Like a lot of people, from what I read, deleting alcohol as a chilling-out mechanism leaves a huge vacuum. At first you wonder what to replace it with at the end (or in the middle) of a long and/or stressful day. And then you find a few things that you like, or sort of like, or accept — like hot tea, walks, mindless Netflix, meaningful Netflix, cold tea, a good book.
They may be fine or they may be a seemingly woefully inadequate replacement at first. But they’re there and that’s what matters as the first step in getting free from an alcohol problem. The limpness of these woefully inadequate replacements was, for me, however, very nearly unacceptable. God it was annoying. I hated the fact that I didn’t have my complete deflation mechanism, my press-the-button-and-the-instant-escape-hatch-opens, the drug that almost instantly dematerialized the tightly wound, intently judgmental state that I often lived in.
Even in that sub-optimal world, life was SO much better without the alcohol escape hatch, and I’m pretty sure I could have lived there for a long time.
But I didn’t have to, because kicking alcohol out had a subtle effect upstream. Without the escape hatch, my system started not accumulating so much stress to begin with. My dissipation load went down. My mental and emotional movements throughout the day changed, and dealt more and more with the little stresses or discomforts in the moment. “Dealing” meant either taking some action to rebalance things or not acting and just letting the thing go. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but having a regular, instant, chemical escape hatch not only let me stockpile discomforts and stresses and discontentment but probably also increased my tendency to do that. (Not to mention that the quantity of discomforts was considerably higher just because of the toxins I put into my bloodstream.) The vacuum created in dropping the escape hatch generated more presence in my mind and body 24/7.
Not that that was easy or comfortable in itself. And not that it was the end of the struggle. But the upstream rebalancing was and still is like magic to me.
One of the reasons I notice this is because I’m intently aware of the variations in the amounts and types of stress or discomfort that my body/mind generates depending on the day. I get very unpleasant mood disruptions from wheat, rice, oats, and some chemical they put in deli meat (and also now, at age 49, probably wildly fluctuating hormones!). The gift that’s given me is the ability to see that uncomfortable emotions are not me and are not intrinsic to my mind or body. Most of the time my mental health is wonderful, and then there are the days where I feel like crap for one of these food/chemical reasons, and I’ve gone around that block enough times that I understand that my moods have no relationship to the external world. None. Sure, I have emotions in response to my external world, but they always have a reason and they’re nice discrete little entities with none of the endless reverberations and distress that moods have — my old anxiety, depression, dread, rage. I bring this up because these old moods were some of the things I medicated with alcohol. Now if they arise in the course of a day, I’m smart enough (well, battered enough by past experience) to know that they’re products of my body and chemistry and don’t warrant action — for sure not in the form of a bottle of beer. If I didn’t see so clearly that uncomfortable emotions were not an intrinsic part of me, it would be harder to hold off from self-medicating.
There are lots of people out there with tools for figuring out that we’re not our emotions and don’t have to be a slave to our emotions, and hopefully I would have found those along the way. As the author of The Untethered Soul says, every trigger is an opportunity to let go. I love that the dissipation that happens with mechanisms other than alcohol actually moves a person forward. (I should actually find a still, non-progressing metaphor instead. Still working on that. (Ha and ha!))
Thanks for listening to my Saturday morning ramble. Off to enjoy the glowing maple leaves in the front yard. Have a good one!