Ever wonder, “Do I have a drinking problem?” This Guest Blog written by Benjamin Sledge was originally posted on HeartSupport.com. In it he examines his own relationship with alcohol.
When everything revolves around booze or happy hour when does the party stop?
It’s the blond girl from the gym. The one you’ve stared at for almost three months, wishing you had the courage to ask her out. But like every other moron waiting their turn to get on a bench press (and grunt), all you can hope is that she looks your way while you knock out a few measly reps.
“So stupid,” you mumble to yourself.
Later, you find her in the cardio room jumping rope like a pro while her six-pack abs glisten with sweat. You pick up a jump rope, because hey, you need to knock out some double-unders (which most other people can’t do. She’ll be impressed). Instead, you get tangled up, trip yourself, and sprawl forward while she stifles a giggle. You play it off like you meant to trip (like that’s ever worked), then move on to another exercise while you mentally lash yourself.
A month later during tricep day is where you muster the courage to say hello. She smiles and says hello back. Then it’s small talk. Before you know it, she’s given you her number and you’re planning on meeting up the next day for Halloween at a local bar.
The Big Night Is Here
Halloween night you get nervous. Any courage you had in that spine of yours drained itself hours ago. So you take the edge off and have drinks before she arrives. “A few won’t hurt and will make me more interesting,” you assure yourself. When she’s late you order more drinks with your friends, who are already skeptical of the mysterious blonde gym girl they don’t think exists.
When she arrives almost 45 minutes late, you’re confident. You have the right words and that old shyness has melted into a hint of mystery.
There’s just one problem. You’re drunk. You’re also dressed like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and decide — since it is Halloween after all — to stay in character and talk like a pirate.
The evening does not go well.
During most of college and throughout my twenties I noticed my life revolved around happy hour, or planning my weekend around getting drunk with friends. I figured after college I’d be a responsible adult and curb the drinking (as would everyone else). Instead, alcohol became a coping mechanism after a hard week at work or the social lubricant needed to go on a date. The story about the girl from the gym on Halloween? It actually happened. When I returned to the gym the following week, she wouldn’t speak to me (and rightly so. I also threw up in a trash can in front of her).
After that incident I curbed my drinking but found I still needed it to “have fun.” I couldn’t go out with friends and be the only one not drinking! Volleyball was lame if I couldn’t drink a beer after a grueling match.
Over time, I noticed a trend among coworkers and friends. After every drinking episode, we would recount our stories of mass stupidity and hangovers as if we had the best time in the world.
In college, my brother’s friend woke up in a Spiderman costume after a hard night of drinking. He was also in a van he didn’t own, and it wasn’t Halloween.It was the middle of February. We all laughed and played it off as one of those “gee golly” moments.
Work was similar. One Wednesday evening, happy hour turned half my office into smashed zombies who danced on tables, ate Burger King at 1am, and slept under our desks so we could be on time for work in the morning. We told that story for years at happy hour.
The thing I realized was this: Alcohol always promised happiness in the next drink. The next drink I’ll have the perfect buzz. The next drink I won’t be so nervous. But that perfect buzz and the promise of happiness eluded me as it has for so many others. Instead, chasing the dragon leads to embarrassing stories about things we would have never done sober under the guise of “well, now it’s just funny.” In the interest of fairness, some stories told are amusing and absurd. What’s not is the inability to say “no” to a drink (or getting drunk) to have a good time.
What You Can’t Give Up Owns You
One afternoon I sat listening to a friend’s presentation about social media. During his talk, he said one simple line that has resonated deeper than many lyrics have over the course of my life. He said:
“Anything you can’t give up owns you.”
While he was talking about the way we’re attached to our mobile devices and screens, that deep truth sprouted hooks and squeezed my heart.
Years earlier, I took a good, long look at why I drank. When I discovered I couldn’t have fun without it, I knew something was wrong. At one point, I remember having anxiety about not being able to drink with friends because I was on antibiotics. My life — as well as most of the people I knew online — revolved around happy hour or a boozy party with friends. Hard days at work, tests, the GMAT, kids, or any other stressful event became another reason to call up your friends for drinks. Observing this, I had the creeping realization I might have a problem with alcohol. I didn’t “enjoy a glass of wine on the weekend with friends.” Instead, I would “rally the friends so we had an excuse to drink.” The more I looked around me and online, the more I saw the same situation playing out for numerous others.
I ended up giving up alcohol with the help of a friend who saw the poor decisions I was making. While alcohol isn’t inherently bad or destructive, my choices with it were. Alcohol became the puppet master, and I was dancing to the strings attached.
Sober Life Was Fun
What I discovered was that sober life was fun. I tried new things instead of planning a meetup at the bar. I went skeet shooting. Once, I traveled to eat famous Texas barbecue. I started reading and writing more. I still went to the bar with friends, but would order a soda water and lime and drive people home. I had just as much fun as compared to the times I was drinking. After a long period away from alcohol, I learned how to have a drink and even got into the craft brewing scene. I learned to respect alcohol and enforced healthy boundaries around it. The thought of waking up on the weekends with Metallica playing the loudest show ever in my head had lost its appeal.
But what if I was deluding myself into thinking I didn’t have a problem? So I began an experiment.
Every January I give up alcohol and see whether it’s “owning me.” If I find myself thinking about how bad it sucks not to have a drink on the weekend or at a party, then perhaps I need more time away. For the past few years, I haven’t missed it at all. This year I even decided to go without it for a few extra days. Sometimes in the middle of the year I don’t drink for an extended time just to check in.
If you too find your life revolves around happy hour or events with booze to have fun, maybe take a month to see if it’s owning you.
You just might need a few weekends sober to finally start living.
Content Used with Permission from HeartSupport.com. View Original Content at Weekend Drinking with Friend Might be More of a Problem than You Think