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Here's to being present

Photo by Isabelle Burroughs

It's been four years since I’ve consumed alcohol. I don’t know that I’ll never drink again, but the break has been nice, and I realize now that stopping was one of the many ways that I consciously and unconsciously prepared for this second act of my life.

My drinking was a problem, but not to anyone in my life. Just to me. I agonized over it because I couldn’t nail it down to something manageable for myself. I drank to relax and feel more comfortable socializing, but I didn't stop when that state had been achieved. For years, I would decide I was going to drink less, not drink at all, only drink on weekends, drink only red wine, or drink out of smaller glasses. Nothing worked. No matter what vow I made, I broke it about two days in. Once I thought I’d mastered it when I decided I would drink only two glasses of wine a day. Soon I realized that two glasses was the exact number it took for me not to care how many glasses I drank.

Then, I turned 60. I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. I thought about taking a big trip, running a marathon, or hiking some famous trail. Nothing struck me in the way I wanted it to, which was to say, “Hey, I’m getting pretty old here, but I still have an amazing life.” That’s when it occurred to me that I would wash my chardonnay glass and put it on the shelf. I didn’t tell people at first, but only because I wanted to be able to go back to drinking without judgment if things didn’t work out as I hoped they would. And sure enough, when I did tell people, it was the words of a close friend that kept me from coping with a particularly stressful day by opening a bottle of Kendall-Jackson. Now I meet my evenings with a wine glass full of Fresca.

What I wanted when I quit drinking was to stop the negotiating about it in my head. I was tired of chastising myself for drinking too much, and sick of making another goal and not following through. What I got instead was something I hadn’t planned for and definitely the best tool I could ask for as I wander this new trail of being retired and free. Quite simply, I’m conscious and awake—more than I ever was for the more than 40 years I drank alcohol. My chattering brain is not necessarily quieter, because that’s just who I am, but I can sort through its meanderings much more comfortably than before. And, of course, which sobriety and emotional presence, I also get some uncomfortable situations that I might like to dull out. But, at this point, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

I imagine myself drinking again sometime, like the next time I’m sitting at a café on Boulevard Saint-Michel or celebrating a book contract in New York, but those fantasies just keep me from feeling deprived. For the time being, I’m celebrating getting to notice and remember these days, the ones that are not jam-packed with the politics of work and difficult people. These are pretty rich times, you know, and getting to be here for them feels good.

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