Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dry January

I come from a long line of alcoholics. Loooong line. And I'm talking about All-Star caliber alcoholics. What the Kennedy's were for politics, and the Manning's are to NFL quarterbacking, my family was to drinking.

So, I stay acutely aware of my drinking habits.

And "habit" is the thing that you don't want drinking to be. For me, as 2011 wound down, it was starting to be just that. I found myself drinking, not so much because I was enjoying it, but almost by default.

So it was time to shake things up a bit. I decided to go without drinking for the month of January.

I thought it was going to be difficult. I worried that I'd spend my evenings jonesin' for a Guinness or a couple glasses of a nice cab. Or worse, just plain bored. Turns out, it's been pretty easy. And interesting.

This might sound odd, but it reminds me of another big change a few years ago. When my right shoulder started to get all goobered up, I switched mousing hands. For the first two weeks, it was as if I was in another person's body. I was using the other side of my brain for something I'd been doing with the other hand for decades. Neurons that had been on vacation for all of that time were put to work, and waking up their neighbors. I could literally feel myself thinking differently.

Stopping a routine, or habit, cold turkey is a jolt to your subconscious. If you pay attention, it can be an opportunity for insight into how you think, how you perceive the world around you, and what inputs drive your behavior.

For example, over the last month I've become keenly aware of social, visual, and event queues that flip my "I should be drinking a beer right now" bit. Driving by my local pub is an obvious one. Seeing a tweet from @NewBelgium or the weekly "What's on Tap" email from Beir Brewery make me thirsty. Finishing the massive clean-up of the GF's garage was definitely worthy of a "Job Well Done" beer. After three hours of stacking and organizing and dragging things to the attic, I thought I "deserved" a beer. What a weird concept.

Sitting down to a good meal is just as pleasant without a glass of wine, but it did feel like something was missing. It was pleasant surprise, though, when the check came. Get this...water, a lot cheaper than vino.

One Sunday, standing at the stove waiting for my chops to sear, I noticed that I didn't know what to do with my hands. That's because when I cook for anyone but my kids, I pretty much always sip on a glass of wine. It's part of the experience.

Those are the easy ones, rituals that poke at you... "Hey, aren't you forgetting something?" The tough ones, the times I thought would be the most trying, are when stress is piling up, or you're caught up in some emotional turmoil, or when you're just really sad. It's so, so easy to use alcohol to numb the pain, to keep from feeling what you don't want to feel. There were trying times, but I never felt an overwhelming urge to imbibe.

Here's a little secret... hiding from problems, pain, issues, doesn't make them go away. We all face them. It's how we deal with them that makes us who we are. You gotta suck it up, feel what you gotta feel, deal with your shit, and move forward. When crap happens, instead of hiding from it, or pretending it's not happening, try a good, hard run to clear your mind, or some stretching on the family room floor to calm your nerves. Most of the time, things won't look so bad.

I wish I could say that I've run better this month, or slept more soundly, or been incredibly productive. Actually, maybe it's better that I can't say that. It's probably better that not drinking hasn't really changed much in my life.

Still, Dry January has been a great experience. I think I'll do it every year.* Tomorrow, however, I'm going to open a seriously nice Napa Cab that's been waiting patiently in the basement. This weekend, I'll stop in the pub and have a beer. And a note to the Central Indiana craft breweries, don't go laying off anyone just yet. Those lower profit numbers this month aren't permanent. I'll be back supporting you, too, and enjoying the yummy fruits of your labor. But I'll be doing so more aware, more mindful, and with a little more insight.

Oh, and you might not recognize me as I'll be a few pounds lighter, too. I had no idea how many calories I was drinking. I don't want to carry any extra pints of Guinness up the hills of Big Sur.

Now... what shall I give up for February...

Good running,

*My buddy Mike suggested I consider Dry February since it's the shortest month.