In 2021 I found myself living with a person who I thought was my ideal partner, who then turned out to be an alcoholic. It was a hard time to see the person I love falling apart again and again. He intentionally hurt me and himself when drunk and then didn’t remember it. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I still don’t, as I never really encountered alcoholics, or at least I didn’t know they were one.
My partner rarely drank in the first three months of living together, until one night, he suddenly started it. Everything we built together until then disappeared along with his sobriety. I personally don’t like drinking. There was a period of my life during university when I partied and drank “hard.” But I realized how much I disliked myself when I was drunk. Then I consciously decided to not to drink to that extent. I remember I rarely drank for years, but while I was with my partner I drank more than during the entire previous decade. And I didn’t like it. When I was faced with his returning alcoholism, I knew this had to end.
I didn’t know how to support him but he said he needed it. For me it was a way of showing my support to stop drinking (not like it influenced him, but I thought it would.) Later when we separated, I ended up working with a group of people. One of the colleagues also drank a lot, so many of us joined him in the pub to pass time. When this person left I could see the positive benefits on myself and all the other guys who were with us, as naturally we basically stopped drinking. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to realize booze is hurting your life.
What is Gray Area Drinking?
My then-partner, as I have since learned, is a “gray area drinker,” a term coined by Jolene Park. Gray area drinking is characterized by pattern of use and abuse that is not quite at the level of alcohol dependency. This may be characterized by periods of sobriety, followed by periods of bingeing. It is the commitment to drinking that steals the rest of the day away. Think: saying “just one glass,” which turns into the whole bottle or more… It’s laughing at drunken mistakes, only to make them again and hope no one finds out. It’s the kind of drinking that can be easily hidden, all the while is silently chipping away from the inside. Unfortunately it’s not really talked about much.
For many, alcohol is an escape from the responsibilities of adulthood and can be a fast track to connection with others. It can be a reminder of simpler times, of fun we had as young people.
This article isn’t written from the point of view of an alcoholic. It’s from the perspective of someone who decided to give up alcohol after looking at how it ruins our lives in general. If you read my articles, you might know that I’m a huge advocate of shadow work and I keep a journal in which I write about everything almost every day. So naturally, I wrote about my realizations about alcoholism while I was with my ex-partner and other people who drink.
Here are some of the lessons I came through during my journaling:
(For the record I’m not trying to recruit anyone nor to make anyone feel negative about their drinking habits. It’s simply my reflections on the things I learned since I gave up drinking.)
Lessons from being sober
Addictive behavior doesn’t disappear overnight
Regardless of the level of use, any behavior or substance that cannot be controlled consciously indicates a level of addictive behavior. Addiction is seeking pleasure externally to fulfill an inner emotional need. My ex-partner, though he wanted to stop drinking whenever he was sober because he knew it does not only hurt him but everyone else he loves, still couldn’t stop at one drink, ever. But during his sober periods he found this emotional fulfillment in other activities. These were compulsive shopping, mindless scrolling social media for 6–8 hours straight without even looking up once, over-eating or food restriction, to name a few.
You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help himself
Despite my partner knew he needs help and asked for my support, and we even worked out a plan that could have been successful (he even went to counseling once), he didn’t really seemed like he wanted to help himself. I could do everything for him, keeping him accountable, reminding him of appointments (interestingly I did better with keeping his schedule then I do with mine, with my ADHD brain) – nothing worked because he avoided to do the work. He even left the house to go to his second counseling appointment, but never showed up, still told me a story about how it went… So sorry, but you can not help someone who’s not willing to help themselves.
Alcohol brings a rush of pleasure and a temporary release of anxiety; other things can too
I used to drink to socialize and until a certain level of alcohol in my body I used to feel a rush of endorphins but it’s hard to maintain that level with alcohol. It also helped me to be more outgoing and I talked to strangers more easily. However I always felt horrible the next day even after just one glass of wine. There are plenty of other ways to get a natural rush of endorphins that lasts even longer. For me it’s music, running, nature, yoga… Not to mention the pride I feel when I manage to get out of my shell on my own, and make friends, talk to new people without the help of some substance. I know I’m like for who I really am, and not for the person alcohols turns me into.
Not drinking at social events is easier than you’d think
Yes, it needs a certain level of self-discipline but once you get confident enough to tell people off for minding your business for not drinking, it becomes easy. For me it was only challenging until I let others buzz in my ears all the time. “Oh, what’s the point of not drinking? You don’t know how to have fun. Just one glass won’t make you drunk.” They might be right, but who cares? It’s your life, your decision and if not drinking makes you feel good then do so.
Nobody’s business what you put into your body but yours. In fact, once I asked back “and why are you drinking?”, people started to stop nagging me so they don’t have to answer. As their reason to drink is private and holy, so is mine for not drinking. As they say, every wonder lasts for 3 days, they will get over it. In fact, holding on to your sobriety might inspire other social drinkers to follow your example.
Sober times are actually more fun
When I socialize without drinking, I laugh more, remember everything, and enjoyed deep, restorative sleep after. I have more money for things like going to escape rooms with friends. Or an adventures in the city, more meals out, and day trips to nearby places. There’s reading books with my warm mug of chai, playing frisbee with my sober friends on the fields, and even hiking nearby while the others were trying to recover from their night-out. I only live once and I do not want to waste this time with feeling terrible. What I don’t miss: waking up with headaches, burning stomach, nausea, bloating. Oh, and missing memories of the night, consequences of drunken texts, and feeling useless the whole day after, especially if you have to go to work. Trust me—after 27, hangovers were magnified by 200%.
So it’s 2023 and I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol since last Christmas. It only has been a few months since I fully stopped drinking, but my sobriety showed me that life at its purest and simplest, is the most enjoyable. (Being the only sober person in a room can be quite entertaining, too.) But it also has taught me more self-acceptance.
I do not think of my any of my drinking nights as something shameful or bad. All of us are worthy people, even if we drink, if our house is a mess, if we miss out a yoga class, but every experience is here to teach us about life. And life itself is a spectrum, we can go from one end to the other in no time but I believe we have to aim for balance and that looks different for each of us. You have to find what makes you feel good and what works for you, and forgive yourself for taking so long. Transformation cannot come until the uncomfortable, raw edge of transformation is reached.
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Photo: Brenna Huff via Unsplash