I remember going out for a meal in a local restaurant a month or two after I had stopped drinking. I was concentrating hard on being sober. I was planning and preparing for each social event. I was learning to ignore all the urges to drink and the voice in my head telling me to go for it, telling me I could have one last session and could start again tomorrow. I was learning that it was possible to socialise sober. I wasn't quite enjoying it but I was learning I could do it.
On this particular evening, I was sat in one of those wooden benchy cubicles with my partner, having a meal, ignoring the chinking of glasses and the sounds of wine being poured and I was getting used to drinking alcohol free drinks.
At the start of the evening, I had felt tense and uptight, it all felt like hard work and I certainly wasn't enjoying myself.
But after the first 60 minutes or so, I had loosened up and relaxed a bit and had stopped paying attention to all the drinking that was going on around me.
And then I became mesmerised by a young woman who was sitting a couple of tables away from us and facing me. I became fixated on her relationship with her wine glass. It was a large glass, half-full, and she almost completely ignored it. It looked like she was with her parents and she seemed relaxed and happy. She was chatting and laughing, animated and gesturing and they were clearly really enjoying each other's company. Occasionally she reached for the glass and took a small sip, but this one glass lasted her all night and, by the time we got up and left, she still had some in there. She paid virtually no attention to the wine and 98% of her attention was on the conversation and her companions.
One of the reasons I was so transfixed by this behaviour was that it was alien to me. Her drinking behaviour was the opposite of mine. 98% of my attention was usually on the alcohol and the drinking and I gave the leftovers to the company and the occasion. For someone to be focused on the conversation, the company and the food - for wine to be a peripheral event was almost impossible to comprehend. I found myself willing her to start gulping the wine and ordering more so that my own drinking behaviour and desires would seem more normal. But she didn’t.
She was completely at ease without the alcohol and was giving it no thought whatsoever.
Another reason I was transfixed was because I was jealous. Why couldn’t I just have one drink and let that be enough for the evening? Why couldn’t I have a lovely night out and enjoy a little bit of alcohol to add a glow to the evening? Why couldn’t I ignore my wine instead of thinking about it and my next sip or my next glass all evening?
I really started thinking about this. I had tried to moderate my drinking with no success. Once I started drinking, I simply had no off-button. I became consumed by alcohol. I loved getting drunk. I loved the feeling of abandon and confidence it gave me and I wanted to feel drunk. I would become fixated on drinking more to feel more drunk and I would become paranoid that people would notice I was drinking more than them. Alcohol would take up all my headspace leaving very little left to appreciate what was going on and the people I was with.
Why could some people drink without it becoming a problem and why not me?
For a while that evening, I felt quietly and furiously sorry for myself. I felt like choice had been taken away from me. It wasn’t fair that I couldn’t drink without becoming embarrassingly inarticulate at best and dangerous and cruel at worst.
Then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment.
I realised that of course I had choices. There were consequences to me of choosing to drink and consequences to me of choosing not to drink. I just had to decide which consequences I wanted more. I've heard other people referring to this sometimes as "choose your hard". Often, those consequences are the difference between instant gratification and longer term gains - a step in the right direction towards the future you want for yourself.
And, although it seemed like this young woman had a healthy relationship with alcohol, that didn’t mean to say that she might not be making poor choices elsewhere in her life. Who was I to judge whose lot was the happiest one?
It was unhelpful for me to make comparisons with other people.
Understandable maybe, but unhelpful.
The best way to stay on track if the going gets tough is to focus on yourself. Forget other people. Look at where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go and give that your attention and energy.
I’ve realised how much strength I’ve gained from stopping drinking and letting go of my “crutch”. It has been tough at times but this has enabled me to grow and learn so much more than I might have done had I not worked through this struggle.
I look back now and can see that, although things felt unfair when I first started living life sober, everything that has happened in my life has been a gift and has happened for a reason and has given me strength, understanding and purpose.
So, if you find yourself asking “Why me?” you might not know the answer yet, but you can be sure there is one and it’s one that will empower you in the long-run.
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