Ten Questions @ Ten Months

Posted On: 11.20.12

Friday marked ten months without wine and all booze. Confession: there was that accidental sip of my friend’s hubby’s gin and tonic and there were a few doses of NyQuil to combat a wretched cold, but I don’t count these things. Anyway, ten months. That’s a long time. And I’ve learned so much – about myself, about my habits, about what I want, and don’t want, in life. And so. Because I know that many of you have been following along on this year, and that many of you can relate to my struggles, I will now share a few of my questions at this ten-month-mark.

1. Do you like yourself when you are drinking? This is an important question. And from my decidedly non-empirical research, I’ve learned that many people are not totally in love with themselves after they’ve had a couple of drinks. Many of us notice that we change when we start sipping – our eyelids grow heavy, our speech grows louder or becomes slurred, our behavior becomes belligerent or bizarre, we do things and say things and eat things we wouldn’t otherwise do or say or eat. Many of us wake up in the morning after drinking – and not necessarily drinking a lot either – feeling puffy and pouty, self-conscious about who we were the night before, more negative about self and world.

2. Have you ever worried about your drinking? I have enjoyed wine for many years now. I have always savored the celebratory aspect of it, how it makes me relax and unwind and let go. But there have been instances over the years when I’ve worried. Not that I had a Capital P problem, but about smaller, subtler things: Is drinking having an effect on my long-term health? Is it impeding my relationships or professional progress? Is it making me a more melancholy person than I need to be?

3. Have you ever worried about another person’s drinking? Over the years, I have had occasion to worry about the drinking habits of various people around me. I have seen struggle, I have seen rationalization and remorse. I have seen avoidance and sadness and escape. And the truth is – and I believe this now more than ever – that you cannot change another person, but only change yourself. Since I took a pause from drinking last January, I have noticed that I am less judgmental of, and even concerned about, the habits of others. This is immensely freeing.

4. Are you willing to put yourself first? We live in a world where we are expected to be stretched between many things and many people. Many of us have bosses and babies and dreams and demands and, often, we feel overwhelmed by it all. The thought of putting Self first when Other is so ubiquitous often seems unrealistic and even selfish. What I have learned in the past ten months? Putting yourself first, making an improvement big or small, makes you happier and better equipped to juggle all of the other things in life.

5. Are you struggling with something? The answer is yes. We all have our thing or things. Maybe it’s not wine. Maybe it’s food or smoking or shopping or reality television. So many of us, maybe even all of us, turn to things to numb our pains, quell our anxieties, distract from our doubts. Truth be told, I don’t think there is anything per se wrong with having a go-to “vice” and using it to help cope with life. But we all know when we are relying too much on that thing. We know because we begin to worry, and wonder, and it stresses us out to imagine giving up that thing. What I’ve learned over the past ten months is that stepping away from something with which I’ve struggled has proven wildly empowering and has felt 100% positive. Last January, I felt a bit shaky about all of this, and conflicted about drying things out. Now? I feel strong and clear and in control.

6. Would you be honest with your kids about exactly what you are doing? This one just occurred to me and I think it’s a great test. Would I tell my girls that I occasionally read a trashy magazine or watch a trashy television show? Sure. Would I tell them that sometimes I drink too much coffee or eat so much candy it makes my tummy hurt? You bet. Would I tell them that I drink most nights of the week, on average from 1-4 glasses of wine, and sometimes a fair bit more on weekends? Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to. When January comes and my year is up, my plan is to maybe have a couple of glasses of wine a few times per week. Would I be fine telling my girls about this frequency/amount someday? Yes.

7. What’s getting in the way of the life you want? Most of us daydream about our ideal, happy life. We picture certain places, people, and things that would combine to bring us great joy and satisfaction. What is getting in the way of the life you envision for yourself? Is it you? Are there habits you’ve fallen into, or unhealthy patterns of thinking and seeing the world, that have made it hard for you to make existential progress? Do you spend a lot of time, too much time, beating yourself up, lamenting your failures, cursing the status quo? Would your attitude be different possibly if you experimented with some kind of change?

8. Do you believe in self-improvement? This is very important. There are people out there – and I’ve encountered quite a few of them this year – who poo poo self-improvement, who don’t seem to buy into the idea that we should, or should want to, change ourselves and our ways. Oftentimes, these people argue that there is some ineffable majesty to having and even nurturing our human flaws. These people seem to actually or nominally favor the philosophical over the practical, pessimism (or nihilism even) over optimism. I know these people well because, frankly, I used to be one of them. Now? Now I am interested in, and very much intrigued by, the idea of improvement and change.

