I often mention to clients that I found it fairly easy to quit smoking when I was in my 20s because I hadn’t incorporated “smoker” as part of my self-image. I went back to smoking in my late 30s and quit again in my 50s. The second time was much harder because I had made smoking part of my identity.
What’s that got to do with drinking?
All of us have behaviors which we acquired as part of our picture of ourselves, or as ways of projecting an image. In smoking ads it’s the Marlboro cowboy and the Virginia Slims athletic – and slim – woman.
With drinking it’s “sophisticated” and “successful” or just fun and cute and sexy or masculine and handsome and so on. Watch a few 1950s movies, all awash with cigarettes and alcohol, or today’s offerings, less tobacco laden but even more sloshed.
In giving up your alcohol abuse you will eventually need to decide how alcohol has become a part of your self-image and how to alter that with one that doesn’t include drinking.
A way to start is to begin observing the people around you who are drinking too much and discovering that their behaviors are actually stupid, that they are aging themselves very rapidly, and that there isn’t anything interesting about them – especially not after we’re all past 40.
Observation is a start, but you also may want to begin crafting an image that actually suits you. Doing so will also help you find other people with real interests, activities, and lives – people who don’t care for an alcohol focused pseudo-life.
It’s also why you’ll want to avoid AA and their only acceptable, limiting, demeaning, and counterproductive identity, “alcoholic.”
How far do you suppose that endlessly rehearsed self-flagellation is going to get you?
As with the drinking, your image is a choice. Pick carefully and you’ll discover that a lot of your life begins to get better quite quickly.
Empowered? Or powerless. Which feels better to you?
“How many years of sobriety do you have?” some AA zealot will ask me.
“Over 60,” I say.
“60!!!!” they gasp in disbelief, “How can that be?”
Like most things in life, it depends on how you count. For over 60 years of my life alcohol wasn’t a problem whether I drank or not.
Absolutely. Your drinking patterns are habits which can either help you succeed in putting alcohol abuse behind you or make it very difficult – just like the contributions that your self-image makes.
30 years of alcohol abuse? Moderating probably isn’t in the cards.
A few years following some avalanche of personal disasters and tragedies along with a history of normal social drinking? Chances are a lot better.
Does your social, recreational, and marital life revolve around drinking? You can figure out the options as well as we can.
In any case, a good rule of thumb is this: If drinking still matters to you after a long period of abstinence, then it’s too soon to try social drinking.
When it no longer matters to you one way or another, well, that may be a different matter.
Ultimately, what does matter is you knowing yourself, knowing your habits and patterns, and not kidding yourself – whether it’s alcohol, motorcycles, mountain climbing, or any other risky behavior that you might want to reconsider returning to after a certain age, amount of experience, or near misses.
“Been there, done that,” is a really good place to park a lot of old activities – activities than can now be replaced with new ones that enhance your life, not old ones that may diminish it again.