Why I Don’t Drink Alcohol

A while ago, I wrote about getting therapy and how it allowed me to understand and change my patterns and behaviors so that I could have a healthier life and be more present with myself and my family. That awareness sparked another change that I made in my life a few years ago.

I stopped drinking alcohol.

For many people, alcohol is a “slippery slope” topic. I loved a glass of wine with dinner. The aroma, the taste, and how it is paired with a meal unlocked a different aspect of food. But as our life got harder, I found that I was turning to that glass of wine more as a way to dull the pain and fear and to escape. It fed into my tendencies to go inside myself or avoid dealing with issues. It also made it more difficult to continue and sustain the progress that I was making with my mental health. Many people can do both, but it was clear that I couldn’t. So I stopped.

It wasn’t easy at first. It meant I wasn’t trying to escape and forcing myself to be more present in our situation. However, the work that I was doing with my therapist and with my family made me stronger and more capable of doing that. Even though it was hard, the more present I was, the more progress I saw in rebuilding those relationships.

Eventually, the desire to escape with a drink went away, but there were still temptations outside the house that I needed to contend with, so I didn’t want to fall back into my old pattern. The culture of my industry is filled with happy hours and entertainment. When everyone else ordered an alcoholic beverage, and I ordered a club soda, there were questioning looks. But eventually, those looks disappeared, and it stopped being a thing. Mostly, it’s only weird if you make it weird. I didn’t have to go into the details with anyone on why. It just became a fact that I didn’t drink, and I avoided situations where I knew the drinking would make me uncomfortable.

That was more than four years ago. Of course, no one change fixes everything. My son still has seizures. Our life is still stressful. But the point of getting help and not drinking isn’t to force me to only live in the stress and to be fully present all the time. It’s to be capable of being more deeply present when I need to be, to break the habit of running away when things get too big, and to replace the unhealthy behaviors with healthier ways to wind down and disconnect from the stress, both with my family and friends and also by myself.

I am sometimes asked if this choice is permanent or if I’ll have a drink someday. I can honestly say that I don’t know. I am human, and life is unpredictable. But I know that, if and when I do, it will be on my terms.

Avoiding Reality

A while ago, I went with my parents to an appointment with an estate planning attorney. We’ve been pushing them to get a new will and legal documents since they moved to Pennsylvania, but it never seemed to be a priority.

Over the last year, though, both of my parents have continued to struggle with health issues and it has only gotten worse. While their nest egg wasn’t substantial, they had specific wishes for what to do with their estate and it wasn’t enough to just tell me what they were.

As I sat in the lawyer’s office and listened to his questions, I thought about our plan. Or rather, our lack of a plan. The extent of our planning is adding beneficiaries to our accounts, which is a) not a plan and b) not enough. If either my wife or I pass away, the other can manage to keep things going. However, the elephant in the room is what happens when both of us are gone and, more importantly, what happens if that happens when my son is young or if he’s not able to be on his own.

A few years ago, I started to write a post by jotting down what was in my head:

  • I know he is going to get older.
  • I don’t want him to.
  • I want him to stay this age.
  • I want him to be able to stay with us.
  • I want to be able to take care of him.
  • I don’t want him to have to face the world.
  • I don’t want him to have to take care of himself.
  • I don’t want him to have that burden.
  • I don’t want him to fail at it and to have a hard life.
  • I have to set him up to do it himself.
  • I have to put in a safety net.
  • But I’m not going to be here forever.
  • I’d fail him if I pretended he wouldn’t get older, or didn’t do anything because I didn’t think he would get older or because I don’t want him to get older.

There is a lot to unpack there, but the thoughts and questions I had years ago are still relevant today. Each year, I’ve thought “this is is shaping up to be the year we get things under control.” However, each year ended with the same questions remaining unanswered.

Who will take care of him if he is still a minor? At one point, we had a plan there, but it’s been too long and so many years that the family who would have taken him is no longer viable.

How will he make a living? What if he isn’t able to work or generate an income? What if the only money he will have is what we can leave him? I make a good living, but there are a lot of expenses that come with any medical condition, both normal living and trying to have a good life, medical expenses, educational expenses, and other things that chip away at the nest egg.

Facing these concerns and answering these questions is the only way we can realistically try to secure the future we want for our son. But being realistic means accepting and facing reality, which is not a trait I am always known for, especially when it comes to my son’s future. There is always a reason to put it off. There is always “one more thing” we want to do to get everything in order before we talk to someone. The result is another year without a plan, which is such a disservice to him.

It’s time to do different.

Reacting vs Responding

Growing up in Florida, I played a lot of tennis. Even though I lived near one of the best tennis schools in the country, I never took any lessons. My friends and I would bring our rackets and a can of balls to an open court and play for hours.

I wasn’t the best player, but I was able to present a good challenge. My untrained backhand had a severe backspin, making it difficult for my opponents to reach. My serve was chaotic but fast, so it was hard to return in the rare instances when it went in. But the main reason why I was a tough opponent was that I was fast and could get to balls anywhere on the court.

I started playing more tennis when we moved to the suburbs a few years ago. At first, I took a few lessons and clinics, then leaned in and played a few hours a week. I’ve slowly progressed in my technique, but I still have speed. I can still react. But reacting is exhausting.

Reacting is instinctive. It’s fast. It’s unconscious. Reacting is about survival, but that can get me into trouble. I might keep the match going, only to put myself in a worse position than before. Reacting begets reacting, which, in tennis, means a lot of running around.

Responding is intentional. It’s slower, but that intention can create more space. Responding keeps the match going and aims to put me in a better position for the next shot. That looking ahead and control is more efficient and effective.

When our epilepsy journey first began, all we did was react.

Seizure. React. Status. React. Medications. React. Side effects. React. Ataxia. React. New seizures. React. New medications. React. New side effects. React.

There was no time to think, no time to plan, no time to be intentional. There was no space. Every time we reacted, we’d hit the ball back over the net only to have our opponent easily smash it back across the court and force us to rush to reach it. Our opponent was trying to win the match, and every desperate reaction we had was to keep our son alive.

This went on for years until his condition stabilized, and we could finally catch our breath. Initially, the feeling of not having to react was foreign and unsettling. We had been reacting for so long that I had forgotten there was another way, and I had no reference for what that other way looked like when it came to epilepsy and our son.

After a while, though, we began adjusting to this new way. The ability to introduce intention into our decision-making has given us the space to catch our breath and make choices that move us forward. Rather than sending him to a school that couldn’t accommodate him, we could take the time and find a school that was right for him. Rather than being afraid to schedule activities, we began living our lives.

That’s not to say that we don’t still react. Epilepsy is a crafty opponent that can catch us off guard and force us to scramble. But reacting is not the only thing we do, which makes a big difference.