Dissecting My Unexpected Craving

On the 31st August I will have been sober for a year. Those initial cravings for alcohol are long gone but deep rooted compulsions and drivers sometimes surface unexpectedly. I find this both interesting and disturbing and I can see, in those moments, why people start drinking again. Over the weekend I experienced these feelings and it threw me as it felt like I had just set out on my sober journey. I’m going to try and unpick the thoughts and feelings I experienced, dissect them if you like, to try and help me and maybe others understand what can sometimes make us return to drinking even after months and years of abstinence. It’s individual to me but may resonate with others.

My son and his girlfriend were visiting and staying with my ex who I get on well with and who lives in the same village. On the Saturday we had a socially distanced meal in her garden accompanied by much drinking. I was on my AF beers and the afternoon went well initially with just a few pangs of wishing I could join in as the party of 6 drinkers (my partner was also not drinking) sampled a variety of wines and beers. Being sober I was aware that I was experiencing that feeling of being an outsider. There were shared experiences going on but I wasn’t part of them. The sampling of wines, the slight change in mood, the change in conversational gears. Rather than going with the alcohol flow I had to watch and note how the tempo, content and language was changing. I tried to match that, but doing it sober felt contrived. As the afternoon wore on I felt slightly resentful that me doing my “not drinking” thing was preventing me having some of the experiences I had previously enjoyed, including getting slightly tipsy with my boys. The thoughts started coming in,”Why are you denying yourself, this is the sort of situation you used to love, sitting outside in the sun, eating and drinking, getting tipsy and enjoying the loosening of social and linguistic conventions as the alcohol kicks in. Go on Jim enjoy yourself.”

The truth was that I was not enjoying myself, I was focusing on what I didn’t have, what I had denied myself. There was also anxiety lurking in the shadows but more of that later. We then played some games. Finally we had a different focus and I really enjoyed that. Looking back I realise that as a non drinker I’m often dealing with situations that are drinker focused. Sitting round a table eating and drinking for hours as the conversations become sloppy and incoherent is not what I choose to do anymore so suddenly having to do that, naturally made me feel both an outsider and uncomfortable. Luckily the near 11 months of sobriety got me through as did the realisation that I had been a different drinker to most of the others now sitting around the table. I would have got carried away. Moderation would have disappeared. I would have got drunk and maybe that realisation was also affecting my mood; the reminder that I had stopped drinking because drinking had stopped being fun,both for me and the people near me; it was fucking me up. Maybe I was just resentful that they could drink in a way I couldn’t.

I know all this feels like I am massively overthinking things but by understanding the torrent of thoughts and feelings I want only one thing; to strengthen my resolve, to not take the easy way of going back to how I used to be.

Anyway, back to Saturday. We eventually go for a walk and they want to go to the local pub. Decision time. No way do I want to sit outside a pub drinking more liquid and spending more hours watching people get pissed. I took my leave and went back home and prepared seating for when my sons and girlfriends, ex and her husband came round after the pub. They arrived. My youngest son was now noticeably drunk. A new feeling emerged, oh I recognise this one – it’s guilt. Was my pattern of drinking somehow responsible for the way both my sons drank. They certainly can put it away. The youngest one is keen on sports but when he does drink it’s often to excess; just like his dad. It was sad watching him drink.

The next day my youngest son and girlfriend left and my other son and girlfriend called on me and we went for a walk again with my ex. Of course we ended up at a pub. No contact tracing, no queueing system at the bar, it was shocking. My son was the only one really drinking as he never drives. “Just ” the 3 pints for him but again I had the feelings of wanting to be able to enjoy a pint with him but realising it would end up with another day wasted if I did. I felt strangely sad as we sat there in the sun by the river. Why? Maybe it was the realisation that I do not really want to go to pubs anymore. They had lost their allure, especially now in Covid era. For years pubs were my favourite places. I loved pubs. I have books listing the best pubs in England, I have spent some of the best times of my life in pubs. But it was the booze mainly, if I’m honest, that’s why I loved pubs. Take away the booze and their appeal has gone. Like delayed grief it really hit me that something that was a big part of my life was gone, but in order to maintain socialising I was being reminded of my grief by revisiting the source of that grief. I just wanted to get away from there.

