On alcohol as not the only escape

Continuing from a couple of days ago… one of the aspects of drinking that I found most troubling is the quick, easy deflation/escape, the ease with which it helped me escape from being present in myself. This is separate from the health/relationship/productivity issues involved in being drunk and picking oneself up and dusting oneself off after an evening of drinking. The escape itself, and the habit of escaping, is the bigger deal for me.

Alcohol was not my only mechanism of deflation/escape. Many months ago I talked about a few others — binge eating, sugar, and email. Binge eating has been out of the picture for 20 years, but the other two are still quite real. I’ve learned that peace and presence come from omitting not just the big red flags but also the little green and yellow ones.

Now, I understand the advice to take just incremental steps toward broader health when giving up a doozie like alcohol, and I get that a lot of us are black-and-white thinkers and intensely judgmental to boot. It makes a certain sort of sense to give up only alcohol and get used to that new world before making other major changes.


One of the things that a live-intensely-then-crash-and-burn-on-a-daily-cycle lifestyle does is it chops my inner presence into little bits. Any continuity in my consciousness is shattered.  Start, stop, start, stop, start, stop. (Oh jeez, I think I’m channeling the Michael Scott line in The Office about his multiple vasectomies.) And I was talking about…. what. Oh. This jagged lifestyle takes us far from a whole, peaceful existence.

If alcohol’s your only continuity-buster, I’m envious. I have others — email and sugar, primarily — that serve to chop my presence into even tinier bits. Start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, stop. Some received wisdom would say to leave other escape hatches alone for a while until not drinking feels like less of a deprivation and more normal. I feel, though, that it’s worth considering avoiding the other main ones as well, at least some of them, and here’s why. You do get dumped off in something of a barren wasteland as far as escaping what are supposedly escape-worthy problems or feelings. But this is what allows you to go from an existence of insanely repetitious starts and stops to one in which you round a corner. A little ways into that space that the escape mechanisms never let you see, there’s another landscape, and it’s fertile like no other.

It’s not far past the last obsessive email check. The tightness or anxiety or depressed feeling (or simple habit) that has me reaching for sugar or the Thunderbird icon — when I don’t do that reach — rides around the corner, staying with me for a few extra moments and then … morphs. It usually dissolves. I’m left sitting in my own skin with a different view.

Choosing not to blast away discomfort with another deflation mechanism leaves the discomfort, and whatever’s behind it, in place, and gives my system some disequilibrium to chew on. The miracle is that it always does (chew on it). (Boy are my metaphors a mess in this post.)  The discomfort doesn’t stay in its original form very long, and my mind/body re-equilibrate in its presence. I’m not saying this very well, but my experience is that the mind/body has momentum toward health and wholeness and I just gotta get out of its way.

Discomfort or alcohol cravings feel like the last word. They feel like they require a response to shut them off. But culturally this on/off stuff and linearity is a recent invention, and within my body/mind it’s an illusion.  Curves and cycles are the nature of life, it’s health-inducing to ride the curves.

I want to say again that, for me, the curve and the at least partial melting of the distress comes just past the urge to reach for a blunting tool. In fact, I’m starting to think that the urge to medicate with sugar or email is generated by the nearness of the curve. Some little barb inside me is threatened by peace and alchemy in my emotions and needs to put up a barrier. I used to laugh at my taking my email compulsion so seriously, but I’m not anymore. I see it as fundamental to really coming home. (One thing that helped me take email and other distractions more seriously is the book Deep Work.) I imagine that new distractions will arise as I try to let the current ones go… must stay alert.

Thanks for reading. Be well.


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