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HOT TOPICS: Alcoholism  Addiction  AA  Cocaine  Heroin

8 Takeaway Lessons From Quitting Drinking

I've just managed to quit drinking without a program, and even learned a few things in the process.

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By Aaron Kuchta

06/04/14

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Winning the battle with my out of control drinking habit was the easiest part of my recovery. I conquered it by the “white-knuckling” method. Cold turkey. Or, if that grosses you out, cold tofurky (which grosses me out). It’s not a technique for everyone, but it worked for me. With victory comes knowledge, and since I started playing Grand Commander I’ve come to better understand a few things about drinking, life, and myself.

Drinking is a crutch, but it is not the crutch. To believe drinking is the root of all evil is convenient, but it’s as big a lie as saying Greedo shot first. Okay, maybe as big as saying extinguishing a grease fire with water is a good idea. Drinking is only one of many avoidance tactics I employ. Stress, depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, and fear lead me to weave excuses so tightly into the tapestry of my to-do list that I start to believe I’m helping my cause. Hogwash. Malarky. Drinking is simply the easiest and fastest way to press "pause" on whatever it is I'm not ready or willing to face head on, and that's what makes it so dangerous.

I’m a socially awkward introvert, but I work in the food service industry, and in a very social atmosphere. Instead of drinking to relieve stress, I’ve let a lot of my control issues go.

My inner voice is like poison ivy wrapped in silk. It's the persuasive devil on my left shoulder telling me how awful responsibility is. Nothing is ever good enough, and the solution is to not try at all. If sheer bluntness doesn't work, every excuse comes with supporting materials, and they all mangle logic. There's always a better time to write, or other tasks that are suddenly vomiting importance. Even more disturbing than the deprecating a-hole in my head is how much power I've given it, as if there's wisdom behind its words. Avoidance tactics like drinking and playing video games come off as rewards, and positive reinforcement encourages trust. When I took control of how much and when I drank, I took away the voice's strongest play. I fought back, but I destroyed the Death Star, not the Emperor. There are still good days and bad (more bad than good), but the voice doesn’t shout at me anymore. I can get through the bad days without aid from the captains and sailors of the rum vessels.

I am a work-in-progress. Life isn’t all about pie and ice cream. Patience only goes so far. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and the instinct is to shut down. Hold the power button for three seconds and unleash a frenzy of colorful words. Who cares if the windows are open and the neighbor kids can hear every word, I’m angry! And now I’m depressed. Two months ago, one of two things would happen when I shut down: I got drunk or wallowed until I fell asleep. Last week I could say I don’t do the former anymore. This week—not so much. I’m an introvert working more than ever in social jobs and it’s starting to take its toll. Writing, though it makes me happy, is the only thing that doesn’t pay consistently, and I avoid the extra work. I retreat to the comfort of my dream world as much as possible, but the cons of heavy drinking have lost a lot of weight. I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. I struggle and make lots of mistakes, but I still get out of bed every morning—eventually. Learning how to be a functional adult with better coping mechanisms isn’t easy. Difficult things need smaller steps, but every step forward is a victory.

Being a human is hard. Emotions, oh dear god, emotions! Alcohol is an amazing tool for emotion manipulation and suppression. The result isn’t reliable or permanent and is prone to backfire, but it’s easier than confronting the feels. Being vulnerable sucks. Working all the time sucks. Putting off writing sucks. Being my own worst enemy sucks the hardest. I want to shove everything into a bottle and forget it in the back of my closet. Alcohol and my other avoidance tactics are my way of pressing the “easy” button, but that button cannot take me past brief euphoria. My misery is born from avoidance, and avoidance from fear. Fear of not just failure, but incompetence. My inner voice encourages this fear, and even though I’m smart enough see through its cloud of methane, I still fall into the smelly trap. Rising above that fear is only harder now that I’m not abusing alcohol. I have to relearn that it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to feel some type of way. It’s okay to let people past the poker face. Not everyone is a plain-clothed assassin waiting for the most dramatic moment to stab me in the back. 

I’m glad I abused alcohol. I’m where and who I am today in part because I lost control of drinking. There’s a lot of negative that came with it, and more negative that was there before it, but it’s all part of my “two steps forward, one step back” progression. My life, my experience. Look at all the stuff I’ve learned about myself because I had a problem. I have a ton of issues! And I’m fortunate that I can say alcohol did not cause a single one of those issues. It was the overused coping mechanism that, when dealt with, brought the real issues to my attention. I’m going to be stronger because I fell down a dark hole. I’m finding my courage—courage to put myself out there, to be better than necessary, to see beyond the negative. I can’t say when I might’ve learned those skills if I didn’t have the darkness to compete with.

Drinking loses importance as time passes. The urgency and necessity to drink is waning. This past week has been a test of my resolve, and I faltered, but alcohol is not the first thing I turn to when life gets me down. The cons do outweigh the pros. I do still drink, because my goal was to manage my drinking, not eliminate it, but I don’t drink as much and drink almost only for fun. It’s no longer something I make time for. I’m also working more and spending less on booze, which means I have some extra income to use on longer-lasting forms of entertainment. I like going to bed without binge-eating to stop the spinning. I like waking up on my day off without feeling awful from a short night of heavy drinking. I’m still learning how to manage my unpaid time, but as hard as that is, it’s a little easier without having to work through drunkenness. 

Darwin knew what he was talking about. The last seven days aside, the strongest trait I have is my adaptability. I’m a socially awkward introvert, but I work in the food service industry, and in a very social atmosphere. Instead of drinking to relieve stress, I’ve let a lot of my control issues go. Softened my edges. Focused on the positive. I don’t know what people have going on in their lives, what kind of day they’re having, or how they were raised. All I need to know is that it’s my job to be quick, efficient, and happy, and that I don’t like to be insincere. The responses are amazing. My patience has skyrocketed. I’m learning how to hold meaningful conversations. My introvert batteries maintain their charges longer. Best of all, everyone, including myself, is happier, but they still have to put up with the occasional blank stare, awkward silence, and frequent nerdy references. 

I believed binge drinking could solve my problems in the short-term, or at least delay them until they were no longer relevant. Turns out, it takes hard work and more application than I’m accustomed to in order to make progress on myself. Drinking can’t fix anything, but it’s not evil, either. Rum didn’t make me punch a hole in the wall, that was me and my mishandled aggression. I’m becoming a happier person not because I drink less, but because I’m finally learning to face my insecurities, to handle my emotions—I’m learning how to be a human. It’s harder than it looks. I have to change the way I think and relinquish a lot of control, but when I look in mirror, the person I see under construction is worth the price I paid.

Aaron Kuchta is a writer in New York City. He has a blog. He last wrote about an introvert's guide to non compulsive drinking.

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