If you have followed this blog at all, you know I have a thing with alcohol. I call it a thing to be purposefully vague, because whatever it is is complex, neither totally negative nor totally positive. Just a thing. We all have things, don't we? Things we go to or reach for when life is amazing or hard, when we want to celebrate or escape, really live or really numb. For you, it might be pie. Or online shopping. Or sex. Or cigarettes. For me, wine has always been my weakness. For many many years, I drank and drank lots and achieved wonderful things and functioned beautifully and it was all a very happy thing. A purely happy thing. My hangovers were silly nuisances; par for the course, well worth it, a badge almost.
But then something changed. And I'm still trying to pinpoint what that something was. Maybe it was the bleak time after my miscarriage eight years ago. (Today, May 8, is inked in my mind as it was meant to be my first due date.) Maybe it was having kids. Maybe it was losing my father, whom I loved very much, to cancer. Maybe it was biological, that my body changed and my system could no longer handle the drinks.
Or maybe, I'm beginning to think, this was all more existential in nature. Maybe I just wanted to do things another way.
There is another way.
Instead of going out on a Saturday night and swimming in wine, I want to go out on Saturday night and eat delicious food or see a thoughtful movie or have a many-layered conversation with my husband about life, love and our little girls. Instead of running away from hard feelings and hard memories by pouring tall glass after tall glass and smoothing those edges, I want to sink into what it is I'm feeling, soak it up, name it, and move on. This isn't always pretty, this is actually quite hard, I'm learning that, but it feels better somehow.
Anyway, it's a bit of a dance. I give it up. I go back to it. I drink a little. A lot. Nothing at all. I write about it. I don't write about it. I talk to my therapist about it. I don't talk to my therapist about it. It's not a big deal. It's a huge deal. It's easy-breezy. It's freaking difficult. All of the above.
Anyway, it's a thing. My thing. (Maybe your thing too?)
There was a time when I was more worried, truly concerned about my habits, concerned enough that I sought out opinions of experts including a therapist who specializes in substance abuse. His office was inconvenient but I went there anyway. I went there because he was supposed to be the best, because I wanted to get to the bottom of this bottomless thing. And he was indeed very good. And I spilled my guts to him and fretted in my rambling ADR-style and I told him about my drinking, described what it looked like, and he nodded and then told me that I'm far from an alcoholic (that was never a real concern, but this was still good to hear) and then he said that I was drinking like a lot of people drink, that it was good that I was thinking about it and seeking ways to control it.
Anyway, a thing. And now it's been another month without it and I feel terrific and more present. I'm hesitant to glorify this personal choice, to wax too poetic because the last thing I want to sound like is preachy or judgmental. The truth is I might drink again when my HERE Year is up. I kind of hope not, but who knows. The truth is that the more I think about this topic the less judgment I feel about the drinking of others. We all have stuff, don't we? We all have our own ways of dealing, of living in a world that can feel big and hard. Drinking, in many cases, is really wonderful and fun. I get it. Believe me. But still. For me, this new month free of the one thing that slows me and stalls me, feels worth acknowledging. Last night, I posted the following on Instagram and the response was just wonderful:
Confession: I gave up drinking (again) a month ago today. It was a good choice for me and I feel good, strong & clear. My parenting & wifing & writing benefits whenever I take wine out of the existential equation. And yet. It's hard sometimes when I'm faced with tough stuff. Take today. I spent all day hearing about global health crises for women & children & I left feeling motivated to do what I can to lend a voice to some of these issues, but also overwhelmed & a bit despondent. I came home to my girls & hugged them extra tight but then they slipped into standard fare of bickering & I just felt shredded, you know? It was one of those moments when I wanted a glass (or 4) of wine to numb out, to soften edges, but I didn't go that route. I weathered it & put my girls to bed & had dinner with my husband & went for a walk. The night air has a nip in it & I just picked up some trashy mags & some Pinkberry & now I'm headed home to my guy who's back from California & we will watch a show & I will probably fall asleep during said show. It's all good, but sometimes it's hard, especially when we take away our habits of escape. Anyway, a good month & I wanted to acknowledge that I'm proud of myself for doing this. Does that sound silly? So be it. 😊💕
I got so many great comments and emoticon-combos :) One person wrote: I feel you completely. As someone who also gave up drinking, it is incredibly hard not to have anything to soften our edges and escape into. You *should* be proud, sitting with the rawness of everyday life can be tough, tough stuff. I know no magic way to cope, but I know that keeping it in the moment and knowing it passes and that there's something alchemical that happens to us when we wit with - and not blot out - our emotions. Perhaps a bit of internal magic. When I feel squeezed like this, I think, "you are the sky; everything else is just the weather."
