Alcohol: A Love Story.

A week ago I sat with a wonderful human over lunch.

Our meal turned into a two-and-a-half hour conversation around living an inspired, soul-ignited type of life. We brushed up on our work, creativity, inspiration, our relationships, yoga.

By far, though, addiction was the most resonant piece of our sweet, 2 person speakeasy.

There is not one person I know, whom, if they were truly honest, can claim to be addiction free. It’s a difficult time to be a human and we cope using whatever methods we can at any given time.

My addiction(s)??  I have many, but my relationship with alcohol is a complicated, real love story.

I saw at least two out of the four years of undergraduate through the bottom of a pint glass. I had a lucrative career in my mid 20s as a bartender while living on the North Shore of Oahu (*still* the most money –and attention – I’ve ever earned). In 1998, in the midst of a miserable marriage, I sought solace for a good 6 months swimming in a bottle of chardonnay. Even today, there’s no beachy golden hour that wouldn’t sound better without an icy margarita.

I adore alcohol. I adore it’s internal warmth and the sense of intimacy it creates.

Consider the dinner ritual of picking out a bottle of wine with my love: the intimacy of discussion, the sense of we’re-in-this together decision-making, the shared sensory experience of the culinary pairing.

As someone who studies non-violent communication, I know enough about needs and strategies to be somewhat clear on the role addiction plays in my top three needs: Connection, love, happiness/avoiding suffering.

The knowledge that I use alcohol to satisfy (falsely, albeit) these needs is often why I occasionally stop using altogether. Periodically.

Sometimes I consider stopping drinking for good, however, one problem: I technically don’t qualify as an alcoholic. Online quizzes determine I do not have a drinking problem. I almost never consume more than 2 drinks at a time. I have wine or a cocktail with dinner, at max, once a week. Mostly less.  No day drinking, no cravings, no DUIs. No loved one questions my drinking. I’ve had no rock bottom.

I don’t, in all honesty, have a compelling reason to quit.

There was a time, eighteen years ago, with the realization I was using alcohol as a toxic relationship coping mechanism, I quit drinking (and subsequently quit my marriage) altogether for several years. During this time, I identified as an alcoholic in recovery and attended meetings, but I never felt as if I truly belonged. I would sit in AA meetings surrounded by stories of “coming to” from a blackout; of losing children. Of losing it all.

I had not even come close to any of these things.

When I voiced my lack of resonance with my friends in recovery, AA speak as a response is this: Do you think you’re different?

No. Maybe? Yes?

Still. I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion – even in my 20s – that even mild drinking gets in the way of living soul-on-fire type of life.

This became clearer a month ago while in India, when our teacher Tommy Rosen said this about alcohol: “Even if you are not an addict, why would you want to do anything that creates a barrier, no matter how small, between you and God?”

Damn you, Tommy.

Several days later, at Parnath Ashram in Rishikesh, our speaker Sadhvi likened addiction is a form of spiritual seeking. “With addiction you have the right idea for a destination, but you’ve gotten on the wrong train,” she told us.

The “wrong train” is our belief that somehow, something outside of ourselves can offer us a feeling of being whole again.

Wholeness. What so many of us are searching for when we roll out our yoga mat: A life that feels connected, happy, complete.

Is there anyone among us who does not deeply desire these things?”

No wonder, then, that we look toward our addictions – our easy, quick fixes – to satisfy these desires.

I’m guessing, when we….. order the wine / smoke the pipe / binge on cupcakes / fuck the stranger / insert appropriate strategy here ______ , our goal is always the spiritual path – a path to connection, contentment and love.

With this awareness, my love affair with alcohol is currently waning. We still occasionally date, but I’ve stopped returning many of his calls.

I can’t attest to the validity of this, but I read somewhere that 90% of folks who struggle with substance abuse are not clinically addicted. I think we need not hit rock bottom to address our relationship with addiction.

The spiritual path is available to us, without the addictions. It’s often harder work, but we can all learn to sit still. We don’t have to avoid; we don’t have to grasp. We can find our way to contentment through our asana and meditation practice and watch our lives change for the better.

I wonder how much longer I’m willing to settle for anything less.