Firstly let me give this commentary some context. By Irish standards, where I was born and reared, I was an average drinker.
By English standards, where I have lived for the last seven years, I probably “drank a bit more than I should.” By American standards, according to my stateside family, I was a functioning alcoholic.
And by yogi standards, according to the people in my yoga school when I joined, I was a proper alcoholic. As I saw it, from my green tinted glasses, I didn’t drink that much; probably every Friday and Saturday night, with the occasionally midweek or Sunday outburst.
My frequency was less than 1/3 of the week which I found reasonable. What I conceded with a little more reluctance is how much I drank when I went out. Once I started with a few beers I very quickly lost control on my intake and more often than not would drink myself into a stupor…or various forms and degrees of trouble.
More often than not, at least a few hours of a night out would be a blackout for me and I would rarely remember how I got home. However, I rarely missed work due to drinking and in the cold light of day would have considered myself a pretty responsible person.
It’s now been four-and-a-half years since a drop of alcohol passed my lips. I won’t go into the details of how that came about, but it wasn’t pretty. It was, however, a blessing in disguise. It created the space for a rapid transformation and fundamental, positive changes in my life. And I learned a lot along the way. Much more than I can pen here but I’ll endeavour to share what I feel is most pertinent and may be of some use to others.
1. You learn who your real friends are. I was reasonably popular in social terms. I had a few groups of core “friends” and would never be stuck for a night out or a weekend trip away. My Facebook friend list was always on an upward growth path and I took care to ensure the same.
Stopping drinking overnight was a real reality check. Nobody said explicitly, “Oh, since you don’t drink anymore I don’t want to hang out with you.” But slowly, slowly my “friends” started weaning themselves out of my company. Not all, but many. The phone calls stopped coming. The invites dried up. The “connection” was slowly yet terminally severed.
I did have a few friends who dug in and made the effort. Since I wasn’t drinking they organised trips to the theatre, dinner in a nice restaurant or just a good old cup of tea and chocolate biscut. This was really touching for me since—as I was the one who “changed”—I was reticent to try to impose my altered lifestyle on others.
Those taking the time and effort to fit into my new way of living really meant something to me. I found out very quickly who my real friends were and who were just social hangers-on. And it’s not to criticise or pontificate those friends who fell off. I was just like that in my own drinking days and would probably have been too lazy or unconscious to make an effort to maintain a loose friendship had the tables been turned. The real issue is that these type of friendships are based on socialising and not something deeper or more meaningful. Take the socialising away and there is nothing left.
2. Drinking penetrates most social life—at least in Western society. Imagine having a birthday party (for adults) and serving tea. Imagine winning the cup and filling it with Lemonade. Imagine launching your new product in a plush gallery and serenading guests with apple juice. Would those events be different? Absolutely. Would the attendance be the same? Probably not.
Alcohol has creeped in insidiously to become the foundation of our social events, both work and pleasure. I have seen guys leave a wedding straight after the meal because they have an important event or game the next day and can’t drink. Those same guys would, under the normal run of things be burning up the dance floor with their ties Rambo style until 3 a.m. I’ve had friends leave a concert because the bar closed early or ran out of draft beer—unforgivable. I have personally being involved in corporate events where we as organisers were told categorically if alcohol is provided we will have a full house, but if it’s a dry evening attendance will be very limited.
Through my giving up drinking I was able to observe all this from an objective distance. It wasn’t a surprising realisation, what surprised me was the extent we rely on alcohol in social contexts. From 21st birthday celebrations to corporate networking to sports victories—all are under the insidious and irresistible influence of alcohol. Not only that, for the majority, not only is alcohol present, it’s the foundation of the event itself, the “raison d’etre.”
3. Don’t expect support from others. This was something quite shocking for me. You think you can rely on your nearest and dearest for moral and practical support. But it’s not always true, especially if alcohol is a prominent feature in your life and their lives. The most common reaction I got when I told people I’d stopped drinking was, “What? How can you do that? I could never do that. Not totally.”
