alcohol can be a time-stealer.
Please note my language. I write can be. I do not write is or is always. This distinction is important. Vital. Because this post might not be for you. If you have never questioned your relationship with alcohol, if you have never worried whether you are drinking too much or drinking for reasons that don't feel right, this post isn't for you and you should click away. If you enjoy a glass here and there and don't see what the big deal is at all, this post isn't for you.
But. If you do drink, if you sometimes drink too much or what you feel is too much, this post may be for you. If you have concerns about drinking patterns in yourself, in family members, in friends, in society at large, this post may be for you. If you are kind of over it, this you-must-drink-to-have-fun-and-fit-in ethos of our modern culture and are curious (if quietly curious) about doing or simply hearing about things being done another way, this post may be for you.
Again, note my language. May be for you. In my experience of drinking and now not drinking, in the years I have spent thinking about and researching alcohol vis-a-vis my life and the broader world we live in, in the time I have written about it and not written about it, talked about it, not talked about it, I have come to respect how deeply personal all of this is. Giving up alcohol was a choice I made and continue to make and it is a choice that has been profoundly positive, if complicated, for me. I hesitate to write about my own experience with this because I have no interest in prescribing what all of you guys should do. We all have complex lives, good and tricky lives riddled with responsibility and worry, joy and hope, legacy and love, and I am in no position to tell anyone what to do. I am in no position to utter the word should and I absolutely refuse to.
The truth is that I began questioning things only when I was ready. Had someone else come to me and said, You should take a closer look at your drinking, I imagine I would have been alienated and defensive. I would have resisted. Instead, I got there, here, on my own. I grew curious about what life would look like without the ubiquitous gloss of booze. What would it be like to never ever have a hangover? To celebrate the good things without a waterfall of wine? To duck from the hard stuff without a bucket of booze? What would holidays be like? Social events? How would I change without it? Would I be a different wife? A different mom? A different writer and sister and daughter and citizen of the world?
These were the questions that intrigued me most. The questions I continue to ask. When it became clear that giving up alcohol was not hard for me physically, that there was no addiction at play, these were the questions that kept me, and keep me, dry. I realized, and swiftly, how my whole world changed, and came alive, when I stopped. Again, this has been only my experience.
So, a choice. A choice to abstain even though I don't have to. There is no addiction, there are no meetings. There is though some confusion about where I fit. You see, giving up alcohol is not just like giving up gluten. It is more loaded than that. In many ways, society expects us to drink, to partake and when we don't it's often seen as strange or suspicious. But what if it's not? What if it's just a choice? A choice to be clear and conscious, to soak up the textures of our days, days that slip too quickly anyway? This is the way I look at it.
But where are the others who look at it this way, as just another lifestyle choice? I wasn't sure. And last month, as I celebrated another 4 months without drinking, I asked this question. And the amazing thing is that when you ask, answers often come. I met Holly Whitaker. Holly has an incredible story, one very different than mine, but we've landed in many regards in the same place. She doesn't drink. Her life has come together since she stopped drinking. She writes a blog called Hip Sobriety and looks to reach people in my former demographic, namely people who are not addicted, but who are struggling on some level, more subtly or more seriously, in their relationship with alcohol. Holly's Hip Sobriety Story is wonderful and I recommend you read it in its entirety, but here is a taste:
What keeps us stuck.
We are constantly seeking to find the things that will make us a better version of ourselves, to transcend into that thing we so long to be. We go organic and detox and we eat kale. We do yoga and meditate and find gurus, watch TED Talks, consume an endless stream of blogs, and we are always looking for that book that might change it all. We dream of happiness and contentment - of More for ourselves. Yes, we want More. Yes, we are willing to do anything to find that More. Anything, except examining our relationship with alcohol.
And why? Because it's fucking scary.
Society has told us that we need to drink to have fun, that it's normal to drink, and there is something wrong with us if we can't handle it. We are either "alcoholics" or "non-alcoholics", and we either have the fellowship of the bar-scene or the fellowship of AA. There's absolutely no account of the gray area that is most of our reality, and it's a hugely disempowering simplism. One that keeps us stuck, scared, and silent. One that keeps us from our More.
Holly and I have had a few wonderful, winding phone calls. She has made me look at things a bit differently. While my instinct has been to play it pretty safe on this topic, Holly's instinct has been to be bold, to speak out, to shed light. She feels that she must do this. And while I'm tempted to resist, I feel like I must do my part. I know too much. I know how beautiful life can be when we kick aside our stumbling block. I know that we can see all of this as a choice and not a problem. I know that many of us, maybe most of us, want a good life for ourselves and those we hold dear and I know with every bit of my being that alcohol (and other things) can get in the way, often in ways we can't even see until we stop. I must say something. And so I am.
And Time. This month of my Here Year is all about Time and so I'm thinking through that lens and I'm realizing that alcohol, for too many of us, is a time-stealer. Many of us drink to literally escape the present moment, but then the problem is that we lose that moment and can't get it back. If we go too far, drink too much, then we can literally lose chunks of time. If we are periodically or persistently hungover, we are experiencing precious chunks of time seeing the world through a tangled, torturous haze. If we are worried about whether our patterns are healthy, whether we should stop, if we are spending time fretting or shameful then we are not spending that time going on adventures, having great ideas, doing important work, having fun, cuddling with our loved ones, etc etc. It is a time-stealer. Not for all of us. Maybe not for you, but I suspect that if you've read this far, it's not so simple.
Anyway, I've rambled on long enough, but if there is a point here (and I'm not sure there is, not a singular one at least) it is that I am one example of someone who has made a choice, a choice that is not simple and a choice that society does not seem to encourage. I have made this choice and my life has improved dramatically because of it. I am happier, more productive, and leagues more present than I was when I was drinking a lot or even when I was drinking a little. When I was deep in questioning mode about this, silently debating this choice, I wish that there were people like me and Holly out there in the ether who were at least talking about this stuff. Not about Addiction and Recovery. These are biggies which I respect, but to which I don't relate. I wish there were people who were willing to be public with their more subtle grappling, their choices. That's what I'm doing here.
Yesterday was September 7th which meant it has been 5 months since I gave up alcohol again. As I do, I posted a wrote my little monthly post on Instagram:
This makes 5 months without alcohol. I can't express in an Instagram post just how much removing this one thing has affected me & my life for the better and so I will sit down & write about it, about how bright & pure & joyful & fun & wild & raw & real existence can be without the crutch of wine (or whatever the crutch is). I've gotten sheepish about talking about this topic, have not wanted to make certain people feel uncomfortable, but I think there are just too many of us out there who can relate to my experience, who are craving a happier, more present & less fogged way of living, to remain quiet on the topic. And so I vow to figure out a way to talk about it more, and thoughtfully, to reach the people who do not necessarily "need" to be reached, but who want to be reached. Does this make sense?
A lot of people liked my post. I think, I know, a lot of people can relate. My story is not just mine. Stories are most powerful when they are told, so here I am honestly and clumsily and proudly, telling it. These chapters of my life are bright and happy. Not perfect because perfect is a fiction and a fallacy, but pure and good and wild and real.
Again, this is not about should. This will never be about should. This is just an ode to a choice. These are just words. Words I hope reach those who want to be reached, those who are ready to be reached.
Please let me know if you have any thoughts or comments on any of this or reach out to me more privately via email at aidandonnelleyrowley [at] gmail [dot] com. If you want to read more about my Year Without Wine, check out the Wine-Free Bits on the sidebar. I look forward to hearing from you guys!