The First Splendid Truth holds that to think about happiness, we must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
On Friday, I posted about some ways to get rid of “feeling bad.”
It occurred to me that I hadn’t thought to mention a step that I successfully made to eliminate a source of “feeling bad” in my life—quitting drinking.
Alcohol started making me “feel bad” after the Big Girl was born. I was never a big drinker, but in college and afterward I drank about the same as most people. I never loved drinking, but I enjoyed it.
When I was pregnant, I stopped drinking altogether. After the Big Girl was born, and I started having the occasional glass of wine or beer again, I had ZERO tolerance. A half a glass of wine hit me hard.
And not for the better.
Alcohol affects me in several ways. It never really makes me friendly and jolly, as it does many people. First, I become belligerent. I have a tendency to be argumentative anyway, strengthened by going to law school, and alcohol makes me spoil for a fight. And that’s not a fun way to interact with people.
It also makes me less discreet. I say things that I wouldn’t ordinarily say, I’m less tactful, I’m more gossipy.
After these charming effects have worked on me for a while, I then become tremendously sleepy—uncontrollable yawning, pure misery.
These effects were more noticeable in situations when I wasn’t with close friends, but rather was with people I didn’t know well, or didn’t particularly like, or doing something that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Which, of course, were situations where it was all the more important that I be friendly and polite.
What made me focus on the “bad feelings” was the way I often felt the next day. I’d feel anxious and remorseful. “Was I really as obnoxious as I think?” I’d ask the Big Man, trying to get his reassurance that my bellicosity and my indiscretion were all in my mind.
And it wasn’t as though my bad feelings were outweighed by my enjoyment of alcohol. Fact was, I didn’t really enjoy it that much. I can’t tell a good wine from a mediocre wine. I’ve never been able to drink hard liquor. And I’ve always begrudged alcohol the calories it contains, which I’d enjoy more in the form of dessert.
Finally, it hit me—this wasn’t a happy situation. Drinking was fun for other people, but it wasn’t fun for me. I’d rather skip the drink, and skip the remorse, and save the calories.
I’m not saying this solution would work for other people. I enjoy other people’s enjoyment of drinking (unless they talk about fine wine too much). I like the festiveness of martinis and champagne. I like the zestful enthusiasm some people have for drinking—while working on Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, I vicariously enjoyed Churchill’s love for liquor—though, actually, he drank less than most people think.
But it’s one of the most important Secrets of Adulthood: Just because something is fun for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s fun for me—and vice versa.
I’m happier now that I drink less and behave better. I get home after an evening out, and I’m not eaten up with regret and worry about the way I acted. I feel fine, instead of being so tired that I can hardly take out my contacts. For me, it’s much more fun NOT to drink than to drink.
I could have solved my problem in the opposite way. If I’d started drinking more, my tolerance would have risen, and my behavior would probably have improved. For me, it was easier to skip the drinking than to increase the drinking.
I still have a little wine sometimes, or some champagne at a celebration, or a beer. I drink as much as I like—but I don’t like to drink much, now that I realize that it doesn’t agree with me.
Sometimes I regret the fact that I drink so little. Why am I so abstemious and cramped and cheerless? Other people are enjoying themselves so much.
But then I remember—it isn’t fun for me.
The striking fact about my deciding to stop drinking alcohol is that it took me so long to have the idea to do it. Why is it so hard to “Be Gretchen”? Why was it so hard for me to notice that I wasn’t enjoying myself? It can be very difficult to notice what seem to be very obvious facts about your very own self.