And therein lies the problem. You are doing something most people think they can’t do. This is a huge trigger for their ego. You giving up drinking means there must be something wrong with drinking. Then they try to put themselves in your situation and imagine they can’t do it. This provides them with a conundrum. Either there is something wrong with them, or there is something wrong with you. You both can’t be “right” in their contracted consciousness. And in my personal experience I found most people prefer to think there is something wrong with you rather than themselves. (In reality neither side is “right” or “wrong,” it’s just consciousness that needs to be applied and then what’s needed in your own life will become clear.) Consequentially, I had people telling me I was weird, antisocial, boring, a quitter, to “friends” trying to tempt me with beers to proclamations that I would end up alone and lonely.
People will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their ego even if that means putting down “friends.” I learned very quickly that to give up drinking completely I would have to rely on myself and not take ego defending comments from friends personally.
4. The effects of drinking are insidious. Yes, there is vomit on any UK high street or U.S. college campus on a Saturday night. Yes, you have countless damsels blacking out each week. Yes, you have alcohol induced violence and vandalism. None of this is trivial. Yet for me what became apparent was that the worst effects of alcohol were invisible.
I think it happened after about two or three months of sobriety. The fog lifted. I suddenly realised I could see clearly for the first time since I was about 16. I was so covered in this fog for so long that I didn’t even know it was there. When I was sober for long enough suddenly it disappeared. You see, personally I think the worst thing about drinking was the haze it put me under.
I’d go out Friday night, get drunk. Do the same again Saturday. Sunday, I’d have a hangover. Mondays are Mondays anyway. Tuesday doesn’t feel so good but the week is just getting started. By the time Wednesday comes I am starting to feel better and now it’s time to start planning the weekend again. Before I knew it, I was stuck in a rut—Groundhog Day. Alcohol slowly, but steadily put a thin veil over my life. We think alcohol just affects us while it’s in our system. Yet in reality it stays with us all week, pulling us back to the past or dragging our attention into the future. Never the present moment in a relaxed attitude of contentment.
But we won’t even notice it happening. It comes slow and insidious, yet highly malignant. Our work life, love life, personal life soon all live under the cloud of alcohol…and the cloud becomes our sky. Everything is lived a little duller every day, a little plainer, a bit more boring. Our sharp edge of enthusiasm becomes blunt with the passing of time and mediocre becomes acceptable.
And what better way to spice life up than with a nice glass of vino or a crisp, cold beer. The dullness of living under the alcohol haze convinces us that we need some alcohol to brighten up our life, bring our lives to life. What an irony. Yet the only way to see the irony is to step out from under the veil. The step must be big and bold and maintained long enough. For me it took three months, but it was worth it. Life lived truly and fully in this present moment is much richer and more rewarding than anything that can fit in a pint glass. Without any yoga or meditation or spiritual practice, simply giving up alcohol will raise our level of consciousness without question.
5. Real life is to be lived in drunkenness of lucid awareness. When I was drinking and “having a good time” the word sobriety held connotations of some kind of life sentence without parole for me. It seemed boring, endless and without purpose. Now having been sober for a reasonable amount time, I realise I have never lived life so fully or richly.
A moment of tranquil peace in a park can leave reverberations of bliss emanating through my body. A walk with my lover can fill me for days. Interactions are deeper, more profound. Even if they don’t experience it, I can go deep into others’ being, touching their soul, feeling their presence. Leaves blowing in the autumn wind can captivate me with wonder and enthusiasm. These moments appear more and more as we become conscious of them. And unlike moments of “joy” experienced on a boozy night out, there are no repercussions for these moments. In fact, they leave a positive resonance deep in our core attracting more of the same. No hangover, no feeling of lack, no regrets. Simply being present and expanding our consciousness continuously.
It hasn’t always been easy in the last four years, especially coming from an Irish background and the reputation we have for drinking. But it has been rewarding and one of the best life choices I made. I definitely benefited from the support at Tara Yoga Centre and studying the Tantra course there that helped in changing my life view, fundamentally. If you want to make the same life change consider taking up a “healthy habit” to replace the “void” you might feel initially in your life. I highly recommend yoga or meditation which compliment this process perfectly, but I’m sure sports or reading or writing could be also beneficial. If it’s been on your mind, then don’t even think about it—just take the plunge.
The rewards and life that await you are not to be missed.
Author: Ciarán Dowling
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Imagens Evangelicas