This coming February it will be 17 years since I have had a drink.
Recently I have been considering that my teen drinking career may have been more normal than alcoholic.
I stopped when I was 16. My father was an alcoholic…you know, the kind who slept in the creek sometimes. He got sober when I was 11. I displayed some early behavior indicating that I had problems drinking: wanting to get drunk every time I was around alcohol, stealing weed from my friends, not ever knowing my limits, barfing. But hello? I was stealing before the drinking started, and of course I wanted to drink when it was around, since it was so hard to get. I stopped for those reasons, but mostly I stopped because I made friends with sober people in high school. I went to meetings for a few years, and then I found that I didn’t need them anymore to stay sober. I met S, and she stopped drinking altogether 6 months into our relationship because I asked her to.
Where am I going with this? I always believed that alcoholism was a disease I had, which meant that certainly, I could never, ever, ever drink. I assumed that my teen behavior (for less than a year) and my family history meant I needed to be sober forever, lest the progressive disease catch up with me.
I’m not sure what happened recently but something changed. All of a sudden I told S that she could drink if she wanted to. I started to question my unquestioned beliefs about myself and alcoholism in general. My dad was surely an Alcoholic, capital A, as are many more functional folks. But I decided, and I really can’t be more articulate about it in this moment because my thoughts and feelings about this are incredibly complex layered and detailed, to consider drinking again. As an adult. With guidelines.
What I know for sure is that 17 years without drinking is a long time. I could have a problem, but most likely I don’t. I find myself surrounded by friends who drink “normally”. By normally I mean sometimes they get drunk and regret it (once a year?). By normal I mean that they monitor their drinking and have made rules for themselves that they generally respect. Some don’t hang out with people that they know they will be a little out of control with. Some have decided not to drink around their kids, in general, or on weeknights and so on. Most have decided not to make drinking a regular (daily) practice of relaxing. I have been quizzing them about their “rules” so I can muddle through if I decide to drink. I know that I probably can’t ever drink without monitoring myself. If I am a giant genetic alcoholic I may find that I make rules I cannot adhere to. I have, of course, considered that this whole attitude change is just more of my justifying addict behavior/thinking, but when I really check in, that is not what is happening.
Current research actually does support people returning to controlled drinking after a period of abstinence. I know that for people in 12 step programs all of my thinking probably sounds blasphemous. I’m not sure that I am explaining myself well, but I suspect that even if I did there is no way NOT to sound justifying. What is really upsetting to me is that I don’t know any on else in this position. No one I know or have even met has been sober so long with such a limited drinking career. I even tried googling this and came up with nothing.
So. What to do.
What are your rules? How do you not use alcohol or drugs in an abusive way? Has anyone ever started drinking again after a long period of abstinence?