September 3, 2010

I think a lot about impermanence and change – no surprise for a Buddhist I suppose, it’s one of our favorite things to discuss, up there with compassion, emptiness and mindfulness.  Lately I’ve been specifically thinking about the impermanence of my own self-definition.  Of course, I know that to even attempt to define the “self,” is an impossibility – that the “self” is really a dynamic conglomeration of moments, feelings and memories.  But I live in this plane of existence, and in this plane of existence we seem to have this desire to label the self in a few ways, even if we’re aware that those labels may shift.

A couple labels seem to be shifting more rapidly than I expected them to.  “Yogi,” for one, is getting a little hard to figure out for the time being.  I’ve not been interested in practicing lately, since other physical exercise activities have filled a fair amount of space.  I still teach, of course, and still enjoy and believe in teaching, but as far as my own practice goes I’ve found myself entirely uninterested.  “Buddhist,” however, seems to be holding on strong as far as labels go.

Another place I’ve not been feeling like I fit in much anymore is AA.  The fact is as far as the DSM IV, my therapist, my doctors, and I am concerned, I’m not actually an alcoholic.  I consider myself a “socially addicted” drinker, in that I couldn’t manage to not fall into social pressure traps of over-drinking to my own established standards of health.  But, as I’ve said before, even there I was drinking a lot less than a majority of folks I know, and my standards seem to be considerably different than the average 29 year old New Yorker’s.

With that in mind, I’ve been asked a few times in the recent past if I ever plan to drink again.  Though it still bothers me that it’s even an issue with people – that drinking is something so expected from us that someone choosing not to drink necessitates so much discussion (no one seems that interested in why I might choose to wear a purple shirt, and it is essentially the same question of choice) – but answering has helped me to better understand my own decisions.

There are three main reasons why I quit drinking.  One, as I’ve discussed here at length, I needed to render apart my dating/sex life from alcohol.  The only way to fully guarantee this split was to engage in a relationship with a commitment to absolutely no alcohol to facilitate that relationship (ps, still waiting on that relationship…).  However, by itself, this reason does not require total sobriety, just sobriety until I’m able to engage in a successful romantic life without alcohol, proving a separation of the two.

Two, as a Buddhist, I feel I’ve made a commitment to experiencing life directly.  Drinking one glass of wine is not diametric to this commitment. Getting drunk under any circumstance, however, I believe, is.  To drink even to the point of just tipsy-ness, is to decide to not “feel” whatever it is you would have felt unaltered.  Again, though, that does not necessitate complete abstinence, just considerable moderation, of which I have proven in the past I am capable.

It is the third reason, which has proven the most compelling to never drink again.  Though I’ve never struggled with depression to the extent other friends of mine have, I do have a natural tendency toward it.  Aside from struggling for a more extended period with anxiety in my late years of college, my depression has always come in what I call “episodes.”  I’d be fine in general, and then go through a period where for sometimes one day, sometimes two, sometimes a little longer, I basically couldn’t stop crying.  Eventually the “episode” would end.  But since about three months after I quit drinking, I have yet to have an episode.

For that reason alone, I think I should never drink again.  My therapist calls it a “toxicity” my body has with alcohol.  Yes, alcohol is a natural depressant, but a large percentage of people will never be noticeably effected by it if they drink in moderation.  But for some reason, whatever my molecular make-up, my natural predilection toward depression is exacerbated by even small amounts of alcohol.  The most compassionate thing I can do for myself, then, is to never touch the stuff.  And soda and pomegranate juice seems to be depressant free…

However, as I mentioned, I’m losing interest in calling myself an alcoholic.  I’m starting to think if my decision to not drink is to be “important,” that is if it is to effect the world positively in any tiny way, then maybe not identifying as an alcoholic, but rather someone who just happens to not drink is more revolutionary. It seems completely ridiculous when you think about it, but if people are going to continue to be conditioned to think drinking is a norm everyone should fit into unless they have a “problem,” then maybe me having decided to quit without any related “–ism” is vital to changing ideas.  Perhaps my decision can help remove the assumptive nature of the culture toward universal behaviors of mood-altering.

And again, I’m not saying any of you who do drink need to stop drinking, just to think when you meet a new friend, to ask if they drink, instead of just making the assumption that they drink.  They might drink, or they might not drink, and they might not like to wear purple…


One comment

  1. Great stuff, Lynne! I agree – I don’t really drink (perhaps once every two or three months – and even then, not much) – and I never have. And it’s not ’cause I’m an alcoholic – I’ve just never found it necessary. Though I suppose it’s also because I was raised not-drinking until near the end of college. Perhaps partly because of that, I’ve just never taken a strong liking to the stuff nor needed it. So, I think your decision not to drink simply because you’d rather not is a great one and needn’t require self-labeling. You’d simply rather be who you actually are – and that’s a beautiful thing.

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