SNAPSHOT: THE HEADSPACE OF A SEMI-SOBER FORMER ALCOHOLIC
I sipped a beer last night. Terrapin Red Rye Mosaic IPA. 6.2% ABV. Pulled it out from the back left corner of the refrigerator. While the quinoa simmered. While carrots, onions, garlic and chicken sausage baked.
I like to pour my beer into a glass. So I can see it. The amber color. The creamy head. The carbonation. This is the first alcohol consumed in 11 days. Since Christmas. For the last few years, I’ve allowed a temporary increase in alcohol consumption during the holidays. Because of social events, family gatherings. It’s available and everyone’s doing it kind of thing. That increase meant that going back to the 2 drink/week plan came with some difficulty, some craving. This year was the opposite. The post-Christmas stomach flu knocked the thirst for alcohol right out of me. Nothing on New Years. Nothing till yesterday.
Four years ago, I gave up drinking altogether. I’d been a daily drinker for five years, and dependency had begun to unravel me. By daily drinker, I think I was pretty unusual. I don’t mean I had a beer with dinner. Or even two beers with dinner. Nor do I mean that I got debilitatingly drunk. I would guess the number of times I was drunk—impaired speech, coordination, etc—maps onto the average person’s incidence of inebriation. Probably less frequent. Same thing with hangover. By daily drinker, I mean that by the time I left my house in the morning, whether it be 7am or 10am, I’d likely had a sip of alcohol. I drank cheap red wine and cheap whiskey. Almost exclusively. Sometimes rum. Rarely mixed drinks. Never beer. Most of the time, I made it through the work day without alcohol. Not always. I liked the buzz. Some days, I’d take a swig before teaching yoga. Before law school class. Before job interviews. Whatever. During the last six months of my drinking, I packed booze with me. Working kitchen jobs, the grind and monotony seemed lighter and more bearable with a buzz. I consumed most of my alcohol after 4pm. And in the last few months, I drank whiskey in bed. Right before lights out. In order to sleep.
After my Year of No Drinking, (which was also Year #1 of me and Kate), I tried moderation. At first I limited myself to once a month. Or once every two months. Then, once a week. Then three times a week. What’s interesting is that different addictive “pulls” exist at each level of semi-sobriety. On one end of the spectrum, there’s total sobriety. Here the cerebral pain is jealousy, envy. “They’re drinking, they get to drink. I want to drink too. But I can’t.” There’s the imagination amping up what that beer tastes like, the crisp deliciousness. Interestingly I fantasize about beer now, even though I never drank it previously. Maybe it’s because I never abused it. Or maybe it’s because I don’t allow myself to drink whiskey or wine now. So my mind knows fantasizing is futile. Either way. Even total sobriety has it’s costs.
In the middle of the semi-sober spectrum, I tried drinking 3 times per week. This was during my first year of the MFA program, in a brand new place, with brand new people, excited about graduate school and the novelty of being holed up with fellow “writers” for three years. This drinking was at a small local bar. I tried to limit my intake to one beer per night, but I often drank two. The beer was cheap, conversation good. And somehow I drank more with other people present. At this level of drinking, the inner demons were noticeable. They talk talked. And I’m a Type A person. So they’re talking was logical and calendarized. Like: Today’s Monday. 99-cent taps. So cheap. How about one? Just to build relationships. Real quick. Before class. No? How about after class. Invite Kate. This inner dialogue was pretty loud. At any given point in the week, I’d be acutely aware of (and very much looking forward to) the next drinking day. The “looking forward to” sounds pretty innocuous. In other contexts, it’s pretty harmless. Like now. I’m “looking forward to” Kate and Ellie coming back to GA. I’m “looking forward to” going to JeJu sauna tomorrow. It’s desire about a future event. But it’s not craving. People say “there’s a fine line” between this thing that’s not dangerous and that thing that is. I disagree. I think the line is coarse and broad and grey. It’s a slippery slope, but it’s not a fine line.
So now. I’ve ratcheted my drinking down to twice per week—which is 99% home drinking. I still have the calendar voices in my head, notifying me that it’s midweek or the weekend. Broadcasting my weekly drinking score: 0, 1, or 2. And again, the broadcasting isn’t neutral factual information. It feels like taunting. Which begs the question, why don’t I just give it up altogether? I’ll get back to this question. Just wanted to flag it for now. What I’ve noticed recently is two things. First, when I drank over Christmas, in social situations, I didn’t really taste the beer. Maybe I tasted the first sip. But nothing after that. Second, last night, when I was solo drinking, while I tasted the beer, which was back-of-the-throat-ahhh spot on, I simultaneously tasted the sadness that I’d spent my weekend drink points, and there would be no getting them back until midweek next week. I felt this slippery sadness while drinking the beer, but also in the moments before drinking the beer. While deciding if I should have a beer tonight or tomorrow night, or whatever. I thought, “Well I could just save the points, and drink tomorrow.” But there was also the thought that, “I could just not use the points altogether, claim this sober moral high-ground, and have a glass of water this whole weekend and move on.” That last thought, which places a premium on being totally sober, infused me deciding to drink the beer with a tinge of guilt. Not a lot. But a little. Like in some way, choosing alcohol is weak. And therefore, by indulging, I’m weak.
Three years into semi-sobriety, holding a microscope up to my drinking psychology is like trying to photograph a racquetball game. So much rapid movement. So much running back and forth. I said I’d get back to why I don’t just give it up altogether. The obvious is answer is because I’ve done that, and total sobriety in drinking culture is hard. And admittedly, drinking on occasion is a nice burst of mouth pleasure. And it’s a drug, and I enjoy the mellowing effect.
Is it worth the wild quidditch?
That’s a damn good question.
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