It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon; the last weekend of autumn but somehow warm enough that I’m sitting outside a cafe in half sleeves, light pants and ballet flats. There’s a busker somewhere nearby, and my hand trolley is full of fresh ingredients, biding their time until the children are in bed later and I shut myself in the kitchen with my CD player and cook a week’s worth of meals. Chickpea, cauliflower and eggplant curry; pea and ham soup; roast pork with all the trimmings; lentil soup, apricot muffins for the school lunch grind. LH is at home with the girls, constructing fairy wings out of old stockings, coat hangers and glitter.
Yes, you could indeed guess that I’m happy in this moment.
Approaching three months, I’m happy most of the time. I miss wine in the abstract, sometimes; the idea that LH and I can’t just flop on the sofa together after a hard day with the girls, crack open a bottle of red and settle back into easy conversation seems very unfair when I think about it. But I rarely miss drinking in the here-and-now any more.
When people talk about strengthening their emotional muscles as the sober days tick past, I always took them to mean that they grew better at resisting cravings. As if those muscles act only in reaction, pushing back against the force of the craving to end in deadlock. Talk about sitting with the cravings, distractions, avoiding the vulnerable times, gave me the impression that the point was to get better at saying no, and that it ended there.
But what I’m realising is that it’s more than saying no to a craving. It’s about saying yes – honouring the real need behind that craving and finding better ways to meet it. As time goes by, I meet those needs more and more with other things first, without going through the step of saying no to wine. Do you remember my friend, who said the same thing, about ringing the Solutions Desk in your head? ‘After a while, you stop asking for alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t work here anymore’.
So what did I want to feel yesterday, at my party? Pepped up, cheerful, energetic, bright; Diet Coke it was, and talking, and volunteering to lead the children in a chasing game outdoors. After everyone had gone, I wanted to feel relaxed, indulgent, sleepy. A peppermint chamomile blend in my pretty mug* and the Enigma Variations in my earbuds. Tonight I’ll find the space and solitude I need at the end of a busy weekend by shutting myself in my kitchen, a literal door doing what wine used to try and achieve metaphorically.
Because wine is just a vehicle It’s not a destination. And once you know where you’re trying to be, you can use other vehicles to get there just as well. Better, in fact, because wine has a habit of detouring through Drunkville, but now this metaphor is in danger of going off its own tracks, so let me get back to the point. Alcohol is just a thing that gets you to a place, and it turns out that despite its promise, it doesn’t have exclusive rights to utilise that road.
Hop in your sober car instead. The music is better and the scenery stays crisp. It’s quite the ride.
*You GUYS. I meant to tell you. My mother-in-law, on her first evening here, asked for a cup of tea and took down MY MUG to drink it from! A whole cupboard of matching crockery and she reaches for what is literally the only drinking vessel that isn’t part of the set. I was, you will be glad to read, very restrained about it.