April 30th is the last day of Alcohol Awareness month and today I saw an article about “Alcohol Awareness” pop up in my Facebook feed. When it comes to drinking, what is ‘normal’? At first, I clicked on the comments; I was saddened by how many people commented in a negative way – promoting binge drinking and mocking sobriety. But rather than get discouraged by the trolls, I decided to click and read the article. In its entirety, the piece promotes moderation, which is not the path I’ve chosen, but the beginning of the article really made me think about my own journey toward discovering my unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
It starts like this, “For some people, drinking can turn into a hobby. You can end up spending a lot of time surrounded by people who drink like you, and this can affect your perspective. If your friends drink like you, they might not be the most reliable comparator. What if you’re all drinking more than you should be and just never talk about it.”
Um, hello?? Are you talking about me? For a very, very long time, ALL of my friends drank like me. For a good 20 years of my life, I surrounded myself with drinkers. We turned up our noses at those who limited themselves. Not us! We are the strong! We are fun! (We may have even been the ones who promoted binge drinking and mocked sobriety on social media…)
For me, a real sense of awareness developed when I realized that despite the fact that so many of my friends drank as much as I did and as often as I did socially, I could reasonably guess that very few of them drank as much as I did or as often as I did outside of these social situations. While my entire social circle may have met for happy hour and slammed three pints in an hour, I didn’t think too many of them were stopping for a 12-pack on the way home. Or while it wasn’t out of the norm to have a mimosa or two at brunch, I seriously doubted this turned into 12 hours of steady drinking for the rest of the day. Or when we met up at the bar on a Saturday night, I could almost guarantee that no one had gotten up at 6am, drank until noon, took a two-hour nap, and then started again at 3pm. I was easily 12 drinks in by the time my friends were just starting.
I struggled with the question “what is normal drinking?” I spent several months before I stopped drinking contemplating how much I drank, how often I drank – wishing I could be more like my friends, most of whom probably stuck to a 6-pack or a bottle of wine most days of the week. To me, this was the ideal. This is where I wanted to be.
So I tried to cut back, and I did okay with that at times. I was able to really, really space out my drinking so that I felt a little more normal – at times. There were still times when I started first thing on a Saturday; times when I called in sick to work to have a full day of drinking; and times when my 6-beer-a-day-limit doubled. But I really felt like I could get to a point where I only drank after work (or after noon on weekends) and where I limited myself to 6 (or so) drinks in one sitting. But I was still obsessed with drinking, and I was obsessed with counting drinks. Wanting to make sure I didn’t go overboard, but also making sure I had enough to get me through. Even though I was “cutting back,” my life still revolved around drinking – even when I wasn’t drinking.
The next part of the article continued, “If you only look at your friends’ drinking, comparison could give you a false reassurance. So it might help to look more widely. Across societies, most people don’t drink every day, to excess or just to get drunk. If you’re concerned about your habits, you’re probably drinking more than the average person. So comparing yourself in this way can give you some context.”
This is how my second, and final sense of awareness developed. As my relationship with my current significant other grew more serious, his drinking habits began to settle down. We were no longer new lovers who were out at the bars every night; we were now a couple spending time with each other’s kids, extended family, and just relaxing at home. He didn’t drink during these times. I did.
This was confusing and scary to me. I could not go without drinking. I could limit myself, but I absolutely HAD to have a few drinks. I couldn’t imagine life without it.
So I started hiding it.
I would make an excuse to stop at home for an hour after work so I could slam a few drinks, I would fill a water bottle with vodka for the drive, and I would hide airplane bottles in my purse. I could easily hide my nightly allotment, but weekends were more difficult. When I had a free weekend day, and I wanted to devote it to drinking, I made an excuse to not spend time with him. I sat at home, by myself, drank, and felt horrible. I was in love, but I was lying/sneaking/hiding, and I was miserable. I was ashamed. I was terrified that I was going to ruin my chance at a new life with a wonderful man because my relationship with alcohol came first. And I finally realized that my entire life, my entire one human existence on earth revolved around making sure I had my several alcoholic beverages on a routine basis.
The article I read on Facebook ends with an important question: “does your drinking make you unhappy?” For me, this was a resounding YES. YES, YES, YES. A million times yes. That, for me, was alcohol awareness rock bottom. An awareness that something was inhibiting experiencing true joy and growth as a person, a mother, a partner, a professional… and letting it still take precedence over all of these.
So, while there are a plethora of quizzes and tests and ways to assess our relationship with alcohol…
Ask Yourself a simple question: Does your drinking make you unhappy? That is a pretty easy place to start evolving your alcohol awareness.
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