Six months ago I embarked on a journey I’ve mentioned before. I decided to go on vacation from drinking for six months. Last night I completed the six month journey and decided I was going to celebrate with a few glasses of red.
To be perfectly honest, I was scared at the idea. Putting it simply: My life has improved dramatically since the removal of fermented drinks from my diet. Of course a lot of other things have happened in that timeframe, it is hard to shake the image from my mind that alcohol was perhaps the vice of all vices and that it’s simple destruction has paved my way to paradise! The insinuation here, unfortunately, is that with my first sip of wine the sky will start falling around me. So where does that leave the glass of red wine on the table in front of me?
The Last Six Months
So in a fit of angst I decided to remove smoking from my life (for good) and drinking from my life (for six months). This was a very good choice all around, with the exception of some bouts of me being a raging cunt to my roommates as I tried to find stress relievers that didn’t involve booze and smokey treats. In the last six months I’ve been exercising more, waking up earlier, sleeping in less, eating healthier, reading more, making my bed in the morning, writing, paying attention to current events, not watching tv, embarking on creative projects, managing my finances more effectively and more. I’ve lost twenty pounds. I found out I apparently have ab muscles and can do several sit-ups in a row without puking blood and crying uncontrollably (a new phenomenon).
None of this was especially expected. I imagined that Dylan minus cigarettes and alcohol would simply equal Dylan sans those things. Yet more benefit than a heftier wallet and increased lung capacity have ensued. The experiment has changed the day to day pattern of my life significantly. To go from exercising once yearly to exercising once daily can’t really be explained by forgoing a few dirty martini’s a night, can it?
Well, it’s complicated. But my belief is the inciting avalanche could have started from any snowball getting started rolling or at least any snowball with enough weight. The important part is that the thing you change has to be large enough to alter the routine of your life, which mine did because it linked with so many other aspects of my life. Not having my crutches, my self-medication regimen, really shook up my day to day existence. I had to find other ways to deal with my anxiety (exercise) and take my mind off things (reading).
Now this isn’t to say that it all happened magically. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the task at hand (I don’t really recommend anyone whose a big smoker and drinker to quit BOTH at the same time). Plus, it is very easy to solve the problems engendered by the change with solutions not much better than the problem you started with. Quitting cigarettes can easily lead to compulsive eating since us smokers crave SOME sort of stimulation and we all tend towards oral fixations. So you have to be aware enough to put down the stick of butter you were about to start licking (am I the only one who does this?). You can’t make your cravings go away, but you can try to buy spinach at the store instead of Cheez-Its. Can’t sleep without a night cap (this happened to me), make sure you don’t sleep in or take a nap during the day so that by nightfall you’re exhausted enough to just pass out.
Some of those changes will cause new and interesting annoyances of their own. This to fix this, that to fix that, on and on. It can become a bit of a Whac-A-Mole of personality defects.
And that’s ok. That’s what self improvement is. Seeing the person you are versus the person you want to be and getting there, slowly but surely.
Bring on the booze!!
So why start drinkiing? If it was an inciting incident for a flurry of beneficial life changes there seems to be no possible reason to start drinking again. That’s a completely valid point. There is really only one reason to start drinking again for me. I enjoy it.
There is, however, one more reason for me to drink beyond that I have a little bit of booze hound in me. Self-control is about control. This is the problem with the hyper-religious believing the best type of sexual education to be abstinence education. Sure, if you assume that sex is the devil’s playground it might keep you away from orgies (for a time), but it completely misses the point. We’re hardwired for sex. Being an adult with self-control shouldn’t mean that sex is pure evil and we should avoid it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that means the extinction of the human race. It means not being an idiot when going about your sexual dalliances. It’s about learning how to do things safely, with care, with limits.
Could I have never touched a glass of wine again? I like to think so. But even these six months of extinguished vices and expanded personal growth have turned booze into a little bit of a boogeyman to me. Being afraid of booze shouldn’t be the answer, but being in control of it should be.
And wine is delicious. I had a few glasses last night for the first time in six months and it was glorious. Despite my fears I didn’t end up downing several bottles and streaking through central park nor did I chain smoke packs of cigarettes, erasing all the forward momentum I had built up in the last few months. I simply had a few glasses of wine, got a admirable amount of drunk and had a lovely dinner. It was quite nice.
That being said, I did put some rules in place for myself. I only took wine off the verboten list. I figured it’s best to smart small. And for the time being, I decided to limit myself to two glasses an evening. I believe it’s good to set rules and limits for yourself, it keeps you aware of your successes and failings (full disclosure: I had three glasses of wine last night. SINFUL!).
The important element is being able to pin-point those areas in your life that you wish were different and actively taking steps to mold them into the traits you want. Break the routine of bad habits you have. Prove to yourself that you have the capacity to change elements of your life and aren’t simply a product of a never ending loop of stimuli responses.
So what do you want to change? What parts of your life routine run you? Change the pattern, change the life.