Tag Archives: self-regulation

Drinking Fuzzy Navels and Spending Time Together Doing Nothing

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A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time.”

As you eventually become an adult, there are opportunities for self-regulation that begin to define you. For example, if food is your thing, you might give in frequently to the call of a Big Mac and fries. And for some folks the casual drink is the indulgence that gives them a warm fuzzy feeling. But again, as we evolve as adults we begin to look beyond the buzz and towards other objectives.

I’ve been learning a lot about my relationship to alcohol in the last six months, as I’ve been dating, and now living with, a woman who likes to drink. And  am exploring and dissecting why *any drink* at a certain time of day feels to me like an escape, a withdrawal of some kind. Is it? Is it just me and my projections? Do I set myself above the drinkers because I abstain most of the time?

Today, I don’t plan out my day by deciding if and when I’m going to have ice cream. I don’t think that much about it.

The other day, I got a chance to understand a bit of my own motivation in not drinking. My sweetie was excited about a new bottle of perseco (Italian sparkling wine) and I have to admit it looked delicious. It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday. She casually poured two glasses and offered me one.

I didn’t mean to, but in some way I shamed her. I giggled and said, “No thank you honey. I don’t want that.” I was not trying to be mean, but the giggle was an indication that something else, my own issues, was in play. In some ways I thought she was adorable with her two flutes of champagne, and in some other region of my brain my reaction was, “What? I’ve still got things to do, and goals to accomplish.” And in fact, I was at that moment contemplating a late afternoon cup of coffee. I was on my way up and somehow the offer of a cocktail felt like an invitation towards distraction, disconnection, debauchery. WAIT! What?

It wasn’t that I imagined my sweetheart was a drunk or lazy or something distasteful. But it did rub me the wrong way. It made me feel superior in my denial of the diversion. Again, I was not consciously telling her she was bad, but my giggle said something else, and I wanted to look at what this was.

I was saying, “Awww, you’re cute. Look at you with your mid-afternoon cocktail. Not for MEEEEE. I’ve got dreams to accomplish, songs to write, posts to publish. I’ve got aspirations and I’m going to fuel them with caffeine not alcohol.” WOO HOO! But the message was clear, even if unspoken. “I’m better than you for not drinking. I’m stronger, more creative, and obviously more in control of my hedonistic impulses.”

But I was telling myself a lie with this line of reasoning. I was trying to set myself above the person I loved. I was trying to prove my sobriety was a badge of honor.

POINT OF ORDER: Not drinking is not heroic or valiant. Not drinking is a choice.

Okay, when I started trying to look beneath my bravado and self-congratulatory shaming, I wanted to understand what the disconnect was for me as this beautiful and caring woman offered me an invitation to enjoy a tasty beverage with her.

Sometimes that is exactly what is called for in life and in a close relationship. Let go. Let yourself be intoxicated and alone with the mere presence of another person.

A few weeks ago, we were vacationing in New York City and we were spending our afternoons exploring the city on foot. And as we traipsed around the city, I noticed how my attitude about drinking together was different. In New York, “on vacation,” I allowed my own self-judging, self-regulating attitude to relax a bit. A cocktail in the afternoon on vacation might lead to lovemaking and a nap. DELICIOUS.

One evening as we were chilling in the hotel restaurant/bar I suggested tequila shots. (Tequila tends to have some kind of inhibition release for both of us, and it was Saturday night, and we were in New York City, on a vacation we’d planned for months.)

The tequila shots were delicious. And as I went back to get my truffle oil fries, I swung by the bar and got us another round. Something in me was enthusiastic about the alcohol and the warm rush of tequila fairies around my chest and neck.

Two things seem to be illuminated by these different situations and approaches to drinking with my sweet woman.

  1. For me alcohol is an occasional release, a flight into fuzzy navels and potential escape. As a joining activity, the flood of joy and warmth is as intoxicating as the alcohol itself.
  2. A drink together is a way of slowing the world down, letting go of dreams and expectations of the evening, or afternoon, and allowing the infusion of alcohol and proximity to draw you closer.

When I am still mapping out options and ideas for the evening or late afternoon, a drink is almost comical to me. It laughs at the poems and songs I want to write and says, “Ah, come sail away with me.”

Sometimes that is exactly what is called for in life and in a close relationship. Let go. Let yourself be intoxicated and alone with another person. And while a drink is not required for these feelings to be expressed, the liquid lubrication can often loosen expressions of both concern and adoration in a non-threatening way.

A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time.”

For me, if that decision came on a daily basis… “Hm, is it beer-thirty yet?” I think I would constantly be trying to make a choice about “being creative” or “being buzzed.” I have taken a good portion of my life and growing up to get my impulsive nature under control. For example, ice cream might be my kryptonite, but I don’t have to eat it just because it’s in the fridge. Today, I don’t plan out my day by deciding if and when I’m going to have ice cream. I don’t think that much about it. (Disclosure: if there is some tasty ice cream in the fridge I may crave it at all times of the day, but I don’t act on those cravings.) If alcohol had the same craving for me, I’d have to work a lot harder not to have it around, and not to set my objectives and quitting time by when I could have my first cocktail.

[Something about this explanation still feels defensive and superior. I know there is work to be done for me.]

Step one is allowing my sweet woman to manage her own life, her own afternoons, and her own creative, loving, inspirational trajectory. And my goal is not to put expectations on her for what we are doing “later tonight” unless I explicitly make plans with her. Since we are together now, so often, it can be easy to just assume we will be connecting and snuggling every single evening, even when that isn’t feasible or desirable.

Still, there is something in me that feels a pinch of sadness when she waxes poetically about a new malbec in the middle of the afternoon. My options are to smile and say nothing. To offer up plans that might point us both in a different direction. Or, releasing my own self-judgement, and joining her in a celebration of a day well spent and “beer-thirty” and “let’s see where this night takes us, together, no matter what we do.”

It seems to me, some of my resistance (and even repulsion) to alcohol is it’s ability to blunt my senses, to make me a bit more relaxed than I am without it, and to signal an end to my productive, obsessive, always-on, creative narrator. When I was younger I never wanted to miss a detail. I’m still a bit obsessed by being clear-headed and creative at all times. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to illuminate some detail of my past or future live.

Currently my sweetheart and I sail along together. I am learning to say what I want, what my intention are for the afternoon (on a Saturday, for example) and thus set some expectations for her of how I would and would not like to interact. I can only assume that when I suggest drinks it lubricates a fond and familiar togetherness for both of us. I am learning to embrace this idea and indulgence of time and attention.

POINT OF ORDER: A cocktail together cordons off a bit of time where your focus can be exclusively on the other person and the joy at simply being together.

A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time. Let’s set off into the sunset and see where this journey takes us.”

Setting aside time to be with another person is a special thing. Allowing that time to have no agenda and no expectations is yet another level of joy and togetherness. For me, a drink can enhance the joy or dull the prospects of the follow-on activity. The choice is more about perspective than what is right or wrong. Navigating a relationship is about expressing your desires and expectations and not letting unspoken agreements or disagreements cause resentment. Love is the number one thing. Time is the ingredient. Stirring in coffee or tequila can have a radically different effect on the course of the evening.

Do I always wish that she would go for a cup of coffee rather than a glass of wine? No. Do I always have some twinge of pain when she pours another glass of wine? No. Am I learning what my relationship to alcohol looks like? Yes. Do I have the answers? Hell no.

Onward and upward, together.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: my sweetheart’s fingers, cc john mcelhenney 2015, creative commons usage