“We feel sorry for people that don’t drink, ‘coz when you get up in the morning, that’s as good as you’re gonna feel for the rest of the day.” ~Frank Sinatra, Live at the Sands, 1966
This quote resonates with me. Feeling like crap in the morning after a night of heroic drinking was a badge of honor. I’d like to add, “when I was younger,” and I guess technically that is true, but what is truth-ier is I was not that much younger.
This hasn’t been a very subtle setup. I quit drinking on my birthday this year (2018). What now seems like such a normal way of life – not drinking – would have been a completely foreign idea to me not that long ago. Life without drinking? Why? I doubt anyone who knows me would describe me as anything other than a happy drinker/drunk. I can’t really pin-point where or when things changed. Maybe it’s a body chemistry thing as I’ve gotten older. Maybe it’s changes, subtle or otherwise, in my day-to-day life. Or perhaps family – the one I grew up with or the one my wife and I stumbled upon together. More likely, it is a combination of these influences and others that insidiously modified the role of alcohol in my life. I think pointing to one or two things and saying, “This is where it changed” would be an exercise in self-delusion. What I do know is that it changed – from appreciation of the flavors of brewing and distillation and the fun effects thereof to something more akin to self-medication.
I have been a notorious over-thinker for the bulk of my life, a trait which I have successfully put on the brakes in recent years. Dwelling in pockets of personal history is unhealthy. Thinking oneself into a corner – paralysis by analysis, as my trombone professor called it in college – is equally so. I found tossing a couple of drinks back can quiet those introspective soliloquies – right up until it stops working. That is when the wheels get a little loose on the tricycle.
“Let me clear my throat!” ~Adam Horovitz, The New Style, 1986
I tried talking to many people about quitting. The responses I received ranged from, “It’s always good to detox now and then,” to “Why? You’re not an alcoholic.” That is really about it. I mean no disrespect to those with whom I spoke, my wife included. There was very little engagement. It is not a topic that people are comfortable with. My wife, I feel, saw it as an extension of a personality trait of mine – all or nothing. I don’t think she could grasp that it is not in me (anymore?) to just “cut back”. That could also be her measured response to the way I was presenting the question, too. I don’t think I was fully in tune with what truth I was trying to uncover about myself and what the implications were.
In hindsight, I’ve learned that it is important to take these gestures very seriously when someone presents what might be an innocuous question about themselves. Don’t be shy. Ask questions and move the conversation forward. Be the friend they may need in these moments. It can be about anything. A habit (addiction) as in my case, a relationship, a health issue, family, faith, politics – hell, it could be the stress of knowing or not knowing what is going on around us in this country every day. That is arguably a lot to swallow at the moment!
I am in no way saying my friends and family let me down. Like I said, I may not have been saying what needed to be said or asking the right questions; words that would convey what I was feeling. In the end, the decision had to be mine (The idea of wanting to make a change is very close to me and will be the topic of another offering). This whole process helped illustrate the kind of listening and reflection I hope to use going forward.