Putting the lid on it
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