This morning is a typical. I’ve had my two cups of coffee and a small bowl of yogurt. I got plenty of sleep last night. And generally, things are fine. But I want Uber-Fine! I want Rocket-Fuel-Fine! I want my third cup of coffee. [brief pause while I brew up a cup of decaf.]
But I’m not going to have my third cup and here’s why.
My enthusiasm will become overpowering.
I will miss nuance in most conversations, since I’m planning rather than listening.
I will shoot for the moon and be exhausted by noon.
The warm fuzzies may become the cold jitters.
That does not prevent me from WANTING the third cup, but I see the benefit of staying feet-on-the-ground real and having decaf instead. [BTW: this decaf with a little organic coconut oil is delicious, and my body doesn’t know it’s 98% caff free.] I’m going to have to deal with the normal problems of a normal day with non-heroic energy and strength. The third glass (coffee or wine) is a reach for something other than what is real.
The wine tends to release some inhibitions and stress while giving me a somewhat blunted view of reality.
For me, coffee is more of a draw than wine because I often am hoping to fire up the creative juices rather than shut them down. But wine is also a draw as the day winds down and I’m contemplating more coffee, so I can create more during the evening, or wine, so I can unplug and get to sleep, unaided, at a reasonable hour. Of course, some of my greatest creations were born of insomnia, so… Every now and then I go for the full-caff past 2pm and I hope for inspiration.
The thing about wine, for me, is it loosens up some parts of my inhibition. Now, in reality I need to learn to loosen those worries, anxieties, stresses without alcohol, but a single glass of wine does the trick nicely. And if I’m going for escape, for me, the second glass is all I need to trend towards bed rather than the writing desk. Usually, I’m in the mood for the writing desk. It’s what I do for fun as well as for money. [Well, more on that later.] It’s what I do for entertainment, at this point.
The third glass for me ALWAYS sounds like a great idea. My brain and my heart want that extra boost. My spirit and mind knows that it’s not such a great idea for me.
The wine tends to release some inhibitions and stress while giving me a somewhat blunted view of reality. That’s okay. And on Saturday night, it’s a perfect time to unplug the laptop and kick back for some SNL or House of Cards. No problem. But during the course of my normal weekly routine, there are very few evenings where I choose to disconnect rather than remain lucid. I don’t want to miss a minute of this wonderful life, and alcohol takes some of my observational acuity away.
Back to the racy side of the third glass. This morning, the third cup lacks the rocket fuel I was hoping for, while giving me the comfort of another warm and tasty beverage. Still, I want something more. I want some creative burst of energy to unhinge my morning, set me alight, get me going. Alas, I think I am stuck with my normal routine and my normal, earthbound self, to tap through this post and get on to my day-job at the factory.
The third glass for me ALWAYS sounds like a great idea. My brain and my heart want that extra boost. My spirit and mind knows that it’s not such a great idea for me. Sometimes, sure, but often, no. I need my powers of observation and wit to be sharp and pointed. Anything that blunts or amps-up those powers is not serving me in the long run. So, I’ll sip my decaf this morning, and dream of the stratosphere, but I’ll remain here in my seat with typical human powers.
I have to admit I do appreciate a minor amount of intoxication. I don’t do it often, but when I do, I revel in the relaxation, the joy, the fun of cutting loose. But that’s a little different from oblivion. When we seek oblivion we are looking to escape something, to get away from the complexities of life or living or love or loss. I understand this. Sometimes, I’m board, I want to be entertained for an hour or so and then I just want to black out into sleep. Well, not black out, black out, but you get what I’m talking about. I think, at times we all want a little oblivion.
I joked with my therapist that I was managing my life between Ambien doses. That’s funny, but it wasn’t very far from the truth.
For me, when I was suffering from depression over the holidays that oblivion came in the form of a very comforting sleep medication. Ambien. No matter how rotten I was feeling, I could count on a good night’s sleep when I took my little pink generic. And at $15 for a month’s supply, what’s to stop me, right?
Turns out while I did need help sleeping for a few nights, when my love of the sleep became something I looked forward to each day, that was a different desire right there. I was no longer having trouble sleeping, I was looking for the warm fuzzy of sleep. The big black blanket of pharma-enhanced sleep, is what I was craving as an escape from the hard times.
I joked with my therapist that I was managing my life between Ambien doses. That’s funny, but it wasn’t very far from the truth. See, if you don’t go straight to sleep, Ambien can make you a bit euphoric. And when you are depressed, a tiny sliver of euphoria can go a long way towards making you hopeful about joy in your life once again.
