By Michael Kimmel
It’s probably not what you think: I don’t have a problem with drinking. Before I stopped, I rarely had more than two drinks on any occasion and I often didn’t drink anything alcoholic for a week or two. So why have I stopped then?
Years ago, a wise friend asked me, “Why do you want to numb your senses with alcohol? Don’t you want to know what’s really going on?”
I was so surprised to hear her say this that I didn’t have an answer. Later, I thought, “I sometimes numb myself with a couple of drinks because I don’t want to feel pain, loneliness, shyness, worry or social anxiety … that’s why.”
And I ignored my friend … for several years. But, in my heart, I knew she was right.
I want to think more clearly and not numb myself out; even one drink’s worth. I want to be able to function in this world without some “thing” to help me be more social, more relaxed, or less nervous at a party.
Last year a client of mine, a very high-functioning guy, decided that he was going to stop drinking “for a while,” to see what would happen and who he would be without the alcohol. He found out and — after a few months of not drinking — now drinks more moderately and mindfully. His experiment inspired me to try mine.
Circumstances helped me: I had a fun time in Texas over the holidays but got sick coming home on the plane. I was sick for about two weeks and didn’t eat (or drink) much of anything during that time. When I felt better, I went out with a friend to celebrate being healthy again and I had a margarita with my meal. I enjoyed it at the time, but, later, felt awful … from one lousy margarita! So, I decided not to drink until I felt healthier.
Then I decided that I wanted to try an experiment: What if I quit drinking for a month? Wouldn’t it be interesting to go out with friends and not drink to “take the edge off”? To go to a party and not drink to “numb my shyness away”? To not have a glass of wine at the end of a long day to “relax”? To go to a bar with friends and just drink tonic water and lime?
It wasn’t a big “eureka!” moment. It was more like: “Let’s try this and see what happens.”
I’ve noticed how much of my social world is connected to alcohol: wine with dinner and cocktails with friends and drinks to celebrate someone’s achievement or birthday. It can be a bit awkward to not join the gang when everyone’s ordering their drinks. It can bring on questions like, “What’s up with you?” or “Why no drink?”
I’ve heard my friends and clients in recovery tell me this stuff for years now, but now, I’m experiencing it myself.
I don’t think alcohol was a problem for me, but I admit that I’ve used it to not feel unpleasant emotions. And, when I was feeling good, it made me feel a little “high,” for a while, anyway. I’ve never had any concerns about my alcohol consumption and have worked with many clients who’ve really struggled with addictive drinking.
I never struggled … I’d just quietly numb out my social anxiety, loneliness, or boredom with a drink or two, rarely more.
Well, a month of total sobriety passed last week and I’m still continuing this experiment. I’m not sure how long this will last. Another week? A month? A lifetime? All I know is that I am learning a lot about myself and finding new ways to work with unpleasant emotions, that before, I used alcohol to modulate to a more comfortable level.
You might want to try an experiment of your own: What would happen if you stopped drinking for a weekend, a week, or a month? Would you find new ways of being less anxious? Could you enjoy going out with friends in a new way? Could you enjoy being at Rich’s or Gossip with a tonic water and lime?
Just asking …
— Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.