Friday night lights

Every Friday, I have a commitment that keeps me out fairly late. For the first year or so that I was doing this, I would invariably swing by a liquor store on the way home, pick up a 3L Bota box, head home, park myself on the couch, and proceed to drink glass after glass like lemonade.

My Friday night commitment is stressful in a couple of ways, and I told myself that I needed that wine to calm down enough to sleep. Mostly though, I needed the wine because Friday nights trigger my social anxieties, and wine was my only coping mechanism for handling the wired, nerve-jangled, over-threshold feelings after. It took so long for that feeling to fade that I often didn’t head to bed until midnight or later. The late nights didn’t help with the awful Saturday mornings either.

The first Friday during my 30, I had to leave my wallet at home, because I knew that no matter what I planned on, my end-of-night reflexes were going to drive me straight to that liquor store. I made it home that night, fingers clenched tightly around my steering wheel, and then paced through my house, rationalizing why it would be okay for me to turn around and go out to buy wine. My partner, patient and kind, listened to a 45-minute monologue about how unfair it was that I wasn’t drinking, how it would definitely be okay if I just had a drink (or ten) this Friday, how hard this was, how embarrassed I was that this was so hard. Then he fixed me a cup of tea, and I tried to pretend to be appreciative, instead of bursting into tears (because tea was NOT the beverage I craved!). It was much, much harder than any Friday night had been for the past year. When I finally did crawl into bed that night, I lay on my back, unable to sleep, hot tears of humiliation and despair trickling down my temples.

I struggled with Fridays for a long time. Avoiding the liquor store became easier with practice, but I still had trouble calming down when I got home. I would arrive home around 10pm, and pace, drink tea, try to read, try not to talk about how much I wanted a drink, and eventually feel the nerve-jangled feeling subside, until I eventually calmed down enough to drag my exhausted body to bed. Saturdays were better, but the late nights still took a toll.

Then I started making adjustments. I started addressing conflicts more directly, and discovered that this made my social anxieties decrease. In April, I sat down with the other organizers and restructured the event, so that it is less intense for everyone, less dependent on my contributions, and can be run with fewer people. In May, I arranged with someone to start trading shifts, so that I could leave hours earlier most Fridays, and skip others altogether. I re-engaged with my purpose for being there, which helped smooth out my internal conflicts and make me feel happier about the whole thing again. I started bringing a water bottle, so that I’d remember to stay hydrated. I tucked a book into my bag, so that I could sit in a corner and read if there was ever a quiet moment. I practiced some breathing exercises, and then forgot to practice them, because I was feeling so much more comfortable in general. Saturday mornings became reliably normal, even good, after refreshing nights of sleep.

The past two Fridays, I needed to cover the whole evening, meaning I’ve been driving home around 10pm again. I drive straight by the liquor store, and I always mean to give it a knowing wave as I pass…but I always forget, because by the time I get there, I’m thinking about other things. That’s something I would never have guessed was possible.

I got home around 10:15 last night, and let the dog out for a romp in the yard. I drank a glass of water, fixed myself a small snack, started a load of laundry, headed to bed, and was asleep before 11. I feel just fine this morning.

Changing my drinking habits was not a magical fix for everything in my life. Many rough edges remain, and I am discovering that by drinking so much for so long, I failed to develop other (better!) coping mechanisms. But I’m learning. I’m making changes in areas I would once have described as unrelated to drinking, but which now seem related in the way that all the parts of my life are connected. I am spending less and less time thinking about (not) drinking, and that leaves my brain free to dream up solutions to other things in my life. Like coping better with my existing commitments, learning new ways to relax, or even hot little revolutionary thoughts about what I want to do in the future.

I’ve been looking back at the last six months, and all the changes I’ve made, and am amazed by how far-reaching the consequences of changing my drinking habits have been.I feel just fine this morning, and also find that I am looking forward to next Friday. I complain about it sometimes, but it’s a good event, meaningful, and often a great deal of fun. That’s a far cry from being just another reason to drink. Life in general turns out to be much more interesting now that it’s not just an endless series of reasons to drink.

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