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Seven years of not drinking is a good time to question your life's direction
Or: How having kids consumes all your remaining creative hours
Today is the seventh anniversary of the day I quit drinking.
I won’t drag you through the backstory, but if memory serves I actually quit seven years ago yesterday. Sadly as I had a small sip of some leftover drink early that morning, it didn’t count. Today is the official day, per Traditional Boozer Math, so I’ve stuck with it.
Looking back at my years and years of posting notes on my soberversary, a noticeable arc has formed: From chaos to clarity, from clarity to productivity, and, most recently in my life, from productivity to busyness paralysis.
The difference between the seventh anniversary of my kicking the bottle compared to the sixth is the fact that I have a kid now. Having a baby is akin to placing dynamite under your habits and patterns, exploding it, and then kicking the remaining ash pile afterwards for good measure.
Last week was a perfect example. My managing editor at TechCrunch+ was on a much-deserved vacation, and my main producer for Equity was also off. This meant that my workload was redoubled, and some normal tasks were more difficult than usual. No worries, I can take a harder week on the chin, right? But then Ada, my perfect daughter, ran into some allergy-related issues that led to a few hospital and doctor visits. Chaos! Already juggling at work, I had to manage the rest of my life at the same time, finding myself split more finely into smaller, chaotic pieces than I can recall happening in, well, about seven years.
One of the finest parts of quitting substance abuse is that much of the chaff flying around in your brain melts away. When my naturally anxious mind was cycling between alcohol withdrawal or a refreshing pint of Jim Beam, the world was very difficult. Collecting my mail was a panic-inducing matter. My socks were always dirty. I was chronically late, sick, and tired. Today those challenges have faded to the background while new difficulties have — happily — taken their place.
If you want to become incredibly focused, sit in the back of your car next to the seat holding your ill child while your spouse powers the three of you to the local children’s hospital; you’ll know what you are about in that moment. It’s simple math.
Going from chaos to clarity, and now back to having several competing, and critical priorities has not been easy. The difference is that this time the warring demands on my mental health, physical energy, and overall balance of work, play, learning and rest are now positives instead of negatives. My child, instead of, say, more bourbon. Or breakfast vodka.
I apologize if you had hoped for a more rah-rah entry from me this morning, but this is where my mind has been. It has taken some time to understand that now, being stretched between my love of working (and my team, who are just goddamn amazing people), and Other Things is once again a tough balance to strike. And, just like before, it’s my fault. Only this time the things pulling me away from my habits and preventing me from having the sort of priority-clarity that I have become spoiled to are investments in care of another instead of actively not caring for myself.
Either way the stress is real enough. (Ada is ok, by the way. We have to do some allergist appointments and now carry an injectable set of meds from a brand that you know, but apart from that she’s back to her burbling and happy self.)
Sitting here at seven years of not drinking, I think that I had expected to have things figured out by now. I don’t. I am currently pained that I have seen my time and energy for personal projects dwindle to zero. I don’t write here on my personal blog enough; the fantasy world that I have been building in my mind for months remains stuck there instead of on paper; I keep meaning to get back to painting, and failing to do so; and instead of using my life’s work to attack bigots and fascists, I mostly write rich people shit for rich people.
Those are contradictions I cannot resolve today. Or perhaps for a while yet. But at least the mind-warp of going back to chaos after more than a half-decade of relative calm has brought with it the finest reward I have ever received: the brilliant, whole-face smile my daughter makes when she sees me. I wouldn’t trade that for control over the Pappy distillery ever, ever, ever. Or anything else.
Here’s to another year of not drinking, and pretending like this is the year I will finally be able to see one more row of my abs. That probably won’t happen. But come this time next year my first kid still won’t have ever seen me drink. And by then, schedule allowing, we’ll have her sibling under construction.
Onward! — Alex
The featured image on this post is an excerpt of a painting by Richard Sebastian Bond, shared on Unsplash by the Birmingham Museums Trust, whom I wish to thank.