Ask Schmutzie: Why I Can't Just Cut Down And Go Back To The Pub

I asked you to ask me questions about my sobriety. This is my third answer in response to your questions. Check out my first and second set of questions and answers here: Is There A Point Where It Won't Feel Like I Should Just Give In? and How Do You Deal With The Urge To Drink?

morning sun

My question is — will you ever be able to go back to those "places" of alcohol consumption, or have you, and how have you handled it?
     — Rhonda

Why did you decide to quit instead of just cutting back?
     — kris


When I publicly admitted to having a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol, I had accepted the fact that I couldn't alter my habitualized interaction with it. I finally understood that my relationship with alcohol was entirely one-sided. It didn't know me, love me, or want me. I was its dewy-eyed stalker, taking what I could of it whenever I could.

With my public declaration, I had to take action, but I couldn't do it like all the other times when I had told myself after five pints of beer that I needed to cut back. That half-hearted conviction only resulted in me having one less beer the next night and one less blackout that week before I resumed my regularly scheduled bingeing.

It is important to know here that I never ever, under any circumstances, wanted only one or two drinks. I only ever wanted as many drinks as it would take to black out, so cutting back still meant getting loaded, which always lead to not cutting back, which lead to blacking out two nights later.

The only way out was to stop, and the only way to stop was to discontinue the triggers that I followed down that road again and again. This was a decision I had avoided making for years, being that my triggers were at least one hundred people and one particular drinking establishment to which I had very close ties. Everyone who worked there and most of the regular patrons knew me by name. I had drowned my sorrows about cancer there. We had celebrated the Palinode's back surgery and ability to stand upright again there.

My life had become work (to make money for alcohol), pub (to drink said alcohol), and home (to sleep off said alcohol) on a revolving carousel. I was going to have to break up with a substantial portion of my life, and I had to do it NOW. There could be no second-guessing or one last hoorah.

And so, without any fanfare, or even a word of explanation to anyone, I chose to simply disappear. I walked away from the pub I frequented and nearly ten years of friendships within a fairly expansive circle, and I forged three rules to help carry me through:
  1. I can never again set foot in the pub I inhabited for so many years.
  2. I cannot continue my friendships with most of the people with whom I drank during that decade, because my social ties are inextricably bound to my alcoholic triggers.
  3. I can never drink alcohol again with the idea that I can control my relationship to it, nor can I be left alone with it in my home.

This first year away from that place and my friends hasn't always been easy. It's as though I am grieving a death, and I suppose that I am, in a way. Each major holiday, shifts in seasons, and birthdays and parties that come up on Facebook have me waxing nostalgic, and, especially now that spring is here, I am finding it hard to imagine that I won't park myself on that patio through long summer afternoons. As it stands, I avoid even the street that the pub I drank at sits on. In the past eight months, I have walked down that block a sum total of four times, three of which were by accident when I turned the corner to it out of habit.

What makes it easier, though, is reminding myself that the expansive circle of friends I thought I had was not the so-called chosen family I sometimes espoused it to be. Of the people I saw most often there near the end, of the couple of hundred people I knew in that place, a surprisingly tiny number have bothered to check in with me over the last eight months to see how I am, and most of those who checked in did so to tell me that I should come out for a drink. Quite a few more have unfriended or blocked me on Facebook.

I get the warm fuzzies all over just thinking about it.

Of course, I just dropped out without a word and have made no motion to contact most of them, either, so don't think that I am blaming a hamlet's worth of people for not declaring their undying support of my life decisions. I have not been the best example of how to win friends and influence people. If you want to know how to dump almost everyone you socialize with and spend an entire winter holed up in your apartment, though, I'm your gal.

It's just a little eye-opening in the clear light of sobriety to see how easily most of my supposed ties were cut, and it's surprisingly freeing. And, to be perfectly honest, I rarely, if ever, truly miss the configuration of the life I had just less than a year ago. I was lonely and sad and lost in a sea of people whose friendships I used to prop up that night's drunk. They deserve better, and so do I.

So, Rhonda and Kris, my answer to your questions is no. I cannot cut back when it comes to alcohol, and I can never revisit the pub I once thought I loved so much. My relationship to alcohol threw all of my other relationships tangential to it askew. I very nearly broke myself and the few parts of my life that I truly love, my liver among them, and I'm kind of attached to that little guy and all the living that he makes possible.