Mental health, Sobriety

The pull

After I started my current job in October 2018, most Fridays I’d find a reason to stop by the grocery store. We need bananas, hand soap, oh, right, some chips and salsa. Always in my basket would end up beer. Without fail. The week was long, the evening was young, the weekend ahead of me. Nevermind that if I’d fast forward the night, I’d find myself sitting in front of the TV with something forgettable streaming on Netflix while I dicked around on my phone, drunk, eventually falling asleep on the couch and waking up at 3 a.m. with a sour taste in my mouth and regret at how I’d wasted the evening. But that didn’t cross my mind at 5:15 p.m. every Friday. Beer, wine, something alcoholic felt necessary at the end of the week. This new job, a new routine in a role in an office, where I drove to work and sat at a desk and edited documents that made no sense to me as they were produced for an industry I was wholly unfamiliar with, was difficult. I wanted to relax, forget about the week. Numb myself, is how I’d describe it now.

I broke that habit, for the most part, a year ago. And it’s been more than a month since my last drink. That’s pretty good for me.

But habits die hard, and the pull I felt Friday nearly knocked me out. It had been one fucking long week. While a coworker was on PTO, I covered a what was supposed to be an easy project that invariably turned into a dumpster fire and continued to re-ignited throughout Friday, no matter how hard I tried to snuff it out (i.e., get SMEs to sign off on the data in the document so we could all move on with our lives.) Friday was also the last day at the company for a dear colleague. Traffic backed up as I tried to make my way from the office to the freeway. Drivers proved to be indecisive. I ruminated over the dumpster fire project that I knew I couldn’t do anything about, which lead me to feeling irritated at myself for ruminating, then thinking of what I’d done to screw up, then getting irritated at myself, further, for being so quick to take the blame. My muscles ached from all the weights I’d lifted and miles I’d run, and the fog of exhaustion was settling in due to early wake-ups required to fit in the time to lift and run. I was drained, even after spent so much time attempting to practice all of the self care: stretching, tea drinking, minimal screen time, foam rolling, reading, salads and fruit and vegetables and no dairy and no meat and just a little mayonnaise once on a sandwich, and just one sandwich, because of all the salads.

What the hell. All this damn self care is supposed to put me in a steady place on a Friday evening, create a life so full of goodness that alcohol would have no place to fit. Instead, I was exhausted.

All this jangled in my head as I drove past an exit that would take me very close to a pizza place where my DH and I used to frequent. There, after a long week of work, we’d inhale carbs and chug beer and bullshit with one another and laugh about how stupid corporate life can be.

Hey–pizza sounded pretty great. I didn’t want to go home only to unload the dishwasher and cook some more healthy shit. Beer sounded great, too. What better way to kick this bullshit week in the nuts than pizza and beer–lots of beer.

Why beer? Because it’s glorious, I remembered. The looseness, the slightly lowered inhibitions, the ease of laughter that comes with feeling lighter, less restricted is magic for those of us wound tighter than a spool of thread.

But the best part is the lead up, the anticipation of that beer coming your way and all the glory you think it carries with it. The taste is tolerable, acquired after years of forcing it own your gullet. The feeling that comes with the first sip is what you chase. After the first sip, as the liquid flows through you, the relaxation soon follows. The slightest of easing up. What you were looking for after that long week. The feeling is fleeting. You can’t get that with other sips, with another drink, or another, or another. That moment is a once-a-day phenomenon, I found. That early evening ritual to turn it down a notch, to chill the fuck out. Just for that moment, alcohol feels like it’s fixing those things wrong in your life that you can’t just get right.

I kept driving. I made it home. I did not buy any beer.

The night did turn out to include pizza. Rather than the restaurant I had in mind, DH and I went to a counter-serve, build-your-own-style place place. I requested my pie to be loaded with vegetables and a sprinkling of vegan cheese. Food was the focus, unlike the equal parts pizza-and-beer restaurant I’d had in mind, but a couple of taps, plus bottles and cans of beer and wine were in view. I gazed longingly as the gleaming, golden pint handed to the guy in front of us. Not fair.

But I told myself, repeated, even though I didn’t want to hear it in the midst of pouting: a beer won’t solve anything. What you’re feeling can’t be solved by a beer. That malaise, irritation, exhaustion, frustration with work and life and shit that feels out of my control. A beer won’t fix it. Can any of it be fixed? How lost I sometimes feel at work, in my life? Not necessarily. That may not be the right question. But at the very least, beer isn’t the answer I need.

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