When I started writing this blog, I wrote about the implicit pressure to say some things and not others, and I wanted to resist that. But resistance is hard. On the one hand, we value people speaking their minds. On the other, some kinds of conversation feel unwelcome in this blog-world. I don't think I get it right, and then I don't want to. I grew up in a closed religion, and as an adult I am wary of things that can't be discussed openly. I know self-censorship is the enemy of real conversation, but I know we all do it. It troubles me.
A couple of years ago, I went on a paleo-inspired diet, and completely changed the way I ate. I lost some weight, felt more energetic, learned a whole lot of new things to cook, ate less crap, and so on. In doing this, I didn't eat wheat for over a year. That was a big deal to me. I had been bread-obsessed my whole life. I used to wake up in the night and think fondly of the buttered toast I would have in the morning. Giving that up was hard. What I ate changed as I paid attention to what worked and what didn't, but for the most part I've stuck with the changes, and they work for me.
Early in this process, sometimes people would get really irritated at me for not eating bread. Friends, acquaintances, the guy who runs the restaurant across the street, they all reacted as if it were an inhuman deprivation. Usually, I would answer with, "It's just bread, and there's more for you if I don't eat it. What's your problem?" But their reactions rankled. On the other hand, the (mostly online) paleo community was down on bread. It was addictive, it was bad for you, you shouldn't really be eating this crap to begin with, and if you are, you are just being suckered by a society that values quick good-time taste over real food. After a while I thought: it's just bread. Why the fanaticism?
I can fall into black and white thinking, and it doesn't serve me well. But one thing I am pretty good at these days is spotting it, and delving in to see what's really going on. When I started seeing a counsellor this summer, we talked about this all or nothing tendency I can go to in my life, and how I might try practicing mindfulness when it crops up.
I was drinking too much. That's for sure. I had some other stresses and some emotional stuff, and it was all tangled up in a knot, and I decided to stop drinking and get a handle on some of it. I wrote about this before. First I decided a week, then a month, and then 100 days. It's been good for me in many ways, and I'm really glad I did it. I feel a lot better not downing a bottle or two of wine every night. I can't imagine how I had the time or money or energy to waste doing that. It seems like a nightmare now, and I am never, ever, ever going back to that. (As I type, my partner just handed me a sparkling water with a dash of bitter. It's my new favourite drink!) I don't crave alcohol these days, and it doesn't take up a lot of my thoughts.
But there are some things about problems with alcohol that are always accepted as givens, and I'm not so sure about them. The argument seems to be this: if you have a problem with drinking you are an alcoholic. If you are an alcoholic, you must stop drinking and never drink again. If you could moderate, you would have done it already, and since you couldn't, you can't. Any questioning of this accepted wisdom is attributed to a wolf, or a wine witch, or some other demon that is separate from the good person you are, and that must be opposed at all costs. (It's just sneaky and wants you to drink. You are smarter than that, and so you won't think about it. One up for you, the good person, one loss for evil demon-wolf-witch. Until the next round.)
But isn't it good to question things? On the one hand, many of us are doing this online, and not through AA, because we want to avoid a dogmatic one-size-fits-all solution. I know I do. I would love for there to be a magic answer, but I have to take me as I come, and I come with questions that I will have to answer for myself.
So what if it's not a black and white problem with black and white answers? Can there be a problem with alcohol that gets resolved so a person can enjoy the rituals and flavours without falling into a big pit of messiness all over again? I think change is possible. Yes, alcohol is a problem that abstinence does solve, in part. But many people who are abstinent don't sound comfortable with it. People still seem to long for it sometimes. And that longing engenders a fear of alcohol, as though the demon-wolf-witch could come get you when you're not vigilant. I've felt this fear myself.
Fear doesn't work well for me as a motivating force. I used to be so anxious that I feared everything almost equally. Now when I'm afraid of something, I think about how to get rid of the fear, rather than how to avoid the thing I'm afraid of. Usually it means heading straight for the scary thing, not finding new ways to get away from it.
After a year away, I decided to start eating bread again. Despite the predictions, my life didn't change. I didn't die, or get fat. I don't eat toast for breakfast, and I don't eat very much bread. Really good bread with butter is a pleasure. Sure I can live without it, but sometimes it's nice to have. The change in habit worked for me. Fear might well be just another kind of obsession, and a healthy relationship with eating avoids both extremes.
Now I am trying the same thing with wine. I realized I was starting to be afraid of it. It's everywhere. What if I caved some day, like people say will happen, and then it's all over for me? So I decided to face that square on, and have some. It was OK. The glass felt nice, and it tasted good, not poisonous. Before I did that, I talked with my partner about it, and said I would see how this goes. Since then, we had wine with dinner one night. It was nice. I didn't want more and more and more. I didn't want any the next day. I wasn't conniving how I could get back to it again, like I had feared. I just enjoyed it, and then I had a cup of tea and went to bed and read. Next morning I felt good as usual. The next night I wanted sparkling water with my dinner, because that's what I now like to have with my dinner.
I'm not obsessed with alcohol these days, and it's a relief that now I'm not afraid of it either. Accidentally having a glass won't send me unwilling into a hellish pit of addiction and despair. I don't plan to be drunk, and I don't plan to drink very often. I will not use wine as an escape or a regular stress release, and that's an enormous change from what I was doing before. But I am going to have some once in a while, and see if I can make it a small but pleasurable part of my life, like I've done with the bread. This will be a process, and I'll see how it goes. It might work easily, or I might have to make some changes as I go.
OK, if you've read this far, thanks. I'm doing well, and will keep writing as I keep on figuring this out. Black and white thinking won't work for me, and there is no one word that describes all of our problems, or no one route to solving them. I value real conversation, back and forth dialogue that really tries to get at what's going on, and that's what I'm trying to do here. The one thing we do all have in common is that we're trying to figure it out.
Peace and love to you all.