Sobering Up

«The funny thing is, if you’re trying to stop drinking you need something better than alcohol, and alcohol is pretty good. So you better find something a lot better, man.»
Jordan Peterson

The time from end of 2021 to start of 2022 was pretty stressful. Finding out that even people and institutions I respected had no problems violating the dignity and bodily autonomy was … interesting. Time has shown that the quote «at no point in history have the people forcing others into compliance been the good guys» proved right. Still, I would be surprised if there will be any consequences for these people or institutions, even if some people were fine with making «things uncomfortable for the unvaccinated» (incl. at universities!).

But there was another fallout of that stressful time — it wasn’t exactly healthy. Not only regarding staying indoors/in home office and the corresponding lack of movement (unvaccinated were ostracized), but also regarding the amount of alcohol I did drink.

That went a little bit out of hand after 2022 started.

Sure, only after work and on the weekends, but still. First time ever I had to reconstruct what I did on the evening before. And I did not like it. Less «Dude, where’s my car?», more «What the fuck?». Nearly ended a relationship due to an emotional reaction — which I still think was justified — because the cognitive control was … hmmm, «not there anymore».

Reminded me why I was never tempted by hard drugs — it’s just a stupid, stupid idea to remove that control instance altogether. And with certain amounts of alcohol … the effects reach a similar level.

So, with beginning of April 2022, I stopped drinking alcohol.

Looking back what worked/did not work:

  • Not liking myself on alcohol and wanting to change: Basically, I agree that admitting a problem combined with a change in mindset is needed. Akin to losing weight — you have to admit that you are fat, but then see yourself as someone who should be thin and be willing to make it so (that part sucks). I did not like that the unethical behavior of other people — after multiple, sober, attempts to point out the unethical behavior fell on deaf ears — made me want to escape into oblivion. I noticed that it was a bad coping mechanism and started changing things.
  • Stopped caring about what «assholes» think: A bit like «Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.» (William Gibson). Admitting that some people are unethical and stopping to care about them reduced a lot of stress. It allowed me to focus on myself and looking at how to keep my house in order. To stick to my position (and pointing it out publicly) but also accept that, well, many people seem to think differently. To be clear, that is not a condemnation of my social environment as a whole, but only of those unethical people who think that they can ignore personal dignity and make health decisions for other people. Unfortunately with the best intentions, as it makes them blind to the ugly actual consequences. I was (and am) done in giving these assholes that much influence over my life.
  • Going cold-turkey and become a teetotaler: I do not think that drinking in moderation/controlled drinking works. Giving with the effects of drinking alcohol (at least for me), I agree with «one drink is too many and a thousand aren’t enough». So I went «cold turkey» — luckily without the goosebumps, although temperature regulation became a problem for a few days. I expected a reaction and embraced the suck. It was not fun, but worked out.
  • Removing any temptation: I poured away any alcohol I had at home and did not enter the respective aisles in the supermarket. I do not trust willpower — it depletes too fast and I need it for other things. So best avoid the temptation altogether.
  • Breaking the conditioned reactions: It took a few weeks riding the motivational waves of wanting to drink alcohol. «Surfing» the peaks when the desire/motivation was high and not falling down. After all, it was the go-to reaction given the multiple stressors. It helped that overdoing it led to a few violent … uh, bodily reaction, and remembering those instances was very helpful (luckily alcohol is a poison). There still is a risk in certain situations and there were a few close calls. But the waves always break and given that some shit happened in late-2022 — among others, a course which I had improved over seven years was taken from me without any consideration or discussion — I think it works.
  • Finding other things to drink: I rediscovered tea and made sure that I always had hot water available. A thermos with hot water is much more flexible than making a pot of tea, although that often works out as well.
  • Reactivating hobbies/creative projects: I agree with the Peterson quote above — you need something better than alcohol. Short-term it is pretty good. Not only to dumb yourself down to the level of the current environment, but it can also give you the courage to dare some high-risk projects (or rather: remove the fear/concerns, which is not the same thing). But long-term it’s poison and even daring projects can be done without. So I made sure I started a few projects I liked and took up a new hobby (sewing). One of the advantages of having an idea collection (see the book). There are always project ideas available.
  • Dealing with it on my own: Despite the AA-related teaser image of this posting, I decided to deal with it on my own. I like people in 1:1 situations, not groups, and I am especially skeptical of groups that focus on a negative identity. Akin to «underachiever» groups, I cannot understand why someone would join such a group, make that part of one’s identity. Same with people identifying with a label like «manic-depressive», «alcoholic», etc. It treats the issue as unchangeable and you have to remove part of your identity to change yourself, instead of controlling certain behaviors. And if you adjust to the group, why should you improve if that means leaving it? Seems to me that this fictional quote captures the risk very well:

    «Alcoholism is not a disease, it’s a failing. You’ve turned it into a church. You worship the altar of self-pity. I come to these rooms for one reason, to remember what I don’t want to become … helpless, impotent, and weak.»
    Donald Lydecker at an AA meeting in «Dark Angel»

    I wonder whether a more positive overall goal would be better, e.g., some kind of «virtuous life group» — which also as secondary aspect avoids drinking alcohol. Especially for men who need «somewhere to go, something to do, someone to talk to». But then again, I also do not join groups for positive goals either. I just don’t like the usual social power-plays, the ones who are interested in positions of power ending there going on power trips, the frequent compromises, and — more recently — goals being undermined by social justice/woke issues. Still, there were times when a «sponsor» might have been useful, but doing other stuff worked as well (incl. playing computer games). And yeah, the year coin idea is nice (in a gamification-badge-sense).

  • Knowing it will always be just below the surface: Even though it has been over a year since I last drank alcohol, it is and will always be under the surface. I still feel it there. Reminds me of «The West Wing»:

    «How long did it take you to get cured?»
    «I’m not cured. You don’t get cured. I haven’t had a drink or a pill in six and a half years, which isn’t to say I won’t have one tomorrow.»
    «The West Wing»

    But yeah, so far, it works out.

Hmm, and overall, it was not an altogether bad experience. I did learn something — on a guttural, groking kind of level. It was the second time that something foundational went to mush. Something I had seen as a given and never questioned proved to be a mirage. Painful, yeah, bad coping, yeah, but also helpful. Here regarding the respect for the dignity of other people, for personal autonomy and freedom, esp. from an institution (and people working for it) that has «the search for truth» as its main mission, knowing it can never find it. That there are people, more on the managerial/administrative side of research and science, who do not believe in this goal was already obvious from working in science for well over a decade. But the amount of people who went with «the flow» was surprising. That was interesting and pushed a bad coping mechanism over the edge. But after restoring more or less proper functioning, yeah, it has led to a reevaluation of a few things. I am still idealistic, but perhaps even less naive than before.