The Longest Goodbye

What’s the ‘Why?’ Part II

By June 30, 2020 No Comments

a five minute read

When people ask ‘Why are you giving up alcohol?’ or ‘What made you want to stop?’ or anything in that vein, I actually have a few theories as to why people are curious. And they’re generally not people looking to hear a train wreck story.

Side note: These theories about the ‘Why?’ question are a compilation of my observations from doing these sobriety experiments a few times. I’ve done my fair share of FebFasts, Dry Julys, Ocsobers, etc. As with any list, this of course does not reflect all people, opinions, blah, blah – disclaimer stuff…

A few reasons why people ask ‘Why?’ (and then possibly struggle when you tell them you’ve gone booze-free):

  1. But booze is fun! (Except when it’s not.) There’s the mummy wine culture, the ‘No great story ever started with a salad!’ memes and all that business to remind us how fun, fun, fun it is. But as Caroline Knapp wisely said in her memoir Drinking: A Love Story, ‘Alcohol makes everything better, until it makes everything worse.’ Indeed.
  2. Alcohol is part of EVERY thing – It’s so ingrained, so much a part of all that we do culturally (as I discussed in a previous post) that the thought of going without – of intentionally depriving yourself (because that’s what it is seen as, by many), when you clearly don’t have a “problem”– just seems a bit cray-cray. Especially if you’re not a fall-down, daytime, vodka-in-your-coffee-mug kind of abuser. But this kind of drinker only makes up about 8% of the overall drinking population. And that doesn’t account for the likes of your colleague Ken from Finance, who, by the end of every work function, is slurring his words. Right?

And lastly…

  1. People are worried about their own drinking, and want to know what your tipping point was – what’s the story? What’s the ‘why’? Was there a rock bottom moment? That way, they can compare themselves and say, ‘Phew. I’m still just a normal drinker.’

Again, not everyone who asks ‘why’ falls neatly into one of these categories. But to that third point above, I have wondered how many people – in terms of percentages – ask for this reason. As one of my friends said to me, ‘When someone tells me they don’t drink, I figure there must be a pretty good story behind it!’ (And by that, he meant something along the lines of waking up in Vegas with a tiger in your bathroom. Or similar.)

So I don’t have a story, as such; but I have stories.  None of them particularly shameful or embarrassing or indicative per se, but when taken all together? They could be seen like the water in the bucket: Which drip is going to be the one to make it overflow?  Or like one of our family favourite kid’s books, Who Sank the Boat? by Pamela Allen. After the cow, the donkey, the sheep and other various farm animals cram themselves, one after the other, into the rowboat – it is ultimately the minuscule mouse that causes the boat to sink.

No one knows which drink is going to be the one that tips you over into unrecoverable alcoholism, the one where you finally tread into the territory you can’t walk (or stumble) your way out of.

Now back to my stories. What kind of ‘stories’? They’re all slightly different, yet all the same: those nights where I made a supremely unhelpful comment because my filter had been dissolved – and not in a ‘haha, that’s so true, I can’t believe you just said that!’ kind of way. But in a caustic and sarcastic way. (Sometimes, sarcasm is not the answer. Who knew?!?)  Or I’ve just over-personalised something someone else has said, and then overreacted. While I’ve never lost friendships over anything I’ve said, I’ve definitely said things that I regretted. Call it reactivity or oversharing or TMI – it’s definitely been a consequence of mine.

Then there were those nights where I woke up at 2am with hangxiety: dehydrated, heart pounding and unable to get back to sleep, a well-documented consequence of alcohol’s impact on sleep patterns, and a racing mind. For me, my racing thoughts – in addition to the usual ‘To Do’ list that always seems to crop up when you’re least likely to actually do anything about it – usually centred around my health: What is that pain in my side? Am I drinking too much? How much is too much? What about the latest research that links drinking to breast cancer? Why did I pour that last glass of wine I didn’t even finish? Why did I eat 800 calories worth of Brie?!? How come I can moderate sometimes but didn’t last night? Ugh, I already feel dehydrated and I have to get up in X number of hours…And on it would go. Sometimes for hours.

