So a little over a month ago I decided to give up drinking for a month as a little experiment in letting things go. December is probably the most challenging month to have chosen with all the typical things that the festive season involves, but it was particularly difficult this year because there were so many other triggers, most notably a very stressful family court date right at the end of the month. Nothing says “go on, you’ve earned a glass of wine” like a high-stress event. Oddly, drinking couldn’t have been further from my mind. I wouldn’t say that not drinking is entirely easy, but it hasn’t been difficult either. I went out for dinner with a friend for her (very belated) birthday celebration and, because I am very lucky to have a handful of incredible and supportive friends, to give me a pep talk before court the next day. Dinner out is a rare treat so a glass of wine would normally be inevitable, and if not a glass of wine then definitely the “oh go on, I will if you will” conversation (which is usually mirrored at the end of the evening with the Great Pudding Debate, no?) but none of that this time. We were both happy with tap water and the evening wasn’t stilted, in no way was it boring, we had a lot of fun, laughed loads, and what’s even better is I can remember the conversation. If anything, the evening felt more special. Partly because I rarely go out, but mostly because I was actually present and not just ploughing through a glass of shiraz pondering through the conversation about whether I’d have a second or not instead of being in the conversation. So you can see that while I didn’t drink a lot, it did take up a lot of head space and was a distraction.
Anyway the booze ban finished yesterday and I had a small glass of wine (so small it didn’t fill a small wine glass in fact). I’d already decided I would have Prosecco over Christmas, but having had that wine last night (a really beautiful 2010 Chateau Malescot Margaux – there’s no point ending the ban for something horrible) I’ve decided not to bother with the bubbles. My bottle of No-secco is chilling in the fridge, and the couple of bottles of wine I have are going to go with me to family when I see them later in the week. So this is really meant to be a little round of up things I noticed not drinking, and why I think I’ll carry on being 99% booze free (the odd glass of champagne at an event will no doubt still make it’s way to my lips):
During what was really a stressful, upsetting time I have been barely sleeping. When I was having a glass of wine a few nights a week, I had the illusion of sleeping but always woke up a bit foggy. Since 19 November, even though there were days I felt beyond tired, there was still a clarity to my thought that would definitely not have been present if wine had also been marching its way through my system. When I did sleep, it felt a bit … richer than normal. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. I meditate twice a day, and those have also felt like cleaner experiences. I’ve not fallen asleep during them as often (although I have obviously still nodded off at times, I’m only human), and they’ve felt more refreshing.
I’ve also been able to get in contact with some fairly difficult emotional stuff during this last month, and instead of running away from it I’ve just had to sit with it. I’d love to say these situations are resolved, but they haven’t been, and I’m still distressed by them, but I am being pushed to figure out how to contain that distress rather than avoid the emotion in the first place. Am I now able to be Zen-like in the face of hostility and aggression? No, unfortunately not drinking isn’t a magic wand, and I still have that intense stress response to the ongoing abusive behaviour of my soon-to-be-former-husband (we’re still in the same house) but am I leaping in as quickly or as much? Not quite. I’m still not as detached as I would like to be, but (and this is REALLY important) I am seeing that my reaction is not a character flaw but a pattern set up by years of emotional abuse and coercive control, and that I can change it. Part of that reaction is fundamentally about wanting to be seen and acknowledged. What I need is to focus on is doing that for myself so that his dismissive behaviour (and the rest!) is no longer relevant. For that, I think continuing to not drink will really help with allowing my self-esteem to flourish which will have the additional benefits of helping me avoid maniacs in the future, to stay really positive about a future in which there are no maniacs, and to be able to say “pffft” and shrug my shoulders while the current situation with this particular maniac remains unresolved.
So this might seem a strange one but I have noticed that not having a drink makes me more able to show my interest in other people. With no distraction or increasing sogginess of thought the time spent with other people is just about sharing that moment with them, and not losing track of where things are in the conversation means that they are so much more fun and interesting, challenging too at times but in a good way.
Don’t know about anyone else, but after a glass of wine my energy dips and getting me off the sofa is almost impossible. The TV inevitably flicked itself on and before I knew it, I’d be half way through a series of some police procedural or other. No wine means no pulled focus – suddenly the evenings feel rich with possibility and the mornings are fresh and full of promise.
Rather coincidentally, a good friend of mine was also going dry and she shared some brilliant resources with me. One of them is this article from The Temper which is excellent, and The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Grey which I’m going to read over Christmas. I also read Dry by Augusten Burroughs which is the extreme end of sober/addiction-lit but a good read, and I am halfway through In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate which I would highly recommend because while my drinking wasn’t problematic, what taking it away has done is expose other behaviours that are. In my case, self-medicating through shopping – that might ring a bell with some people. He describes his own addiction to buying CDs. This got quite a negative response from some of his early readers who resisted the idea of equating the drive to buy stuff with addiction to drugs like heroin or meth or alcohol for example. Actually what his book really beautifully demonstrates is that by trying to hold out an arbitrary distinction to the form of medication, we are able to “other” those people who are addicted to hard substances, and make ourselves feel better.
Society normalises drinking, shopping etc which enables us to feel good about ourselves relative to other people with those addictions that take them outside either social norms or in some cases legal norms. It’s a classic “power over” model that actually is pretty ugly. Mate instead suggests that we think less in terms of “why the addiction?” but “why the pain?” (pg. xix) and I love that. Instead of normalising some addictive behaviours, what if we just accept that the dopamine hit that drives repetitive damaging actions is the same whatever your poison. Maybe then when we see someone drinking a bottle of White Lightning on the street at 8am we can see them with compassion and understanding instead of judgement? I don’t know, I’ve got no answers, but given the state of the world at the end of 2018, compassion can’t be a bad ingredient for finding some solutions in the future can it? Even if thinking about global issues is too overwhelming, practicing compassion with the people around us, the people we might see everyday and barely notice, can’t be a bad practice. Who knew that cutting out a few glasses of wine would offer so much perspective. I’m not sure I realised until I sat down to write this post.
I’m plotting my 2019 aspirations at the moment which will involve a bit of letting things go and adding things in. More of those in a few days though … In the meantime, wishing you a lovely, relaxing Christmas/festive break …