The evening has already rolled past what would have been a reasonable bedtime and here I am once again, half empty beer can in hand, disappointed in the fact that I told myself that I would only have a few beers and then stop… but I lied!
Did I know that I was lying to myself? I mean, I wasn’t really lying – my good intentions were well in place. But then I would head home and think to myself “just go home, make some supper, and don’t worry about buying beer. Don’t stop in for beer….”
“No problem…. but first I’ll just stop in here and get some beer.”
It was unreal. It felt like another, nearly identical person inside of me took over my brain. There was still a voice inside that was urging me away from the beer vendor, but now that voice was quiet and submissive. There was a comforting confidence in what I was doing despite the fact that it went against all of my logic and personal resolutions.
So now in an ironic juxtaposition of events I sit drinking beer in big gulps, oblivious to any flavour that the brew master may have intended to be savoured, while I look up articles about the advantages of sobriety. Feeling antsy after leaving work for the day I began drinking because it felt good, but once my nerves were chemically soothed the situation turned around and kicked me in the face with a boot full of disappointment.
Is there peace to be found? What about sobriety? What would happen if I stopped drinking? Maybe just for a month… even a week…
I have actually successfully implemented those plans before… “successfully.” Heh. It’s not much of a success when your reward for a month’s abstinence from drinking is to drink a lot because you have displayed how responsible and in control you are. It seems that I could lead a horse to water… but I couldn’t make him stop drinking.
I spent a long time running from the parts of myself that I didn’t know how – or didn’t want – to face. All of that futile running – there was no way to win, no finish line. All it had been was an exercise in repetition: one drink, two drinks, more and more… lather, rinse, repeat.
The great expanse – the beast that becomes thirstier with every drink.
I didn’t always use alcohol as the mechanism of self-escape, or at least not steadily. What a diverse tool set I had ready for any situation – I have even used exhaustion as a way to avoid my life. For years. It turns out if you don’t sleep enough for an extended period of time you’ll be too exhausted for any responsibility, and too exhausted to give a proper shit.
It was in recent years I migrated more and more towards the sauce: it’s quick and easy, if nothing else. You simply buy a cluster of cans and pour their contents into your face and before you know it you’re feeling pretty goddamned carefree. Your problems will still be there and you’ll still be aware of them but you just won’t give a shit.
The scary part of this lifestyle is that I could have very well carried it on indefinitely. I was going to work every day, playing recreational hockey, spending time with friends, and keeping my home together. But I knew I needed to change things around if I were to have any chance at building the life that I knew I really wanted.
Of the many useful perspectives I have gained over the years, one that was straight to this point was learning how many of my colleagues drink more routinely than I would have guessed. People with families, even with small children, and they drink even more than me. And they were older – proof positive that I could live a fragmented version of my life in one long, regretful haze.
This is where I made a decision to do something foolish – I decided to drink my way through the problem. I knew from my own personal history that when I force myself to do anything I respond like a petulant child – you know, the kind that holds their breath and poops their own pants to get the attention they desire. Well, not wanting to poop my pants in defiance of myself, and given that there was a good chance I’d do that with a lot of heavy drinking anyway, I figured it was time to go down the rabbit hole.
So I decided to let myself drink but it was going to be under a set of conditions: I wasn’t going to spend the day trying to talk myself out of it like I did before. If I was going to drink, I was going to do it without resistance. But I wasn’t just opening the door to brazen over-consumption: I had a stipulation that I would require myself to pay full attention to what I was thinking and feeling through the whole process. Try as I might I hadn’t been able to find a way around it so I figured the only way out of this hell was straight through it.
What was likely the final push that convinced me to search for my salvation at the bottom of a glass was when a family member dropped off their entire house’s collection of liquor at my back door. They had decided to switch to a dry household and had no idea I was already knee-deep in the sauce. I was already struggling with how to get a handle on things when the unexpected present arrived and I stood looking at the large box of mostly full hard liquor bottles and said to myself, “alright, let’s see what it’s like to be an alcoholic.”
At the time I felt like I had won the lottery. I loved getting drunk, and here was not only a big money saver but now I could mix drinks and feel like a rich person with all their fancy cocktails. Well… maybe more like a homeless person’s vision of a rich person – sitting in my small bungalow, everything covered in cat hair and procrastination.
And straight through the hell I did go. Sort of. I mean, drinking feels awesome! Well, for a short while, and it’s always too short. Even when you feel like shit, you don’t really care as much as you know you could, and there’s no worrying about sleeping when you throw them back until you lie down for “just a few minutes” and instantly lose consciousness. No tossing and turning with the worries of the world keeping you awake, just a short, death-like coma every night.
On top of that it was really easy to keep the drinks flowing when I was paying full attention to the fact that I was wasting my life away. After all, nothing solidifies the habit of problem drinking more than making your problems a little heavier every single day. But I was playing the long game and I believed that I would find the door to freedom somewhere inside of that abyss.