Other stories: I lost my temper or was impatient with the kids because I wanted my ‘me’ time (wine in hand), and that should (of course!) come with the inalienable right of being left alone, undisturbed to read or watch stupid cat videos or do whatever. And I believed that alcohol was supposed to make me more relaxed.

I remember one night in particular, when my mum was down for a visit. I just wanted to sit and enjoy our wine time, and get lost in her company for a while – rare and precious occasions, as we live 10,000 miles apart quite literally. And of course, one of my children (the bottomless pit) was push, push, pushing my buttons. I had said goodnight countless times. We had the glass of water, the tucking in, all the rituals completed. And yet, still. He wanted more than I could give him in that moment, for whatever the reason, and then I lost my temper. I cracked it, and in a moment as I went to grab a what he was holding, I aggressively snatched a cherished footy poster from his hands, causing it to tear. I hadn’t meant to damage it, but I was careless. No doubt in part from the wine. He cried. I crumbled.

What kind of modelling of emotional control was that? And fine – we all have a breaking point. Children need to know that. But would my breaking point have come later? Would it have come at all if alcohol wasn’t right there, sitting on my shoulder like the bad angel, allowing me to just give in to my base emotional response? I’ll never know.

Other stories: that night I stayed out till 2am when I really shouldn’t have, and wrecked what remained of my weekend and the weekend’s To Do list, which meant I had to spend the next four days playing catch-up for my lack of adulting. That time I dropped a funny (somewhat inappropriate) line amongst a group of people that I didn’t know that well, and got back blank stares. That time we went out for one Christmas drink and I had to spend the entire next day dragging my dusty arse around town looking for presents. Instead of enjoying the buzz of the moment and the season, I just wanted to go home and pull the covers over my head. That time I forgot my scarf at a pub and had to back for it the next day (it was still there). That time I cartwheeled across the dance floor. That time I launched a sing-song to some Irish rebel songs after 87 champagnes at a friend’s barbecue. The morning after wallet-shame, when you look in and say, ‘I spent HOW much?’ That time I sang with the band.

I’m getting too old for this shit to be funny.

Sidenote 2: some of this was – still is – funny. (I’m an unashamed cartwheeler from way back.) And good times were had. But it’s impossible to know which ones would have still happened without alcohol. I’m lucky I don’t have any major regrets. Phew. But whether that’s from good luck or good management, I don’t know. Some of those memories can still produce some major winces.  And some of these events do still make a for a good story (definitely not the scarf one – that’s pretty boring).

But for me, when booze is involved, rather than being funny, it just becomes cringy. And then there’s the Shame Express bus that I sometimes jump onto the morning after some of these ‘funny’ events. It’s a ride I can’t get off of. Sometimes for days. Self-flagellation is just not fun. Done often enough, it really starts to rattle your self-esteem. Who needs that?

There’s a great New York Times article by Nancy Wartik in which she talks about hitting her own ‘rock bottom’ – if such a thing exists – as a medium level drinker. Alcohol could ‘unpredictably rouse demons that turned me into a wifely shrew, sparked bruising arguments, unleashed embarrassing faux pas,’ she says. And I get that. Is that where this all leads, eventually? Another question that seems to have no answer.

I also had someone in sobriety tell me that they too had no ‘one reason’ for their why. But at some point in their adult life they realised that for every single drama they could recall, alcohol was involved in some way, shape or form. I get that too.

And I’m at the point in my life where the only good drama is no drama. (I mean I live with three teenagers FFS!) Okay, so I didn’t have a  tiger-in-the-bathroom level of drama moment that can satisfy the why. I don’t need to. And my ‘funny stories’ from above?  Some of those still contain too much drama for me.

And that never happens from eating a salad. So, that’s why. 🙂