Counting to infinity

Originally published April 11, 2020

As of sending this letter, I haven’t drank in 131 days.

Sometimes, I don’t really know why I’m counting. When I think about it too much, it feels disingenuous. Like I’m co-opting the triumphs of actual recovering alcoholics. I have never considered myself an alcoholic — whether that’s because I’ve always been able to transition away from drinking without any adverse physical or mental effects, because I’ve always seen my drinking as more of a habit, or because it’s just ground I don’t feel is mine to intrude on — and I’m not collecting chips, I don’t have a sponsor, anything like that. It’s a choice I made, to stop drinking. A choice influenced by convenience, namely that the day I stopped was the day after the last time I didn’t have to pay to get drunk. I just drank to excess that one day and haven’t done it since. No big fanfare.

But still, I’m counting the days.

And in those days, I’ve felt… something different, since stepping back from drinking. No matter how little I felt a part of this country’s hugely problematic culture surrounding alcohol, participating in it at all meant I was in it. I couldn’t see for myself the extent of what I was part of until I fully removed myself from it.

I think about this BoJack Horseman quote a lot:

You know, it’s funny; when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.

And it’s not a perfect match, I know, to what I’m describing. But in a way, I think it does demonstrate how easy it is to go from “I am a regular drinker/a social drinker/a casual drinker/a not problem drinker” to, well, worse.

Far be it from me to decide what each person can handle individually when it comes to drinking, the most basic fact remains that drinking alcohol is… not good for you! I am not doing anti-alcohol evangelizing here! That drinking occasionally in moderation won’t kill you and that drinking is objectively bad for you on some level greater than “not at all” are not mutually exclusive.

Unfortunately, that “something different” I mentioned? That’s me, right now, just over four months into this, mentally having trouble finding the grey areas between “my friends neutrally talk about drinking on social media” and “I would prefer to avoid alcohol in any form, including discussing it.” My list of muted words on Twitter has exploded, and now includes things like “drunk” and “beer” as well as “Untappd” (the drinking social media app) and “tipsy” (a word I’m not sure anyone my age uses, but what if they did one day?).

Since this whole pandemic thing kicked into high gear, it’s gotten worse. The number of times I’ve seen a Facebook status along the lines of, “Heading to the liquor store for some essential grocery shopping!” accompanied by a cry-laugh emoji and a photo of a shopping cart full of different beers and liquors has just made me feel so defeated.

Initially, I thought I was overreacting. You know that subreddit, IAmVerySmart, that makes fun of people who are just trying way too hard to make absolute sure people know they’re smart? That’s how I felt. There was no way my discomfort was a legitimate reaction — this was just me being waaay too good for these people. (Anyone who knows me well knows I love putting myself on pedestals like that!)

But I think when you’re trying to make a clean break from something like drinking, some discomfort is normal. When you’re coming to terms with the fact that maybe you were a bigger problem drinker than you realized, and you’re seeing people repeat your problem behaviors and present it as a joke for their friends, but you don’t want to step in and say something because (a) surely it’s not a problem for them, (b) who am I to decide how anyone should be coping right now, and (c) everyone knows that drinking isn’t good for you and grown adults don’t need reminders of that, it’s hard to watch, even when your panic has the same script every time.

It’s a work-in-progress, is what I’m saying, this part of me. It’s still new. And as I’m seeing casual “it’s 2 p.m. and I’m drinking at work!!!” social media posts (get it, because they’re working from home), I can’t help but think about how this particular brand of uncertainty that includes alcohol parallels with my own uncertainty that doesn’t.

I saw a tweet earlier today that went, “Next time you’re tempted to say “This is a marathon, not a sprint” – remember that in a marathon, you know where the finish line is. This is more like being lost in the woods and there are bears.” And it’s true — we’re not counting down to the end of this thing. As many projected end dates as our federal, state, and local governments are throwing into the universe, they’re all too soon. We can say how many weeks we’ve been sheltering in place (or, um, self-quarantining, if you’re “lucky” enough to live somewhere where shelter in place is not a thing), but we can’t say how many weeks until we don’t have to do it anymore.

Maybe that’s why I count my days, all 131 of them — to try to put any kind of positive spin on the uncertainty I can control. I’m counting up, infinitely, so I have some sort of tangible record of what I’ve accomplished. It’s still so scary, because if I go at this for the rest of my life, I can’t know how many more days will be tacked on. But, given the circumstances, the scary thing is the best thing I could be doing.

Here’s to Day 132, and every day after that.

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