Today is Day 174 of my Year of Living Sober.
As I continue along towards my goal of spending at least one year of my adult life completely booze-free I am learning a few things I didn’t expect to about how giving up alcohol can make you more vulnerable to physical, emotional and psychological damage, upset and criticism. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Alcohol isn’t the only thing that gives you a hangover.
Giving up alcohol can uncover other ‘nasties’ in your diet. Before giving up drinking for a year I didn’t notice the effects of other sugar carriers so much. But now I have noticed how if you ever eat a lot of sugary products after dinner (like, I don’t know, a packet of Smarties followed by three slices of Jaffa mudcake, two chocolate coated marshmallow biscuits and a bowl of Turkish Delight ice-cream*) you could very well wake up the next day with the same symptoms as a hang-over (dry-mouth, dull head, irritability and GUILT!). You may also find a pimple on your nose.
2. ‘Near Beer’ is meant to be ‘non-alcoholic’ but it actually has a tiny amount of alcohol in it.
Giving up alcohol has reminded me of the destructiveness of obsessive compulsive perfectionist self-righteousness.
Since my YOLS began from time to time (okay, most nights) I’ve taken to drinking the odd fake lager or two and when I found out my beer replacement wasn’t 100% 0% I was worried. I didn’t like the idea I had been tainted by what I had committed to completely cutting out. I’d signed myself up to 1 year, 100% alcohol free. My ‘non-alcoholic’ beer had, I’d felt, sabotaged my plans.
But when I found out even seemingly ‘pure’ food and beverages like fruit and fruit products have some percentage of alcohol in them as well (especially bananas and orange juice) I decided to cut myself some slack. I mean, I’m not even ‘drinking’ vanilla essence anymore!
3. Some Alcoholics will take offence at someone like me—who does not consider himself an alcoholic—trying to make a positive life change also a bit of fun by blogging about it.
Giving up alcohol for ‘only a year’ and then writing about it in a humorous (sometimes?) way has alienated me from a few ‘real’ alcoholics who feel it belittles their lifetime struggle.
I have great admiration for anyone who commits to a life without alcohol but I’m not at that point in my life where I feel I need to do that. I also think there are probably many more people like me who have refrained from adjusting their attitude and behaviour around alcohol because of an unspoken belief that only ‘Alcoholics’—with a capital ‘A’—have a problem.
I do not think drinking alcohol is always a problem for everyone. Nor do I think there is ever only one way to solve a problem (whether alcohol abuse or any other negative behaviour stemming from a sense of unworthiness—or whatever stops us meeting our normal emotional needs in a healthy way). The ubiquitous ’12 steps’ aren’t for everyone.
4. Maybe alcohol was a bigger problem in my life than I thought, when I started this YOLS?
When I first decided to give up alcohol for a year I thought my drinking was probably a bad habit but not THAT bad. As I lifted the veil of that habit from my life I began to see how in the past, drinking too much may well have cost me opportunities in business and pleasure.
Though it is hard to pin-point examples, writing on this blog has caused me to look back on my life and see how what started as ‘normal’ excessive teenage drinking continued, mostly unabated, until about 174 days ago. For most of the weekends (especially) during that time I was wasted. I was wasted a lot of the time; I wasted a lot of time.
But the past is done and all I can change is how I go into my future.
As a writer who wishes to be enjoyed AND understood it is important for me to have clarity in my life. And that is important not only in my professional life but in my personal life too. I have learned I’m not only more productive (writing more words of greater quality) when not drinking but I feel and express myself more clearly in my relationships too. My thought processes in general seem more precise.
5. I feel vulnerable making any admissions—about how my life might be better without alcohol—public.
What if, after my year off drinking is over, I simply go back to my old habit of near nightly consumption of more than the recommended alcohol allowance (which always seemed to me ridiculously low anyway!)? Any epiphanies will, in retrospect, seem shallow and perhaps pointless even?
And, though one of the reasons I’m doing this blog is to openly explore and share any struggles (and victories) over the course of my year off booze, sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit how often I think of how long I’ve got to go. Like everyday. Everyday when I mark off another alcohol-free day on my YOLS calendar I think about when I’ll get to have another drink.
Doesn’t sound like an obsession at all, does it?
It does remind me of a quote from the Bhagavad-Gita though:
“The abstinent run away from what they desire but carry their desires with them.”
There’s more I’ve learned about my relationship with alcohol since I began my YOLS (on 11/11/2011—a cool date because it means the same whether you are an Australian, like me, an American, or any other nationality) but those are the first five things that come to mind this morning.
And I’m still learning.
Little Booze Joke
A philosophy student walks into a bar and the barman says, “What’ll it be?” and the philosophy student says, “Well it depends on what ‘it’ was, what ‘it’ is, who’s observing ‘it’ and from what moral, religious and intellectual paradigm ‘it’ is being considered.” The barman looks at the philosophy student and says, “Get out.”
How about you? Has any life-change brought up vulnerabilities for you too? Is your relationship with alcohol easily defined? Or maybe a bit murky? I’d love to get your comment.