If I’m truly going to understand the desire to drink that I experienced sitting by the river I have to delve yet a little deeper. Sitting there with my ex wife, my son and his girlfriend I felt strangely awkward, uptight, removed. I found myself thinking about what I was going to say, as if I were detached but trying to be part of the group. What should have been easy going conversation felt constructed for me and constricted. I know this is part of a long held feeling that I’m not a natural group person. My career, the things I enjoy have been based around me being in control or playing a clearly defined role. Therapist, teacher, acting, performing; those are safe places for me, they are my comfort zones. The other slightly removed, detached , with me leading the dance, that’s where I thrive. Chit chat and social conversations leave me feeling awkward. Intimacy makes me feel awkward. Not in very close friendships or a few relationships but generally. That’s where the drink used to come into it’s own. The anxiety and self doubt in those situations would eveaporate, dissapate as soon as the drink hit the back of my throat. I would tangibly feel a loosening up and a relaxation that was often missing in my body and soul. It was wonderful. But of course it came a cost and did nothing more than cover up the symptoms. Like so many others have said, take away the drink and you have to sit with and confront many uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.

We left the pub, walked home and I said goodbye to my son and his girlfriend. I hadn’t seen both sons together since March and what should have been a happy time was contaminated for me, not them, by drink and the resurfacing of uncomfrtable truths. A time to connect and do things had instead turned into hours of mainly drinking. It would be easy to throw in the towel and just join back in with the whole culture of drinking. I’d connect better with my sons, not feel awkward and I’d enjoy pubs again but that’s not what I want. I want to show my sons that we could have a great time if we got together and “did” things; visited somewhere, played, cycled. I’m writing this on a Tuesday morning without having experienced a hangover yesterday and I am so glad of that. My sons may come to their own conclusions and decisions about drinking. I am sure years of seeing me and their mum and my friends drinking so much has rubbed off on them. My quiet hope is that now, seeing me sober, the same may happen in reverse.

My “little” job going forward is to dig into the black hole of anxiety and self doubt that made drinking such a relief and release in the first place.

It’s long overdue.

Jim X

17 thoughts on “Dissecting My Unexpected Craving

  1. clairei47

    Wow, loads in this post Jim … where to start? I believe many of us ‘big drinkers’ appear to be incredibly sociable and the life and soul of any party or group event. I know I was the person people relied on to keep a conversation going or inject some fun into the occasion. Claire will always know what to say. Claire is so easy going. Without booze we discover that we aren’t actually those people at all. It was yet another situation where we played a part, remained in control and dictated the pace. It’s one of the hardest things I have found in the whole journey of sobriety. Finding out that that I’m not as comfortable with social chit chat as I thought I was. I’ve had to completely alter my own perceptions I held about my personality. It’s left me feeling like a fish out of water. Strange and unsettling but it has left me really really free. It’s not up to me to entertain everyone and make sure the social event goes with a swing. That brings a relief now. If I want to go home, I will. If I want to be silent, I’ll do that too (Not often that happens tbf!).

    Good luck with the dissecting. I’m glad you feel comfortable with intimacy in even a few if your friendships and relationships. Claire xx

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Thanks Claire, I definitely think I used drink to become the person I thought people would want to see, whereas in fact that person was probably the last person people wanted to see. Maybe it’s about feeling truly comfortable in our own skin. I’m with you on not feeling obliged to do whatever everyone else is doing especially when it comes to sitting in pubs. It’s actually quite boring. Here’s to sober intimacy! Cheers X

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  2. jacquelyn3534

    I really related to a lot of this! I’ve always felt socially awkward and used alcohol to take that edge off. Oh but we all know I then didn’t stop once that edge was softened. When I decided to do “Dry January” it was because before Christmas I had a few friends from high school ask me to get together. I really wanted to but got all nervous. I drank before and kept them flowing during. I got drunk. I proclaimed my love for an old girlfriend. I was touchy with everyone…my husband drove me home and I stumbled into the house, almost falling. My classmates thought it was super funny so all is well with them but for me it was time to get in control of that. Recently they asked me again to social distance around a bonfire. I said yes but let them know I would not be drinking. It was a great time! I made a joke about how I had to redeem myself from last time. We all laughed. I left earlier than everyone else but I also learned a lot about myself. I’m definitely not a chatty Jackie without Booz.

    Now that I got done typing that I forgot how I was relating it to your post. 🤣🙃😆 Good lord.

    Anyway try not to beat yourself up for your sons seeing you drink and maybe how that rubbed off on them. Maybe that wasn’t a factor at all. My parents rarely drank and if they did, they never got drunk. I still found my love for alcohol all on my own. Take care, Jim! They are lucky to have you as their dad.

