In the middle of last year I moved back home to my parents for the summer break and got an almost full time job waitering. I didn’t have time or freedom to drink. The job gave me structure and purpose, and I was exhausted and content at the end of every day, reducing the negative emotions that caused me to want to drink in the first place. Sobriety, structure, and the proximity of my parents all worked together to reinforce each other and resulted in my best stretch of mental health in some time.
My self harm, caffeine, and alcohol use are maladaptive coping mechanisms. What has worked so far for me in avoiding them has been relieving the stressors causing me to turn to them, such that I simply don’t need them any more. Trying to directly stop the behaviours without addressing the causes didn’t work because it was a lot of effort that I wasn’t convinced was worth it. “Why shouldn’t I do this thing that makes me feel better?” was an argument with myself that I usually lost.
However, there really are healthier coping mechanisms, much as I instinctively deny it, and continuing to rely on unhealthy ones prevents me from learning them. Evidence: I do feel better when I stop doing these self-destructive things. Feeling better makes me less likely to do those things and go improve my life, leading to Virtuous Cycle of Good Mental Health and Happiness.
Some of the literature around recovery and sobriety has been helpful to me, and I am less concerned with discussing what alcoholism is and whether I technically qualify than with how I can in practice make choices that I can be happy with. I have found that I cannot consume any amount of alcohol and ultimately be happy with that decision. I use alcohol to avoid negative emotions and fill time, especially to procrastinate while avoiding the guilt of procrastination. Anything less than total abstinence is a rapid slippery slope, and the spectre of alcohol quickly takes over my life. I feel good for a short, reckless, while, then my mood and mental health go to shit and it takes weeks of sobriety to get back to where I was. This description really resonated with me: “The effect alcohol has on your emotional state is not unlike the effect that sunglasses have on light.” When alcohol feels like an option, my life feels dulled and darker, both because of the chemical and because real life doesn’t feel like it really matters when there’s an easy out. Sobriety feels clear and sharp and bright. Alcohol also is just a huge time and money sink, and caused me to go to shitty parties with people I didn’t like, where the only pro was alcohol.
Thus, this year I have decided to make a proper commitment to sobriety, instead of letting it happen by chance. This means total abstinence from alcohol, including “tasting”. There will be no concession or leeway on this.
Some learning points from last year when I “kinda” decided to stop drinking but with little conviction: Most of my difficulty was social, because drinking is socially acceptable and expected, unlike self-harm which most people agree is bad. Almost all the times I wavered were due to lack of assertiveness. I wanted to avoid having to explain why I didn’t want to drink, and it was often easier and less awkward to go with it. (It is difficult for people to talk about their personal relationship with alcohol without other people feeling judged. But I have no idea how other people relate to alcohol, and it is not usually my business. Maybe other people can drink socially; that’s fine, I just can’t/don’t want to.)
I have some shame around my inability to consume alcohol like a “normal”, functional person without going off the rails, and so subsequently also around my attempts at sobriety. Alcoholism is something I associate with middle aged men with beer bellies, and I think I am “too young”. Even the word sobriety makes me uncomfortable. So when people ask why I’m not drinking, I don’t know what to say. I don’t have an easy, socially acceptable answer like “I’m pregnant/muslim/both”. I don’t have the confidence and commitment to say “I don’t want to” and stick to it, because sometimes it’s not completely true. Friends whom I would otherwise have confided in also tend to ask me this question in wildly inappropriate situations. Like… I would tell you, but now is not the time to get into it, in front of all these people!? So I just make inarticulate gestures at them? Haha.
Probably eventually I will get to the point of being comfortable with “I don’t want to”. Meanwhile, my action plan for 2018 is to either say “I am recovering from alcoholism”, and let them decide whether or not I am joking, or to say “mental health” and shrug vaguely. I will ask for water in situations where people are holding drinks and I don’t want to be empty handed.
By putting all this in words, I hope to cement the commitment in my mind. I will also be reaching out to some friends for support and accountability (which is scary af but I am ON IT). I also found this video on partying while sober and queer to be very helpful, since many queer spaces revolve around alcohol. In particular, I will be practising “have a purpose”, eg music/dancing/a friend’s birthday party, in spaces that have drugs or alcohol around, beyond just being there, as well as “contact a sponsor or supportive friend” if necessary.
2018 will be a challenging year. For much of it I will be alone 7 time zones away from home, doing self-directed research work on a flexible schedule, all major triggers. But there will also be exciting opportunities, and I will be doing everything I can to improve my odds and rise to the occasion.