April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a national observance created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. As part of this observance, much has been published about the evils of alcohol – the dangers of drunk or even tipsy driving, increased incidence of sexual assaults in association with alcohol, and health risks, including fetal alcohol syndrome, certain cancers, and liver problems.
I’ve seen stories on other common but rarely discussed health and social issues associated with alcohol such as sleep disturbances, excess calories, the financial drain, and it’s effect on sex and relationships.
All of these are important things to consider, but what I love about the idea of a month dedicated to alcohol awareness is about the individual. True awareness, in regard to alcohol consumption or anything else for that matter, begins with awareness of oneself.
If alcohol is something that’s on your mind, why not ask yourself the following questions:
- What does alcohol mean to you?
- What does it do for you?
- What purpose does it serve?
- What are your questions and struggles regarding alcohol?
- How does it make you feel?
- How does it make your life better?
- And how does it make your life worse?
In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron says:
Everybody is different. Everybody’s middle way is a different middle way; everyone practices in order to find out for him- or herself personally how to be balanced, how to be not too tight and not too loose. No one else can tell you. You just have to find out for yourself.
Two major themes in this text come through for me: (1) everyone’s middle way is different and (2) you are the only one who can find the correct balance for yourself. This is endlessly applicable. Certainly to meditation practice, as it was intended, but also to love, work, sleep…whatever!
And alcohol. There is no one right answer for everyone. Sometimes when people stop drinking they start to see alcohol use as problematic in every incarnation. Using their own experience as the primary teacher, some people feel that others cannot drink without it becoming problematic.
I am not one of those people. My experience has shown me that the issue is much more complex. There is a vast gray area in which such black or white interpretations don’t always fit the bill.
I struggled for many years because my drinking didn’t fit the black or white definitions I had in mind of the alcoholic (who had to stop drinking) or the moderate social drinker (who could continue). Ultimately, I had to admit to myself that I was never going to find an answer out there and that I had to decide for myself. The middle way for me turned out to be stopping. For some other people, this might also be the right answer while for others it might be possible to keep drinking.
Only you can truly know what is the best choice for you. No one – not me, not your recovering alcoholic aunt who found God and AA, not the friend you meet every Wednesday for cocktails who doesn’t think you have a problem – can make this decision for you.
In First Thought, Best Thought, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says:
Buddhism doesn’t tell you what is false and what is true, but it encourages you to find out for yourself.
You don’t have to be Buddhist to see the wisdom in that.