Three years ago around this time, I was in the mood to make New Year’s Resolutions. After all, everyone around me was doing it (or was it was just the people I followed on Instagram?). I had some ideas of being vulnerable inspired by Brene Brown. I had some ideas about being more assertive inspired by, well, men.
And of course, I also had some good, old-fashioned convictions about changing my eating habits. Like maybe I should be less obsessive, and maybe I should lose weight, and maybe by being less obsessive I could lose weight. I was pretty preoccupied by both cortisol and insulin at that time, and had a feeling that if I could only control both, things would be infinitely better.
But there was one resolution that, over the years, I was always scared to make: I was pretty sure I should stop drinking. I hated the feeling of being reliant on alcohol for anything – for relaxation, for fun, for social lubricant, for romance – anything at all. Most of me did not believe I was alcoholic. And yet, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that alcohol was making things worse.
I was terrified about what it would mean to ditch booze. I was 22, and it seemed to me like no one else was sober. (I later discovered that we self-select for people whose drinking habits match our own. That way, everyone gets to feel “normal.”)
So I did the thing that lots of people do when it comes to resolutions: I freaked out, got scared, and made compromise solutions instead.
#1: I won’t drink alone. Drinking alone is for alcoholics. Well, no, I’ll drink alone, but only when I’m getting ready to see people. If I’m drinking alone in preparation for drinking with others, it’s not really drinking alone is it?
#2: I’ll only drink on weekends. That’s normal, right? Everyone drinks on weekends. Hell, there was a while when I was only drinking on weekends accidentally. Couldn’t be that hard.
# 3: I won’t drink mixed drinks! After all, maybe it’s the mixers I really like, and not the alcohol. I’m probably just a hopeless sugar addict.
Did any of these compromise resolutions “work?” No, not really. It turned out that, while drinking straight liquor certainly slowed me down, the consciousness-altering properties of sugar are frankly boring in the face of alcohol. Weekends came to include Thursdays, and that came to include special occasions, and soon after most occasions became special.
As humbling as it is to relive these pseudo-solutions, I don’t regret them. After all, if any of those had worked, that would have been good, actionable data. And the fact that they didn’t work at all is good data too: it turns out that I’m not in control. For me, if alcohol is given a seat at all, it quickly takes the wheel.
About a month after making these resolutions, I did stop drinking. Entirely. It felt nothing like willpower, and a lot like divine intervention. It wasn’t by my own design – but then, the best things never are.