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?