I had a friend call me the other day. I was on my way home from work. There was no, “Hey, what’s going on?” It was “Where are you?” I could tell from her tone there was a need. I was tired as I was driving home. I had yet to go to the store, pick up a few things for my mom. She needed toilet paper, donuts, and juice. But toilet paper, donuts and juice are not crisis items (well, maybe one of them is) but I blew off the store and my mom and went to see my friend.
I hadn’t told this friend that I wasn’t drinking yet, but since we all run in similar circles I assumed those whispers had reached her ears. But still, when she asked if I could meet her I said “Absolutely, but just so you know I’m not drinking.” “I know.” she said. “This isn’t about getting together for a glass of wine.” So we met at a park. In the beginning of our conversation she said she was having a tough time and many things began spilling out, and then I added to the puddle so instead of cleaning it up we splashed around in it for a while.
My friend and I talked what being in our 50’s is like. We talked about parents getting older, and losing them. We talked about identifying ourselves as somebody’s mom, and then all of a sudden we are left with a quieter home and figuring out who we are if we aren’t wiping asses, packing lunches, anguishing over moody teenagers, shuffling to and from sports practices. We talked about the kids leaving home, moving away and forming their own lives. We talked about our husbands and changing relationships. I listened, and took all of her in, and I shared. But when she shyly opened up about her worries about her drinking I thought, aha. This is why she chose me to be with today. And I was honored that she felt comfortable enough to discuss it with me. I know I wish I had had a close friend that quit drinking, so I could quietly talk about my own drinking and worries.
I heard all about plans for moderation at the park at a picnic bench as we heard kids laughing and sweating on swings nearby. I swear she was speaking my words that I had thought of and written down in journals over and over again. I’m sure most can relate, so I’ll just go over a few of my own tried and trues that my friend mixed in. You will see they aren’t original, but as always meant with good intent. I will not drink throughout the week. I will only drink 2 glasses of wine during the week. I will only have 3 glasses of wine when we go to parties, and I will have a glass of water in between each drink. I will not drink at home. I will not drink alone. I won’t drink wine anymore, but I can have vodka and cranberry. I can’t drink wine anymore but I can drink beer. They sound like grand plans, make total sense. Through words or a written page it seems so easy, but when you put human blood, skin, nerves, emotions into it it becomes difficult, and the path is not clear but grown over with weeds that you have to take a machete through to find a clearing. This is true for some, but not all and I get that. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl, and I guess my friend will have to find out which she is.
The whole moderation thing has always reminded me of a time when I was a little girl and I was going to help my parents with their smoking. I think my whole life I’ve been trying to figure out how to fix something whether it was my problem or not. I had already talked to my mom about moderating her drinking when she had come home totally drunk after a night out with my dad. I remember asking her the next morning as she apologized to me for losing it, and I told her all she had to do was to just have 1 or 2 drinks. What was the big deal? She agreed with me that morning, so I figured I’d fixed that problem. NOT! But on to fixing the cigarette smoking.
I had a lot of anxiety over my parent’s smoking. I was convinced the two of them were going to get cancer at any given time and would die and I’d be left all alone with my little sister. One day it occurred to me I had all the answers to fix my parent’s smoking. I sat them down at our kitchen table and explained, very seriously, that all they had to do was to put how many cigarettes they smoked each day into a sandwich bag. The next day they just had to put one less cigarette into another sandwich bag and they were to continue doing this until they had that last sandwich bag with that one last cigarette in it, and voila! They were non smokers! I remember being so excited, so animated, but they looked at me like I had lost my mind, and I was told it didn’t just work like that. What the hell was wrong with them? I was saving their lives for Christ’s sake! They just didn’t get it, just like they didn’t get it when my 10 year old self told them in front of a drugstore one day that I wasn’t afraid to die because I figured I’d be used up by then and ready for a rest. They told me to stop talking, it was uncomfortable.
But I digress. So back to the evening in the park. “What do you do now when you get home from work?” she asked me. “That shit was hard, but easier now.” “Yeah, I heard that if you can quit a habit for 7 days it’s no longer a habit.” “Ummm, I think that’s 21 days.” I explained. “I wish it was as simple as a set number of days, but coming home from work was the worst. I wanted to shake the day off. I didn’t know how to come home and switch gears, and my gear shifting was done by drinking. Isn’t that why they call it cocktail hour? But for me, gear shifting meant drinking a bottle of wine. And smoking. So in the beginning I’d pour soda water and cranberry and throw in a lime to cheer myself up. I ate as soon as I came home, even if it was a snack before dinner because if I was hungry I’d climb the walls.” But as I was talking I could tell my friend wasn’t interested in hearing me, she was interested in me listening to her. “Well, I know I can moderate. I just have to do it.” and so the conversation continued. There is so much value honor gratitude compassion love understanding caring soul searching spirit giving when listening. I’ve been learning to listen more thoughtfully for a while now, and it has brought a lot of gifts into my life. Sometimes people don’t need to be told what to do, they just have to let it spill out, and to have another to wallow around in it with. The answers will come, and if they need something more I imagine they will ask for it.
I’m so glad I’m sober and able to bear witness to another woman’s questions about drinking. And for that I’m truly grateful for whatever I could bring to help her my friend along her own journey.
Happy Sober Thursday