Hierarchy of needs: Red, red wine

When you’re hooked on booze, the decision to drink or not really isn’t a rational one. How many lists have I made thoroughly enumerating the downsides of drinking or the upsides of not? How many times have I looked in the mirror, hungover and red-faced and decided to take a break? How many times, then, have I had another glass of wine before the happy hour struck 4?


I know people in relationships have their own sets of issues when they’re trying to quit drinking. I used to be one of them. But being single also has its particular challenges, starting with the fact that I can drink any time I want without witness except loneliness, which visits often. Wine has been my best friend and lover for several years now, and if I’m honest, it was the case even when I was married.

Anyway… this isn’t a pity party, I promise. I was just reading This Is How by Augusten Burroughs last night and he had some interesting things to say about quitting drinking that have been knocking around in my head today.

He isn’t a big fan of the AA tenet that we are powerless against alcohol, for one. Rather, he says the power is completely within us. As difficult as it is, I would tend to agree.

But more provocative, I thought, was this:

To be successful at not drinking, a person needs to occupy the space in life drinking once filled with something more rewarding than the comfort and escape of alcohol. This is the thing you have to find.

You might not. Most alcoholics won’t.

The truth is that people who cannot stop drinking are people who, however guilty they may feel and however dire the consequences, have become so addicted to the drug and the experience that they prefer it to the remainder of their lives. While they may truly want to be sober, they want to drink more.

… You can absolutely stop drinking today, right now. The question is only, do you want to be sober more than you want to drink? …

Very few people can answer this question truthfully and reply, yes. 

Yikes. What a buzz kill. 🙂

It’s kind of terrifying. Because again tonight, and last night, I was craving that comfort and escape, more than just about anything. And I can tell myself alcohol is poison (rational) and that the benefits are a lie (rational) and that my list of why drinking is bad is a mile long (again, rational)… But tonight, home on a Thursday night with my dog, after a tiring week, what I REALLY want tonight is comfort and escape. I want to feel my dopamine receptors fire as if I’m being held by someone who loves me.

And THAT’s why giving up drinking is so fecking hard sometimes. It’s not rational. Those cravings are PRIMAL, and wine taps directly into my limbic system to say, there there, I got you… don’t worry about a thing for now. just put your head here and fall asleep…

And is that really the challenge? Is that really what success will require? Finding something more rewarding than the comfort and escape of a primal longing?

Maybe so. And that’s why it takes so many different kinds of support to do this. It’s really fecking hard to not act on something so fundamental while trying to find something as or more important to replace it.

I’m still holding out hope that at some point things will turn. That this state I find myself in each night won’t feel like giving up that comfort and escape forever. Because I can’t imagine feeling like my life is without the heights of pleasure now that I quit drinking, even if I look and feel better overall — and I hope I don’t have to. I hear it gets better. I know I’m doing a lot of the right things. Tonight I’ll get in bed and push through until tomorrow because it’s finally time to sleep.

And Augusten wasn’t a total scary bummer. He does also say this:

You don’t need to take action to stop drinking… all you have to do is sit. 

In 100 percent of the documented cases of alcoholism worldwide, the people who recovered all shared one thing in common, no matter how they did it:

They just didn’t do it.

I’m putting it out there to the Universe that I hope the new bliss of being alcohol free doesn’t wait too long to pay a visit. Please, oh, please, Universe? Bring mama some big goodness.

Because, maybe it goes without saying (seeing as I have this annoying alcohol habit), but I’ve never been very good at delaying pleasure for the promise of better things to come. This is really an exercise in faith — mostly in the blogosphere and all of those who have come before me who say there are amazing things to come. This will pay off. It will be worth it. Just hold on.

Tonight I’m putting what’s left of my hope and strength in the plate and passing it around. I’m sure it will be full again when tomorrow comes.

Day 5. (again) Rachel.

9 thoughts on “Hierarchy of needs: Red, red wine

  1. I loved Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Dry, and those are powerful words of his you quote above. The longer I’m sober, the more I realize that my drinking was just a symptom of a large, deeper, human problem; as you say, we all have primal desires to feel comfortable and protected. Without the shield that alcohol provides me, I have to deal with life without resorting to unhealthy ways of coping with it. A side-effect of life is pain, and I tend to focus on that rather than the good things.

    I also believe there’s truth to the idea that many alcoholics and addicts emotionally arrest at the time they cross the line from problem using to outright dependence. For fifteen years, I let wine and vodka and beer fight my fights for me. I went through trials, jobs, deaths in my family, and many years of my marriage in a alcohol-infused haze which softened the blows of many events (and wildly exaggerated many others). For me, sobriety has very little to do not drinking these days and has more to do with being present in life–every part of it, from pleasure to pain–and realizing that I’m capable of handling situations without drinking (or playing too many video games, or getting lost on the Internet, or any other behavior which soothes or masks the simple but acute pain of existence).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Robert. You’re so right. And I’m also realizing that this big emptiness I feel so often is what I need to address. And yes, begin looking again for the good and joy. I was walking around today asking myself why I’m not feeling super happy or contented. I really have every reason to be. I think I’m focused too much right now on the discomfort and looking forward to it passing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel,
    It is true.
    Just sit.
    That’s how I did it this time.
    I read, walk, go to yoga, and just sit.
    Wine can not love you nor fill you when you are lonely.
    You can do this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m with Anne about the choco-treats. M&Ms kept me sober for my first 4 months, I’m pretty sure. Indulge. Treat. Eat cheese. Whatever it takes to not drink. Day 5 again is awesome! p.s. ‘Again’ is far better than ‘Never.’

    Liked by 1 person

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