While walking the dog this morning, I had a realization. A re-realization, really. I was struck by the difference in my mindset today vs. when I’m consuming too much alcohol.

The past couple of days have contained a lot of stressors for me.

  • Although Tuesday’s riots at the U.S. Capitol weren’t unexpected, they still way heavily on my mind. I know I shouldn’t let national news affect me, but I do. When COVID hit last March, it depressed me. The events around November’s election depressed me. Tuesday’s riots were a similar Big Ugly Event.
  • Yesterday, I did a dumb thing. In the comments at Get Rich Slowly, I called out my colleague Financial Samurai based on some unsubstantiated info. This was a mistake. I own it and I regret it. We’ve resolved things amicably but I feel terrible about what I did. This sort of stuff usually sends me into a tailspin too.
  • Meanwhile, I have ongoing trepidation about the structural stability of our house and my ability to live on my savings for the next eight years. Kim tells me that I’m “catastrophizing”, and I know that this is at least partially true. (Possibly 100% true.) But still, I cannot stop myself.

A year ago, this combination of factors would have me in a pit of despair. My depression and anxiety would be at extreme levels. I would be avoiding work. I would be soaking in the hot tub all day while playing video games. I would feel miserable and worthless.

Today, there are still elements of this going on — there’s a corner of my brain where these thoughts exist — but mostly I find I’m able to tell myself, “Get over it, J.D. You cannot control national events. You made a mistake with Sam and apologized; what’s done is done. And Kim is right that you are catastrophizing. If you don’t like this house, you need to fix it or move.”

I feel as if my current response to things is much healthier than my response might have been a year ago. Or three years ago.

Why is that? I keep coming back to alcohol.

My Relationship with Alcohol

For most of my life, I did not drink. I grew up Mormon. Mormons don’t drink. Although I was no longer LDS when I left for college, I still didn’t drink a lot while there. Yes, I drank some. But not much. And when I drank, it was weird. (I would down two or three shots of vodka in rapid succession while plugging my nose and chasing everything with a salty snack. I hated it.)

When Kris and I got together, she didn’t like me drinking, so I didn’t. We were pretty much alcohol-free until 1998.

In 1998, I started having panic attacks. (I thought they were heart attacks.) For real, my doctor suggested that I start drinking red wine to combat this. So, I did. For fifteen years, I drank wine and whisky now and then, but it wasn’t a regular habit. (And I rarely got more than mildly buzzed.)

In 2012, I learned to like beer. And when Kim and I started dating around this time, many of the things we did were centered on alcohol: wine tasting, wine bars, speak-easies, late-night dive bars, etc.

Then, starting on our RV trip in 2015, my alcohol consumption began to creep higher. With nothing to do in the motorhome in the evening, we’d often enjoy two or three beers (each) or share a bottle of wine.

Eventually I reached the point where I was drinking nearly every day. Even after we returned to Portland, I maintained the habit.

When I started seeing a therapist in 2019, she had me keep a log of my alcohol consumption. I was consuming between 21 and 28 portions of alcohol every week — and that’s just what I was recording. (I tried to be honest, but I know I wasn’t 100% faithful.) Plus, I would count a 22-ounce bottle of 7.0% beer as one portion. Haha.

In the U.S., fourteen grams of pure alcohol is considered a “standard” drink. (Why grams instead of milliliters? Because it’s the U.S., I guess. It’s bizarre.) This is roughly twelve ounces of 5% beer. Or five ounces of 12% wine. But a 22-ounce bottle of 7% beer? Well, that contains 45 ml (~36 g) of alcohol. That’s nearly three standard drinks. (It’d be considered more than four “units” of alcohol in the U.K.)

Translation: I was drinking a lot, and it was fucking with my head. I have no doubt now that much of my depression and anxiety stemmed from alcohol consumption.

Test-Driving Sobriety

In 2020, I managed to go from July 5th to October 28th without consuming alcohol. By the end of that stretch, I was operating at peak performance for the first time in years. I felt great! I felt like myself again.

Yes, I did replace alcohol with pot for some of that time (marijuana is legal here in Oregon), but there were long stretches where I was completely sober. I used non-alcoholic beer to cope with some of the cravings.

From Halloween to Thanksgiving, though, I returned to my old ways. I wasn’t consuming 28 drinks per week, but I was drinking at least three days a week and probably enjoying 12+ servings of alcohol each week. In early December, I felt the depression creeping back, so I put the brakes on.

For the past month or so, I’ve given up alcohol again — but not completely. I may indeed go dry for another extended period of time, but right now I’m simply choosing not to drink whenever possible, and when I do drink, I limit myself to one or two.

During the first seven days of 2021, I consumed four drinks. I drank on three days. Yesterday at Costco, I bought a 22-ounce beer that’s sitting in the fridge for this weekend. I may or may not drink it. We’ll see.

So, let’s go back to my current state of mind.

Life Without Alcohol Is Life on Easy Mode

As I said, if I were currently drinking a lot, the events of the past couple of days would have shoved me into a dark place. I would be miserable and unproductive.

But because I’m not drinking (or not drinking much, anyhow), I’m better able to deal with things. I let myself get riled up by the Capitol riots, but I’m ready to let those feelings go now. I screwed up with Sam, but I dealt with the problem immediately in an adult way instead of allowing it to fester. And while yes, I continue to fret about the house and my financial situation, I recognize that if these things bug me, I need to take steps to fix them.

When I’m drinking, everything is harder. That’s because alcohol exacerbates my natural tendency toward depression. And when you’re depressed, it’s like you’re constantly trying to live normal life while submerged neck-deep in water. It’s a slog.

Life without alcohol is life on “easy” mode. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly life on “easier” mode. (Maybe a better way to look at it is life with alcohol is life on “hard” mode and life without is life on “normal” mode. Maybe I’d find “easy” mode if I gave up alcohol and took my ADHD meds. I don’t know.)

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