now I must have MORE. But I don’t want more. But I want more.

Quit Drinking Lore has it that lots of us pick up new addictions and obsessions as substitutes for our alcohol addiction. Picture that popular-if-inaccurate trope of AA members with death grips on their coffees and cigarettes. Sometimes quitting a substance can lead to religiosity: an addiction to a real live church, or a zealous anti-substance-of-choice stance.

Okay. There’s a line to walk here. Another other big idea I’ve gotten out of reading recovery literature is that it is okay to make peace with some of those substitute addictions when you are battling the Big One. So I’ve now pretty much swapped alcohol for too much sugar and OCD-like consumption of ginger-ale with a splash of OJ and lemon. (Delish.) And vaping. I’m vaping more.

These new obsessions and “addictions” are arguably a form of a catharsis — much lesser forms of evil/suffering because you’ve chosen to make a priority of getting the main-stage evil/suffering the fuck out of your life. The lesser evils may have to be contended with in their own right at some point, but a girl can only handle so much self-discipline at once.

The Addictive Personality

So yesterday I was talking to a guy who professed he probably has an “addictive personality.” That’s probably what got me looking at my empty pretzel bag this morning thinking “Jesus. Holy Yogurt Pretzel Addiction. I WANT MORE!” It was discouraging in the moment. “It’s always something,” I thought to myself. I have the “I want more” reaction to: chocolate bars for breakfast; clothes; alcohol; sociological theory; exercise. So do I have an addictive personality? Am I sentenced to a life of fighting the “I want more” war on two or more fronts?

I can see how this could lead one to despair. Fuck it. There’s always something. I will never be at ease. I will always be fighting, fighting, fighting. Fuck. It. (Chugs bottle of wine.)

Kinds of Chocolate

Maybe there is an alternative to the fatalism of declaring yourself to have an “addictive personality” though. For me anyway, here’s the thing. My best strategy in the morning is to eat a square of dark chocolate with my morning coffee. (I know this whole chocolate thing is very idiosyncratic, but bear with me.) I love doing this. It’s a great way to start my day. It’s not that much chocolate, and when I eat my little square, I AM SATISFIED. I do not need more. I have the same response when I drink a near-beer. This never stops being a revelation. “Weird! I can drink this ONE beer and be good!”

What these picadillos suggest to me is that there are probably other ways to substitute habits and behaviours that satisfy, once you are attuned to your I WANT MORE response. These healthy and satisfying changes may not present themselves to me — I’m going to have to experiment and work at it, I figure. But I see possibilities that I did not see before because I was not intimate with my cravings in a mindful way.

One of the gifts of going through the process of getting sober is that you learn a *lot* about the physical and psychological characteristics of  your “I want more.” You come to know your enemy in the cold light of day. Now that I have some grip on the difference between “satisfied” and “I want more” in a couple of areas, I think it’s going to become easier to head “I want more” off at the pass. So do I have an “addictive personality?” Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be a metaphorical death sentence either.

 

Reprogramming My Brain

I realized this week that there have been a couple of points of progress. First, I have stopped having that feeling like I should be stopping at the liquor store on my way home from work. That was happening every day, and now I am not thinking about it much at all! Second, it’s not feeling so weird to not drink beer at night. It felt really odd at first, and now it is starting to feel normal.

I do wish it wasn’t patio season though! I suppose I could have waited until patio/cottage season was over, but there’s always a good reason to wait, right? There is never an easy time to quit. Anyway I do have these little twinges out riding my bike when I see people sitting on patios with pints, or glasses of wine. The thought that always, immediately pops in to my head is this half-wistful, half-pissed off “Well. So much for that then. No more patios for me.”

patio

Ahhhh, patio season!

The thing is, that is really very silly. Last I checked, they haven’t outlawed non-alcoholic beverages on patios. It’s not like there are bouncers who won’t let you in unless you promise to drink. In other words, there is no reason in the slightest I can’t still enjoy sitting on a patio on a nice summer evening. It is just so hard-wired in my brain that patio+alcohol=fun, that it’s really difficult to rework the equation. I think that part of quitting drinking is to reprogram your brain. You have to have some experiences that help you to break the automatic associations of alcohol with events you have enjoyed.