Each morning I would wake up a little more depressed, as I started slipping into a dark period, rather than a minor set back. And each night I would gladly affirm to my fiance that I’d taken my “sleepy meds.”
But it was no longer about sleep. On month two it was about joy. It was about a moment of feeling good and then a long dark and dreamless sleep. And they say Ambien is non-habit forming. HA. Who are they trying to kid?
I’m certain this is what many people are trying to do with daily alcohol consumption. A little buzz and a good night’s sleep. But this form of self medication is no better than my Ambien habit, and probably more destructive to their health. And Ambien does give you restful sleep. Alcohol actually interrupts your REM cycles and gives you poor quality sleep. So if you’re drinking to help yourself get sleepy you might consult your doctor and try something else.
The Ambien was having some sort of suppressive effect on my hopefulness.
But I get it. And I was getting into my little oblivion moments even as my life felt like it was spinning into the pits of blackness. I was drawing ever darkening pictures of my future in my mind. And each night I would release those wicked pains for a few minutes before I drifted to sleep. I’m guessing this is not unlike an opium habit, though I’ve never done opium.
Something, however was not healthy about what I was doing. I wasn’t clear about it until my prescription ran out one day in December and I missed a dose and missed my little high before falling asleep. The next day I had a much more hopeful outlook. I noted my desire to have an outreach conversation with my manager at work. I said to myself, that afternoon, “Wow, that was pretty hopeful.”
The Ambien was having some sort of suppressive effect on my hopefulness. I had seen this a few years ago. I loved my Ambien sleeps, but I noted that I loved them a bit too much. And the couple nights I didn’t fall directly asleep… Well, I really enjoyed those moments.
I watched my mood the next day after I refilled the Ambien. While I didn’t notice a downer, I also didn’t notice the lift I had felt when not on Ambien. So I took a break. And you know what. My hope came back almost like clock work. I haven’t had an Ambien since. Now, I’m not saying Ambien is bad stuff. In fact, in talking with my meds doctor about my experience, he said, “It’s a useful tool when the sleep is the real risk for you. When you are getting enough sleep, it might be best for you to stop the medication.”
Easy for him to say.
I longed for that happy moment. I felt like I was having no happy moments. My little oblivion felt like a reward or a respite from the depression. And it was not the first time I contemplated daytime-Ambien use. (BAD IDEA. Google it, it’s a thing, but it’s a bad thing.)
It seemed to me if they could make an anti-depressant that worked a little bit like Ambien… But what Ambien does is release some of your natural inhibitions. In my case this gave me the feeling that I could accomplish something. It gave me momentary breaks from my hopelessness. I believed joy was returning to my life. But the dawn would often bring back the same panic and dread.
I still sort of want an Ambien at night. But you know what, it might just be the dreams that also bring back the brain’s hopefulness in me.
They say Ambien makes people do stuff they don’t remember doing. Like eating at night, driving their car somewhere, or sleep walking. I never had that experience, but I sure had some emails I wish I hadn’t sent. Emails where I gushed on about how I was feeling better and would get my shit in order right away… In fact, why don’t we meet up for coffee in the morning.
Oh the coffee never came. But I was clearly “drunk” on something.
If drinking is a little like Ambien, I do understand the draw towards daily drinking. It’s not for me either, never has been, but daily Ambien, I could see how I might enjoy that if not for the side effects that it kills my hopeful attitude the next day and has me making promises my actually emotional state won’t let me fulfill.
I still sort of want an Ambien at night. I’d love to get that kind of sleep naturally. But you know what, it might just be the dreams that also bring back the brain’s hopefulness in me. And the waking up in the middle of the night to snuggle closer to your loved one, that keeps me a bit more centered. I’m not heading to oblivion each night, but I’m not waking up in hopeless hell either.
A wine rack does not an alcoholic make, a wine lover does not a problem reveal, drinking is not the devil’s work, prohibition has never solved anything.
I’ll admit, drinking from time to time is fun. Last night for example, we had a round of margaritas at a nice restaurant. And the happy hour appetizers made the accidental outing more like dinner than the spontaneous happy hour it actually was. And as I was the driver, I waved off the second round for me as I was nodding for my sweetheart to have another. It was a warm fuzzy of an evening at that point. All sparkle ponies and grinning selfies from the comfy couch.
We were both feeling fine when we left before the real dinner crowd arrived. We’d missed the major 5 o’clock traffic jam and arrived home in 20 minutes. In the kitchen we discussed what movie or show we were going to watch.
