“To be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is the ability to surpass the given toward an open future.”
– Simone de Beauvoir
For a long time – my entire adult life, and then some – I’ve associated alcohol with freedom: freedom from restrictions, responsibilities, anxiety (especially social anxiety), inhibitions, emotional pain, the sharpness of thoughts and feelings and memories, the crushing daily drive toward perfection and control. It’s important to develop other ways to manage these things, but that’s not the topic of this post. The topic here is freedom, and alcohol has represented freedom from many things for me.
In a rather cruel turn of events, alcohol itself became a constraint. There is so much I couldn’t do, and couldn’t even imagine as possible for myself in the future, due to what developed into a heavy nightly drinking habit. Reliability as a romantic partner? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over my erratic behavior. A 9 a.m. doctor’s appointment? Hardly. A wholesome sober night with friends or family? Not possible. If it was nighttime, I was drunk; if the sun was up, I was clawing my way through another hangover. That was a given.
For Simone de Beauvoir, “givens” are things that limit our ability to choose what to do with ourselves. Drinking became a given that I chose over and over, because it was the only thing that felt good.
When I want that particular flavor of feel-good and I feel constrained by my commitment to an alcohol-free stretch, I hear something in me say, “You’re free to do what you like. You can drink.” It’s true, I can. But there’s a very different kind of freedom that comes precisely from not doing what I’d like.
I have no delusions that I’ve fully surpassed my given. But I’ve gotten glimpses of the open territory lying beyond. During my first alcohol-free stretches last year, I learned how to be with myself, without a buffer. I experienced my first days without preoccupation around how much booze I had on hand/where I’d get more/how much I’d drink/what might happen if I went overboard. This month I spent an evening with friends without alcohol and enjoyed their company in and of itself. And I scheduled a 9 a.m. doctor’s appointment.
It doesn’t feel good not to do what I’d like; it’s uncomfortable and downright painful at times. But being able to see a future in which alcohol is not a determinant of my plans, goals and focus – that’s something I feel good about. I have to believe that future is worth the occasional constraint and discomfort necessary to get there.
Post submitted by: May-mo (MM member)