Hi, my name is Jenna and welcome to Drinking to Distraction, my blog about quitting drinking, what I lost, and what I gained. “Hi, Jenna.”
Many of us use various distractions. For some it’s TV or video games; for others it’s shopping, work, or even certain relationships. My distraction of choice was alcohol, wine at first and eventually the stronger stuff. I used alcohol for many of the same reasons other people drink: to take the edge off, to relax, to celebrate certain passages and mourn others. Drinking distracted me from my loneliness, my ambivalence, my fears, and the inevitable empty spaces in life. Alcohol filled those empty spaces, if only temporarily, and helped me pass many difficult times.
Gradually, I realized I was using alcohol differently than the average moderate drinker and that alcohol was occupying an ever-increasing role in my daily life. I started to wonder what I was missing by using booze to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings; I became curious about what was behind those feelings and what I might learn if I were to simply experience them unmedicated. More than five years ago, I decided to remove the distraction of alcohol from my life and see what emerged in its place. This blog is about that journey.
I hope that Drinking to Distraction will serve several purposes:
(1) First as a repository of some of the thoughts I’ve collected over the years, from the times I’d sit at a bar, martini in hand, and say “Maybe I should think about my drinking,” to the quitting process and the years that have followed.
(2) Second as a forum for others to share their experiences with problem drinking, regardless of whether they are actively drinking, trying to cut back, or have 9 or 90 or 9000 days of sobriety.
(3) Third to explore this concept of distractions and the ways we use them to avoid living an aware or authentic life.
I’d love to hear from you. Email me at [email protected].
thank you for this blog. i’m seriously thinking about quitting drinking myself right now, since i know beyond a shadow of a doubt that i am an alcoholic – though i too haven’t really been hurt by it (other than physically and financially). i appreciate your insights.
Thank you for sharing, Caleb. Interesting that you feel you haven’t been “really hurt” by your drinking but do feel that it has hurt you physically and financially. Perhaps the physical and financial hurts are less dramatic or remarkable but perhaps they’re also the most damaging? I hope you get the help and support you need to do what’s best for you.
Hmm. I found your blog through the Salon article “The Hardest Point About Quitting Drinking is Dating.” I fell in love with a woman (I’m lesbian) who drank socially. She had no problem with alcohol and could have a drink or two and stop. I had never been a drinker up until then, but started to look forward to wine with dinner and at social events. We have gone our separate ways, but I am still drinking. I lived for two years in a Buddhist retreat center and drank nothing and gave up smoking at the same time. But, once I got back into the regular world, I started drinking socially again. I rarely had alcohol in the house, but only drank when I went to an event or dinner. Recently, I realized that I was spending a lot of time thinking about alcohol. On the way home from work, I find myself thinking about what I would like to drink when I get home or where I might go to have dinner and a drink. Drinking has not impaired my work life and it seems to be compatible with my social life, which often takes place in small local neighborhood bars with bar friends. But, recently I have found myself waking up in the morning without a memory of getting home, brushing my teeth, changing my clothes or watching a streaming movie or podcast. I am not wrecked in the morning. I am not physically impaired. But, the memory loss and crashing worry me. When I drink, I just keep drinking. Last night I went to my favorite bar after watching the new MetOpera HD series featuring “Nixon in China” at a theater. I loved the opera and was really happy. Soooo, I then went to my local neighborhood bar and had a shot of Tiquila and two beers. Then I had some food and a glass of white wine. I left and went to a friend’s house to see how he was doing after surgery and then went home and had a beer and watched a movie. It was a manageable evening. Sometimes, when I am drinking at home, I can finish off a bottle of wine in an evening. If I am at, say, a gallery opening, I have no idea how much I drink. I just drink as long as I am there. And then go to dinner and have more drinks, almost always wine, every once in a while scotch or a mixed drink. Although when I have liquor in the house, I just drink it until it is gone usually over one week. If alcohol is in the house, I drink it. I know the feeling of well-being I have at a certain point when the buzz kicks in. I feel great when that sense of “ease” comes over me. I keep thinking that Europeans drink regularly without problems. So can I. But, I notice that the Europeans drink with meals, for the pleasure of the combination of food and wine. We (I) drink for the pleasure of drinking. If there is food, the food is a an excuse for another drink. I am not a smashing drunk. I don’t fit at AA, where people confront life threatening addictions. I am in no particular danger, but the drinking feels askew. And I say this knowing that I drink less than others I hang out with. It is more like I am a binge drinker and the consumption is becoming more regular with less time in between. Too, everyone I know drinks. If I quit, I would have to quit my friends. The bar friends would not be as difficult to leave as my friends with whom I share great food and wonderful conversation about the things I love, art, music, pop culture, politics, design. These friends do not hang at the bars, but are more communal, at-home drinkers. Everyone I know drinks. It is not that they would not support my choice to not drink. They would. But, the whole dynamic changes. Forgive me for this messy rambling. I just needed to put words to this arising concern. Your blog gave me a way to give it a voice. Thanks for the surprise of finding your blog this morning. Thanks for being willing to be so public and vulnerable.