“Well, I think we’re going to need a short format show,” I said, as she poured a glass of wine. Sure there was a moment of disappointment as I acknowledged her eventual departure, but I was okay with the idea. I had things I could do after she fell asleep.
“I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”
And that’s really part of the deal. If the third glass becomes routine we will be spending a lot less quality time, lovey dovey time in bed, a lot less deep explorations of our thoughts, aspirations, and plans. When the third glass enters the equation I begin to clamp down on the inspired discussions about plans, hopes, and dreams. There’s some pause on my part, when the smooth and slippery tone enters her voice. It’s cute. I’m not angry about it. I just begin to plan what else I’m going to do after she falls asleep.
The night before, as she put her empty wine glass on the kitchen table, saying, “Might leave this out for a bit more.” We smiled at each other as we did the dishes and generally cleaned up the kitchen together.
As we were down to the finishing bits I picked up the empty wine glass and said, “Would you like me to wash this?” I smiled. I was not being passive aggressive, she knew exactly what I was asking. She picked up the glass, smiled at me and proceeded to fill it with ice chips. Both options were still available to her. She poured the glass full of bubbly water. A new smile crossed her face. The smile that acknowledged that she would rather stay close, connected, and beside me for the night.
“Because I’m fine either way,” I said, before she had decided. “It’s just that if your going to have another one you’ll probably be pretty sleepy. Maybe we’ll skip the show all together.”
Her decision was towards me. Later in bed we talked a bit more about it.
“I hope my hint wasn’t to over the top or irritating to you,” I said.
“No, it’s good. I want to stay close. You’re a good influence on me.”
“I just don’t want you to miss a minute of this live between us. I’m so enthralled and in love that any distraction takes me away from being 100% aware and present for you.”
“I don’t want to miss any of you either.”
“So I didn’t hurt your feelings?” I asked, reaching out to take her hand. I wanted to get this moment crystal clear between us.
“Nope,” she said. “I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”
“Well, not all times,” I said. “It’s okay to imbibe a bit. It’s even okay to go for glass four and five if that’s what you want to do.”
“I like that you don’t really drink that much. It makes me more conscious of my drinking. And I know less is better for me, and better for us to stay close.”
The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face.
I took her in my arms and kissed her deeply. “There isn’t enough time in the rest of our days together for me to tell you and show you how much I love you. I’m going to express it as often as I can, and the more you receive the more we both grow.”
It’s hard, sometimes, being the light drinker. I occasionally feel sorry for myself, wishing I had an easier way to eliminate the drinks for the evening. It has crossed my mind at various times to make some demands, to set a challenge in place, but that’s also my child of an alcoholic talking, rather than a compassionate and loving partner.
Let me get this straight. She’s not an alcoholic. She likes to drink. Occasionally she likes to drink more than she likes to be with me. Together, when we are drinking, there’s a warm fuzzy glow. Most of the time, I turn back to water and clarity of purpose so I can get on with some of my aspirations. I’m not against letting one rip, but I don’t ever aspire to have a hangover. And that’s enough for me. A buzz is fun. Intoxication is not. For me.
The navigation and negotiation around drinking or not drinking is an on-going discussion in many relationships. Often it’s a struggle within an individual to make the choice away from that third glass. But my dry-drunk mentality is no healthier than the alcoholic’s. I am in my own fantasy/nightmare that has very little to do with her and her third or fourth glass.
Had I allowed the knee-jerk asshole to pass judgement on her and *any* drinking, I could’ve easily passed on the love of my life. I believe we have a lasting partnership. I also know we’ll have plenty future conversations about drinking, not drinking, wine or beer, or in my case, more often than not, bubbly water.
Our worlds have collided and in some ways merged. For the better. I’m enjoying a bit more downtime. She’s enjoying a bit more ON time as we head into the evening’s entertainment with clarity of focus and intention. And then we can reverse the mode as well. Alcohol is certainly not the only inebriant. Stress, lack of sleep, lack of healthy food, all produce altered states of mental health. Even a sleeping pill I love has the potential to give me a buzz rather than kicking off a good night’s sleep when I’ve had a bit too much afternoon coffee.
We are on this journey together. She is open to my questions and suggestions and desire for her to be more present when we make love, for example. She is okay with dancing her dance and meeting me halfway in the discussion about what WE want. The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face. She confronted and accepted my depressive episode. She laughed and applauded my recent job loss from the mean dysfunctional corporate gig.
Here we are.
