Note: I will be on MPBN Maine Calling today (January 13th, 2015) discussing my ever-evolving relationship with alcohol and its impact on my health.
In August of 2014, realizing that things were getting to be problematic and over my head, I made the decision to stop drinking.
As a means of letting people know why I, then a relatively well known drinker within my circles, had stopped, and to hold myself accountable to that decision, I wrote about how I came to this place. I had also realized that a lot of that problem was very much my responsibility, but that it had been easy to develop because we have a collective way of not talking about our afflictions, both to ourselves and to each other. I wanted to break that cycle for myself, the cycle of looking the other way on my actions and those of my peers as a means of keeping the good times rolling, by making it clear that I realized things were bad and required a self-imposed intervention on my part. I was heartened to hear from others who had made similar decisions in their own lives, and be reassured that these decisions, while hard to make and difficult to acknowledge, would prove to be a good one.
I am recapping this because I started drinking again in November.
Starting again wasn’t planned. While traveling, I went to dinner with some friends, I ordered a beer, and that was it. I told my wife when I came home, she supportively asked if I had made the right decision and I said that I’d thought so, but I wanted to think about it, reflect on it, and sort it out internally for a while. At the moment, it did not feel problematic in that it didn’t feel like anything, good or bad, before or after. I wish I could say that it felt one way or another, or that something eventful occurred, or that there was some sign or some symbolism in the way it all took place but it was only remarkable in how totally unremarkable it was. I have been thinking and meditating upon the decision since.
I should be careful to say that by “started drinking again” in November, I mean that I have had ten alcoholic beverages in as many weeks, which is, conservatively, about as much I would put away on a typical Friday or Saturday night before I stopped in 2014.
Stopping drinking was, to that point, the best decision I has ever made for my overall health. It remains that way. I had been drinking to excess, putting myself and others at risk, making poor choices generally, putting on what was for me an unhealthy amount of weight, and literally wasting thousands of dollars on keeping those good times, which no longer felt very good at all, rolling. When I stopped I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t know my end game. I didn’t know what “recovery” was and I didn’t know what resolution would look like. What I knew, though, was that if I didn’t somehow get in front of this thing, something bad was going to happen. I had used up all of my luck and all of my extra lives. The only way I could begin to understand what had led me to this place was to stop and sort things out, one day at a time, as it were.
That clarity that accompanied cessation and the meditation, inflection and processing that followed was necessary for a lot of things, particularly sorting through my relationships with friends and family, and acknowledging and taking responsibility for times I was an ass in part because I used alcohol to bypass being especially thoughtful or considerate. It helped me get a sense of what was up and what was down, and the things that were getting in my way of feeling complete without the aid of a dozen or so drinks on especially enthusiastic outings.
I’m not “cured” by any means; I don’t think that’s a thing. I am, as I have illustrated in the past, prone to excess and to seeking unhealthy ways to shut my brain down. These tendencies will generally require that I continue to check in with myself regularly to ensure that I am not heading down another rough patch, or lying to myself about whether or not this is the case. I needed to stop in order to work out a lot of stuff, and to be honest with myself about my behavior. I needed to stop in order to find some sliver of clarity to help me articulate what I was going through to others, and particularly my loved ones. I needed to stop to sort through a lot of stuff that I was going on internally that I hadn’t confronted for a long, long time, and which I am still working on and through.
The strange thing about speaking out about something is that you become associated with it. I have become associated to many with not drinking in the same way I had become associated with drinking in excess before that. This was less my intention that becoming associated with the acknowledgment that I realized I had a problem and I needed to work it through, and that process would probably be messy and imperfect.
I tried to be clear that my approach was individual to me, and that I am not advocating a methodology or way through. I believe there are a myriad of approaches because there are a myriad of paths, problems, issues and philosophies. There are recovery approaches, psychological ones, mixtures of the two, pharmaceutical solutions, and everything in between. For some, compulsive behavior or overuse may be more about a switch in the brain than something inside them that needs repair (my friend Andy reported on this for Radiolab last year). For others, there may be no biological or physiological basis for disposition, but something psychic that requires healing. I come from a people who have backgrounds in both, and it’s difficult to pinpoint either, but I am grateful for the journey my initial cessation led to.
I needed to work on a lot of things internally—and I will need to keep working on those things not only to steer clear of overuse, but to be a good person generally. The “steps,” so to speak, stripped of God, dogma and stigma offer a great approach to live life by no matter your approach or outlook. And there are interesting and important advances being made in pharmaceuticals when it comes to intervening upon that aforementioned switch. Again, I am not an advocate for one approach or another, outside of starting with being real about whatever it is you’re going through or facing at the moment.
And while I don’t purport represent the strengths of recovery over pharmaceuticals, or feel it necessary to make a case for drinking over not drinking, I encourage that you listen to yourself. One tends to know if they have a problem, or needs to work through something. At least, I should say, I knew for a while but I was scared to take any real action for a long time. Finally doing so was a step toward getting my life in line, or at least starting an ongoing dialogue with myself about what that would require.
I hope not to represent the dangers of vice or the strength of giving them up, but rather the importance of recognizing the signs in front of us and intervening upon ourselves when it is very clear that we have lost control. I hope to represent the strength of asking for help when you need it. I know people who are wrecking their lives by way of their vices because they have not yet done these things. They are destroying themselves and the people around them. I know others who have made great strides by pursuing newer, cleaner, more conscious approaches to living. I am proud and heartened to see this progress in whatever forms it takes. What separates these people is what sounds like a cliche but remains absolutely real and imperative: honesty with self and an acknowledgment of a problem. That is the first and most important step, pardon the pun, toward an important and potentially life-saving journey toward finding something better.
The journey—its twisting, turning and unexpected paths abounding—continues. I don’t know where this will take me, and don’t pretend to. This path could be one of a long term moderate relationship with drinking, or it could lead me to need to take a step back into abstinence in order to recalibrate again and maybe commit to a different approach. As long as I continue to be real with myself about how it is progressing, I know it will continue to be as good, challenging and fulfilling as it has proven since I made that initial decision back in 2014.
Note: It feels like too much to cover here, but I should note that I started drinking again, despite all of this, because I like alcohol. When it is not enabling problems in the aforementioned fashions, I enjoy good and interesting wines, beers and cocktails. If I didn’t enjoy that part of eating and all around cultural experience, continuing to not drink would be an easy choice. But, if I am having a good meal and the option is available to me, I like having a nice glass of wine or if there is a new beer that is blowing minds for whatever reasons, I like to taste it. Interestingly, I have noticed my taste for beer, or at least my body’s taste for beer, has evaporated almost entirely. After drinking a pint, I feel like I’ve eaten a pound of french fries or a loaf of bread, which is an interesting recalibration on the part of my body.