Today is the twelfth day of this recent stretch of not drinking. I am recovering from a flu I've had since my family visit in August (yes, a 4-week bug! Or maybe a psychosomatic illness brought on by visiting my family? Who can say?) I'm still a little logy after a less active than usual summer, still a bit low from the summer of drinking, and I am a bit worried about a couple of projects I'm working on, one in particular on which I am just plain behind and will have to admit that in a meeting this week. So life is not just a walk in the park these days.
Maybe that all sounds dreary. But despite it, I'm doing well. I feel so much more calm and able to face the world after not even two weeks away from drinking. I don't know yet how I'm going to face it. But I can accept that I will, and that's a huge step in the right direction. (A few weeks ago I was fantasizing temporary catastrophes that would pluck me from the world for a few months without harming anyone. But there is no such thing. All catastrophes harm someone. And imagining that as the only way forward was certainly harming me!)
This past weekend I attended a conference, one that's usually incredibly social--a small group of people spend all day together in meetings and conversation, and all evening at dinner and then sitting up late drinking together. Last year I attended and didn't drink, and it was great, but this year I am new (again) to not drinking, and I wasn't sure whether it would be hard. In fact, it was the opposite. Despite feeling somewhat ill, I very much enjoyed my time. I had some great conversations, and I felt very much like a part of the small group. But I realized something about how the drinking works at these events. Even more than last year, I saw that the drinking was meant for a kind of bonding, and it does that, but it also had the opposite effect. Both this year and last, some people didn't drink much, and for them, the drinking seemed grand. For others, as they drank more, they got more stuck into certain grooves of talk that seemed to disconnect people, so that the conversation went on and but it wasn't all that interesting. Now I went to bed early, so maybe it did all turn super interesting later on, or maybe the bonding of staying up late talking was worth more than anything in particular that was being said. I don't know, and I wasn't well enough to test that out. But it surprised me that one part of drinking, which is a kind of group bonding, seemed only partial, isolating as much as it bonded.
Maybe that sounds judgemental. I hope not, but it might. I don't mean it that way, though. I just think I mean this: I might be finally, absolutely finished with the drinking. Last time around, I could still see residual things about drinking that I was giving up. This time, it's less that I am giving up something than that I am making a different decision, one that chooses a certain way of spending time (being present and engaged) over another (bonding over drink.) I felt like I could separate the day and evening events, and I didn't need to participate in the whole circus to be a part of the conversation. In fact, by having one evening away with a friend, and going to bed early the next, I was better able to engage with what was happening at the meetings during the day.
Last time I wrote, I was talking about emotions, and I still don't know much what to make of all that. I have been thinking about the period during the past summer before I decided to drink again. I felt isolated, and I felt like the sober world was a big game of trying to isolate from the rest of life. And I thought that drinking again might be a way to participate more fully in the world as it is. Now that I write that, I see that I had the exact same thought when I decided to drink again after my four months being sober in 2013. That's why what I think I observed this weekend feels powerful to me. I think I can finally see my way through the lie that booze helps people bond, that it's a way around a kind of alienation and isolation. I know, I know, I know, sooner or later drinkers isolate, staying home altogether instead of going out to mix with the world, but that's not what I'm talking about. What I mean is that even when drinking with a lovely group of people, even when it's a group of people who are committed to really communicating, drinking can get in the way of people actually being able to listen and talk to each other.
And I know I am given to isolation and alienation. I don't always struggle with this, and I don't always know why it's happening when it's happening. But I know that at times, the world of people seems far away and hard to connect with, and I hate it all. And when I feel that disconnect, I want to run screaming away from whatever world I'm locked out of. I guess I have used drinking like a stick of dynamite to blast myself back into a world, and that works a little bit, for a while, but sooner or later I am isolated again. If that happens and I am already drinking, I don't have another way to blast back, and I feel too low to do it on my own steam. Which leaves me more or less nowhere, and alone.
I'm not sure any of this will make sense to anyone. I'm writing it because I think the most important thing I have to do is to get hold of the reasons I gave up on being sober, twice, when both times it was working so well for me. I think I mistook one of the problems of living, which is feeling left out of the world, for a problem of being sober. I see that now. And I see that my own feeling a bit apart from the world goes much deeper, and that's what I have to find a way to address, this sense of not really belonging in the world.
Almost two weeks in here and lots of thinking on the go. I think I'm getting somewhere with it. As always, thanks for reading, and for your comments! Wishing you peace and joy, and belonging.