And another wrote: I think of you every night I want to have a drink, and then I say to myself, I don't need it. It's not worth it. Besides I have to write. Be a mom. Be a wife. Be present. I've now limited myself to only weekends, but even then it's hard to do that. Some weeks are good, others not so much. I admire your courage and dedication. I admire your honesty in sharing this too. I guess I just wanted to say thank you.
And, not long ago, I got an email from a reader. It was one of those notes that stopped me in my tracks. And I asked the author of this note if I could share it here. Thankfully, she agreed.
After having my third child - a beautiful daughter - last May, I went back to drinking. I little bit here, a little bit there...and a little bit too much here, and a little bit too much there; so what I've realized is that I just can't predict when the "little bit too much" is going to happen. I will have the best of intentions to stick to two drinks and then, boom, it's the end of the night and I'm drunk enough to feel it the next day. What I know is that I don't like that feeling. What I know is that this last year the thoughts of alcohol - when I'm going to drink, how much, etc. have occupied too much of my time.I've never been a quitter, but for the first time in my life I've decided to be a big quitter. I'm switching things up. The truth is I'm better without the booze - something I've always known - something I've tried to still make work in my life. But I'm tired. And my kids are growing up too fast. My oldest daughters legs are now long and lean, my son's baby face is getting more angular by the day, my baby no longer fits snugly in my arms.So, I'm going to be a big quitter. I'm not sure for how long just yet. It has been nearly 30 days and those days haven't been as hard as I thought they would be. I'm more present. I'm a better mother, wife. I'm more patient. I have more energy. I've even lost a few pounds (what a perk!). I'm better without the booze, but coming from a family of big drinkers and being surrounded by friends who are big drinkers, it never actually occurred to me to give it up - until I read your blog - so thank you for that. We shall see where this road takes me...I'm still wrapping my head around it. It's like learning to walk again.My question for you - with friends I have always been the fun one who likes her wine...how have you explained your decision to your circle? I do not want to be defined by this choice! I can be fun without the wine!!Thanks for your candor and willingness to share your story.
Telling our stories. Inviting people in. Yes. I'm beginning to believe in the vital importance of these things, of taking the time and thought to put our experiences, beautiful and devastating and in-between, into words. Is there anything more powerfully, really?
Anyway, I'm not sure what this post is really all about. I do know that it is about far more than alcohol, it is about things. It is about humanity and honesty, self and struggle. It is about story.
But let's also be real here. For me, for many of us, it is about alcohol. As my therapist reminded me yesterday (oh do I love her and credit her with so much of this): Alcohol is a neuro-toxin, a depressant. It affects us and the quality of our lives. I know and believe that there are people out there for whom alcohol is truly not a big deal, not an issue at all. I also know there are people out there who suffer from serious addiction and this isn't a game, a dilemma.
I know and believe, and this has taken me much time and thought to get here, that I am an In-Betweener, someone for whom alcohol is a tricky thing I must think about and be careful with. My hunch is that the vast majority of us fall in this middle category. I did not need to give alcohol up, but I have and I'm so happy I have. There is another way. For me. For you. (For my sweet girls when they are old enough to think about this.)
This other way? It can be beautiful and bright and clear and productive and silly and sexy and, yes, fun. I say this in response to my reader's concern that the choice will define her or make her less fun. It has been all of these things for me; I am a fuller, lighter, more open person without booze. This other way? It is good. Not better, not superior, but deeply, purely good.
Cutting myself off because I hear little footsteps on the stairs. I'm wildly tired after my 4:30am wakeup to write, but I'm clear and more myself than I've been in a month and eager to kiss some little girl cheeks. Before I go, please leave a comment if you have thoughts on any of this or email me at aidandonnelleyrowley [at] gmail [dot] com if you'd like to chat about any of this in a more private way.
What role does alcohol play in your life? Are you a fellow In-Betweener? Do you think there is a power in telling our true stories, particularly our stories of struggle? Is there something in particular you've historically struggled with or are struggling with now?