Some Thoughts on Sobriety

I have found that whenever I really focus on something and put my mind toward it I can accomplish it… at least for a little while.  While I suck at long term goals like weight loss, settling down, or paying off my student loans I excel at short term goals that have finite end dates.  I suppose that I believe that I can do or try anything for a short period of time.  This was the origin of the Monthly Challenge where I formally declare that I am going to give something a try for 30 days at a time.  I can suffer through anything for just a month, and if I like it then I can keep it up for longer.

This month I decided to look one of my biggest demons in the face, and laugh at it.  I have a bit of an addictive personality and have at times used more alcohol than I should.  I am not an alcoholic and my drinking has never had serious consequences, but it sometimes plays a bigger role in my life than I would like.  Last year I decided to test myself and take a month to dry out and see how it would affect me.  I made it through but it killed my social life and I spent most of the month sitting in my recliner watching netflix, luckily this year was different.

For some background I grew up exposed to alcohol and it is something that was prevalent in some of my best childhood memories.  My father is a light drinker and my mother is a moderate/social drinker, so I was lucky to be exposed to alcohol use, not alcohol abuse.  My extended family is full of drinkers as any Irish/Italian/French Canadian family is bound to be, some of whom may have problems, but most of whom are social drinkers.  Most of my best memories from growing up revolved around big family gatherings at camp or at my grandmother’s house in Connecticut, which were safe places for people to relax and let their hair down.  My parents exposed me to the exploration aspect of alcohol where it wasn’t just about grabbing something at the liquor store, it was finding a brewery or beer bar and having an experience.  I can remember being 8 or 9 and having my parents take me to this wacky new brewery that had opened in Burlington called Magic Hat where they got half gallon growlers of some funky apricot beer.  These memories are part of why the smell of spent grain that surrounds breweries puts a smile on my face.

I didn’t drink much in High School and was far too nerdy to ever dream of going to a keg party, but when I got to college I more than made up for it.  If I ever write a memoir the chapter on college will be probably be called Singing Styx, Drinking Stones, and Breaking Bones.  When I graduated I fell into my Hemingway phase where I drank a lot of very good cognac and pondered the ills of the universe, followed by a period where I was pretty depressed and wouldn’t drink much by myself but then binge when I was around my friends.  When I moved to Middlebury 18 months ago I made a good friend who actually works at a brewery and he introduced me to a lot of the sensory aspects of craft beer and was a constant companion on beer treks to breweries or bottle shops.  I was looking to understand beer better and became a bit obsessive trying to search out new beers to try new hop varietals, fruit additives, or barrel characteristics.  It was a great learning process, but by falling into trading and bottle shares, and spending every weekend visiting multiple breweries it became very time consuming and expensive.  I will still continue being involved in the beer scene, but hopefully not to the extent that I have been.

Beer has a number of downfalls, empty calories, expense, inability to drive, and all sorts of reasons to take a break from it.  But honestly the biggest reason I want to take this break is to prove to myself that I am still in control.  I cut out all but the occasional liquor drink in 2013 since many of my friends switched to only drinking beer.  The biggest benefit of this was that it basically eliminated hangovers, since now I have to drink a massive amount of beer for it still to be with me 6 or 8 hours later, many thanks to my super liver and large volume of distribution.  I started drinking a lot of beer last winter and decided to take last February off to show that I was still in control, there were a number of reasons why I went off the rails, but one specific thing was the main cause.

In late 2013 a few terrible things happened and I had a few tough losses.  The worst part was the passing of my friend Dustin.  He was only 24 years old and was the type of vibrant person who lit up the room.  His passing came 10 days after my aunt passed from the consequences of years of drug abuse, so I was already in a weakened state and hearing about Dusty threw me off the ledge.  Even more than 15 months later I still can’t believe that I will never see him again, and feel like a big part of my life is missing (seriously fighting back tears in Starbucks as I type this).  The worst part to confront is that he died because of an alcohol related accident that could have happened to me thousands of times.  It wasn’t like most of the young deaths I had dealt with, he didn’t die of his own hand, or in a car accident, or from a disease, he was just there one day and gone the next.  While his passing was a tragedy the silver lining was that it made me realize that I need to live my life to be fullest because nothing is promised, and it gave me motivation to make positive changes to my life.  I will never get over his passing, but I will use it as a lesson to make use of for many years to come, which is something that would make him proud.

Whenever I have taken a break from drinking in the past it was always a tortuous solitary task.  I toiled on stoically just trying to make it from one day to the next.  For some reason this year was different.  Some of my friends were joining me for Sobruary, and some of them even lasted more than a few days.  Everyone else was supportive, rather than the blank stares and “why aren’t you drinking?” that I had gotten last year I got more of a “Good luck with Sobruary” and “It’s just Owen doing crazy Owen things again.”  I found myself doing things this year that I wouldn’t have trusted myself to do sober before.  I spent a lot of going to places I would normally drink like comedy shows, nice restaurants, hockey games, the laundromat, and even a cidery.  This year I feel like I defined sobriety, sobriety did not define me, which is a huge step forward.  I even feel like I could keep this going, I won’t because I enjoy drinking, but it gives me positive feedback that there are other things that I can cut out of my life.

The biggest thing that I took away from this month is the feeling of respect for those who choose sobriety.  It is hard to be in a group and order a club soda once, let alone every day for years on end.  There are a number of people in the comedy scene who are in recovery and it takes a lot to go into bars several nights a week and face down your demons.  Sobriety isn’t easy and I tip my hat to these folks and hope that I can help them in any way possible.

This month has opened my eyes a little bit more.  It proved to me that I have the willpower to do whatever I put my mind to, while also giving me a glimpse at the psychology behind why I do the things that I do.  I saved some money and was able to participate fully and enjoy myself in a number of different venues.  I was gifted one of my white whale beers and have to stare at it whenever I open the fridge so I was able to focus on delayed gratification rather than immediate consumption.  It was a pretty good experience and helped me to shake off some of the winter blues and jumpstart a few of my fitness goals, but I have to say that I am glad that February is almost over.

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