Forever is a mind-f*ck if you ask me.
Whether it’s dealing with alcohol or anything else in our lives, forever thoughts can be difficult to grasp and handle to be sure. Obviously, forever in this case is to say, "in our lifetime".
And, as with most things, everyone has their own unique perspective on this and what works for them. Perhaps you’re struggling with it like I used to (and still occasionally do). “I can’t drink again... ever?” Surely, that can’t be the case. First, I am definitely not here to tell anyone they should give up alcohol forever or anything like that. I think everyone should evaluate their own drinking and determine what is best for them. I’m just sharing my experience with coming to terms with my forever... or not coming to terms with it. The jury is still out!
Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power and reality of the eternal present.
When you get to the point where your alcohol consumption is problematic, like I knew mine was, and you start taking steps to address it, this seems to be a common theme that comes up. Well, let me take a step back. That wasn’t really a thought right away for me. I knew that my drinking was not healthy at all. I knew waking up with a swollen liver was probably not a good thing. However, I thought my goal in the beginning was to get my drinking back to levels that were “healthy”. You know, I can still drink, just “normally”.
News flash, there are no normal levels of drinking. Just like there are no normal levels of intake for cocaine, Flaming Hot Cheetos, or binging on Netflix. We just go off of cues that society gives us to try and keep within "normal" levels. We usually know internally when those normal levels might be askew. We feel it in our bodies or minds, but that doesn’t mean that we stop doing what we’re doing. Alcohol, Netflix, food... it’s all designed to get us addicted, only with alcohol, when we’ve been mindlessly indulging for far too long an alert doesn’t pop up asking “Are you still there?”.
I wasn’t still there anymore, but I kept drinking nonetheless. So, when I finally got to the point that enough was enough my mind went to just “taking a break” from alcohol. I naturally wondered next, “OK, but for how long?”. It was a regular topic of discussion in my therapy sessions. Could be one month, could be two months. Three months? Could be. Four months? I can see that happening, yes. Eight months? That’s a realistic time line. Eleven months? Perhaps. Ok, now think really hard about this one: One year? I can see that as a very real possibility. [a few therapy sessions later] Four hundred and ninety-four months? I can see that happening. Four hundred and ninety-FIVE months?1
You get the picture. I had a lot of inner turmoil going on about it all. The first time I really thought about forever was in a discussion with my brother at his house. I brought up seeing a therapist and we were talking about it a little bit and these concerns surfaced and he said, “Or maybe you just don’t ever drink again”. This was a big deal in my head. It was like he gave me permission to consider it. As my “drinking buddy”, which that title was now defunct or at the very least, retired for the time being, those words carried more weigh than most.
So I thought about it. That does not mean I accepted it and changed overnight though.
No, over the past 22 months I’ve gone back and forth countless times between being content never to drink again nor questioning that decision, to struggling mightily about the sheer foreverness of it all. Not sure if that’s a word, but I like it.
One thing that helped me was a book. A difficult book for me to read because it seemed like every sentence had some deep meaning that I needed to focus on and therefore it was very tedious in that regard. But I muscled my way through it. The book was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
I read it this past May, thirteen months alcohol free at the time, and I actually chilled out a little bit about this whole forever concept as a result. It was sort of mind blowing to me a lot of the thoughts in that book surrounding time. Basically he says time is an illusion. Life doesn’t care about anything but right now. The past is just a previous time when it was “now” and the future does not matter. That “now”, the future, has not happened yet. Planning for the future is necessary but that is actual work done in the “now”. Worrying about the future is just planning for a scenario in a "future now” that may or may not happen. As Tolle says, “There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”
Read that last sentence again.
More from Tolle, “Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.” This thought, while seemingly obvious, was a very different way from how I had ever thought about time.
Things like “time is an illusion” and “the present moment is all you ever have” are powerful for me to think about now. People in this community talk about “one day at a time”, or #ODAAT, as a way to live your life. It’s a great thought to ground you in the present. However, we don’t always want to hear that shit if we aren’t ready to hear it or if it doesn’t make sense to us in that moment, and that’s ok. I have a love-hate relationship with that phrase. Lately, I am very much at peace with that way of thinking. But early on this path it would be, at the very least, annoying, or, at the worst, detrimental to me staying alcohol free. “What, I’m just supposed to live like this forever?!?” And while, as Tolle says, all we have is NOW and today is truly all we can do anything with, that doesn’t mean I wanted to get up each day worrying whether I was going to drink tomorrow or not.
When people go through something rough in life, they say, 'I'm taking it one day at a time.' Yes, so is everybody. Because that's how time works.
So, my solution was to look at #ODAAT as a tool, just like journaling, therapy, or reading is a tool for me. When I have felt overwhelmed, stressed, out of control, and wanted to drink, I reach in my little red, metal toolbox and pull out my trusty #ODAAT tool and just focus on getting through today and not worrying about what happens tomorrow. If I have to pull it out tomorrow, too, so be it. If I have to pull it out every day for the next year, that’s ok too. But when I started thinking of “one day at a time” like this, I got comfortable with it. Because, guess what, forever is a mind-f*ck, but trying to live only for today can be as well. Sorry Eckhart, I’m not the Buddha.
These thoughts are just how I have approached wrapping my head around the questions that have come, either internally or externally, about being alcohol free over these past 2 years. Unfortunately, we all have to come to our own conclusions as to what works for us in our minds and in our lives. You can battle with yourself like I did and wonder when it'll be ok to drink "normally" again. War over the past, present, or future. Or maybe you just don’t ever have to drink again. I give you permission to consider this option at the very least. If only for today.
1The Office: Season 7 – Episode 17 “Todd Packer”