Just over a year ago I took the decision to become teetotal. I did so because at some point in my late twenties my body told me that it wasn't willing to process alcohol anymore. Big drinking events such as weddings and birthday parties would produce 4 day hangovers and even 2-3 drinks would lead to an uncomfortable next day.
When I speak to people about my sobriety, they imagine either that I am fighting a constant battle against temptation or that I no longer have any thoughts about drinking at all. The reality is somewhere in between. The best way to describe it is through the metaphor of something most of us can relate to - a relationship with an ex-partner, from the initial meet, to the aftermath of the break-up.
After an awkward first few dates, the early days/months/years are filled with fun, laughter and happiness. The odd argument aside, we look forward to spending time together. There is the odd bad spell, but the resentment doesn't last very long, and the positives dominate. As time goes by this begins to change. Getting pleasure out of the relationship becomes more of a challenge, and we do more and more to try and create the old highs. We start to irritate one another, and the resentment lasts longer. We no longer look forward to spending time together but are still dependent on each other as protection against loneliness. In the long run, the relationship erodes our self-esteem. It causes negatives, but ironically, we can't imagine life away from it.
When we decide to split we are clear it is the correct course of action. Yet, such is our disorientation, we still think of returning to the security the relationship offers. The passing of time will often blur the memory of the pain, and the prison starts to become a palace. We will remember romantic walks, dinner parties and holidays. We fear that we will never experience such fulfilment again. Perhaps the odd argument is worth it in exchange for the happiness and security?
The most difficult period of time is the first few months. To get through them we need to dismiss regular moments of nostalgia and keep reminding ourselves of the overriding negatives. We should write lists, get counsel, (or write a blog) - anything that helps us remember the reasons we split up in the first place. Beyond that we need to keep investigating why we were in the relationship in the first place. Knowing that it was a bad relationship is not enough. To stop the same thing happening again, we need to understand why we pursued it for long. Self-esteem? Laziness? Ignorance? Ambition?
Once we get through the first few months, the struggle becomes a lot easier. We have eliminated the physical, and diluted the emotional dependence. We have created new memories and experiences, and proved (to some extent) that life can be enjoyed apart.
Yet, we were with our partner for years, perhaps even decades. Some of the memories may have been unique or particularly positive. We may stumble across a park we sat in to celebrate our graduation, or walk past the place by the train station where we used to meet during the summer holidays. These memories, taken in isolation, are almost entirely positive and it is tempting to pick up the phone to organise a meet. Blinded by positive emotional associations, we think it won't be so bad if we get back together. It will be different this time; we are older and wiser. Perhaps we could take it slowly at first - just meet for dinner, see how it goes?
Then there's the impact on our friendships. We were with our partner for so long, that the majority of our friends are mutual. In fact some of them were only really our friends because of our ex-partner. Others only invite us to occasions where our ex-partner isn't present. Most will be comfortable with the situation, although almost all will pointedly avoid talking about them. Sometimes to the extent that they may as well be wearing t-shirts with their face on it.
Short of disowning our friends, or completely removing ourselves from memory-triggers, there will always be links to our past relationship with our ex-partner or alcohol. But over time the association will fade and it is possible to co-exist. Very little in life is clear-cut or without pulls on our consciousness, and in my experience, becoming teetotal is no different.