Saturday, May 10, 2014
The Introvert’s Guide to Non-Compulsive Drinking
If you like drinking a little too much, and don't like talking about your feelings in a self-help group, this is the guide for you.
By Aaron Kuchta
Alcohol abuse is a serious subject, but a group setting is not the only way to address the issue. For some people, introverts and the socially awkward, talking about your feelings in a group is a waking nightmare. I’m not a people person. Large crowds stress me out. If I have a problem, and boy do I have problems, I'm going to try to fix it myself before I seek outside help. I was imbibing too much happy juice and it was getting in the way of my life goals. My drinking was like a leaky faucet, so I got out my toolkit, pulled my pants down to reveal just the right amount of plumber’s butt, and fixed that faucet.
Humans are habitual creatures, and habits keep us repeating the same patterns, even destructive ones. So, change the habit, conquer the problem. But I love my bad habit. I love drinking so much I can’t help sucking down drinks like they're water. There’s a line in The Empire Strikes Back where Yoda scolds Luke with “Control, control! You must learn control!” Control is a much better solution than abstinence when it's handled properly. I thought I was controlling my drinking by doing it at home. No need to worry about getting home safely or losing a wallet or phone. I was oh so wrong, but I can still have it all! It’s better to try to fix what’s broke before throwing it away, and the first step to fixing something is to figure out where the problem originated.
STEP 1: REFLECTION. My underage drinking days were limited because someone couldn’t handle his alcohol. It tasted terrible. I gulped it down as fast as I could and tried not to puke, but everything led to puking. Dealing with the spins and upset stomach was too much and made for short nights. Peer pressure was never a huge factor because when I was done drinking, I disappeared. The old Irish goodbye. But puking, spinning, poor sleep, and zero energy the next day were major turn offs. That is, until I was introduced to the wonder of rum and coke.
After turning 21, rum became my one and only. I drank more because I loved what I drank and I set myself to conquering the cruel warriors of sickness. I went, as they say, balls to the wall. I stopped waiting for other people to be in the mood to drink and drank whenever I felt like it. My drinks were mixed strong and gone in a flash, but I was rarely without one. Binge eating relieved the upset stomach and spinning, and coffee and more booze were my uppers.
My friends defined me by my drinking, and I loved them for it. Being called an alcoholic was a high compliment. When I moved to the big city and my friends moved away, though, my drinking went from being a coping mechanism to the coping mechanism. My routine revolved around drinking and being alone. Everything else had to work around those two things. I couldn’t buy booze before I intended to drink it, and it never lasted more than a few days, no matter how much I bought. If, however, I was going to hang out with people, I expected to have drinks.
Drinking is fun, it releases the need to hold on to stress and it helps suppress feelings. Because ew, feelings. I got lost in the stereotype that all writers are heavy drinkers and I created a blog to show my support for the idea, but drinking and writing were not ideal combinations for me. It was one or the other and I was putting my dreams on hold to skip through a boozy meadow. The last straw came when I typed one word in my book and dropped everything to almost literally run to the liquor store. Even then I joked with my friend, but I knew I was flirting with danger like R2-D2 in the swamp waters of Dagobah.
STEP 2: REPLACE THE HABIT. The nagging voice in your head will tell you to drink, but you have to be strong and stubborn. Throw some choice expletives at that voice. I stopped cold turkey. Changed the routine. I was broke, so going out didn’t feel like an option. I had to substitute drinking with other things I loved to do, immersing myself in reading and writing, and even brushing up on my Spanish. Rough days at work, crying children, and loud neighbors were tough to deal with sober, but Friday night was the hardest. Game night with no booze was a major bummer. I had to settle for chugging water. Stubbornness paid off, though, and by the second week I not only had no desire to drink, but I wasn’t playing any video games, I wasn’t watching as much Netflix, and I was drinking a lot of water. Total lifestyle change. But I love drinking.
STEP 3: CONTROLLED REINTRODUCTION. The biggest key here is accountability. Start a rewards based system. If you don’t earn it, you don’t get it. When I got enough work done during the week, I was allowed a case of beer, but two weeks off had changed my taste buds as well as my tolerance. I tried to convince myself that the first taste was amazingly delicious, but honestly, it was kind of gross and I drank half as much as normal before switching to binge eating. The next day, I had no motivation or desire to do anything beyond watching Netflix. Epic fail. My other passions and dreams were put on hold yet again and it made mad, but sometimes failure is the best motivator. The rest of the case of beer sat in the fridge for a week and I was happy not to touch it. I was so determined to avoid another failure that when I finally did crack open the beer, I only allowed myself one or two, then switched to water. In a very short period of time, one drink every now and then became plenty.
STEP 4: CONSTANT VIGILANCE. A few months later, I find myself going a week or two without drinking. I still love it, but I can talk myself out of drinking most of the time by reminding myself that it’s not a priority. And I really hate the spins. Through stubbornness, not courage, I showed myself that I could be alone and have a good time without needing a boozy aid. Water is pretty good. I may have had to do some soul searching and deal with complex emotions I’d been burying for years and will be dealing with for years to come, but I convinced my mind and body that alcohol is a treat, not sustenance.
When it comes to handling vices, be it alcohol abuse or abuse by chocolate cake, you have to know what’s right for you. There’s a lot of introspection that goes on to find the cause of the problem and altering your behavior might not be something you can do alone. If you’re suffering from an out of control drinking problem, keep an open mind and focus on one thing at a time. You might not be able to make the root cause of the problem go away, but you can lasso the heck out of the drinking problem and bring it back into the herd. Learning control can be as daunting a task as Luke trying to get his X-wing out of the swamp, but with an open mind, a strong sense of accountability, and a great deal of stubbornness, any solitary minded individual can be like Yoda and accomplish the impossible.
Aaron Kuchta is a writer in New York City. He has a blog.