energy (# 8)

One criterion for determining whether one is alcohol dependent: passing up favorite activities for opportunities to drink. I could feel this happening over the past year. I was having a harder and harder time waking up to exercise. Also, I was opting to have a glass of wine after work, which turned into several. At that point, I wasn’t in the right condition to exercise or go to tango events like I used to do several times a week. Lately, I have been tangoing about once every two weeks at best.

It has been enjoyable running again (3 days in row!). Tonight I went to tango class. Tomorrow, I will be up at 5:45 a.m. and happily heading out for a jog. It feels good to look forward to my activities again. I now have room in my brain to anticipate such things, since I am no longer pinning my hopes on having a drink or three.

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among friends (# 7)

Yesterday my husband and I went to my friend’s birthday party. Over her life, my friend has drawn together an interesting circle of people. Lovers past and present, girlfriends, housemates past and present, neighborhood people. I fall in the former housemate category: I lived in her house for six months about 7 years ago, when I first separated from my former husband.

My friend has casual parties a few times a year that bring the various parts of her circle together. These parties are filled with booze and banter. As are most parties, it’s true, but there is something different about my friend’s parties. Her people are more free. Free to drink a lot or not at all. Free to be social or sit in a corner doing a puzzle. Free to be raunchy. The average age of the guests is about 48, but this statement is does not tell you much because the guests are outliers and have youthful spirits as compared with people their age.

I am a person who is very introverted. It takes a bit for me to warm up. Once warm, I will become very, very verbal, clever, and lively. Warming up has historically involved several drinks. It’s hard for me to think of a party held by this friend where I did not get some degree of drunk.

Until last night. I went, stayed sober, and had about as much fun as I have ever had. I bantered and joked with the best of the them. I played a ridiculous game that involved bending over to pick up a paper bag with your teeth while standing on one leg and not allowing either hand to touch the ground. Being sober didn’t help my game. My husband, who was drinking beer, won. Nobody remarked on the fact I was not drinking. It was not an issue.

I even held my husband’s cup in my hand for several minutes and did not choose to sip.

The main difference I noticed was that my shy self was less anxious and more calm. I found it easier to listen to and connect with people, most of whom were acquaintances but not confidants. I was still funny, but maybe less silly. I was relieved that I wasn’t running a subterranean dialogue with myself about how much I could drink and not ruin the next day. Walking home through the humid, buggy night with my husband, I felt calm and happy, holding my experience of the night in vivid focus.

“in the pathless woods”: setting out (# 6)

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

–Lord Byron

Today, on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend 2018, I decided to make iced tea combining four bags each of Ginger Aid and Tumeric Tonic. This seemed like something I might enjoy drinking. Something that would prick up my taste buds and be exciting and and soothing at the same time. Something other than gin and tonic, white wine, or Bell’s Oberon. All of which would be prime candidates, if the past is the most accurate predictor of the present. But none of which I will be choosing to drink today.

So that’s how I happened to read the line of this Lord Byron poem on a tea bag tag, which just so happens to describe what I’ve been wanting. I want to get off the path I’ve been on and go someplace where I can hear my voice more clearly. Last Tuesday, I chose not to drink alcohol. I felt a cold coming on.I decided to experiment by not drinking at all while the cold ran its course. Same went for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and, so far, Sunday. The last time did that I was probably still taking Dimetapp. It’s now day 6, and I can see the general direction I am headed. I am going to keep walking without drinking, and I will see what pleasure may be had in the pathless woods instead of on my somewhat pleasureless path.

Over the last few days, I have been reading about freedom from alcohol, including This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. The thing that stuck and scared me was a phrase about the homogeneity of alcohol. It was kind of a throwaway sentence, but it got me thinking about alcohol as a substance that produces predictable effects along a predictable timeline. It produces a predictable trajectory. This is true whether you think about a single episode of drinking (one, two, three, four, five, ad nauseam) or a habit of drinking that unfolds through time. Alcohol may be transformational–just like an acid bath!–but it is not magical or alchemical. It just does what it does, predictably.

I have long been aware that I rely on it too heavily to direct my experiences and my days. Only now do I find myself bored with the sameness of my life, which seems to have three simple settings. One: not drinking and thinking about the next time I will. Two: not drinking too much, but drinking more than enough to float through daily life. Rather than taking the edge off anything (like stress or boring tasks), this mode of drinking serves mainly to turn my natural impatience into irritability, and only sometimes leads to an interesting conversation.  And, lest we forget as we are wont to do . . . Three: getting riproaring, wild-hair drunk in high hope that anything could happen. What always happens: waking up hazy about the end of the night, feeling flat, shaky, and determined to appear totally together instead of shattered.

For someone who claims to like surprises, I am embarrassed to admit that I consistently chose to drink the one substance that guarantees there won’t be any surprises, or at least not any good ones. It has taken me almost 30 years of fairly exuberant, slightly more than social drinking to notice that alcohol makes monotony basically certain and disaster a distinct possibility.