As Dry January comes to a close, I am somewhat saddened by the fact many people who took the challenging and courageous step to take a break from drinking are waking up today excited to return to their alcohol imbibing life. They most likely already have an elaborate plan laid out for what their day or night of drinking is going to look like. What they will drink. Who they will drink with. They may even have a plan to deal with the looming hangover the following day. As I write this, I wonder if many of the courageous souls ended their month of sobriety yesterday. I mean, thirty days equals a month, right? For those folks, I feel even more saddened because they are waking up right now with a hangover, and many of them are not even questioning, once again, why they would put themselves through such torment. I should take a step back, however, and also applaud everyone who made it through Dry January. Whether or not you decide to return to your life of drinking, you did something really amazing. Congratulations. My only question to you is, why on earth would you voluntarily return to drinking alcohol?
... quitting drinking by not drinking is not a true testament to my
lack of need for the nefarious liquid
I remember, looking back on my drinking days, all of the times I tried to quit drinking for short periods to prove to myself I did not have a problem with alcohol. Read that last part over again. I tried to quit drinking for short periods to prove I did not have a problem with alcohol. How absurdly ridiculous is that kind of thinking? First of all, the simple use of the sentence pretty much ensures my worries to be true. If I did not have a problem with alcohol, would I be going so far out of my way to prove to myself I did not have a problem? No. People who do not have a problem with alcohol rarely drink and they definitely do not spend much time thinking about alcohol. I thought about it constantly. I thought about wanting it. I thought about not wanting to want it. I thought about why I wanted it. I thought about when I could have it. And, occasionally, I thought about whether or not I had a problem with it. In those moments of what I now know to be clarity, I would convince myself of the following ludicrous sentiment. If I can quit drinking for a month, then there is no way I have a problem with alcohol. It actually sounds laughable to say it out loud now.
There are a couple of problems with my theory. One, I already had a problem with alcohol, I was just not ready to admit it yet. Two, returning to drinking after a month of abstinence is technically called a relapse which means I definitely have a problem with alcohol. And, three quitting drinking by not drinking is not a true testament to my lack of need for the nefarious liquid. With all this said, why does a person try so hard to convince themselves they do not have a problem with alcohol? The answer is pretty simple. It is the same reason people do not want to admit to strange behaviors they may have, taboo fantasies, or even specific beliefs. They are socially unacceptable. We hide those parts of ourselves because the outside world will not accept them. We worry we will be seen as outsiders, weird, untrustworthy, or even sick. There is a reason we use the term closet for these "unacceptable" attributes. We can't get rid of them, so we stuff them in our emotional closet and nobody is the wiser. Nobody, except us.
Removing this stigma is a systemic change we desperately need to enact if we want to effectively combat the growing problem of alcoholism.
Okay, back to the three reasons my theory of periodically quitting drinking was simply a masquerade for the unwanted reality looming over me. There is a common belief out there in all realms of emotional or physical growth. Before we can solve a problem, we have to be able to admit we have a problem. This pretty much solidifies why reason one of my theory is valid. By simply trying so hard to convince myself of the one thing I feared, it was pretty clear I was already there and had probably been there for a very long time. We do not ever have to quit stealing for a month to ensure we are not a thief. We do not give up killing people for a month to prove we are not a murderer. We certainly do not quit cheating on our partners for a month to convince ourselves we are not cheaters. We either are, or we are not. If I am asking myself the question, "Do I drink too much," or "Do I have a problem with alcohol," then I do. It is pretty much that simple.
Now, some of you may say to yourself, "Now, wait a minute. I'm not an alcoholic and I sometimes worry about how much I drink. I am just aware and questioning ourselves is healthy." Okay, fair enough, but let's look at the definition of addiction for a moment.
Addiction - noun; a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a
habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological,
or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability,
tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.
The key is in the idea of harmful physical, psychological, or social effects. One of the reasons we question our drinking is due to the harmful social effects if we are, in fact, an alcoholic. "Those" people are outcast, unaccepted, and untrustworthy. We do not want anything to do with that label, so we go to great lengths to ensure we are not one of "them." I have written about the negative effects of labels in a series of blogs called, Label-Free Society. Removing this stigma is a systemic change we desperately need to enact if we want to effectively combat the growing problem of alcoholism.