For some people, strong associations can can be triggering. I was talking to my daughter, and she still doesn’t feel like she’s in a place where she can go out to a pub and hang out with other people who are drinking. So I expect it is different for everyone. You have to be secure that you can safely navigate a social outing that you would have boozed at before. I’ve read lots of good advice about that: making sure you’ve got your own transportation home, going with sober peeps, having a sponsor or sober buddy on speed-dial, and bringing your own non-alcoholic drinks if need be. But even with all these safeguards in place, you have to feel ready.

I have gotten through a couple of drinking occasions now with success, and it does build your confidence and hope a bit. It doesn’t mean I’m ready to run out to the pub every Friday night now or anything. Why hurl yourself in to temptation when you don’t have to? But, I do think I should hang out on a patio soon, perhaps with a big cold soda, cranberry and lime, and give my brain some further hard evidence that my life isn’t over as a sober person!

Easier on Myself

perfectionism and solitudeI know it is still early days here (this is Day 42), but I have this inkling that I may be easing up on my perfectionism. Wow. That would be cool.

For as many years as I’ve been running, I’ve been fighting the nagging Beeotch in my head who tells me I’m not going fast enough. There’s a healthy space of setting personal goals and taking pleasure in achieving them. It’s one of the things I love about running… setting little goals for myself and achieving them: one extra hill on my hill repeats. One quarter mile push when I feel like I am spent. You get the idea. The Beeotch is not satisfied with this.

Beeotch in my Head: “You are slow. You can’t run fast. You’ll never be any good at this.”

Me: “Fuck off. I like running. Quit wrecking my fun.”

But the Beootch in my Head is persistent. She comes back pretty regularly to try her hand at undermining me. And here’s the thing. I think she might have been dating the Drinking Voice in my Head, Cap’n Mo.

Several blogs ago, I wrote that I was surprised that I was far from alone in managing to exercise like a lunatic despite daily drinking. I’m thinking this has served two functions. First, has served as a subtle form of self-flagellation to assuage my drinking guilt. Second — and perhaps more importantly — it has been on my list of “Things I Do That Prove I’m Not a Drunk.”

I’m wondering whether these conditions have empowered the Beeotch in my Head. She can come after me harder and push my perfectionist buttons when I’m already feeling crappy about myself, and pouring energy in to denial.

So the thing is that I am noticing the Beeotch retreats more readily these days. I felt a little slow-ish today, and I fully expected her to show up, which she did. But it was — I don’t know — just easier to blow her off. “Not every run has to be my best run,” I reminded myself. And I let it go. It has been part of feeling more at ease about missing gym days, or not quite reaching my mileage goals during a busy week.

In the months leading up to my quitting, I had been worrying that I was getting a little obsessive about exercise. I felt anxious if I missed the gym. I found it easier to work out than to be around other people. Socially, you get reinforced because people admire you for being all fit and dedicated and stuff, not knowing that you are using exercise to hide from the shit in life that scares you or makes you feel bad about yourself.

I’m truly wondering whether the obsessive gym behaviour has in fact been connected to my drinking. Who knew?

 

Cottage Cravings! Ugh.

It is Day 40 today. Last night was sooooo hard. I thought at first with this whole not drinking thing that I would be most at risk at home, because that’s where the daily habits are most entrenched. However, this hasn’t really been the case. If I’m alone and happen to be feeling sorry for myself, I might fantasize about drinking, but the audience for my fantasy is a skeptical, Sober Me going “Really, genius? And then what?” Maybe there have just been too many times in the past that I’ve self-medicated and… well… it never actually works.

Last night I was not alone. I am with folks at the family cottage. The cottage is very cottage-y: one swims, naps, reads, cooks and drinks. So G&Ts and beers come out around 5:00, followed by copious amounts of wine with dinner. The dedicated (myself formerly among them) would carry on with one or two more drinks after supper during “everyone sits around reading” time before bed.

