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Two Rules, Two Truths, Two Futures
I knew I would need to quit drinking one day, and this self-awareness may have driven some of the more destructive behaviours in the last couple of years of my habit -- get it in while you still can, because soon, the ride's over. I know. Because of this knowledge, I was a regular reader of The Fix even before I made the decision to quit. This was an excellent resource as it meant I was going into my version of sobriety with an awareness of the landscape, or perhaps the society, of recovery. I was, and still am, put off AA for various reasons that I won't go into, and simply knowing there was a community of people who have made the decision not to use, outside of the stereotypes of musty church basements, cigarettes and stale coffee, gave me strength.
Early on, my approach to not drinking formed itself into two golden rules:
1. I will not judge anybody else on what does or does not work for them in their recovery
2. I will not allow anybody else to define my sobriety
An old college friend had gotten sober a year or two earlier, the first sober person I had known with a "before" and "after." We reconnected after several years when we shared a ride to our mutual friends' wedding. They were very candid about their sobriety, which was an eye-opener for me as this was perhaps six months before I made the decision to quit, so I was well into a conversation, or rather confrontation, with myself. In fact, I offered to drive at various times throughout the wedding weekend because I knew it would mean I couldn't drink before my chauffeur duties were over, and I wanted to be aware enough to share the memories of my friends' beautiful wedding. My travel companion's sobriety meant, for them, a sense of control, which manifested in "one or two beers, and then I can stop."
This seemed alien to me, but for this friend, for whom gin and cocaine were a personal and professional yin and yang, if it worked for them to have a couple of beers every so often, good for them. I knew I couldn't take that approach; had recognised even in my late teens that the thresholds that "normal" people have, of "sure, that's enough for tonight" and "screw it, let's go hard, all night long" were reversed, or that the former was non-existent for me. It would have to be all or nothing, and that's what scared me and kept me from taking the plunge sooner.
The old saying that the only certainties in life are death and taxes rang a little too true for me. Have you ever tried to do your taxes vodka-drunk, skating the edge of blackout? It's ugly. I was crying. Trying to calculate what I owed, spent, earned, from a day job and a side gig I was still trying to get off the ground, I was a mess. My spouse confronted me:
"Do you ever drink when I'm not around?"
And that was it. I thought I'd been so clever. Everyone does, don't they? I would like to say I haven't touched a drop since, but that's not true, and in fact is part of my success (and how I define "success"). I don't count days, though I am now coming up on two years. I still throw a slug of wine into sauces, and I make my chili on a base of delicious, dark beer, but I don't drink it. For a while, a good friend who is a craft beer connoisseur would share a sip of his beers, at my request, and occasionally I'd have a sip of my spouse's wine in a nice restaurant. I still shake alcohol-based bitters into my club soda, because there's not nearly enough to give me a buzz. It seems important to me to not give alcohol the status of forbidden fruit. I am not a person who cannot have alcohol, I am a person who does not drink alcoholic drinks.
This has the added bonus of making it easier for friends and family to be supportive, as it means they do not have to tiptoe around the situation. When people are drinking around me, they're not trying to placate me or treat me like a delicate flower. I insist upon it. People drinking around me was never the problem; it was always when I was left to myself that temptation would strike and hours would disappear.
Without meetings, or a dedicated support group, or even a close, sober friend upon whose shoulder I could cry, I have carved an approach to not drinking that works for me, so far. I have learned to compartmentalise my feelings. I often walk past a spot that was a favourite sneaky-post-work drinking hole, and on a warm summer day, the temptation is almost overwhelming. I look at the bar, and I look to myself, and I know two things:
It is true that in that moment I want nothing more than to walk into that bar, order a beer and a shot, and let oblivion enter my body.
It is also true that I am not going to do that.
It's difficult to explain exactly how comforting this is. On my first birthday after quitting, I lapsed. I chugged a large glass of wine, enough to give me the first tingling of a buzz, and I was miserable. I had failed. But because I don't count days, this wasn't a reset of the six months of hard work. I see it as defining my two truths, because the moment one of the above statements ceases to be true -- I am not going to drink -- so does the other -- I want nothing more than to be sober again, because no buzz can defeat the shame of failure. I recognise that I'm lucky in my ability to think this way and allow it to guide my actions. I know that others may not be able to organise their thoughts that way, and for their own definition of recovery, may not want to. What works for me may not work for you, but it may work for someone else, and I share without judgement.
It is true that I want to drink.
It is true that I am not going to drink.
For now. I want nothing more than to be able to have one or two beers, and stop, and not only stop, but know that I am satisfied and that that is enough. I know that day may never come, but I also know that for it to ever happen, I cannot put alcohol on some kind of mystical pedestal, and I cannot allow anyone else to define my sobriety.
I've told myself that I will not even consider drinking again until I am at least 42 -- I quit at 30 after a dozen years of unreasonable and unsustainable drinking behaviour; I must allow at least a dozen more before I can think about drinking again. If I reach that point, and don't feel I'm ready, don't trust myself, I will continue on this path.
There are two futures: one where I learn to drink sensibly, calmly, reasonably, and one where I continue to not drink. There is no future where I go back to my old ways. I cannot allow it. If the former doesn't pan out, I'll stay with the latter. It's so good to know that from right here, the view goes on forever. This is my truth.
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