The second reason my theory of quitting for short periods is absurd is this fact; returning to drinking after our short stint technically puts us in relapse and, once again, solidifies our original fear. We are probably an alcoholic. This will not sit well if you have not yet made peace with the fact, and understandably so. It is not something we want to believe or admit, which is why it is the first thing we must do in order to move forward. Before I move on, I want to be clear on my stance about relapse. While I use the term loosely here, and I do believe it is a defining aspect of addiction, I definitely do not believe relapse to be a failure. The only time I believe an addict has failed in their recovery is when they give up and quit trying. Otherwise, as long as we are trying to quit, we are actively in recovery. The reason I bring it up in this context is that it is technically true. What is a relapse? Relapse - verb; to fall or slip back into a previous state or practice. I quit drinking for Dry January, and I started drinking again in February. Yep, it's a relapse. I have involuntarily enrolled myself into the category of addiction. It's okay, though, we can recover. Trust me, I am living proof.
In fact, it was at that moment I decided to start tackling stigmas, labels,
and negativity in sobriety.
The third reason my theory of quitting drinking for short periods to prove my lack of addiction is unrealistic is this idea; not drinking does not mean we do not still "need" alcohol. It simply means we are not actively drinking it. People do this for endless years and it hurts my heart. Now, of course, I am proud of anyone who can grin and bear it through something like addiction, but the reason I say it hurts my heart are the stories I have and continue to hear from those people. I'll never forget the gentleman who came to one of my first sober zoom meetings. He was frantic. He stated how hard he had been looking for meetings, during the pandemic, and was deathly afraid of relapse. He stated how glad he was to find my meeting. He was thirty-five years sober. I remember thinking, immediately following the meeting, I would not allow myself to be in a similar situation when I have gone that long without alcohol. In fact, it was at that moment I decided to start tackling stigmas, labels, and negativity in sobriety.
This is where I generally get a backlash, and it is okay because I have gotten used to it. As always, I will say I am not trying to take anything away from anyone's experience. If you have struggled through sobriety and are still actively seeking meetings to maintain your sobriety then good for you. I am incredibly proud of you, your accomplishments, and your journey. You are a rock star. I simply believe there is another way. I believe if we attack our addiction properly, we do not have to put ourselves through the turmoil of life long addiction. I believe, when we have done the proper work, we do not even have to ascribe ourselves to those labels anymore. I believe we do not have to forever live in recovery. I believe we can return to our unaddicted state. But hey, it's just my belief, what do I know? I know this. I am not an alcoholic. I am not an addict. I am no longer in recovery. I am simply me, and it's nice to meet you.
What does all of this have to do with Dry January? Well, honestly, while I know I may not reach many of those who have successfully completed a month of living alcohol-free, I thought I would give it a try anyway and say this. Congratulations on your thirty-day journey. You have undoubtedly learned a few things about yourself. You have realized how much better you feel without alcohol perpetually in your system. You are sleeping better. You have probably started a few things you have been putting off for years. Your relationships are stronger, or you have let go of the ones no longer beneficial to you. You may have started an exercise program. You probably lost a little weight. Some health concerns you are not even aware of yet are improving. Your life has changed for the positive in pretty much every single way imaginable. With all that said, I have to ask you the most fundamental honest question I can think of. Why the fuck would you go back to drinking alcohol?
People like to say alcoholism is not a choice. While I'll happily argue that sentiment any time, for those of you thirty days into your sober journey, you certainly do have a choice right now. You either choose to continue enjoying the myriad of benefits associated with sobriety, or you choose to go back to drinking and risk eventual alcoholism. I, for the life of me, cannot think of one solitary reason to return to drinking, once you have seen the other side. I hope you will, at the very least, take a few moments before picking up the glass or bottle and reflect on what you have learned, seen, and experienced over the past month. Then, make a truly informed decision about the rest of your life. I assure you, the decision is larger than you may think. I hope you make the decision most beneficial for you.