On my last Halloween as a drinker, I went to a costume party dressed as Janis Joplin. But of course. At this point, I had been exploring my relationship with alcohol for a few years. I was exploring periods of not drinking. “Sober experiments” as I called these alcohol time outs. Then I would also have periods of drinking again. Maybe escalated drinking with worse and quicker consequences than before my alcohol time out. I was trying to figure out how to keep alcohol in my life without killing myself or pissing off anyone that I love. This was an incredibly tricky thing to navigate. Trying desperately not to be addicted to an addictive substance, while still consuming the legal and celebrated drug that is alcohol.
On this particular Halloween, where I was drinking, but also working to be less of a drinker, I had signed up to run a 10K race bright and early the following day. I did this because I wanted to be a healthy person. I wanted to be the kind of person that woke up early and ran races, even after a holiday. I wanted to be the kind of person that prioritized things above drinking. So I was practicing this lifestyle. I had one foot in both worlds’ as I was figuring this out.
If you are working to drink less or not at all, I want you to know that it’s a process. At the time, I thought my drinking again was a failure. Each time I drank again, I thought that was proof that I couldn’t stop drinking, but it wasn’t. It was all leading me to where I am now, someone who no longer desires to drink alcohol. It happened gradually. It is not a single event, but instead a series of experiences, decisions, and slight shifts over time.
Looking back on this last drunken Halloween, I can see I was there. Smack dab in the middle of my quit drinking success. I just didn’t see it yet, because I happened to be drinking at the time.
All these experiences were part of my process to get to nearly 5 years sober and thrilled about it. Each stop + start drinking experiment was really getting me closer to my goal. That is how goals are achieved. It is not a linear process and this is precisely what that means. It means you ARE still making progress even if you took a step back or had a slip, or don’t have it all figured out just yet. It means don’t judge yourself by a setback and instead just keep going, knowing there indeed will be setbacks. Don’t expect perfection. Let it be messy. Keep going anyway. I am shouting now, I hope you can hear that through the page.
On this Halloween 2017, dressed as Janis Joplin, I did what anyone who drinks too much tries to do. That is, I tried to moderate. Meaning, I wanted to drink the right amount. I wanted to drink, but not drink too much, or drink too fast. I had many strategies for this.
I gulped a glass of water in between drinks. I forced myself to eat something. I counted my drinks, until I didn’t. I planned to leave early, and sort of did. I busied myself with conversation. I I kept my eyes on the goal of waking up and feeling good for my run, and still having fun at my Halloween costume party. I committed to sticking to my goal. My strategy was to follow all the rules. The same rules that had never worked before.
Somehow even after following, All. The. Rules. I found myself landing at home a little later than expected, a little drunker than planned. I woke up the next morning dragging myself out of bed. I considered canceling, but I did run that race. I was cleary still a combination of both drunk and hungover, having just a few hours between bedtime and wake up. I felt awful, but I was proud that I did it. Got out of bed that is. The slap of cold air in the early morning, and pushing my body beyond its limits seemed to be a good balance to the drunkenness. I sometimes prided myself that I could punish my body by drinking too much and still show up to push myself (untrained) to run a mediocre race the following day.
It felt like a super power to be a drunk and a runner. I always had the excuse that my time could have been better, because I barely tried. I only half way showed up so I didn’t have to try my best or report back to myself any actual failure. Much easier to say “I didn’t even try.”
The thing that has changed in getting sober is that I let myself fail. I don’t call it the end when I do. I understand that failing is essential to the learning process.
I accept that failure is proof of trying on the road to success and nothing else.