Having lifted the restrictions of trying to strong-arm myself into sobriety I had been free to let the habit accelerate and accumulate, and after about a year of living the life of a mindful and self-reflective addict, I did hit my tripping point – I had been telling myself for a few months that I would not celebrate my next birthday as an active alcoholic. And so, two days before my birthday, and after three blackout nights over two weekends, I pulled the cord.
I was done.
After so many times trying unsuccessfully to throttle my habit over the years, and after a year of surrendering to my lack of control, I drank myself to sobriety. I had put so much attention and intention towards my goal of figuring it out and it worked.
I mean, it really did – I’ve been fortunate enough to have no withdrawal symptoms, no regrets or second thoughts, and no worries about if or when I may do it again. I still play beer-league hockey and all my friends still drink so I am exposed to alcohol on, at the very minimum, a weekly basis and I have not felt even the slightest bit antsy about it.
You may be wondering if I’m writing about this after going dry for three weeks or some other kind of unconvincing number, but so far it’s been a year and a half and my resolve has not wavered.
I have learned a great deal since I stopped drinking but the most obvious early takeaway was that, for me, drinking was a “keystone habit” – it was the anchor for a lot of other bad habits. They did not disappear with the absence of alcohol, but the reach of their roots into my life were noticeably weakened. Smoking, procrastinating, poor diet – each of these seemed impossibly rooted in my routines before the change but have since become much more malleable.
Those bad habits are still a part of my life. Sometimes I smoke, sometimes I eat poorly, and my old friend procrastination still maintains a vigil by my side, but those once iron-wrought habits are now more of a peripheral. Some days they don’t pose a problem or even a second thought at all.
You’re still reading this, so there is an important point to make here: this is not a memoir of procrastination through intoxication, this is a story of how I figured something out by staring a part of myself that I hated right in the face. If you’re having trouble regulating alcohol and you’re thinking you can just keep on chugging and “it’ll all work out” then you’re in for a big lack of surprise – an approach like that will not evoke any significant improvements.
Since the change I have had conversations with a fair number of people about sobriety and there is one thing that shines through: people inherently know when they’re screwing themselves over. There is a confidence in the self-diagnosis of their shortcomings, but they quickly fall short on what they want to do about it.
“Oh yeah, I drink too much. I should probably stop.”
Those words are uttered with about the same level of confidence as “yeah, we should hang out more. I’ll text you.”
We all know how strong the follow-through is on that kind of promise.
There seems to be a resounding lack of confidence in people’s dominion over their own life choices. One of the common approaches seems to be the wish to improve without being uncomfortable while doing so – and they construct an impossible obstacle course that they hope will allow them to live a sober life while still drinking regularly.
“I can’t stop drinking this month, there’s a stag this weekend and then my friend’s wedding in two weeks. So I’m starting next month… but then my cousin is coming to town at the end of that month and we always go out drinking together. I don’t want to miss that.”
Or there’s the fascinating response where someone fools themselves into thinking they’ve nailed their attempt to change habits for the better:
“I haven’t had a cigarette in six weeks! It’s so great, I didn’t think I could do it! …I’ve been spending a lot more on weed, though.”
Trading one vice for another isn’t a solution to a problem, instead it’s an equally disadvantageous trade. Even if you trade drinking for exercise, for example, it’s not healthy if you don’t learn balance in the process. If the gym is your daily dose of distracting yourself from facing difficult issues then you’ll be living an equally emotionally unhealthy life – only with more discipline and shredded quads.
Unless you skip leg day.
The Bright Side of this is that there is always a vast number of roads that can be successfully navigated up, over, and through life’s biggest problems. You may feel like you’re broken, something’s wrong with you, or you’re a failure. But you’re not – we’re all wresting with something. All of us. You’re not f*cked up, you’re just human. While I wouldn’t recommend drinking your way out of alcoholism, it worked for me. But it worked for me by turning the habit into a drunken search for the truth. That’s the critical part here: if you want to change something that is sacrificing your quality of life, a critical first step is to search for the truth. Look long and deep into what it is you’re doing, and look honestly. Understanding a problem doesn’t automatically solve it, but not understanding it guarantees you won’t find a solution.
For those that are struggling with any kind of destructive habit, there’s no need to feel discouraged – there is a way to a different life and it is usually very much closer than you think. But it is up to you to find it. Get creative, get focused, and more important than anything else, get moving. Move towards wherever it is you want to be next. Do tomorrow you a solid and sacrifice something today that will make the days in front of you worth the elbow grease. I promise you, that’s where the Bright Side is.
Specifically regarding problems with alcohol there is a lady named Holly Whitaker that has an outside-the-box approach to sobriety. She was an inspiration to me while I pursued my own personal upgrade and may resonate with you if you’re looking for options outside of the standard channels such as AA, self hate, and crippling shame:
There are plenty of blog posts and courses available on the site to offer a fresh approach to getting clean and dry.
Until next time, my friends, keep fit and have fun!