I'm not sure I'll be able to write clearly about it, but I wanted to describe why I decided to try drinking again after being sober for 16 months. (As I mentioned last post if you're reading sober blogs mainly to read like-minded people and you're going to feel uncomfortable reading about trying drinking after being sober, you should probably not read on. I understand. I wish you well.)
But for those who are still here: A few weeks ago, when my partner was recovering nicely from his accident and I had a little time to spare before school got super busy again, I took a few days off and lay around reading mysteries. It's something I do from time to time when I'm exhausted and I really want to relax. I had come across a new mystery writer (for me), Susan Hill, and I was gobbling up her Simon Serrailler mystery series. Hill is a great writer. Her mysteries deal with interesting social issues--hospice, end of life care--and the characters are well drawn and engaging. She's not a cozy writer--it's not all cats and recipes--but her mysteries are set in an English cathedral town, and they aren't drenched in gore in the way that many new mysteries are, so they are a good balance for me.
Now, just before that I had read "The Girl on the Train," and I guess I disliked it about as much as it seems people are liking it. I found the character's drinking was somehow too pat, too easily explained by the story, and her blackouts and embarrassing episodes were convenient for the story but alienating for me as a reader. I thought the writer wasn't quite striking the right notes, somehow. When I sold my copy, I was relieved to talk to a bookseller who had also disliked it, as it's always strange to genuinely dislike a book that everyone is raving about.
So that might have set me up somehow for the Susan Hill books. Because something I noticed as I read them, besides all the great writing and characters and so on that I just mentioned, was this: I liked how the characters drank. They sometimes had wine with family meals, or a drink with friends. And they sometimes looked forward to that. But they also often said no, because of having to work the next day, or because they were taking days off between having wine, or because they were driving, or because they just wanted water. In conversations in the books in which drinking came up, there was always due consideration given to whether the character would drink, and what else was going on.
I was surprised to find myself drawn into that way of thinking. Not in the way one can be drawn on when the drink is falsely romanticized--it wasn't about candlelit dinners or picnics on beaches or picturesque nightcaps. Instead, drinking seemed like a normal, pleasant thing that people did sometimes, the way they sometimes heated up leftovers for supper or made a salad or ate some rhubarb crisp or stopped at a cafe and had a coffee or a bite to eat. No one seemed fixated on having a drink, or on not having one. And other than a few characters in one book who were on wacky new age healing diets (because new age healers featured in the plot of one book), no one obsessed about food, or sugar, or caffeine.
Reading the books, I kept noticing this. And then I thought, I wish I could do that. I want to have pasta with wine, and dessert and a coffee, and not worry so bloody much about it all. And then, a while later, I thought, you know, I think I could do that. In the same way that the sober blogs spoke to me a couple of years ago, showing an alternate vision of how to get through without drinking too much, these books seemed to show a way of life that included alcohol as a part of life, neither the central problem nor the central pleasure in that life. Cake wasn't central, either. People were portrayed as finding their way through the problems and joys of ordinary life. It might be the best modelling of what gets called "moderation in all things" that I've seen. And it looked appealing to me.
I know there's more to it than that, but I think those books were my wee turning point. Obviously this is something I have thought about from time to time. When I quit drinking, I wanted to stop drinking too much, and not drinking at all was the only way I could see my way clear to that. The first time I tried drinking again, it may have been too soon (after almost four months without). At that time, I know I felt pretty alienated by the self-improvement focus that can creep into the sober blogs, and I wanted to get away from the therapeutic worldview altogether. But I was also a little bitter about some of the sober "support" that ended up ringing a bit shallow to me, and I turned back to my regular life, without being able to take in what I'd learned by not drinking.
This time around, I had stopped for just over sixteen months. I could accept that maybe I could never drink again. And somehow, that meant I could accept that if I were to drink, I would have to do it very differently. Also, I think I have learned a lot by not drinking for so long. I like keeping a clear head, sleeping well, remembering my evenings, and lots of those things that I lost when I drank too much. And I'm not bitter about anyone or anything. Plenty of things aren't for me, but we are all gloriously different, and that's just grand!
So far, it's been an enjoyable experiment. I've had wine with dinner a few times, with food, and in company. I've enjoyed it. I've been looking to see whether I would get that old familiar "wanting more" feeling, but so far I have not. I've liked the taste of the wine, and the experience of drinking wine with my meal, something I really did enjoy for years. One thing that's hard to describe is a feeling of having come home to myself in a strange way. For the most part, after I stopped drinking I didn't experience abstinence as a great restriction. I enjoyed doing other things, drinking other drinks. After the initial struggles, the obsession with drinking waned, and that was an enormous relief. Drinking again is a different kind of relief. I feel like I'm not keeping a part of the world at bay, and I'm not paying now for not having learned to drink properly as a younger person.
Over the past couple of years, I started to notice that when I am drinking a really great coffee in the morning, I have often thought, "I'll have another one when this is gone." Same with eating a cookie or having a sweet treat. It's bizarre to me, and it's the exact same feeling I used to get with wine. (Though I only noticed it when I stopped drinking and started to pay attention to a lot of things. I hate buzzwords, but "paying attention" or "mindfulness" has been a great help to me.) I think I was somehow keeping myself on a set of restrictions and doling out pleasures to myself, something I likely learned from years of restrictive eating. When those thoughts crop up, I have been acknowledging them, not yelling at myself or chastising myself for them, but also not having that second coffee (makes me jittery) or the second sweet (makes me sick). Recently, it seems I have found a way to be less restrictive, to want what's good for me in reasonable amounts, and not to sing for more like a deprived child when I have some nice thing. What I'm hoping is that I can do the same thing if I do sometimes get that "moreish" feeling with wine. If it works, and I think it will or I wouldn't be trying this, then it seems like a nice way for me to live. If it doesn't, I'll figure out a different way. And as I probably said before, I already know I can enjoy life without drinking, so if drinking doesn't work, that's always an option.
So that's what I've been up to, and how it's going. As I said before, I get it if you think I'm wrong, or this is too dangerous for you to read. I won't hold that against anyone who does stop. (You don't all have to so kindly chime in again to tell me you're still here now, though that really was super sweet after my last post!) I'm not especially interested in anyone's scare tactics or advice about alcohol always being the road to hell and doom, either. I mean, we all know alcohol can become a problem, so you'd have to think I was some kind of moron if you thought I needed a reminder of that, and if you think I'm a moron, I'm guessing you're not still reading my blog. That crankiness aside, if you're still here, thanks for reading. I probably won't post all that often, but in the interest of painting a picture of how trying drinking looks for me after 16 months sober, I'll keep the blog posted. Holding to the wider use of the word sober, as in "not drunk," I'll still think of this as being sober, though I know that's a minority view here!
Happy sunny weekend to you all.