Putting the lid on it

Good Housekeeping (South Africa) - - YOUR LIFE -

At the age of 49, it wasn’t one thing that made me re­alise that I was a prob­lem drinker, im­mi­nently in dan­ger of cross­ing that fine line. And it wasn’t one thing that made me de­cide to quit drink­ing. It was a per­fect storm of cir­cum­stances, per­sonal and fa­mil­ial, too com­pli­cated to un­ravel here, but which, for the first time, made me re­alise that I wanted to live dif­fer­ently. I wanted to be sober.

Over the last three years, lots of things have in­deed changed in my life as a re­sult of my hav­ing given up drink­ing, in­clud­ing vastly im­proved phys­i­cal health. But per­haps the most pro­found change – and this is the one that takes a cou­ple of years to fully man­i­fest – is a gi­gan­ti­cally en­larged emo­tional ca­pac­ity.

This first shows in an abil­ity to deal bet­ter with life’s stresses – some­thing that can come as a sur­prise to peo­ple who have al­ways drunk to deal with life’s stresses. For in­stance, I have a nasty case of social anx­i­ety, and I’ve al­ways used the ex­cuse of a cou­ple of glasses (and then bot­tles) of wine to cope with this. So it was an un­ex­pected les­son to re­alise that, in the long run, my heavy drink­ing was mak­ing my social anx­i­ety worse, not bet­ter.

As time goes by, this ex­panded emo­tional ca­pac­ity be­gins man­i­fest­ing in other ways too. You sud­denly re­alise you’re not so ratty all the time: your brain isn’t con­stantly un­der stress, pro­cess­ing last night’s booze or deal­ing with de­hy­dra­tion, so when things go wrong, you can ex­er­cise pa­tience. Whether it’s stand­ing in a queue or an en­counter on the road with a mo­ronic driver, as a sober per­son, your first in­stinct isn’t to want to kill every­one. A greater abil­ity for em­pa­thy en­ables you to stop and think about it: the over­worked per­son at the help desk is do­ing his best; the im­pa­tient driver is prob­a­bly hav­ing some sort of per­sonal cri­sis.

Then one day you re­alise that you’re ac­tu­ally start­ing to deal with the things

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