Now that those who attempted Dry January are facing a decision about what to do with their drinking habits, I wanted to return to what seems to be a burning question: why is it so hard to give up drinking?
This question has been much on mind this last month as I’ve written a series of posts about sobriety. To be honest, it’s something I’ve pondered a lot in the two years since I’ve quit drinking – and it also haunted me for well over a decade before that.
For some people it simply isn’t hard to do. They can go for weeks or months without touching a drop and don’t think of it. For those of us with a more complicated relationship to the bottle this kind of laissez faire attitude is incomprehensible. When I was drinking, booze was all too often at the front of my mind: when I’d have it next followed by what had I done when I’d had it, over and over, an endlessly repeating drama.
Now I don’t drink, that drama has gone. That noise has subsided. There’s no furtive planning for the next occasion nor are there any pieces to pick up afterwards. No fog of forgetfulness, no blackouts where memories should be.
I look back at last weekend and the one before and the one before that…I can recall Friday night and Saturday night clearly. Thursday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday too.
This weekend will be the same. No fuzziness around the edges, not even the slightest lapse in recollection. It will all be as clear as it is now as I write at three in the afternoon.
Those strange people who’ve never liked getting drunk hold this up as a positive effect. Many reformed drinkers do too. You’ll never have that loss of control again! Isn’t it marvellous?!
No. No it isn’t. I’ll tell you the truth. Knowing that you’ll never again experience that fuzziness around the edges, the lapse in memory, the loss of control is not marvellous, it’s terrifying.
The long deep outbreath that comes with the first sip? It vanishes forever and you’re left wondering what the f*ck you’re going to do without it.
What will life be like without the release valve that we’ve come to rely on? What will life be like without having the edge taken off? What will like be like without the endless drama of planning/drinking/patching up?
What’s it like?
Your mind becomes like a glass of freshly drawn tap water. It’s refreshing in a way but you can’t hide anything in it. You see all the things that you drank to forget right there, now unavoidable. Whatever you tried to cover up will be exposed. Whatever you tried to drown will rise to the surface.
This, my friends, is why it is so hard to give up drinking. Facing this clarity, embracing it even, is one of the hardest challenges that we can take on. It’s the archetypal hero’s journey, treacherous but noble. Many will fall by the wayside, unable or unwilling to continue.
Living with this clarity, sitting with it night after night, week after week, will test us in every way it can.
Is it worth the fight? Everyone answers that question for themselves. I can see clearly what the right response is for me.
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