9. Is this your time? Even if you are worried about something in your life and want to change that something, this might not be your time. If you are constantly finding excuses to avoid deep thought about that with which you struggle and about strategies for removing or minimizing that struggle, if you are legitimately busy with a million things or undergoing a big transition (a move professional or personal, a loss of a loved one, a new baby, etc), this might not be the right time for you to make a change. The problem is, though, that there is never a perfect time. The clouds will never part and leave you with that perfect and open swath of blue sky and freedom to alter your existence. You will always be up against responsibilities and life and must do your best to focus within the context of reality.

10. Do these questions make you uncomfortable? If I read this post, and these questions, last year at this time, I would have felt really uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have commented and I would have clicked away as fast as I could. It is not easy to recognize yourself in something that is less than pretty. But something I’ve learned? Discomfort can be a wonderful tool. It can make us aware of the things we care about and need to work on. Actually, I’d be more interested if nothing at all in this set of questions gave you pause. I guess my working theory on all of this is that all of us have issues and one of the responsibilities of adulthood is to figure out what those issues are and then to do what we can to own these issues, and address them.

This post and this year? They are not really about wine, but about an issue that happens to be mine, how I’ve decided to own it, and address it.

Are you willing to answer any or all of these questions? Are there things that you do that you wouldn’t want to tell your kids or future kids about? Does this set of questions make you uncomfortable in any way? Do you agree that discomfort can actually be a good thing and call attention to aspects of ourselves we might want to work on?

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24 Comments for: "Ten Questions @ Ten Months"
  1. Anonymous

    Do some of these questions make me uncomfortable? Yes. Do I hate you the tiniest bit for asking them? Yes. Am I also thankful that you are asking them? Yes.

    I have something I really need to work on and I have known this for a while and I keep putting it off and rationalizing. I guess I have been waiting for a good time, and also I have been scared. What I like about your project, Aidan, is that you have made a choice to change soemthing, that this isn’t about addiction or rehab or anything so super serious, but just your motivation to be a better person, and have a better life. I can relate a lot to this. Think many of us can?

    Thank you for making me uncomfortable this morning.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you for this comment. I am actually happy it is anonymous because I really want everyone here to know that anonymity can be a great thing and is encouraged and understandable in certain situations. I know this post is about a sensitive subject, so commenting anonymously seems like a good option for some.

      To be honest, I am anxious about publishing this post because it is not just about me. Most of these monthly check-ins have really been about me and my particular challenge. This one is different. Here, I am asking all of you the questions that have proven important to me over the last ten months. And this is tricky, I know. It is tricky because I am not suggesting that everyone overhaul all habits or that everyone has a truly problematic issue to address. What I am doing is probing a bit, asking things that would have shaken me a bit last year. And here is the thing, and I realize it only in retrospect: I wanted to be shaken. I wanted someone to make me ponder my patterns and think deeply about this stuff. Ten months in and I appreciate this.

      Also, I think that as I am approaching the one year mark, I am beginning to come to some conclusions that I am just so eager to share. I am learning – and this is indeed very cool – that this is not just about me and it is not just about wine. This is about being imperfect and human and having habits that are sometimes not so good. Ultimately, and I hope this is the takeaway, this year is an ode to one thing: Change.

      Anyway. I ramble on. But thank you all for reading, for indulging me in my questioning, for being with me during these months. It means so much.

  2. Laura

    Thank you for this post & these questions.

  3. JHL

    So much to chew on here. Thank you.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Love the saying “to chew on”… In many ways, I think these last ten months have been one big chewing session :) Thanks, JHL!

  4. I don’t drink daily, so I don’t have a very high tolerance. But last winter I went skiing with a longtime friend and she said that with alcohol, I’m the person she always knew I could be. She said it in jest, but I think there is something freeing about alcohol that lets us be noticeably more fun and more relaxed.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I totally understand this. There have been times when I’ve been drinking and so in control and I feel really full and happy and in many ways like I am my best, most relaxed version of myself. I have seen this in others too. The tricky thing (for me) is how not to overdo it, how not to get carried away, etc. I am actually really excited for January when I go back to my wine in a more moderate, controlled fashion… Will certainly be interesting to write about. Thanks, you!

  5. I’m not a big drinker and never was. For me it has a lot to do with the way I feel while drinking and the way I feel after… I don’t like either one. But really it’s because I’ve seen what alcohol did to my parents and their life and I don’t want that for myself or my family! It’s a choice, my choice. I don’t give anyone the stink eye if they choose to have a drink or two. But it would be nice not to be treated like an outcast sometimes because I won’t have a glass of wine.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks for mentioning this angle. Why is it that so many people look down upon, or seem suspicious of, people who do not drink? Truth be told, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how cool most people I know have been about this experiment of mine, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t felt the outcast thing from time to time. I do wonder why our society has come to such generalized conclusions about people who do not drink – or maybe it hasn’t and we all just feel this way for some reason? I also think what you say about family history is such an important footnote too. Isn’t life, in large part, about embracing and rejecting various things from our upbringing?

