God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niebuhr
How to live 100 days without alcohol?
I don’t know the answer. I only made it to day 53.
The 53rd day was last Wednesday, June 25, the day after my father-in-law’s funeral. Mary Beth and I went to her father’s beach house to spend the day with her brothers and sisters before heading back to Kansas.
We wanted to use this day to begin healing. The beach has a distinct calmness about it. The repetitive sound of the waves brushing up on the shore before retreating back into the ocean is a reminder there is still some measure of certainty and predictability left in this world. While we can never be sure what each day may hold for us, we can be comforted by certain rules of Nature which will always remain true. It just happens another rule of Nature’s is one day we will all return to the sea. So, we gathered to comfort each other and to be comforted.
Late in the afternoon, and completely exhausted by the emotional and physically toil the last five days had on my mind, body and spirit, I craved a beer. A cooler was brought down a few hours earlier that further exacerbated my temptation.
The big blue box stared at me all day. I knew the moment it was placed in the sand that it would be only a matter of time before I would reach my hand down into the ice and find another kind of calmness; and comfort.
The first sip was better than I expected. The sensation from the alcohol seemed to overtake my body immediately. I become intoxicated, not by the effect from a couple gulps of beer, but by the freedom to be drinking again. I did not feel shame or guilt. There were no rationalizations or excuses. I was fully present in the moment and aware of my actions.
My father-in-law’s sudden death did not cause me to drink again – I made the deliberate and conscious choice to open the beer and end my 100 day journey.
There is a lot of gray between the black and white
At dinner that night, I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir and then searched my brother-in-law’s kitchen for a wineglass. Holding the glass before pouring the wine, it become clear how a glass of wine can be both a source of pleasure and a source of pain – depending on your point-of-view. Life can be complicated at times; my life has been complicated at times.
When I graduated from college and moved out of my parent’s house, I struggled with understanding how to establish, and respect, healthy boundaries. For me, it was often difficult knowing how much was too much compared to when I was practicing self deprivation and punishment. I lived in a black and white world for the first 21 years of my life. The world of gray was a surprise.
The presence of alcohol in my house was never a surprise. Bourbon was bought by the half-gallon and replenished every couple of days. Large, black plastic tumblers were used; I suppose to hide the color density of what was inside.
This was my normal and this is how I drank, too. When I met Mary Beth and began spending more and more time with her family, I soon learned my internal compass had to be recalibrated to a new normal. To be honest, I have spent the past 23 years recalibrating and I will be recalibrating for the next 45 years as well. Life is a process after all.
Living with alcohol somewhere in the gray
Shifting from the black to the white over the 53 days was challenging. However, I have discovered some important things about myself. The most significant thing I have discovered is I want to learn how to live with alcohol – somewhere in the gray:
• I feel better physically. I have more energy in the morning and I have even dropped a few pounds and at the same time, I miss having a beer at a ballgame or with my wife on Friday afternoons after work.
• Looking back over my past actions, it has become clear that drinking was becoming a dangerous habit. Every time we went out to dinner, I ordered a beer, or a glass of wine, or both. After Andrew’s baseball games, I would insist we eat at restaurants that served alcohol and at the same time, I want to learn how to drink appropriately. I want to learn how to have the occasional drink at the appropriate time and at the appropriate place.
• Several alcoholics can be found in my family tree. It may be in my genes, too, but so far I have escaped the disease. One could make the case since I didn’t last the full 100 days I’m only kidding myself or denying my own reality. Perhaps, and at the same time, I do believe I have control over my life without being handicapped by an addiction.
Drinking from the complicated glass
I placed the wineglass on my brother-in-law’s bar and filled it more than halfway with the Pinot Noir. I swirled the glass in a circular motion before bringing it to my lips. The current created by the movement made it appear as though the wine was about to head back to sea – just like the waves after landing on shore. I was afraid the wineglass was about to take me with it.
At that moment, I did feel shame. Not earlier on the beach while drinking my first beer in 53 days, but holding the second drink and knowing there would be a third before the night was over.
I realized there is a lot more I still need to learn about myself. I realized that rather than passing judgments, I need to learn how to forgive the sins of my mother and extend the same mercy and grace to myself. It’s not my fault my mother is an alcoholic. There’s a certain simplicity about forgiveness that can make things feel less complicated.
What happens in our past, when we are children, can indeed complicate our present; our here and now. It’s frustrating that while I enjoy the taste of a fine wine or a cold beer, there still has to be so much baggage associated with the pleasure. Why can’t I just be and enjoy? Why do I have to worry about the consequences or how I feel about myself for not making it to day 100?
The answers may live in the gray – the space that is neither right nor wrong, but just is for each one of us. My hope is the gray I am beginning to see is not being clouded by the black or is in danger of being swept away by the white.
Get out from under the cloud of addiction. Learn how to get sober from alcoholism.