I started changing my drinking habits in late January. Since I’d gotten drunk almost every single day last year, and the year before, and many years before, even a week without any alcohol was a shock to my system. I didn’t experience any overt withdrawal symptoms, but those first 30-odd days were hard, full of upheaval and effort. The next 30-odd days weren’t much easier, especially as it started to sink in that I was only just beginning.
Here I am, a little past the hundred day mark, and it is finally starting to seem semi-normal. Not easy. Not even simple. Just sort of normal that my life includes all these new rules.
Which means new challenges are arising, of course. One of which is that life is not magically perfect now that I have quit drinking-to-excess. Life still has boring, unhappy, stressful, shitty parts, no matter what I do. And although drinking caused many problems in my life, it also cannot be held to blame for every problem. Sigh.
Alcohol abuse involves a lot of instant gratification. Alcohol feels like a solution to everything, so almost any desire or discomfort can be instantly treated (or made numb for a bit, anyway). I have well over a decade of practicing this sort of instant gratification, and depressingly little practice when it comes to other coping skills. Faced with something as minor as a rainy Sunday afternoon, my brain panics, runs in circles, plunges into the depths of despair.
The idea that alcohol solves anything is a lie, of course. I have over a decade’s worth of proof that heavy drinking does not solve a single problem, and makes most of them worse. Rainy Sunday afternoons are no easier than they were ten years ago, and are actually considerably tougher because I’ve let so many hobbies & interests fade from my life. Maybe if I had not been drinking, my brain would not act like a thwarted toddler so often (or maybe that voice is inside all of us, I really don’t know).
So now I have to put in a lot of real work, building up coping mechanisms and all those other things that healthy people supposedly nurture. Although I am a privileged person, rainy Sunday afternoons are not really the biggest problem I face, and so I have to deal with some real problems, and find real solutions that work a lot better than the thing I’ve been trying over and over for the past decade. Like many things that I know are good for me, I sort of hate it.
And I’m struggling a bit with the idea that this might be as easy as it ever gets as far as better habits. I titled this post “the middle slog” because I wanted to believe that I am en route to a later stage. Maybe not an end, but at least a comfortable set of new habits, and a better set of coping skills overall. Then I read Paul Staley’s latest blog post, written to celebrate ten years of moderation management success. The title, “Ten years and no end in sight,” is uninspiring, to say the least. The post details the fact that this is a continuing process. According to Paul, it would seem, there is no end. Which I suppose means that everything from here on out is part of the middle slog.
Ugh. My first reaction, naturally enough, was to panic, runs in mental circles, and plunge into the depths of despair. Ten years of putting this much energy into healthier drinking habits?! That sounds exhausting! When I re-read the post, I could see he meant something a little different, but I was left with my first reaction: is this really as good as I’m going to feel for the next ten years?
Suppose it is? Suppose that in ten years, I feel exactly the way I have for the past couple of weeks. Tired of thinking about (not) drinking, but still having to do so just to make sure I stick to the plan. Surprised by how well I’m doing, but not quite trusting that it will continue. Frequently sort of sick of myself. Sometimes happy, sometimes deeply unhappy, and still wishing I had a real solution that worked as well as alcohol pretends to. Still kind of wrestling with the discomfort of having to be present, all the time.
I guess I’d take that. It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly not the kind of instantaneous gratification I’ve trained myself to prefer. But it’s real, not based on lies my brain tells me. Moreover, it appears to be achievable. It’s not great, but compared to a life of daily drinking, it’s a lot closer to what I want. Maybe even close enough.