Planning for and questioning my year of giving up drinking has taken up a lot of headspace recently. What can I say? I’m a planner and questioner by nature. I’m also the annoying friend/partner who will have distilled our spontaneous road-trip across Europe into a point-by-point itinerary of hotels, sights, activities and amazing little restaurants you might not have heard of by the time everyone else has finished saying “hey, cool, road trip!” because, as Monica almost said in Friends, “PLANS HELP CONTROL THE FUN!”
(Control, eh? Interesting. How are you a problem drinker, then, Andie? Because, and shhhhhh, don’t tell, there’s a really nice, controlled aspect to spending every single Saturday and Sunday hanging out with Hungover. Hungover feels shit, but there are no alarms and absolutely no surprises. Also, I wasn’t getting hammered in a Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie or a Kerouac novel. Nothing dramatic, spontaneous or life-changing tends to happen in real-life drinking: you cycle through the same 5 bars and wind up at the same friends’ houses or on your own couch, drinking and passing out in the same way you always do. There’s a whole heap of predictability and control there. What will I spend my weekends doing without that familiar, controlled routine? I DON’T FREAKIN’ KNOW YET.)
My final drink was on Friday 6th April, and I declared myself stopped at midnight, and started this blog the very next morning. My pledge to myself was that I would blog every day for the first month of sobriety, no matter how mundane or banal my thoughts were on any given day, just to create a goal and a structure for myself. I’m a big believer in positive, solutions-based thinking, and the idea of just NOT doing something didn’t seem to me like a positive, solutions-based goal.
(Don’t get me wrong: if/when I get to Day 30 and not one single drink has passed my lips, I will be over the moon and will view it as a huge achievement. But “don’t do X” is an entirely negative structure: stop, remove, restrict, delete, do not. “Don’t do X AND ALSO do Y” pairs the cessation of a negative behaviour with the adoption of a more positive behaviour, which focuses the mind on doing, achieving, succeeding at something. Hence the blog. Hello! *waves at you through the internet* It’s forward-looking. And I knew that I needed to look forward constructively because, without that, the whole enterprise was extremely frightening indeed.)
I was talking to my lovely partner B. a lot about this year of not drinking before it began. On my Day Zero, right before I quit, I asked him one question: do you have any concerns, worries or questions about what this will mean for our relationship and our life together? “That’s a good question,” he said. “Let me have a think.” And he went off to have a bath.
When he came back, all clean and nice-smelling, he sat down on the bed with me and said, “Okay, I have three questions. 1: are there any times in particular that you think are going to find it really hard to say no to a drink, and how do you think you’ll react to that? 2: how can I support you and make it easier for you through what I say and do? And 3: can we still go out and socialise, eat, go to gigs and whatnot in the same way when you’re not drinking? (I told you he was lovely. I mean, these are good questions. Maybe baths are magic.)
I’m going to think through my answers to Q1&2 here today, and save Q3 for tomorrow, because time is not (alas) infinite and also if I write 7000 words about my tangled head-mess, you, lovely reader, may think “goddamn Lush Tolstoy over here really needs to learn to keep it snappy,” and then NEVER VISIT ME AGAIN. (Please visit me again.)
Sidebar: if you’re thinking about stopping drinking, these are really good questions to think through for yourself. The “we and I” doesn’t have to be a single romantic partner, obviously – life doesn’t deal us all a long-term partnership as standard, like a neat little cartoon where everyone comes in cute heteronormative twosomes. My life very much wasn’t like this until five years ago, and I used to be filled with rage when people assumed that you were somewhat lesser if you weren’t coupled up. The “we and I” in those questions can be anyone close to you: IRL friends (not drinking buddies), family, an online community, whatever works.
Question 1: are there any times in particular that you think are going to find it really hard to say no to a drink, and how do you think you’ll react to that?
Answer: Yes. Oh yes. And…uh…maybe I’ll cry? Is crying a good strategy? In all seriousness, I have thought a lot about big, obvious moments when not drinking is going to be tough: the holidays, my birthday, our anniversary, my friend’s wedding in July. But the moments that tend to derail me most often are the smaller, less obvious ones. The ones that sneak up on you. As an example, a few days before my quit date, we went to visit friends for a big Easter Sunday lunch. I had decided not to drink that day, and B. had decided to drive so that we both had a commitment to refusing the red wine and leaving sober. This worked well throughout the lunch itself, and then later, as we were sitting around catching up, my friend suddenly brought out a great bottle of gin that I hadn’t tried before, told me how delicious it was, started to make a gorgeous-looking G&T and offered one to me.
I had prepared for the red wine.
I hadn’t remotely prepared for the cold, crisp, condensation-on-the-glass, tinkling-ice-symphony bowl of gin. He offered it. I took it. And it was delicious. And then I had another, and then got home and convinced B. to crack open a bottle, and then we drank a lot. The best laid plans of mice and drunk girls with no self-control…
Surprise alcohol and spontaneous alcohol are always absolute killers for me. Will this be hard to say no to? Abso-bloody-lutely. How am I going to react? This year, I’m planning on being open with my good friends about my not-drinking project. I’m confident that they will respect and support me, and that if they forget and offer me a lovely glass of gin, that I will remind them that I’m sober. But how do you prepare for the moments you don’t expect? I’m honestly not entirely sure.
Question 2: how can I support you and make it easier for you through what I say and do?
Answer: firstly and definitely foremost, by drinking less. This is a hard answer to admit, because I don’t want B. to spend all year avoiding alcohol just because I have a busted off-switch, but this thing is simply NOT going to fly if we regularly have booze in the house and if I have to sit across a table from a guy regularly getting sloshed. I’ve read heaps of recovery literature which says that you have pretty much zero chance of sustaining sobriety if you have a partner who is still drinking, but equally I’ve read lots of accounts of people who quit and were relatively unfazed by living with a moderate drinker.
B. has a better off-switch than I do. He likes a drink, but I have unfortunately often been the one driving the quantity and the pace of drinking. Thankfully, we both agree that we need to drink less, and we’re both committed to making this year work for me, so I’m hoping that we’re starting from a good place.
Secondly, by understanding that this is going to be tough sometimes. There will be evenings when I am a class-A moody bitch, because I’m tired, stressed, bored, angry or frustrated, and I want the easy solution of pouring a bottle of wine down my neck, and I HAVE NO OTHER COPING MECHANISMS YET. There will be times when all I can see is the cloud of “what’s the point, I can’t even have a drink” obscuring whatever we’re doing. I may need jollying along, or reminding of my goals, or just leaving alone to sulk and fester. And to a certain extent I will want him to mind-read which of these options to choose. I won’t mean it. I promise that those moments will pass. But they are probably not going to be much fun.
I’m sorry, B. I love you.
Tomorrow, I’ll ponder Question 3: can we still go out and socialise, eat, go to gigs and whatnot in the same way when you’re not drinking? Living holed up in my burrow and shutting the door to booze is one thing after all, but what about when you emerge into the big, wide world and need to change the way you navigate basically everything?
If I know anything, it’s that after socialising for 15 years with a big old glass permanently attached to one hand, it’s gonna be a whole heap of fun re-learning how to balance.