Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and it was one of the nicest celebrations I have ever had with my husband, or anyone for that matter. We don’t normally make a fuss but yesterday was an exception. When I got home from work, Philip made me fabulous dinner of roasted chicken and vegetables (a la Thomas Keller—Ad Hoc at Home) and if that wasn’t enough, earlier that day, he sent flowers to my office. WOW! I was flabbergasted and totally wooed.
During this holiday that is centered on romance and champagne, I found myself thinking of having wine or cocktails after work. The desire for alcohol comes and goes lately more like a puffy cloud that drifts in and out of my mind. The thought does not seem to hold the same weight that it did last month. There is less of a struggle right now. For that, I am very grateful.
Yesterday there were other gifts in my life above and beyond those present to me by my husband. Twice in the course of the evening I was given the opportunity to gain a little more insight into the reoccurring question of dependency, addiction and habit. Having received the results of the Myers-Briggs test that I took at career counseling, I started to read the summary of my Type—Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging (INTJ). Right in the middle of the page was a little gem of verification that summarized something that I had suspected all along:
When under a great deal of stress, the INTJ may be become obsessed with mindless repetitive, sensate activities, such as over-drinking. They may also become absorbed with minutia and details that they would not normally consider important to their overall goal.
In the last month, it has become clearer to me that my drinking had become a habit and reaction to stress. It has been quiet easy for me to give up alcohol for social events. The real difficult moments have come when I am stressed at the end of the day.
Rushed home from work last night. Tried twice to stop for gas and the lines were too long to bother. The reason for this frantic pace was a phone call. I was scheduled to speak with a career counselor and I did not want to be late. I got home on time.
When I walked in the door, my son Christopher was practicing piano (loudly). He has been home from Juilliard on Christmas break and his needs and my needs often collide at this time of day. It is a time when I need quiet and he needs to practice. It activates the inner dialogue—to speak up or suck it up. Tonight, I sucked it up.
In less than one hour, eight people were arriving for dinner. I had to start preparing for the party, and I thought, “I could really use a drink.” My nerves were frayed, and I could not find my quiet, happy place. This was the perfect moment for experimental behavior modification. (I just made up that term.) I thought if I took the action of pouring a drink, it might be a suitable replacement for what I was craving, a cocktail. I got out the bubbly water and pomegranate juice and poured a tall one. Yes, that helped. I stuck with this option for the duration of the dinner party, never missing the wine that was flowing in and out of glasses.
This whole one-year experiment has taught me some thing already. The difficulty with giving up booze is in my mind. I don’t think that I had a physical dependency on alcohol. I believe it is a psychological need and specific scenarios elicit certain responses. In other words, certain situations create the desire to drink. I notice that this happens even when my mind is wondering in a daydream. For example, if I think about having a nice dinner with Philip, say at home in our kitchen, and I picture it in my mind, there is a cocktail in the fantasy–OR when I picture myself at a Leadership or Board event, I am having wine. The alcohol has a specific association. Relaxation and/or fun = drinks. It is as if I will need to record over old tapes to stop this train of thought and habitual thinking.
One of the things that I thought would be most difficult with giving up drinking is going to large events. There are a few fundraisers that we attend every year. We enjoy the mingling, food and drinks that go on at these kinds of parties. This weekend was one of our favorite events and most of our friends attend. This particular event is a big drinking night. The price of the wine and booze is included in the ticket and you often see people grabbing a couple of drinks at a time because the bar is so busy.
As we drove into the parking lot to meet the valet, I wondered if this experience was going to be totally strange and awkward. Would being completely sober take the fun out of the event? Nervousness always proceeds walking into a big room of people and emerging into the social network. It is nice to grab a glass of bubbly and take the edge off. This year the bubbly was going to be sparkling water for this party guest. Sigh.
Much to my surprise, attending this party without alcohol was not really a challenge at all. It was rather interesting to watch the crowd get more inebriated and while I sipped on my water. I was still able to meet new people…in fact it was a little easier since they were drunk and I was not. I remember this feeling from college.( Not liking the feeling of losing control at the time, I never drank in my early twenties.) Attending parties meant watching other people getting drunk and I found it rather boring. My experience this weekend was the opposite. I felt more compelled to talk with people. Clear headedness and lack of sleepiness prevailed and I felt more connected to the crowd. With no bar or getting drinks on which to focus my energies, I talked with people who I hardly knew and lots of folks I had not seen in a long time.
After the party, we went to another party and the social experience was the same. By then, I looked around and thought about how terrible these drunken people would feel tomorrow. I would be waking up ready to get outside for a hike in the woods. Post party days have become like a “bonus days.” A few months ago, I would have lost the day to a pasty headache. Now, I get an extra day to enjoy my life.