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      I think you’ve just written yourself a post there Jacquelyn! That’s a really interesting story and I could change a few names and details and it could easily be a story from my own life. It often comes down to that being able to confront who we really are and accept that that is okay. Thanks for your last few comments, I found that very moving. X

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  3. nomorebeer

    Congrats Jim on taking things to the next level. I truly believe that no matter how unpleasant, the dissection, and “digging into the black hole of anxiety and self doubt that made drinking such a relief and release in the first place” are essential to long term sobriety. One thing I know for sure, having grown up with half of my family (the English side) being basically decimated by alcoholism, is that behind the Romanticisation of the Pub lies the awkwardness of families who can’t communicate. What you’re doing might not seem like it, but it is a HUGE example for your sons. I say this often, but I wish my parents set that example for their own children. What you’re doing matters. You’re showing them that another way is possible ❤ xxx Anne

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  4. Jim Simmonds Post author

    Thanks for that comment Anne. I think I may have to steal that line, “behind the Romanticisation of the Pub lies the awkwardness of families who can’t communicate. ” Bloody good and true. Thanks what you say about my sons – that means a lot X Jim

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  5. Kate Hufstetler

    I get tinges of resentment when I really want to drink but cannot anymore. I feel like I am depriving myself of something fun. But fun went out the door a long time ago. Thank you for your candid post.

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  6. Lovie Price

    It’s bee way harder for me since the pandemic started. In my case, i miss my friends and community so much- and almost never see them. Lats night we finally had a figure drawing get together again and that will be once a week…6 ft apart with masks on ( except the model who sits far enough away). But it is just a tease really..can hardly even socialize. On the other hand, now that i have this new love interest, he and i have spent some time drinking together off & on- nothing major but fun & relaxing mostly. STILL i worry about this some what “moderation” phase that i am in because know its a slippery slope. Worse yet, i have been smoking again since May and am really feeling it in my lungs. Most of the time lately i sit around fearing a combination of guilt mixed with resentment.Guilty because i have failed at maintaining those strict standards i was doing so well with, and resentment that i have to still keep a close eye on my demons whilst others can seemingly drink away the entire pandemic ( seeing their online posts)…all i can say about this particular post of yours is in retrospect/hind sight. I felt like that many times when going out to socialize and the only thing available to drink was water. I felt like a total outcast. but watching people spiral down and thanking God i wasn’t doing that anymore really helped with perspective… Big Hugs..xoxox

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Yeh- I may have the odd mixed feelings about not joining in etc but glad overall that Im not dealing with the constant battle with alcohol, doing ok one minute severely hung over the next. It’s often tough that’s for sure. X

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  7. gr8ful_collette

    Jim, this is very honest, and brave of you to dive into. I too have experienced the feelings of being left out and wishing my loved ones would choose a different venue or activity to base all social occasions on. The other side of the coin is that on some level you actually grieve your drinking days and lifestyle you were so accustomed to, the world you were so used to functioning in. I don’t have answers. I’ve just learned to sit with my feelings, however surprising, awkward or frustrating they are. Certainly not all roses, this sober life, but rewarding nonetheless.

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Collette, I couldn’t have put it any better. Spot on, especially that last sentence. That is the mantra behind all us sober bloggers I’m guessing. 10 words that say it all! I might pinch them ! 😉

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      1. gr8ful_collette

        I had to go back and read my last sentence! I always surprise myself when I say something wise 😂💕

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  8. drgettingsober

    Hi Jim reading this after reading your next post the loss of drinking seems very tied up with the feelings of losing George – amplified by the family being together (you sound like you still function as a family in spite of the separation which is amazing!) but you got there in the end because you didn’t drink those feelings away. Do you think your drinking got how it was because you were drowning out your grief? Would make sense. I totally relate to the uncomfortable feelings when the company is focused on drink but I’m worried I’m becoming a hermit and then get fomo and feel boring. Love your honesty as always thank you xx😘😘

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    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Oh, lots there to respond to. Firstly I’ve always been lets say “an enthusiastic drinker.”I was prone to drinking a bit excessively when I did drink but being a deputy head I couldn’t let my drinking get out of hand. Weekends were a different case. When George became ill I know I sometimes drank as an escape from the awfulness of the situation – until that occasion I refer to when that drinking was having an adverse impact on the limited time I had with George. After he died my drinking reverted to usual patterns with occasional binges but I was getting increasingly disillusioned with drink and I had George’s words circling in my head. Like you I feel that sense of missing out when it’s pubs or restaurants etc but increasingly I wonder whether what I liked about those occasions was simply the opportunity they gave me for drinking. The bottom line is I drank too much and my priorities changed. feelings? Im great at shutting them down and being able to carry on; I even played guitar at George’s funeral and spoke without crying. At the wake the drink enabled me to release those emotions and I now find I don’t need the drink in order to regulate and express my emotions, that is something I am really pleased about.Right that’s enough back to the football! Thanks for your comments; they got me thinking X

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