I may cross over to the realm of the third glass and beyond from time to time, when we don’t have to drive anywhere. But the choice to be come less conscious is conscious. Decide consciously when are about to fill up your third glass. Talk about the evening with your significant other. If your plans have different trajectories, don’t judge or complain about. Take responsibility to say what you want and what makes you happy. Every night is a new conversation. Less and less about alcohol.
We’re just beginning our journey together. I cannot assume my ideas are correct and her’s are flawed. She is not flawed or damaged. She is strong and leaning in to all the aspects of me. I am learning to let go of my own baggage and lean into her, and all her facets as well.
A couple walks into a bar. The woman says, “Saphire Martini, dry.” The man says, “Club soda with lime, please.” [What’s the punch line?] Bartender says, “Funny, when you came in here, I thought you guys were together.”
My girlfriend likes a glass of wine while cooking dinner together. Is she an alcoholic?
I will admit right now I have a problem with alcohol. At times my life was out of control and alcohol was the problem. Of course, I wasn’t the one drinking, it was my dad. My entire family was held hostage by my father’s drinking, his anger, and his resentment. My brother too, eight years older than me, did quite a stint as an alcoholic. I’ve seen the ravages of drinking, and I’ve veered away from drinking in my life. Not because I’m afraid of having a problem, but because I’ve learned to distrust that buzzy feeling.
I realized I was tripping because of MY reaction to her drinking rather than her drinking.
It’s not that my girlfriend has a drinking problem. She likes to drink. She will admit that she’d like to drink less. And she will also tell me that her drinking is more of a habit than an addiction, and that she used to drink out of boredom or loneliness. All of this I believe to be true.
Today, however, she’s not lonely or bored. She’s saying to me that she’s happier and more confident in our relationship than she can remember being at any time in her past. And still she drinks. So… There’s something else at play here. It is my problem with drinkers? Is it her wanting to drink less and still having a couple of glasses of wine a night?
For a while I was worried about this disconnect between us. She drinks, she knows tons of wines she likes, she has some sort of romance with martinis and talks knowledgeably and sometimes longingly about drinking. This was beginning to trip me out.
Then I realized I was tripping because of MY reaction to her drinking rather than her drinking. It was my drinking problem that was causing my own fear and doubt to enter the relationship. So I talked about it. She listened. She didn’t get defensive. I didn’t try to fix or change her. I didn’t ask her to stop drinking.
I did want to understand more about what made her drink even when she was with me. Habit? Maybe, but that’s not a good reason. Loneliness or fear? Maybe when she was living in a different house half the time. But when we are together she couldn’t be lonely. So I started understanding something about her and about me. She liked to drink. And I was afraid of drinking, hers or my own. So, I was the one with the problem. Kinda.
A week ago I started re-reading some of my posts about the relationship I was looking for. And sure enough my girlfriend hits all of the WINNING traits out of the park. But there was this, in something I wrote titled Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Split Relationship.
Alcohol or tv are not constant sources of entertainment or escape.
Okay, so that triggered my worried mind again. I was reading some of my dating after divorce material, comparing how amazing and awesome this woman was and along came this zinger. Um, oh, yeah, the drinking thing.
But I have learned not to jump to conclusions and especially not to pay too close attention to what I wrote before I met her. I also said I’d never date a woman who was not a mother. I have since taken “never” out of my vocabulary. I had to. She is amazing, and the fact that she had not given birth to children had nothing to do with our love for one another, nor her ability to adore and love my children.
It was MY fear of alcohol that was causing me trouble. And it was my hyper-vigilance against drinking that was creating the issue.
So I didn’t stew on the topic, I simply told her about the post. (She is well aware of all of my writing, so that wasn’t a surprise.)
“So I was reading back over some of my writing from a year or two ago, where I was trying to outline exactly the kind of relationship I wanted, and I came over this funny thing…”
I told her about my fear of drinking, more specifically, her drinking. “And I was amazed how perfect you are, but this objection keeps popping up in my mind. I wanted to talk about it.”
“Sure,” she said, without a hint of frustration.
“Over margaritas, of course!”
“Of course,” she joked. “Let me change clothes and we can go.”
That was a few months ago, and she’s still drinking. I’m even drinking a bit. Partially to join her, partially to allow myself to learn from her about all of her travels, wine parings, and knowledge of alcohol. She really is sort of an amateur-expert.
At the same time I had to confront my own fears, and own them. It was MY fear of alcohol that was causing me trouble. And it was my hyper-vigilance against drinking that was creating the issue. So we kept dating, she kept drinking, and I kept talking and writing about it.