Thanks for sharing, Isabella. Sorry I didn’t respond sooner; I wanted to give your comment some real thought. I really identified with what you wrote. There were so many reasons I drank: to celebrate, commiserate, pass the time, mark milestones. I drank when I was happy, sad, in love, heartbroken, bored, you name it! For some, this could be fine but for me, it was concerning. I too placed more emphasis on the booze than on the people and events around me. I too experienced some of the blackouts you mention. Those are reasons to pay attention to this issue. For those of us with less “extreme” alcohol issues, it can be even more difficult to determine what the right path is. Maybe you’d be interested in checking out two really good resources:
1. Sober for Good, by Anne Fletcher
2. The Drinking Diaries blog
Your comment also made me think about the different ways some people view alcoholism: some see it as a progressive disease while others give more weight to the element of choice retained by each individual. The AA route to recovery seems to favor the former definition while I and some others favor the latter. Check back in the next weeks for my interview with Dr. Petros Levounis, who runs the addiction institute of New York. And thank you again for your thoughtful comment.
A former teacher of mine introduced me to your blog a few months ago. Almost 2 years ago, I left my husband and filed for divorce. Last summer, I moved from PA (where I had lived my entire 30 years of my life) to Boston to try to find myself again and start over. Before I moved, I was drinking every night – I was miserable and self medicating. I wasn’t getting out of hand with it, but enough that it bothered me. Moving, I thought, was going to help me to stop self medicating. It did for the first few months of living here, but as homesickness and other relationship problems set in, I found myself walking home from the T on too many occasions, wondering what I wanted to go home and drink that night – not eat, but drink. To live outside one of the greatest cities in the US (in my opinion) that is loaded with fabulous food, it bothered me that I was more concerned about the cheap bottle of wine or liquor I was going to purchase. Your blog has helped me tremendously in overcoming a lot of my self medicating actions. For me, I use a lot of different ways to self medicate, all of which just point to my denial of what’s really my problem – fear of being alone. I applaud you for putting yourself out there like this, and i thank you for it, as it’s been a great help to me. :)
Darby, thank you so much for this comment. I apologize for not responding sooner. I think I dreamed that I had. Anyway, your comment really touched me. I definitely identified with what you wrote. First, my orientation was always more about the drink than about the people, places, food, whatever. It bothered me how much I was actually missing. Second, I have also made major life changes (ie, moving) with the hope I might leave some less savory aspects of my self/life/problems behind, only to find that they followed me. They’re not going anywhere and the only hope I’ve had of change has been to change how I relate to them. Lately I’ve been rereading Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You, which contains some Buddhist thoughts on fear, uncertainty, etc. I’ve found it very helpful. I am overjoyed that anything I’ve written has been useful to you. I will keep it up. Best wishes to you.
I happened across your blog on Susan Piver’s website. It’s one of those synchronicitys that surprises me. I’m very much like Isabella. I’m realizing more and more that although drinking itself isn’t hurting me in any obvious ways, that it’s become too large of player in my life. I’ve told myself that I would quit drinking for 30 days, and I can’t even seem to stick to that. This to me indicates a problem. I love wine and the thought of giving it up makes me sad. I’m very interested in reading what you say and thank you for putting your thoughts out there for others to read and reminding us that we aren’t alone.
Thank you for your comment, Jennifer. I also wonder about those serendipitous things – do they pop up when we need them most or are they waiting there until we notice them? Your words are so familiar to me – I have been there: first the noticing of alcohol’s evolving role, then the failed attempts at cutting back. I also understand the sadness you feel when you think about giving up wine. I just returned from a vacation with my boyfriend where there were several occasions I missed drinking – not necessarily the alcohol but the shared experience. There are always trade-offs, and in this case I know I made the right decision but that doesn’t mean it always feels good. I wish you the best and hope you are able to do what’s right for you.
Thank you so much for writing, for speaking with such raw truth and such clarity. In you, I see myself and I am profoundly grateful.
Thank you, Katherine. This is therapeutic for me. So glad to know it is helpful.
Hi Jenna. I found your blog through Susan Piver’s and wanted to let you know you’re a beautiful writer. I identify with your struggles with alcohol but the primary reason I find myself checking your blog pretty regularly is because your posts are so thoughtful and wonderfully written. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you so much for your kind words and for reading. Best wishes!
I just read about your website from the new issue of Shambhala Sun. Ah, drinking. I am afraid to really face what my own drinking has meant in my life. Although I am almost 40, married with one sweet little girl, it still has a presence that means more than it should. On paper, it is nothing to be too concerned about. Inside though, it is– I am most comfortable around people who drink, at least a little. I crack jokes about those who don’t. I try to tie this in with where I am from (the midwest), how I grew up (middle class), being raised Irish-Catholic. When with friends from college we laugh about parties where one of us did something silly while intoxicated. Why is this funny? Does it make us closer? Is this really the glue that ties us all together? It is not congruent with other health goals I have and feels so hypocritical. I feel weird even writing this! If I am looking honestly at the trajectory, things really picked up steam when I worked at a fine dining restaurant/bar in graduate school. I started drinking vodka- too many stories here- the whole culture of the place was centered around not just drinking but getting drunk. I was in it up to my eyeballs. It fit me. After graduation, I moved away to a new town where I knew very few people, very far away. What is the first thing I did? Hooked up with the bartender from my favorite local bar. Broke up with him after two months. I can see now that I was terrified during that transition but didn’t know it at the time. That was ten years ago and the details of my life are very very different now, but that girl is still in there. Anyway, thank you. Thank you for creating this space!
And thank you for reading and sharing your story. I think we often find ourselves creating space for what seems to work but that changes over time. At some point I got tired of accommodating drinking; something changed and I realized what I thought I was doing to enhance my life was actually taking away from it. It’s been a long and complicated journey but somehow it makes perfect sense. Thank you again!
Interesting to pop into this blog. You know, from personal experience I might add that drinking can be tamed and stopped. I had a person in my family with heavy problems, and after a few year’s there’s been such positive change in his life. Sry if my english is bad :)