Thursday, October 11, 2012

the time we quit drinking

This is a pretty personal post.  I feel like this kind of candor can be good though - offering an opening for someone else to think about the healthiest patterns for relationships and living that they can find for their lives.  So bear with me or quit reading!

There is a lot of alcoholism in my family.  It is clearly genetic as well as environmental.  But I thought I had safely arrived at adulthood and avoided a problem relationship with alcohol.

Now, I drank a lot.  Let's get that straight.  By a clinical definition, the one a psychologist might ask you (Do you drink five or more drinks a week?  Do you drink five or more drinks at a time?  Have you ever lost your memory of what happened while you were drinking?), I had a problem.  I was certainly never one to hold back in high school or college.  I always think what a blessing it was for me to attend college in a city where almost no one drove.  We avoided a LOT of drunk driving accidents and possible casualties by walking and riding the subway.  I thank my lucky stars that I never killed anyone driving at home while drunk.  It could have happened.

Call me irresponsible.  It would be accurate.  I was also nothing special compared to my peers.  This is no excuse, so please don't hear it that way.  I just want to emphasize that none of my friends felt I had anything to be concerned about.  This was also before I took ordination vows that I would stand as an example of moderate Christian behavior.

After Jeff and I got married, though, something more insidious started happening.  We no longer binged and partied as we had when we were young.  Instead, we had a lot of beer and wine and liquor around the house, and we drank what would be considered a moderate amount at home.  I really grew to love and feel an appreciation for fine beers, good wine, and Jeff's cocktail-making skills didn't hurt anything.  I felt like this was an adult, mature way to enjoy alcoholic beverages.

I might have had one or two pints of beer a night (I refilled my growler weekly at Free State), or perhaps two glasses of wine.  Definitely more than is strictly healthy, (if you define "moderate drinking" for a woman as one drink per day), but again, I didn't feel it was an amount to be concerned about.  I never felt drunk.  I never drove anywhere in the evenings.

I did not drink this regularly while pregnant, of course.  I probably indulged in a glass of wine four or five times during the course of pregnancy.  There was also our amazing tour of the New Belgium Brewery.  I gave away most of my samples, but I had a few.  Incidentally, I was the most pregnant person ever to go down their spiral slide!  (So they said.)

It slowly became clear to me, though, that this level of drinking was not good for me.  Jeff and I were having a lot of fights.  I felt like my moods were uncontrollable, and vacillating wildly from one day to the next.  I almost felt like I couldn't trust myself to be myself, if that makes any sense at all.  Not that I was worried about what I might do, but that I could no longer predict what my moods would be like.  I looked forward too much to the drink that was at the end of my long day.  I felt that my life would be really no fun if I didn't have a drink.  All of these signs are so clearly not good, and yet I was desperate for something else to be the problem, so that I didn't have to forfeit my nightly reward to myself.

After one horrendous night that I hope is never repeated in my life, I came to a new conclusion.  We were done drinking.  I no longer wanted any alcohol in the house.  We poured everything out into the sink.  It might be fine for other people, but it was not working for us.  I felt very firm in this decision, but I dreaded the coming evening, because what would I do to unwind?

Turns out my fear and anticipation were much worse than reality.  I fixed myself a fancy sparkling water and juice with lime.  It felt like a treat.  I watched television to distract myself and fell asleep on the couch.  Everything was okay.  And has continued to be okay since then.

We are not strict non-drinkers.  I do not attend meetings, although I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and many of my family members owe their lives to AA.  I felt I was able to regain the control I needed without committing to that program.  I may have a glass of wine at a wedding.  I may drink beer if we ever go on a brewery tour again.  But we do not keep drinks at the house, and I do not order drinks at a regular, run-of-the-mill dinner out, and those were the major changes.

It has been just about the healthiest thing we have ever done.  I lost some weight, my moods stabilized almost instantaneously, we stopped spending $100 a month at the liquor store, and our relationship improved a ton.

Jeff and I talked a lot about this change as it was happening.  (We like talking.)  His family also has struggles with addiction of different sorts.  In a way, we both felt so lucky for the destructive things that addiction caused to happen in our families that we had no control over, because it gave us a frame of reference and a vocabulary for understanding addiction.  I was able to pretty quickly pick up on these patterns unfolding in our lives, and knew what kind of action to take.

My mother (a non-drinker) warned me and my siblings about the potential for addiction in our futures.  Especially me.  I think she saw that I was a lot like my father in certain ways, and she knew that could be problematic.  Did I listen?  Of course not!  I was invincible!  I was able to do things differently!  I would avoid these patterns!  You can't tell a teenager anything, and I know that.  These are the things we have to learn for ourselves, through trial and (mostly) error.

If anyone out there is considering this kind of change, but just feels that life would be unbearably boring, I understand.  I was there.  You can change your mindset.  Just try it!


Stephanie Carr said...

I love your candor. And you. You and Jeff are amazing, and so very strong.

Emily said...

Thanks! But not really. I mean, I had to get to a point of desperation first!