Ask Schmutzie: How I Deal With The Social Aspects Of Drinking

I asked you to ask me questions about my sobriety. This is my sixth response to your questions. Check out my first, second, third, fourth, and fifth sets of questions and answers.

at coffee with Shanan and Aidan

What do you do while you're socializing with your friends now? Substitute food or coffee for alcohol? (I know you separated yourself from many of your drinking friends.) Has the Palinode stopped drinking as well?
Mrs. Wilson

When you want a drink, how do you resist? Also, does the Palinode drink when you're out together? (I'm assuming he doesn't at home.)

Do you attend functions where people will be drinking alcohol, or go to restaurants where they serve alcohol? Does it bother you to just be around it, or is it like quitting smoking, when you get used to not doing it, it doesn't bother you as much?

The formula of behaviour I had created to assure myself that the amount I was drinking was alright is one of my biggest hurdles with regard to dealing with my alcoholism. I tend to behave obsessively, creating patterns and rules for behaviour that I must follow in order to feel at ease, and it is these patterns that I have spent the last more than eight months mostly working to undo. Being that my pattern meant I drank almost solely in public with the same people for over a decade with the idea that not drinking at home meant I was fine, breaking free means that I rarely go out anymore.

Of course, where my old pattern had my drunken butt planted firmly on a wooden bench in a pub most of the time, my new pattern has my sober butt planted firmly on a coffee-stained couch in my living room most of the time. The only real differences are that my living room isn't packed full of drunken revellers and I remember what I watched on tv the night before. Oh, and there's that part where I like being alive now.

I thought that not going out would be hard for me. I thought I would miss seeing people. It turns out that my being out had far more to do with alcohol and far less to do with the people, places, and events around which I was drinking. It wasn't until I removed all the other factors surrounding my alcohol consumption that I realized how far my priorities had slipped, how little I really cared for anything other than getting drunk.

Now that I have been away from most of the social triggers for over eight months, though, I mostly have to deal with the emotional impulse to get drunk. Everything is an emotional trigger to drink. My cat died! I bought a new pair of shoes! They're drinking in this movie I'm watching! I'm depressed! I'm constipated! It's sunny outside! Since most of my emotional reactions trigger the idea to have a drink, it can be harder some days than others to say no, and on the harder days, I stay home. I stay home a lot some weeks.

When it comes to socializing, I have to play each situation by ear. The Palinode has not quit drinking, and he does occasionally have a drink in front of me when we are out, but there are occasions on which I ask him not to, and he's okay with that. When we are invited out to where people will be drinking, I check up in my head to see if I am having a strong and confident kind of day or a weaker and needy kind of day, and if it's the latter, I stay home, or I arbitrarily schedule myself to leave the social situation after one or two hours so that I know psychologically I have an out.

So, I only go out where there will be alcohol when I feel absolutely strong and confident. When I don't, I don't. If I waver when I am out, I go home.

Really, though, the only way not to drink is not to drink, and in order to do that, I have to make sobriety the primary purpose in my life above all else, at least for a while. I have to decide that I will do anything not to drink, and I have to choose to believe in that purpose with as much power as I can muster, because it is the knowledge that I would do anything to serve my sobriety that makes the smaller steps toward it seem more doable.

Can I say no to the wine I am offered at a party? Yes, because when I know that I am willing to give up my cats, my wee baby flufferkins, to serve my sobriety, it's not the worst thing ever to wave the glass of wine away. Can I stop myself from walking to that old, familiar pub upon hearing that its beloved outdoor patio is open? Yes, because when I know that I would give up a couple of fingers if I had to in order to stay sober, it's not the worst thing ever to walk in the other direction. Can I walk by that can of beer sitting outside the neighbouring apartment without leaping on it like a [bullied minority] on a [something that the bullied minority is stereotyped to love]? Yes, because when I know that I am willing to give up all of my worldly possessions to become a nomadic yurt-dweller in Northern Mongolia, it's not the worst thing ever to look the other way.

I am often tempted if I see alcohol, whether it is on television or right in front of me, and while it's gotten a little easier over time, the urge is still there. That urge is so embedded in my history, in the entirety of my late teens and adult life really, that it feels more like an old friend than a threat to my happiness. This is why I have to embrace my sobriety so passionately and wholly. My present realization of myself as a happier, more hopeful, and more resilient person who is nearly free of suicidal ideation depends on those swift, decisive actions, and so I wilfully take those actions.

Also, I drink a lot of coffee. I have an addictive personality, so I'm letting it make love to coffee for now. My personality and coffee are presently mashed together in a passionate lip-lock that has me jittering through my days.

I know that I am not likely going to have to be a fingerless yurt-dweller in Norther Mongolia without the comfort of my sweet cuddlemuffins in order to defend my sobriety, but I know in my heart that I would do all of those things. I am married to it, I am committed to it, I am devoted to my sobriety as a spiritual soul lover. Sobriety sustains a me that I recognize, a me that loves more deeply, a me that hopes.

Not to put too fine a point on it: yes, I am tempted, and, yes, it can be difficult, but I can and I will do it, because I had a revelation last August: I'm some kind of pinko hippie who doesn't shave her legs, so I have an inner guru, and that inner guru said you can flow in the river, or you can be the river, and I believed it with my whole heart.

For reals. I smoked a lot of pot when I was younger.

I know that I have to defend my natural right — psychologically, spiritually, and physically — to be free, or the meaning I consciously seek in this one, unique life will be lost.

It is exactly that big.

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