At The Shitface

My Year Without Alcohol

I heard that one of the 5 precepts of Buddhism is to refrain from intoxicants. I’m not Buddhist, but I find their mindfulness techniques useful and wondered if following this last precept for a while might lend me some clarity and help me to, either, do the things I have been intending to do, or be at peace with the fact I’ll never do them. I should mention that I often feel uncomfortable when I find myself getting drunk with friends and I feel like there is a bit of a pattern developing, where we aren’t really doing anything, aside from drinking and it’s happening regularly. I knew that I was about to be spending time with a new group of people who definitely drink more habitually than my current circle already do so abstinence was seeming like polite option. The last straw was finishing a 1L bottle of gin (Hi Sal!) between two people and a hangover I felt was going to require a year to recover from.

I was scared about telling people about my new commitment because I had expectations about how they would react. In every case the expectation was worse than reality. Most people didn’t really care and often would regularly forget if I did tell them. People would  ask why I wasn’t drinking and I eventually learnt to have a clear answer ready. Heavy drinkers seem to have more respect if the answer is something like “I drank too much”. If I feel like the person I was talking to wasn’t trying to be too blokey, I would talk about clarity. Some people assume that you’re an alcoholic. I felt the inclination to clarify that I’m not drinking at all, but then you realise that we’re all just tangled up in a big web of assumptions and that squirming around isn’t gonna help.

The first thing that I noticed was that often when I am in a drinking situation, there are new people to meet. Sometimes meeting someone new is easy, I accidentally get started in a conversation and one thing leads to another. Other times I become aware that I haven’t introduced myself to someone, and the longer nothing is said, the more impossible it feels. This happened when I was drinking and it a happened when I wasn’t drinking. The only difference was that once I stopped drinking it became clear to me that I just have to choose if I am going to be social or not. Comfortably social or awkwardly not social, but also awkwardly social or comfortably not social. I read a book about small talk, which I believe has had a lot more of a bearing on my ability to, er, have small talk than getting drunk did. I learned that the perceived positive effects of alcohol are derived from the marketing of specific drinks, rather than personal experience (1). So the same goes for participating and dancing. Sober, I was more likely to recognise a crappy party vibe and change it or leave. Similarly I was able to quickly recognise when the music was right and it was time to channel shapes from another dimension.

There were times that I had flagged for myself that I needed to have an important conversation with a friend, family or associate, only to notice that the person had had a few drinks before encountering them. I would decide that the conversation could wait until next time. For some people though, the same scenario would repeat again, and I became aware that I was loosing confidence in being able to count on them for a straight conversation, whilst being denied the ability to talk about something I thought was important. Is this what I have done to others for 18 years? Sorry.

I learned, in November, that non alcoholic beer exists. It’s nice to be able to separate the craving for a tasty cold drink on a hot day or after work from the side effects of diminished brain functionality. You could literally drink and drive. Actually, thinking about diminished cognitive ability is not something that I could really do while I was a proponent of it. It’s one of those things that you can be told about, but you don’t learn it… Especially while you’re actively reducing your capacity to learn.

I noticed that I loose a lot of time to drinking and recovering. through out this year I have been ticking off a lot more things from my to-do list. I never put ‘get drunk’ on my lists, it just seems to be the default thing if you don’t plan anything. I see the merit in planning group games, music and activities so that people don’t have idle hands.

I saved a lot of money. It’s amazing to grab a $50 note on your way out to meet people at a pub and then find the same $50 note in your pants when you’re taking them off.

A few people have asked if I am going to start drinking again; I don’t have a pact that I won’t, but I have definitely changed my ideas about how frequently I want it to happen. I feel confident about all this too which is weird since I haven’t been taking my courage medication…