“Drinking Problem”: is that phrase not the understatement of the century? It’s such a polite way of saying, “This woman is a hot mess after one glass of wine, so just wait till you see her after the sixth!”
The good thing about being a recovering alcoholic is that you can, hopefully, see that your alcoholism has already made such a colossal fool out of you, you really have nothing to lose when you make yourself vulnerable in counseling, in your relationships, on a lady blog. For instance.
I feel like a disclaimer should probably be included with any of these columns I run in the future, which is this: I am not a medical or mental health professional, and while I am happy to brainstorm ideas about recovery with commenters, I am not in any way licensed to give people professional advice about their substance abuse problems or the substance abuse problems of others. This column is intended merely to relate my personal experiences in the hope that others having similar or related experiences can benefit from the communal aspect of sharing, from my individual perspective. This column is not intended to advise or guide the decisions of others. Please see a physician and/or licensed counselor for professional advice about substance abuse.
Phew. Now that I’ve got that out of the way.
Since I quit drinking, I’ve not found myself craving one (or 12), which is relieving, of course. No, the challenge lies in the fact that I, for one, used alcohol to deal with any kind of emotional stress I felt, and now that I’m not drowning my stresses in the bitter tang of bordeaux and bollocks, I have to actually feel all that stress, like the rest of you mere mortals do. Gone are my Bacchanal days of disregard for money stress, loneliness, wedding planning, social anxiety, parental pressure. Here to stay are the days when I, GULP, must actually cope with my shit.
Oh, that’s no fun at all.
But here’s the thing: there are actually some really fantastic ways I have found to cope with my shit already! I want to share them with you now:
Coping Method #1: Venting. Long, godawful day at work? Insatiable cravings for alcohol in any of its fine forms? Sexual frustration? Someone wrong on the Internet? Vent. Vent the shit out. Rant about it on your blog, where people are sympathetic; to your significant other, who will fruitlessly wrack his copious and muscular brains for solutions; to your mother, who will remind you that you were dying for this job three months ago; and to your puppy, who will cock her ears, tilt her head at that adorable angle, and then give your hand a neat snip with her surprisingly strong jaws. Though this really should only indicate to you that she is teething, you’re free to take it as a reminder that we all have hard days, love, and there are worse things than work stress in the world. Like tooth puncture wounds.
Coping Method #2: Eating. One of the feelings that does seem routinely to accompany at least the early days of the quest for sobriety is loneliness, because while you used to surround yourself with people and fill yourself with warm, whisky feelings, you now must make do for the sober reality that you really only know your coworkers, and (truth be told) don’t much like any of them. Tea doesn’t produce the same quite warm feelings that Tanqueray and tonic used to, so you must find a new friend. I have found mine in Mr. Alfredo. I eat him on penne, or fettuccine, or mostaccioli, on pizza or as a dip for bread. Along with our pals Chocolate, English Muffins, and Diet Coke, I feel full and warm whenever I want to.
Coping Method #3: Escapism. There are times when dealing directly with the problems just won’t do. For these times, I give you: Regency England, Middle Earth, Hogwarts. In a nutshell, anywhere you couldn’t possibly go except in your mind. Most recently, I escaped a round of bad guilt feelings by, ironically, reading about the social etiquette hierarchy in rural England in Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Fabulous book. No idea what was going on around me for the entire thing, but, unlike getting drunk and being completely unaware of my surroundings, with literature there are no hangovers, no outrageous and illogical fights with your partner, no liver damage or slurred speech. Just a lingering sense that you may have been born into the wrong century or reality. I’ll take that any day over drunken belligerence.
Coping Method #4: Blunt Honesty. Sometimes, I’ve been surprised by the immense relief in just saying out loud the truth: I don’t want a drink, but I want the relief that taking the first few drinks gives me. Sometimes, that’s enough. And sometimes it’s also enough to just tell the old lady on the bus, “Look, if you’d just said, ‘May I please sit there?’ I’d have readily given you the seat, but since you were so blasted rude about it I’m now doing it with hostility and resentment, you nasty old thing.” And it’s usually enough to say to your partner (or, frankly, whomever), “All I really want to do is shag. No foreplay, please. Today, that would be wasting time.” I can’t explain the power of blunt honesty, but there you have it.
Coping Method #5: Meditation. Look, I know. I’m from San Francisco. We’re a bunch of crunchy hippies out here. And no one knows more than me how nearly impossible it can be for someone with the least amount of cynicism to get much out of a bunch of Sanskrit mantras when your body is crying out for the sweet release of pounding a Cosmo with your girls, and pounding it hard. So I skip the Sanskrit, and I skip the traditional Yoga wisdom because I’m not a yogi, I’m a very confused woman with a lot of shit going on right now, but I do try to give myself a little bit of time in the morning before I turn on the fan and all the shit that hit it a month ago starts flying again. I give myself a little time, I choose maybe one of the meditations from my recovery program (one of the 12 steps would work, too, or something helpful from literature, or something nice someone said to you sometime) and I just let myself think about and around it. I don’t check my email, make lists, or worry during this time. I just try to focus on the lesson at hand. Sometimes it’s, “I am a competent woman and have much to offer,” (from WFS) and sometimes it’s, “Sarcasm and compassion are two of the qualities that make life on earth tolerable.” (That one’s Nick Hornby.)
At the end of the day, I know myself well enough to know that I’m going to give the old college try to everything from pie to pottery to primal screaming, but for now, these coping methods are doing okay by me. And that means, for the time being, I’m doing okay by me, too.