What’s it like to go a year without alcohol?
Six months ago I made the decision to go a year without alcohol. Looking back I’m not quite sure what possessed me – or possesses me still.
Even though I’ve never been much of a drinker, it surprised me how attached to drinking I was. The Friday night drinks to unwind after a week’s work. The social drinks when I was in a pub – and everybody’s drinking. The relaxed drinks on a quiet night, all of this had meant alcohol had become my emotional crutch, my solace, my small buzz.
The first month, when I had regular cravings for a drink, was the worst. My caffeine intake went up. My sugar intake went up. But still it felt like there was this hole. One time I saw a lemon and for at least an hour after I couldn’t think of anything but Coronas.
Until I tried to give it up, I didnt realise what alcohol meant to me. Who am I kidding? Still does! I experienced feelings of loss and frustration that first month I went without. Looking back, I find it nothing short of miraculous that I made it through a month. In fact, if I didn’t have a friend also avoiding alcohol, I doubt I would have made it through that first month at all.
But I did make it, and then it got a lot easier. I noticed improvements too. I had more money. My digestion improved. My sleep improved. My mood improved. My weight stabilised. I didn’t experience the same depressive bouts (alcohol is a depressive). And now that I’m halfway through my year-without-drinking, I find that even my mind is clearer and sharper than before.
A big part of yogic living is non-attachment. It is said that through our attachments we create our suffering. Through our grab at pleasure we also grab pain. You cannot have pleasure without pain. You cannot have attachment without suffering. This is the nature of it. I actually have a very fitting analogy of how this is so.
I was sitting, some years back, with a friend of mine. He was somebody I really liked, he was compassionate, funny, charismatic, intelligent, creative, but also deeply unhappy, deeply self-critical, very depressed and a raging alcoholic. This was not his opinion. His opinion was that he had everything under control and he could stop when he wanted to, but just that he didn’t want to.
And we were sitting there drinking lemonade, on an occasion that was becoming increasingly rare where he was dead sober, and he starting comparing his present situation (drinking lemonade with me) to the Trials of Job. So my friend, the poor dear raging alcoholic, had gone to a Catholic school and he knew his biblical stories back to front, and he explained to me that Job was deliberately made to suffer by God to have his faith tested. So what my friend was getting at was that when he couldn’t drink, this was God making him suffer.
I told you he was funny.
His heavy attachment to alcohol (pleasure) meant that in any situation where he was without his object of attachment, was suffering (pain).
Alcoholics are the perfect examples of how suffering is created out of an attachment, because their strong attachment to something creates equally strong suffering, suffering they can both see and not see. Suffering that is both theirs and put onto others around them.
For most of us, our attachment to many things is not going to be this self-destructive, but I meant it to be an analogy to show that our attachment to things brings suffering, and the more we are attached the more we suffer.
Ironically, only through taking something away are we really in a position to get insight on how attached to something we are and how that attachment is causing us to suffer. A lot of people will say that this, that or the other doesn’t effect them (I don’t eat eggs or dairy, so I have many conversations with people all the time telling me that eggs and dairy don’t affect them). But if you’ve never been without something for any significant period of time, how can you possibly know that you wouldn’t be bettter off without it? You actually need to go without something for a significant period of time so that you can really know how it affects you. I say “significant period of time” because there’s the withdrawel phase, and for alcohol that took me an entire month.
Not many people, I hope, will create quite the amount of suffering as my dear Catholic-schooled friend does for himself, but that doesn’t mean that we are not creating suffering for ourselves through our attachments. You might like to think about something you are attached to, it might not be alcohol (lucky you) it might be coffee, sugar, gossip, TV, your phone, chocolate, Facebook, it might even be an idea, a goal or a person – whatever it is, see if you can give yourself a break from it.
After all that I confess, I’m not feeling confident I will make it through summer. I’m very very attached to cold beer and wine on hot days. But still, even if I don’t make it to a full year, I’ve still gained insights into how alcohol is affecting me, what it’s like to have an attachment and most importantly, I’ve also learnt that I can live without it.
What’s it like to go without alcohol for a year? Maybe, maybe I can tell you in six months. Maybe…