      An aside, I’ve so loved your comments here at ADR recently. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave your thoughts!

  6. AG

    “Are there habits you’ve fallen into, or unhealthy patterns of thinking and seeing the world, that have made it hard for you to make existential progress? Do you spend a lot of time, too much time, beating yourself up, lamenting your failures, cursing the status quo? Would your attitude be different possibly if you experimented with some kind of change?”

    Yes. Yes. and Yes. You’ve given me a lot to think about over this long weekend and how I could implement some changes into my own life with some personal issues I am dealing with. Thanks for pushing me to think. I agree that discomfort can be a good thing…it draws attention to issues and usually the more of a discomfort there is the more there is something that needs to change.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks so much, AG. This has been a weird day. I’ve felt anxious and I am not sure whether it’s because we are flying with the kids in the morning or whether the stress I’m feeling might have something to do with these questions, this post. I almost think that in curating these questions, in taking the time to answer them, I’ve stirred up so much of my own “stuff” around drinking and it’s making me a bit shaky and thoughtful. Not sure. Anyway, I’m so happy to hear that I’ve made you think. That was really my intention here. And, yes, there is a virtue in discomfort even if we cannot readily dissect it and diagnose it. Happy early Thanksgiving :)

  7. Meg

    Your thoughtful questions and answers have given me pause today, Aidan! Though I rarely drink, we’ve discussed many times that your quest goes beyond wine. It’s about self-improvement, as you note, and being the best “you” that you can be. I do believe in self-improvement — and I believe that many (most?) of us are struggling with something. It’s important to ask ourselves why we do the things we do — and if we could do more, or do them differently.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, Meg. Yes, this is really about self and identity and continuing to ask the big questions about who we are and who we want to be and what might be standing in the way of our best self. All of this sounds very Oprah, but so be it :) So appreciate your words today! Hope you have a wonderful holiday. xo

  8. Dara

    It’s funny, because when you first starting writing about this, I thought of this article I’d read some time ago:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/fashion/16drunk.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Drinking/motherhood/momblogdom are not new news. But as this year has progressed, I found myself relating to your story more than to the tales of moms who’d get lit on play dates. I relate to using it as a tool to quell anxiety. I relate to the feeling of rushing through the evening routine to open the bottle. And as my LO reaches the ripe old age of 1, I definitely relate to carefully considering what I want her to see as my relationship to alcohol. And I’ll admit, it’s made me ask myself the hard questions — could I give it up for a year? Do I want to? What does it mean if the answer is no? Am I justifying my choices by saying “it’s celebratory!” “What’s the harm!” “It’s just a glass!” ?

    I’m interested in hearing more about what it’s like for you in social situations. The crowd I run with is quite boozy, and having been the DD on a few occasions this year and last (while preggers), I did not enjoy being sober. I have a hard time imagining the coming holiday party season without a glass of sauv or champagne or (on a long day) a martini in my hand.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Dara – So happy to see your words here today. It’s funny because when I started this year I wasn’t really sure what this experiment is all about and I’m still less than certain, but it is certainly about more than motherhood and booze. It is about life and love and who we want to be for ourselves, and our little ones. It is about choices and changes and whether it matters to us to stop and take a look at who it is we’ve become, even if unwittingly.

      As for social situations… I’ve honestly been quite surprised at how little of a deal it is that I’ve not been drinking. Do I sometimes feel like a quieter/more composed version of ADR when out these days? Sure. But I’ve so enjoyed myself and my friends and my family even without the sauce. And the fact that I end these evenings with such clarity and wake up feeling totally good makes everything so much better. Now, am I excited for January, sipping once more, having that cold glass of Pinot on occasion to take the edge off or toast existence or the end of a long week? Absolutely. But I know I will be so pleased and proud of myself for pressing reset, for taking an entire calendar year off from something that’s been a vice for me in the past…

      No easy answers here, but no matter how I look at it, this year has been such a good thing. And writing about it here, even when it causes me considerable anxiety (as today’s post did)? It makes it all so much more interesting and worth it.

      Thanks, you. Happy Thanksgiving to you guys and your cutie!! xox

  9. s

    I loved this post because it asks the important questions so many of us are afraid to articulate. I especially liked your observation that there is never a right time. It reminded me of a line in the Pirke Avot (part of the Talmud) that says “don’t say I will study Torah when I have time. What if there is never the time?” It’s one of the important lessons that we need to remind ourselves—make space for what is important, and do it now.

