I wrote about my journey with alcohol use disorder (includes alcoholism) in 127 Days Later. Well, I am now 80 days after that for a whopping total of 207 days of alcohol-free living. Now, I am feeling pretty good about it. I can go places, hang out with people, and it doesn’t require me to sit on my hands so that I don’t unconsciously reach my hand out for that drink. Or be thinking about when I will get to drink again.
Some things are triggers for me, but I am hyper-aware of those moments because I really don’t want to drink again. It is going to take a while before it doesn’t require me to be conscious of that itch to drink.
I have to be aware of my feelings and my anxiety level because those have played a significant role in the reasons that I drink. Actually, no, it isn’t those emotions. It is a lack of coping skills. My coping skill since I was a teenager was to drink my face off. And that continued throughout my life in varying degrees of drinking.
I never took the time to be alcohol-free to figure out what I needed. I am still learning techniques that work for me. The biggest one is reminding myself that I like myself now so much more than I have in a really long time. I had two massive life events that helped me get to knowing and liking myself. One I knew about, and the other was a shock to the entire world.
(A) A maladaptive pattern of drinking, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three or more of the following occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:
- Need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect; or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol
- The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol; or drinking (or using a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Drinking in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- Persistent desire or one or more unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control drinking
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of drinking
- A great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects of drinking
- Continued drinking despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to be caused or exacerbated by drinking.
Adapted from American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC: APA, 2000
Two Life-Changing Events
The first life-changing event is my husband’s deployment. He left on November 11, 2019. On Veteran’s Day, of course. We were in Austin for his last weekend hurrah before he left, and they were having a Veteran’s Day parade. I was very aware of the irony of that parade, my veteran status, and my husband’s deployment.
Without my partner in crime, I felt less than. Not that I couldn’t live without him, I definitely can, I don’t want to, but I can, and I have for the last ten months or so. I didn’t want him to leave, and I was numb that day he got in the car and drove away. I did cry at the airport, but I quickly pushed that down (as I do). There is no crying in public. I have had the time that I needed to get to know myself without him being home.
The second is the pandemic. The pandemic is horrible, don’t misunderstand what I am writing. The loss of life is horrific; the strain on our hospitals and healthcare workers is a real travesty. For me, personally, it did allow me to get to know myself again. The real me, not the alcohol influenced me, which was still me but a very pale version of me.
Before the pandemic, I was hunkering down because I was scared to go out. My resolve wasn’t as high as it is now, and I was afraid that I would drink. And that I wouldn’t be able to talk myself out of it. And so, I was home, quarantining myself from the temptation of alcohol, before COVID-19 and it was required. It was a relief when the stay at home orders went into place. I didn’t have to come up with excuses not to socialize. Yes!!
That First Beer
My husband should be home soon-ish (next couple of months). As time gets closer to him being home, we talk about the things that we are going to do. Well, more like the food that he is going to eat, like getting a burger, real pizza, and steak. And of course, no burger, pizza, or steak is complete without a beer (or several). And so, the discussion inevitably turned to alcohol.
It’s been a long while, but I remember coming back from deployment and that first beer, oh man, it is the best. And so, I completely understand that my husband is going to get a beer when he comes home. In fact, I am going to pick up beer for him so that there is some at the house when he gets home.
And I want to be there with my husband when he has his first post-deployment beer. We talked about how I will not be drinking a beer with him, but I will be there. I am the percentage of the population that cannot drink. Because when I do, I don’t stop.
Did those last sentences surprise you? How can an alcoholic be okay, and not just okay but supportive of someone else to drink a beer? Aren’t alcoholics supposed to be angry teetotalers hellbent on an alcohol-free world? Mad at everyone else for being able to “handle” their alcohol when they cannot?
Nope, not at all. At least, I would say that the majority of people that I know who live an alcohol-free life, don’t. But everyone is different and has their own approach. This approach is mine. It is for now. Who knows, a couple of years down the road, and it may be something different. I guess you will have to keep reading my blog to find out.
Is Alcohol Still Our Thing?
My husband and I met during a beer festival, so beer has always been our thing. At the beginning of his deployment, before I realized that sober me is the way to go, we talked about the beers we would drink together upon his return. It was a big part of our lives.
During this discussion of beer, the inevitable question from my husband, “Is alcohol still our thing?” Huh, well, that is a good question. And the answer is yes, and no. Alcohol can still be his thing. It’s not my thing anymore. I don’t think that doesn’t mean I am going to leave the room if he has a beer or whiskey or whatever. The same goes for other people. I am comfortable enough in my sober life, and my life in general, to be able to be around people who are drinking without starting to twitch with the desire to drink.
I think there was a more significant question that hung in the air unanswered. It isn’t just about my husband’s first post-deployment beer; it is about us going forward without “our thing.” Craft beer was our thing. It was the reason we met, or at the very least, the backdrop to our meeting. We met at a craft beer festival. Our mutual love of both exploring and drinking beer solidified and strengthened our relationship.
Beer isn’t the only thing in our lives we have in common; we run together, play board games, and cook together. But through it all, the foundation was beer. Or some other form of alcohol. And there is nothing wrong with that being something we did together until there is something wrong with it.
For me, those festival weekends turned into everyday festivals. A Washington Post article references a study that 12.7 percent of the U.S. population has alcohol use disorder.1 I always wanted to be the top of my class, and now I have that distinction. Go me! Well, okay, not with this. And now that I know that, I can’t unknow it, and I wouldn’t want to.
This discussion about alcohol and its role in our life is not new. Before his deployment, we talked about finding something that we had in common that did not revolve around alcohol. But we never did. Have you tried to find events and other things that don’t, in some way, either revolves around or heavily involve alcohol? They are out there for sure but can be hard to find. At least from our perspective, it was difficult, and so we stayed on the same path and continued on our merry drinking way.
Now that I have decided that I am never going to drink again, we are going back to that earlier discussion of non-centric alcohol activities. I like to believe that I am now the forcing factor in getting us both to look at our separate pastimes and see how we can each participate in them.
Or better yet, we both pick something new that we have to learn at the same time. It will also give us the much-needed time to get reacquainted. Who knows what changes alcohol-free living (for me) will create for our relationship. I think all good things.
- The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. Appendix B: DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Use and Dependence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44358/. Accessed July 22, 2020
- Ingraham, Christopher. One in eight American adults is an alcoholic, study stays. Washington Post. August 11, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/08/11/study-one-in-eight-american-adults-are-alcoholics/ Accessed July 20, 2020