“My mother was a drunk” is one of the harshest, saddest sentences in any language. ~Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
That chapter in her book changed my life. She wrote that she never got along well with moderation. Me neither. Moderation and I have yet to become good friends. I’m all-or-nothing, which is my virtue and my vice.
The signs have been coming steadily this year: the advice from people I admire to keep clear minded, and validation delivered in an interview I listened to with David Sedaris; he mentioned that he’s really good at quitting things (in context of his sobriety). Me too.
I’m an excellent quitter and a miserable moderation-ist.
My rock bottom came in the form of my four-foot tall, curly blonde haired, blue-eyed daughter, as I poured a glass of Sauvignon Blanc before sitting down at the dinner table: “Mommy, you drink a lot of wine lately.”
I shrunk to the size of a raisin. I’d never felt more ashamed.
Childhood memories don’t mature into adult perspective, they remain ominous and palpable: the feelings, the images and the smells.
Although most people looking in would tell me, “Oh, kids just say things! You don’t have a drinking problem.” No, it was bigger than that. It was like an observation from G-d, passed through the lips of my innocent child.
I immediately acknowledged her words: “Does it make you uncomfortable that I drink wine?”
I knew the question to ask: “Do you think I change when I drink? Do I treat you differently?”
Phew, ok. I didn’t drink in front of her that night and I apologized that I’d made her feel unsafe. And, I did what any person with a habit they’re not willing to break would do: I waited to drink until after they went to sleep. I’d sit there with a long necked, voluptuous bellied glass of wine and I’d dull out.
Two glasses of wine might seem like nothing to some, but for me it was far too much. Yet, I’d still wake up early and write, albeit in a fuzz. I’d make a healthy breakfast for the girls, check my calendar for the day’s schedule, knowing that one thing I didn’t have to put a reminder for, was the couple glasses of wine I’d have at the end of the day.
I’d go a few nights without it, just to prove to myself I could. How did this happen? I was the girl who lived in San Francisco and didn’t step foot in Napa. When did drinking become my pastime? Even my social calendar became saturated with a glass of wine here and a glass of wine there.
So, a month later, when I read that line in Anna Quindlen’s book, I knew I had to quit. And, just like David Sedaris, quitting was the easy part.
My friends and family look at me skeptically when I tell them I’m no longer drinking, because, to all of them, I don’t have a problem, not like those people: the ones who bash their cars into light poles and stumble into work reeking from a night of partying.
I’m not like that, no. An overt display of sloppy drunkenness may not be my M.O., but I share something in common with those people; I craved the numbing, the distraction, the occupancy of my time, with something that could take me away from what I was really feeling: loneliness. And that is not a reason to drink; it’s the worst reason.
“Drink not to feel better, but to feel even better.” I heard this line in a movie and it stuck with me. That’s how my culture, Judaism sees drinking. It is celebratory, in community, a ritual, in moderation. That’s how I was raised. My mother could barely finish a beer; I rarely remember her drinking except on Shabbat when we’d say the Kiddush (the blessing over the wine).
Fast forward to 2017, I was not drinking to feel even better; I was drinking to feel better.
Most of what we do during the day is a result of repetition. Our actions become ingrained and expected by our psyche and our body; drinking had become that, just like my morning writing sessions.
I’ve gone to a few AA meetings over the years, to observe for a school project and to support a friend.
They go around in a circle and introduce themselves: their first name and their last name, which is the same for everyone: “And, I’m an alcoholic.”
I’ve only had a first name in there. I braced myself for the awkward pause. “Oh, she’s still in denial,” I imagine that’s what they’re all thinking. If I went to a meeting today, I wouldn’t say I’m an alcoholic, because, alcoholism is the symptom of the deeper disease: loneliness.
I’m Rebecca, and I’m lonely.
That’s what I’d say. Even though that’s not how I feel right now, in this moment. However, I know that I’m always on the precipice of jumping back into loneliness. That’s what I’ve learned in my abstinence: I have the ability to switch my loneliness on and off.
There’s a 6-month-old bottle of Prosecco sitting behind the carton of fortified orange juice, unsweetened almond milk and the Brita filter in the fridge. I keep it there on purpose, to remind myself that I have a choice. I have a choice to accompany my loneliness with an escape, or I can sit beside it and recycle it into a different feeling, connection.
And that’s what I’ve done; I’ve turned away from escaping and towards connecting with myself. I’m aware I’m only one heartbeat away from feeling lonely, just like an alcoholic would say they’re always an alcoholic, because, they can pick up that drink at any time.
Since I’ve stopped drinking, really great things are happening. My legs have gotten strong again; I’m walking a lot. My sleep has deepened; the anxiety that I feel has weakened significantly; I’m less reactive; I smile more; my grocery bills have decreased and so have my restaurant bills. I’m producing more and more each day, and that dull fuzz that surrounded me has evaporated. Most importantly, I rarely feel lonely even though I spend most of my time alone these days.
I don’t know if not drinking will be a lifelong thing. Maybe I’ll share a glass of wine with my girlfriend to toast to her good news, or I’ll lift a glass of champagne as my cousin and his new wife cut their cake, but for now, I’ll stick with this, because, quitting has helped me feel more alive than I’ve felt in a very long time.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.