  10. I love these questions and answers and like other commenters have said, this conversation moves beyond just drinking wine. The question I like the most is this: Are you willing to put yourself first? Peer pressure comes at any age and asking that question helps focus your attention on what is important.

    Thanks for sharing your truth Aidan. It is insightful and will help others.

  11. Samara

    I had to really think about my drinking now that I’m single again. First date without wine was at first very daunting, but learning you ARE ok without wine is a lasting memory/change. I realized i was drinking because on an unconscious level, i wanted to lose myself, to make a situation good that wasn’t. Or, make a situation easy that wasn’t. I was fearful of how i’d cope/get out of a bad sitation without wine, or that i wasnt confident enough without the boost. That slipping into that not you wine you would magically fix everything. And guess what? It just amplifies the bad ultimately and confounds the situation. Yet we have to force ourselves to learn. You are brave! Maybe i will try a year too, but with one glass a date so it doesn’t look like i’m a recovering alcoholic to new guys :). Sk

  12. Tina

    Amazing to follow your journey. Two years ago I also
    gave up alcohol for a year.My problem was a small ‘p’
    too but wine was definately my crutch. I too lost my
    Father to cancer and before I knew it my wine drinking
    spiralled out of control. My year of sobriety was amazing.
    I achieved more than I could have imagined and felt strong,
    enpowered and in the moment for my three daughters.
    I decided to have a glass of Champagne after a year and for
    the first 6 months I drank occasionally and very sensibly.
    To day I can safely say it has grabbed me by the throat
    again as I knew it would eventually. Sitting in my car after
    School drop off, feeling jaded, tired and slightly
    hungover I feel I am right back to square one. Reading
    Your blog has made me want to give up again. Reason for my
    comments? Don’t go back as it comes back to bite
    you on the bottom eventually. Thanku for the inspiration x

    • Liz

      I have had all the same experiences as you Tina… Back to Square one every time … Like a game of snakes and ladders. I’m seriously thinking of giving up now too after stumbling on this blog. The question is when? Before or after the holidays? I have terrible anxiety at the moment so I think the sooner the better… Do you want to do it together?

      What do you think Aidan ? How long did you wait before making your decision to stop and finally doing it for real?

      • Tina

        Only just seen this blog. Did you ever do it Liz?
        Again, hungover today after a party last night. It’s all or
        Nothing for me. I dont seem to have that switch
        In my brain that tells me a couple of glasses is enough. I feel
        Terrible today. The whole day will be wasted and I know
        I will be snappy with the children :-(( this has to stop but
        Frightened I am not strong enough to do it again.

  13. J

    I’ve been feeling badly about myself for awhile now, because I drink too much. Sometimes 2, usually 3 glasses of wine, every night. I wake up puffy, and I have dreams where people call me an alcoholic. I feel guilty at the store when I buy a bottle or two, knowing I just bought wine yesterday. And I eat more when I drink, esp. evening snacking. As I’ve gotten into my mid 40s, I’ve put on weight, and I now have a lot of clothes in my closet that I cannot wear. I am not proud of this.

    Last week I came down with a cold, and I didn’t want to combine wine with medication, so I stopped drinking. I’m better now, but haven’t had any wine anyway. Because I don’t feel as puffy. Because I don’t wake up in the morning regretting what I ate and drank the night before. Because I don’t worry about what my 16 year old daughter thinks about all of this. Because I’m sleeping better at night.

    I don’t know that I am interested in going through an abstinence like you’ve done, but I do think I’ll be happier, and so will my waistline, if I cut back to one or two glasses, one or two nights a week. That will be the test, because one glass is sometimes more difficult to manage than none.

  14. EJ

    This blog really hit home for me. At one point a few years ago, I was drinking way too much on a daily basis. Constantly waking up feeling awful. I’m sure I acted like an ass on a few occasions, but everyone else was drinking so, they won’t remember anyway. Then, I started staying home and having wine. This turned into a 1.5 liter a night situation. I still got up and went to work every day and functioned like a normal human being, albeit tired. Now, I don’t drink when I am out at all. A DUI is just not worth it to me to chance.

    I actually like not drinking when I’m out at parties, etc. I don’t say or do anything stupid and I feel better in the morning.

    However, I do still need 2 – 3 glasses of vodka to get to sleep. No more than that. I never let it get to more. The stresses of life keep me awake and I need sleep to get up in the morning. So, I have to get to a place where I am comfortably numb to sleep through the night.

    Your blog did make me uncomfortable, but in a good way. I really need to stop all together, but I’m terrified of lying awake in the middle of the night hearing snoring and not being able to sleep.

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