I wasn’t the worst drunk in the world. But…
I’d likely have a beer a night during the week, maybe two if I was out with a friend. Weekends were a different story. I’d maybe start a little earlier, maybe have a couple more than during the week. And a handful of times a year, I’d wake the next day from a messy night, trying to recall its end. There were enough signs to determine that my alcohol use wasn’t strictly responsible. I was not always heeding the mouse-type warnings on bottle labels.
Finally, after a summer where I felt I was leaning a bit too heavy on alcohol, I decided that I’d take a month off in October 2014. I started to feel like I needed a couple of beers at the end of the day. Not just wanted them. As well, while drinking the same amount as ‘normal’, I was finding myself more intoxicated than I expected. The inevitable hangovers became more severe and stuck around longer. No night of mirth and folly was worth 72 hours of pain. These changes made it clear that not only had my relationship with alcohol devolved but that my biology had as well.
So, after one last snapped-off, blotto bender of a cottage weekend with the guys, I said goodbye, temporarily, to alcohol, but actually relieved for the self-enforced break. That month went really well, I didn’t miss drinking. So, I delayed my return for another month. Then another and another. Suddenly, I was at six months totally sober, no alcohol and no cannabis (I hadn’t planned that one). That was when I noticed something. I was happier than I’d ever felt. I’m a pretty positive guy who is happy most of the time. But I think what I felt tipped closer to…joy. Not that I woke up any easier, but I woke up feeling good, great, even. When asked in a small talk sense “how are you?”, my reply became ‘Great!” It was sincere. I had never felt consistently great before. Yet, there was no huge change in my life, otherwise.
I did notice a self-imposed burden was lifted. I realized that most of what I felt after drinking to intoxication was guilt. Guilt that I wasn’t present while spending time with my family. Guilt about fuming up the bedroom and snoring like I was on my last breaths. Guilt that I’d pissed away a bunch of hard-earned money and was left with some clouldy memories and a pounding head. Guilt that maybe I shot my mouth off in some regretable manner. I realized that I had been putting myself through this by choice. But also that I may had been acting this way for so long, probably close to 30 years(!), because it was no longer a choice. I had to wonder if what I had come to accept was that my future was just as a drunk old man with an ever-reddening nose who was going from an-at-times not great drunk to worse. When I noticed that I no longer had this inevitable outcome, this guilt, these ridiculous concerns and logistics to make a good night’s drink possible, I realized what I had denied myself for too long. I could’ve let the sadness and remorse overcome me, but instead I was just glad. And I realized that the choice I made was one of the better ones I had ever made about my life and that it didn’t matter that I was possibly years or decades late making it. I had freed myself of chains I had no awareness of wearing.
I have no judgments for people who drink. Most people probably do it better than I did. While I have no interest in spending time with some swerving, aggressive, blathering person who has lost reason and conversational abilities, I can discern that mess from someone who has a few drinks and is a bit heavy-lidded. Go ahead, have a beer or three while we’re out. I really don’t mind. My wife still enjoys a nightly glass of wine or two and I don’t give it any thought. Amazingly, she rarely got angry with my drinking unless it affected plans or responsibilities, but she made her concern clear at times where we both knew my behaviour or consumption maybe have been unbecoming or even unsafe. I know she likes the me who doesn’t drink more than the one who did. And it’s not just because she’s guaranteed a designated driver at the end of the night.
So, now everything in my life is perfect and it’s just getting more perfecter and I never think about having a drink. Well, life ain’t perfect, but many good things have happened to me since I made the decision to quit booze. I have a bit more…stuff in me to do the things I love doing. Regarding that last point, I haven’t really craved drinking since I stopped. Sure, there are moments where the triggers are strong. Walking past a patio after work on a hot summer day, where tables are full of laughing imbibers quaffing amber lagers from dewy pint glasses will probably always give me an occasional pause. Sitting in a comfy chair during the winter holidays, reading a book and sipping on some Irish whisky has crossed my mind a few times. But it’s been so infrequent among these 1500 days or so that saying I miss alcohol would be a strong exaggeration. I just don’t. I miss some invitations and some nights out with friends. What I really could leave behind now are all the $4 club sodas I’ve ordered in bars. But, over these years, what I’ve paid for club soda is a grain of sand on a beach for what I would’ve spent on alcohol. Literally, thousands and thousands of dollars. Maybe ten, I’m not sure. Not hitting the family fortune so hard adds to the joy.
In retrospective moments, I wonder if some of my behaviour and habits weren’t entirely my fault. Understand, I’m the type of person that always looks inward when apportioning blame. Not out of self-loathing, possibly because I don’t want to make false accusations. More likely because I’m generally looking for personal improvements. Acting on those observations is a different story, but I digress.
Being able to look at alcohol culture without beer goggles makes me wonder how spurred on and conditioned we are to reach for chemical escapes, and to feel an air of sophistication that some glossy magazine has convinced us we deserve. Beer was a passion for me. I’d been a craft beer conessieur since before that term came to be. I had years of being an IPA sleuth. I’d always be on the lookout to try something new and different. Every trip across the border made me study the new brands and styles I wanted to try. My friends called me a snob as I scoffed at their domestic swill. Despite such supposed refinement, there’s no other dangerous substance that gets a such a pass. Society says that having a drink is the right thing to do. Advertising does the same thing. The normalcy of it makes us non-drinkers stand out like our behaviour is unusual. It’s a odd thing to finally see, when you’re on the other side of it.
To close this, family is really the best reason I quit booze and it was well-timed. My son has an awareness of when adults are intoxicated and teaching him to lose judgements of ‘happy’ adults will be another parenting job of ours. I’m happy I don’t have to try to explain to him why I like getting drunk. It would be a real challenge to honestly articulate. I can’t stand lies, and I extend that to my kids. I may mask the truth or sand off the edges of something ugly in the world that they aren’t yet able to comprehend but I just don’t want a behaviour in my life that requires bullshitting my kids or my wife. Or anyone else. Again, it’s a burden lifted. Life hands you enough of those, unrequested. There’s no sense adding more all by yourself. Despite all the good times and fueled antics with friends that I still laugh about, for me, alcohol was a burden. And happily, eventually walking away from it wasn’t.
So that’s my story. I know I’m not alone, so feel free to share your own in the comments.