Addictions, bad habits, vices…they’re tricky little buggers. A habit (good or bad) doesn’t start out as a habit from the get. It takes time to develop and become part of one’s regular routine. It’s in these minute changes from day to day, week to week, month to month, and even year over year, that these habits become so natural and second-nature, that we don’t often see them for ourselves anymore. Many times our families, our kids, our friends, and even people we hardly know, can see the physical and emotional manifestation of these habits that we ourselves ignore or are blind to. But sometimes, we aren’t totally blind to them, and we have a level of self-awareness that maybe creeps to the surface when we are laying in bed at night, alone with our thoughts and worries. Or maybe it’s there when we are driving on our daily commute to work…whatever the case may be, it is often just below the surface, where we can easily press it down via a slight distraction, or even a conscious change in our thought pattern, much like changing the station on the radio.
Sometimes, we need someone else to breathe life into the words swirling around in our head…these nagging musings that are literally on the brink of drowning every time we hold them down under the waves of our more “important” contemplations. Often, it’s just a casual comment, made in passing (but which was likely very intentionally thought-out by the one speaking it). The comment may or may not be directed at you…it may be that someone else it struggling with the same thing you are, and may be trying to navigate down their own path. Whatever the case, things can change in a moment, and words, however seemingly uncomplicated at times, can carry so much weight and very profound implications.
“I think I’m going to stop drinking alcohol…”
“Oh yeah? For how long?”
“I don’t know. I’m going to start with a month, and then go from there.”
“OK. I’m in. I’ll do it with you.”
That is literally how simply it went down. Inside, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t sure if it would stick, and I was worried that after 30 days, we would slowly creep back into our old ways. This seemed different than our “no drinking during the week” phases, which were a total joke, as the weekend obviously started on Thursday, and often extended to Monday just because Mondays are the worst. So very rapidly, not having a drink on Tuesday and Wednesday just seemed dumb, and it was all out the proverbial window. Our drinking was insidious…we only had a couple, and hardly ever after our evening meal, but our “couple” of drinks were doozies, and we didn’t mind starting early (2-2:30 on days we weren’t working, right after work on days we were). We like craft beer, and that typically has a much higher alcohol content (as well as a much higher caloric content, and price tag). It wasn’t unusual to have a bourbon and a 10% beer, followed by a “bump” or a “splitsies”. But the thought of cutting it out completely, and for a significant block of time…well, we had not gone down that road before, and I was hopeful, but had my reservations.
We truly and deeply enjoyed our time together, sharing a drink or two on the back porch, in the sunroom, or in the hot tub. It gave us a chance to catch up, chat about our day, and just connect. I honestly was worried about how we would miss that time, and how we would make it happen in other ways. How would we navigate that time of day, and if we were successful, what would happen when our 30 days expired? Would we just go right back our old ways? Or…would we decide to stop drinking alcohol for good? This habit had definitely crept up on us, and it was not lost on me that we could get back to a bad place again if we decided to introduce alcohol back into our routine.
I think in our case, we were addicted to the culture we had created around our drinking vs the actual alcohol itself. I know for a lot of people, it is the alcohol, and they need it regardless of if they are alone, with others, day, night, etc. We were not solitary drinkers – if one of us was having a drink, so was the other, and vice versa. I was worried cutting out alcohol would be a passing phase, as we had become so dependent on this time of day to relax and to set a stopping point to any sort of work. It also served as our “I’m not leaving the house so don’t even ask me” statement to all of those in our lives. So…while I was hopeful that with this change my feelings of shame over my lack of self control, and my worry that we were harming our bodies, would dissipate, I was also concerned that one or both of us wouldn’t want to continue abstaining. I believe that would have marked an end to the experiment for both of us.
My worries were unfounded. We are quite literally floored and amazed at the changes. Since we stopped drinking alcohol (as of December 21, 2020), both of us are sleeping so much better. In the past, I would fall asleep early, watching a show, and then I would wake up later only to be plagued by worries and anxieties that left me tossing and turning for hours. Now, we watch a show, read, play a game, whatever…and when we get tired, we roll over and go to sleep, only to wake up in the morning. Isn’t that a novel idea? We both have lost weight and have more energy. We are more motivated to be productive, and aren’t looking to the end of the day (and pushing that “end” up so that we could get on to “relaxing”), which has in-turn made our weekends and even our evenings after work seem longer. We also have both noticed an increase in our mental acuity, and as I stated earlier, I am not nearly as anxious. Most people who know me know that I love running, and I have even noticed an improvement in my focus with training, as well as a newly found motivation to incorporate strength training into the mix (something I have always struggled with consistently doing). We both continue to enjoy something with flavor to drink either with or before dinner, so we have allowed ourselves to drink a diet soda, which I know isn’t the healthiest, but in light of our previous habits, please…don’t even. I also feel great knowing that my kids are seeing us make a positive change, and sticking with it.
I have learned a lot from all of this. I am sad that we didn’t make this change sooner, but I cannot dwell on that. I learned that sometimes when you are trying to make a substantial change, what you think is going to be the hard part may be a breeze, but something else might actually be the challenge and the threat to derail your hard work. In our case, it wasn’t the alcohol that was tough to give up, but it was some of the social interactions that came along with it (with my spouse and with friends/family) that are different and have been an adjustment. We are navigating those changes, and learning what works for us, and how to remain successful. I also learned that when you have a partner in life like I do, you don’t need something external to create and foster your connection.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12