Getting Older – A Cost/Benefit Analysis

Most of our clients range in age from their early 40s to middle 70s with the majority of you being in your 50s. Among the obvious considerations in addressing alcohol abuse, therefore, are the effects of aging.

Research studies have long noted that, generally speaking, older people are happier than younger ones. This is a bit counter intuitive, but there are good reasons for this seeming paradox.

First, one disclaimer, which the research also notes – we are assuming reasonably decent health, a fair standard of living, and that you aren’t living in a war zone. Since most of you, probably all of you, meet these qualifications we can begin to consider the “whys” and how these may influence your decisions about your drinking.

It’s easiest to start with the costs of aging since – given the negative bias we also noted last week – we’re most aware of those. There are the usual physical limitations that seem to pile up, an obviously approaching “end,” increased likelihood of nasty illnesses and various forms of debilitation.

No lack of things to perseverate on and excuse you for reaching for another drink.

Conversely, please take a moment to consider all of the things for which “age” gives you an easy out. Decisions and responsibilities about children are – or should be – done with. Ditto careers. Also such day-to-day annoyances as climbing ladders, hanging sheet rock, unclogging drains, and anything else you don’t feel like doing anymore.

Just look a bit downcast, sigh loudly, say, “I wish I could help, but…..” (hint: don’t smile until you’ve got your back to everyone).

As we get older we also find that we care less and less about what “other people” think, regardless of who they are. Happily, others are also less inclined to notice what we’re up to as well.

The main difference, obvious when it’s pointed out, is that as we get older we increasingly live “in the moment” with less concerns about either the past or the future. The past is gone and the future is coming right after lunch – no need to “wait until” and plenty of reasons not to.

Yes, you drinking habits can have a profound effect on how you feel. Ingest lots of a depressant and you will feel worse and do less. Of course this becomes a self-fueled downward spiral.

On the other hand, drink less, do more, and the trend reverses.

Growing old may not be for sissies, but it’s a great opportunity to have fun, develop new friends, skills, interests, and activities. It’s an opportunity to shed old annoyances, relatives, habits, and obligations.

A chance to design and enjoy the life you’ve kept meaning to live. And you get to do it today, not “when” you are older, wiser, or anything else you’ve been waiting for. The waiting is over, it’s time.

Maintaining the Drama

Many of us have lived through a lot of drama in our lives. In some cases it’s been inflicted on us, in others, as noted last week, we’ve created it ourselves. Whatever the reasons, with age, our tolerance for drama, as with alcohol, tends to diminish.

So does our tolerance for wasting time – finite time – on things, people, and activities that no longer matter to us. This may well include drinking, drunks, and the illusions that go along with an alcohol centered life style whether it’s at “the club” or the AA meeting.

Letting the drinking go usually results in our eyes opening to the reality of just how boring the drinking “life” is regardless of how prestigious the setting. Whether it’s the spiffiest club in California or the most down and out church basement “meeting,” the company and activities are the same – bragging about drinking.

And whether you’re still drinking, or claiming not to be, it’s still about avoiding your one and only life instead of living it. It’s all made up drama in place of actual passion, intimacy, accomplishment, or anything else that might give some meaning and joy to your life.

Spend a bit of sober time hanging around your usual drinking activities, dinners, parties, gatherings of all sorts. Guess what. You will be bored to tears and embarrassed for yourself when you recognize that that was you!

You’ll also hear the refrain, “You aren’t any fun anymore.”

They’re right in their way of course, because to them you’re spoiling their childish pretenses and the parallel play that passes for “fun” for drunks.

No one is listening and no one is saying anything worth listening to in any case. They’re just getting drunk and mouthing the same silliness they’ve prattled on about a hundred times before.

It isn’t that you aren’t any fun, it’s that they aren’t and you are putting a damper on their infantile incoherence.

Yes, they want to sabotage you back into the fold. They want you to rejoin the club. They want you to float on down the river of alcohol with them and pretend it’s a luxury cruise.

For a while it’s hard to resist going back to the old when the “new” hasn’t yet been established. Been if you can keep your attention on all of the things you can now do, instead of being sandbagged by focusing on what you aren’t doing, then you will soon leave the drunks behind.

You’ll miss them and the old habits for a bit. But only for a bit. And almost soon enough you’ll be glad you made the other choice that leads to many, many other choices and people and opportunities to enjoy a well lived life.

As Katherine Hepburn’s mother advised, “Don’t die wondering.”

In the end of course, you can always go back to drinking. But first, why not see what the alternatives for you really are. Then you won’t die wondering, which is the fate of the alcohol fixated.