Doing Without Alcohol: Alternative Addictions?


My perception of my year of doing without is changing.  My casual experiment is having unexpected results.  I’m thinking of things I didn’t allow myself to think before I started this.

This is my month for doing without alcohol.  Iced tea is its replacement.  If one looked strictly at the amount of iced tea I’ve been drinking, the assumption might be there’s a lot to replace.  During these last eleven-plus days, I’ve consumed massive quantities of iced tea.  Of course, I consumed massive quantities of iced tea before the month began, as well, so it’s hard to say I’ve “replaced” alcohol with tea.

Actually (and fortunately), it has not been particularly challenging.  Though I find myself missing a beer or a stiff drink from time to time, I do not find it hard to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages.  But I notice now that I had a habit with alcoholic drinks similar to my now obvious habit with tea; I am not satisfied with just nursing a glass…I like having an available source at the ready and quickly replace the glass once empty.  The difference is that I drink iced tea pretty much around the clock, whereas I never had a beer before lunch time and didn’t have a mixed drink until after five.  With tea, I can throw caution to the wind.

I’m back to drinking coffee in the mornings, but typically I limit myself to a cup or two. Shortly after that injection of caffeine, though, I’m back to tea.  I should mention, the tea I drink is caffeine-free; my wife has long since limited our intake of caffeine by buying caffeine-free tea bags.

Like my coffee, I take my tea straight; no milk, no sugar…occasionally, I’ll squeeze a bit of lemon or lime into a glass, but that practice has been on the decline for quite some time. I suppose I’m a purist when it comes to imbibing; I don’t like to disguise flavors…if I have to trick my taste buds into drinking something, my subconscious mind must be saying, I shouldn’t be drinking the stuff at all.

Until fairly recently, keeping up with our household demand for tea was very, very challenging. For years, we had an old two-quart Mr. Coffee iced tea maker that operated much like a drip coffee maker.  It had a brew basket in which to place a few large tea bags, a water reservoir, a pump which pumped water from the reservoir through a heating chamber into the brew basket, and a two-quart pitcher which was to be partially filled with ice before starting the brewing process. Two quarts of tea did not last long around the tea-sippers in this house.  When the old Mr. Coffee brewer died, we bought the largest replacement we could find, a three-quart version of the original, updated slightly to reflect changes in taste (visual, not literal).  It operates on the same principle as the old one; it just makes one and a half times as much tea.  The fifty-percent increase in capacity reduced the challenge; now, it’s just very (we lost one “very”) challenging to keep pace with demand.  We almost always make at least two pitchers each day, and sometimes finish both. That’s six quarts of iced tea between the two of us.  At least we’re getting plenty of water, I suppose.

All right.  Enough of the smug, smirky stuff.  Time to get serious about this.  Really.

My purpose in doing without has been, and is, to test the limits of my discipline.  Do I have the discipline to do without things I do not need, but merely want or enjoy?  I’m learning I do have the capacity to do without.  At the same time, it seems I’m not asking much of myself so far.  Coffee?  Alcohol?  And next month, meat?  How hard did I think it would be to “give up” such things?  I’m questioning, now, whether this test of my discipline is just a charade.

But these very questions are teaching me things about myself that, if I knew, I had long since buried.  The experiences, and the disappointment I’m feeling in myself for having thought I would actually be “testing” myself, are exposing things in me that are easier for me to understand than to explain.  But I’ll try, anyway, for my own benefit…to test my ability.

The first clue I got…finally, which may well have been obvious to everyone but me…was that I was looking for replacements.  Could it have been any more obvious?  I have not been “doing without” anything; I have been replacing one addiction with another.  Last month, I replaced coffee with walking (well, not so much…I used tea last month, too).  I am replacing alcohol with tea this month. My plan next month is to replace meat with more vegetables. The following month, I plan to replace social media with silent meditation. How is my scheme anything other than planned alternative addictions?

My frame of mind about “doing without” must change.   I doubt I can do myself any good simply by substituting one set of addictions (wants/desires) with another.  I’m not planning on giving up tea, but I shouldn’t view tea as a substitute for alcohol, any more than I should view vegetables as a substitute for meat.  To trick myself into believing I’m giving something up by substituting something in its place would be an exercise in idiocy. I’m not perfect, by any means, but I’m no idiot.

And, so, I am learning about myself.   Thus far, I’ve learned about some of the flaws that form the bedrock of who I am. I’ve learned that much in relatively short order.  Maybe there’s more to learn…I’d like to think so.  Real learning has consequences; changes in understanding, changes in behavior, changes in the way one perceives the world in which one lives.  So, if I’m really learning something, there must be consequences.  I’ve not yet sorted that out in my mind.  What will be—should be—the consequences of what I’m learning about myself?

The goal of this exercise shouldn’t be to reinvent myself; that’s a fairy tale with a deadly ending, I think.  It should be to unveil myself to myself and to adjust accordingly.

My plan for my year of doing without is apt to change, radically, before all’s said and done. What began as a somewhat vacuous exercise in intellectual self-indulgence may well turn into something with meaning and, ultimately, value.  We shall see.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Doing Without, Self-discipline. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Doing Without Alcohol: Alternative Addictions?

  1. Thanks, Robin. It’s taking me a long time to learn who I am; I guess I’m a much slower learner than I once thought! 😉

  2. robin andrea says:

    I like the discipline of this challenge you presented to yourself. It’s an interesting way to learn who you are.

  3. Jennifer, I think you’re right. I haven’t thought of want/need/desire/pleasure in quite that way, but, yes, we are hardwired and some of us have a few wires crossed. I haven’t yet addressed a significant commonality I just learned we share; being a control-freak. I don’t know yet about my blog; I may continue to post, but won’t link posts to Facebook. Without my “reminders” via Facebook, few people ever read my blog, so it’s not particularly “social” as social media goes But, then, I may rethink what it is I’m doing with this process. Thanks for your kind words about missing the blog if I do refrain from posting for a month; I appreciate your generosity of spirit.

  4. Here is what I think: we’re all hardwired for pleasure; some of us are miss-wired for more, more, more. I hang around a lot of 12-steppers and SMART recovery folks, most of whom are cross-addicted. The common refrain, whatever the substance or behavioral compulsion, is “one is too many, a thousand isn’t enough. Doing without alcohol, for me, is a cakewalk compared to doing without nicotine, but neither substance is required to keep me alive. Those I know in food recovery say, “Alcoholics get to keep the tiger in the cage; I have to let the tiger out of the cage and take it for a walk, three times a day.” The sexual compulsives, too, have a harder time of it, for there is healthy, mutual, loving, creative and procreative sexuality and there is destructive, predatory, compulsive sexual “acting out.” Nobody I know wants to remove sex from their mutually loving relationship, so there’s another tiger-and-cage situation that’s trickier than mine!

    I love the idea that we can unveil ourselves to ourselves and adjust accordingly. We can! I have discovered that I am a control freak, often to my own detriment and to the detriment of others. Giving up the controlling behaviors is much, much, MUCH more difficult for me than giving up the alcohol!

    Finally, I need to ask whether your plan to abstain from social media for a month includes your blog. If so, I shall miss your words!!

  5. Thanks, Trish.

  6. druxha says:

    Interesting that you posted this, this morning, John. Just last night I’d though about how you were doing with the “ley seca”, (prohibition), and had planned to ask you about it today. You won!

    Love how you’d taken such a deep look as to where these months of abstinence could possible lead you.

    Great post…keep those reflections coming, for its always a great read, and you express yourself so well….sure puts my gears to turning! 🙂

I wish you would tell me what you think about this post...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.