Around 5:00, I was starting supper while cheerful people around me bustled back and forth fixing cocktails and pouring cold pints. I thought I was going to have an aneurysm, I wanted a drink so badly. It’s alarming how something that is psychological can feel like a physical thing that is taking over your whole body! I mean I wasn’t twitching on the floor or anything, but it was really uncomfortable. “If I just… do it, everything will be easy and normal again,” I thought. I wanted relief. I wanted to stop trying. I wanted a fucking drink!

I’ve got nothing here but waiting it out. “This will pass,” I kept reminding myself. One thing I’ve found useful from Buddhism is recognizing that there are two kinds of suffering: primary suffering – the “shit that happens because you are a human being” – and secondary suffering, which is the extra shit you pile on by trying to wrestle down the primary suffering, if that makes any sense.

The short of it is that when we feel uncomfortable, stressed, anxious or otherwise miserable, we scrounge around trying to make those feelings go away – to fix them, or drown them, or distract ourselves from them. To make them go away and never come back. Paradoxically, all this struggling can just compound the problem.

So, the idea is that, instead, you look that primary suffering squarely in the eye, and do nothing. You go: “Hello craving. You kind of suck.” And you just sit with it. You don’t screw yourself in to the ground analyzing it (my personal favourite); you don’t fight it; you don’t give in to it either. You just sit with it. And it does pass.

Last night’s craving moments passed. About midway through supper I was still noticing the wine on the table, but I wasn’t salivating for it anymore. Supper was good and my strawberry, basil and balsamic drink was good. And there was ice-cream and strawberries after, and those were good. I got to wake up this morning sober, which so far has not gotten old. It’s awesome.

Hopefully every craving you survive makes you stronger?

 

Hey! I’m Less Stupid!

I am noticing something. I am less stupid now. Here’s the thing: I have for the longest time been this person who wakes up pretty smart in the morning, and I’m brilliant for a few hours, and then it is all downhill from there. By bedtime, I have a double-digit IQ. This is still the same pattern, only by bedtime, I am finding myself sharper, and I really like it! I can get a little more work done before bed, or read in bed, and some of it actually sinks in. Or I have a little burst of energy before bed and might tidy something up, or get a little house thing done that makes me feel good, like ironing. (I really like ironing. I don’t know why. I just do.)

A couple of things about drinking that really scared me these last few months were the “grey outs” where I didn’t *quite* remember going to bed, and the growing number and persistence of questions in my head: “Would I have done that/said that/remembered that if I were sober?” I couldn’t answer these questions because I never took a break from drinking. It was a rare day that I didn’t have a couple of drinks, so there wasn’t even a fully sober me to use as a basis of comparison — a control group, if you will.

Alcohol does cause cognitive impairment and brain damage over time. Part of the alcoholic’s awesome arsenal of denial skills is playing games with that idea. The whole “cognitive impairment” thing doesn’t really apply to me because:

“I am a moderate drinker, not an alcoholic.” (Moderate is the *best* lying word ever!)

“I don’t black out.” (But I grey out. But that’s okay. I still remember. Sort of.)

“I’m high functioning!” (Produces evidence via job success, clean house, great grades in uni, etc.)

“I’m only 32. I’ll start to worry when I’m forty.” (Or choose some other arbitrary and elastic number.)

That’s the other thing. Whether we like it or not, our drinking years accumulate. The idea that those effects occur over time starts to resonate. I think a lot of people my age and a bit younger (I’m 48) have an added dimension to their sobriety journey in recognizing, painfully, that their daily drinking can be counted in decades. If I am brutally honest with myself, I say that I have been a daily drinker or close to it for twenty years. Twenty. Years. All of a sudden that cognitive impairment over time thing becomes relevant, even if you don’t count yourself among the most hard-core of alcoholics.

The good news is that the fuzziness from drinking seems to reverse pretty quickly if you lay off the stuff. Count me as anecdotal evidence for this! And honestly, middle-age is accompanied by a deep recognition that your time on earth is on the waning side. Do I really want to spend another decade or two in an beer and wine induced fog? I think being less stupid is better.