Why do we all think we’re different? Like we are the one and only person who can control the uncontrollable? Like we invented the concept of putting rules around our drinking? Like we are the only earthling with a nagging spouse who is making marriage impossible (it’s a good thing we’ve figured out alcohol so we have something to soothe us in the face of being married to a tyrant)?
Why do we think we’re unicorns?
If we are unicorns, then unicorns aren’t really all that rare. In fact, there are millions of us. Unicorns must wear blinders like race horses. How else can I explain all the stories I’ve heard – the same stories – the similar stories – the stories of otherwise intelligent, caring, responsible people doing the exact same illogical things, trying objectively failed tactics and embracing denial like they are doing scientific research on a brand new toxin (alcohol) that was only just invented (discovered?) in 7,000 B.C.?
Yeah, you’re probably right. You’ll be the one to crack the code and figure it out. Because no one is as smart and creative as you.
Here’s my personal favorite set of drinking rules. On the week nights, I was allowed two cocktails after work. So I poured my bourbon or vodka on the rocks into a tumbler the size of a crude-oil drum. I blacked out, or at least the lights flickered, almost every night. But I only had two drinks, so I was sophisticated and worldly. On the weekends, I would drink beer in the afternoon until 4pm while I was mowing the lawn or watching sports or pretending to play with my kids. But 4pm was a hard cutoff, because I had to sober up before I could drink my evening cocktails at 6pm.
I had to sober up so I could start drinking.
If you are silently nodding your head in understanding, you are a unicorn, too. Welcome to the herd. If you are shaking your head in perplexed befuddlement – it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but you have seen the same or similar behavior – you are probably married to a unicorn. Unicorns are about as potty trained as horses, so you are probably used to lots of shit shoveling.
That particular set of drinking rules didn’t work in three ways. First, even as my rules allowed for a liberal amount of alcohol consumption, and very little sacrifice in the name of moderation, I still violated my own restrictions on a semi-regular basis. We are at the zoo with the kids. If I buy my last beer at 3:59pm, I can still drink it slowly until I force us to leave at 5:45pm, so I can get home in time for cocktail hour. I know, I am supposed to stop drinking beer at 4pm, but it was expensive, so I should really savor it. Also, why the fuck do they sell beer at the zoo now anyway? Maybe they should have gambling and strippers there, too. Way to serve, entertain and educate your intended demographic, zoo decision makers.
But I digress. The second reason my beer-all-day and booze-all-night strategy of moderation didn’t work was because my behavior while intoxicated was unpredictable at best, and irrational and yelly at worst. Can you imagine how much fun I was for my family to be around as I abruptly hurried us through a hike because my beer-drinking window was about to open up, and I was deep in the woods without my car cooler?
The third reason my rules didn’t work is right there in the first half of this sentence. Rules. I took something classified as leisure, enjoyment and relaxation, and made and abused strict parameters for participation. Have you ever played pick-up basketball with a jackass who calls traveling when you drag your pivot foot an inch? That’s what I was like as a drinker. The mental gymnastics of establishing, refining, violating, resetting, adjusting, bending, editing, justifying, and ultimately out-right breaking my own rules was utterly exhausting. I have never worked harder at anything in my life than I worked at keeping alcohol in my life. And to what end? Because I had not yet suffered enough? Because my family had not yet endured sufficient disappointment?
But I was a unicorn, so I was going to be the one to figure it out.
And I did. Eventually. After a decade of living the pop-culture definition of insanity, I found the right set of rules. It wasn’t really a set of rules so much. I traded the complexity of moderation for the straight forwardness of sobriety. I just stopped drinking.
It was simple, but it wasn’t easy.
What was the hardest part, you might be wondering? I had to trade in my unicorn horn for the acknowledgement that I would never figure out moderation. Never. I had to own that. For me, the questions about alcohol resided in the true-or-false section of the test. No multiple choice. No more energy-draining essays. Just a definitive right answer. And also a wrong answer. And I knew the right choice. I just had to choose it.
Sobriety is the second-hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t mean to minimize my own accomplishment with all this talk about simplicity. One of the things that made it so hard for me was my stubborn determination to keep trying to do the one thing I’d never be able to do despite thousands of years and millions (billions?) of people serving as examples.
Are you making sobriety harder than it has to be, too?
I know a guy who can juggle a soccer ball while riding a skateboard. He’s a unicorn. You’re not. Face it…you’re just one of the herd.
If you’d like to consider joining our herd of reality-embracing former unicorns, please check out our SHOUT Sobriety program.