This was a big reveal to me: Everyone who drinks is not an alcoholic.
Okay, so I was letting go of that idea as I was observing our relationship and interactions around alcohol. She and I exchanged some jovial banter about her drinking and I sipped the Pinot and smiled. And over time I began to see what was bothering ME about her drinking. So I told her about my theory. Here it is.
The Third Glass (Making the choice consciously.)
It’s the third glass of wine that determines if we are going to have an evening together or if you are going to head off into some other place where I can’t really reach you or relate to you. One glass to cook, one glass with dinner… and then a choice.
Towards Me (No more wine means let’s be together tonight.”
If she is happy and content, I can’t see why she would need that next glass of wine to feel happy or secure. If she knows and experiences my love as true and present, she wouldn’t want to turn away from those feelings by dipping further into the wine. And here is my own wounded boy’s idea: if she loved me she wouldn’t drink until she was intoxicated.
Away From Me (Yes please, pour me another, means I’ve had a rough day, I’m feeling tired, I’d rather go to bed early.)
It’s that third glass, metaphorically that signals an intention to move away from our closeness and conversation into some altered state. Perhaps there is a numbness or release in the intoxication for her. But unwinding with a glass of wine is different when the third glass is poured and consumed and the words begin to blend together just a bit, and her jovial attitude shifts ever so slightly towards aloof and distant.
Again, this is my reaction and my emotional response to her drinking that next glass of wine. If she chooses to drink more, I tell her, it feels like you are leaving me in some ways. I can’t share at the same level. I don’t want to get lovey dovey. And the real communication between us has to be put on hold until the morning. That’s how it feels to me, the sober one. I can’t say how it feels for you. Perhaps I am too focused, too obsessive about not drinking, and the third glass let’s you unplug not only from your stressful day, but also from my intensity and earnestness.
What I really wanted to make sure I told her, as I was discovering all this stuff about me and my reaction to drinking in general, was that I didn’t need her to stop drinking. I didn’t even need her to limit her drinking to two glasses. What I wanted from her was to observe when she made that decision *away* from our closeness and into a less approachable state.
Several things I believe to be true about dealing with someone who is buzzed. (I define this as tipsy, slurring a bit, but mostly lucid. Not drunk, but intoxicated, or impaired. In this case, by choice.)
Don’t take on any serious subjects with them.
Don’t talk about their drinking until the next day when they are sober. Trying to talk to someone who is drunk about drinking is a no-win situation.
Make sure they are safe and comfortable. And in my case, put her to bed, lovingly, and go about my evening routine without her.
Sex can be okay with a buzzed person, but if you’re not both a bit hazy it can make for some awkward moments. And for the most part, when she’s had the third glass and I have not, my desire for sex with her diminishes a bit.
So now we’ve had this talk. I’ve made up this concept of the Third Glass and she says, “I think a lot of people will really understand what you are talking about.”
When she has the third glass of wine, in my mind she is turning away from the relationship and into some self-imposed isolation or altered state.
As we move forward, I am clear with her about my limits for me. I might have a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s about it, unless we go out for margaritas. And for her the choices are a bit more complex. I’m sure I’ve caused her some stress around this, but it has to be out in the open and discussed.
When she has the third glass of wine, in my mind she is turning away from the relationship and into some self-imposed isolation or altered state. I have to let go of the outcome, and let go of my expectations, or speak up if I have a problem. [Again, please note, this is *my* frame around her drinking, not hers.] When she asks for a glass of water after dinner she is signaling that she wants to remain close for the rest of the evening. Both choices are fine. If I don’t attach my own stigma to the choice, I can allow her to take either path without guilt or shame. I can let go of my baggage and allow her to be exactly who she wants to be.
If she drinks the third glass I begin looking for what I’m going to do that evening when she’s fallen asleep. If she asks for water, my mind enters into a different set of fantasies that involve her participation. The real joy is that we’ve had this discussion. I even said I would run this post by her before I published it, so she could edit or give feedback. The last thing I want is to damage our relationship by exposing too much or causing her pain.
Last night, as I was cleaning up the dishes I looked at her with a sly grin as I held the cork above the bottle in an unspoken question. “Yes,” she said, “Put the cork in the bottle and get me a glass of water.” What that said to me was, “I’m here, I’m happy, and what are we going to do together tonight?”
Afterword: And the amazing thing is after I read this to her we were closer and even more ready to have the discussion in the moment about drinking, hers AND mine. (grin)