Free Time Is Not Your Friend!

Many of us run into trouble with our drinking when circumstances change and we haven’t prepared for it. For many mothers this can be “empty nest system” and for men and women alike retirement can pose a major challenge.

Partially this comes from having the structure that work, careers, parenting, and other routines have imposed on our lives. We haven’t had to worry much about “and what shall I do today?”

But many of us also get our casual social needs met through our work or the contacts that raising children create. While these may not be what we think of as intimate friendships, they are no less important to our emotional well-being even if we don’t notice that until they are gone.

Additionally, many of us get our sense of identity and self-worth from our professions.

Unstructured day-to-day lives, social isolation, the loss of identity, and our measure of self-worth, for those of us who drank at all, even if only modestly, can be a recipe for disaster.

Summed up, our alcohol use is always ready to expand to fill the available space.

A concrete example? Physicians are especially susceptible to this “loss” trap. From 70 hours a week, or more, to zero with the concomitant loss of identity, income, status, privilege and worth. Many drink themselves to death within two years of retirement.

Most of us have less extreme multiple losses or immediate consequences, but plenty of us find ourselves mired in the alcohol morass anyway. Sometimes a small loss is simply the tipping point where our alcohol use moves from heavier than recommended to various levels of abuse. The proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back.

But, again, nobody is doomed – either to the misuse of alcohol or to a new “identity” of “alcoholic” or the “structure” of degrading “meetings” and an endless bleak “in recovery for life” sentence.

Not how I’d want to spend my latter years – or any of them for that matter – and I doubt you want to either. So why not consider the options? The life-enhancing ones, not the life diminishing ones?

Self-Destructive Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Trait

Many of us who find ourselves imbibing too much have heard, “Oh yes, well you know he, (or she) has a self-destructive personality.” Why, of course! That explains everything and you are doomed!

I think not.

Some of us are more self-destructive than others. No doubt about that. But that isn’t necessarily the same as being sentenced to an early death, addiction, and other regrettable choices.

Quite the contrary.

The key here is to recognize that self-destructive comes in two flavors: life-diminishing and life-enhancing, and you get to choose which to pursue.

Starting with life-diminishing, you get to pick your poison, as the saying goes. These include drugs, alcohol, and AA, among others. Each of these reduces your options in life, isolate you, prevent intimacy, and land you with a demeaning label and diminished options for leading an interesting and productive life.

But you can choose the life-enhancing options which include such things as motorcycling, downhill skiing, sky diving, spelunking, mountain climbing, moving to rural Alaska, and a hundred other things which up the adrenaline and keep you well aware that you are living, not just existing.

Yes, any of these choices, good or bad, can get you killed but so can “playing it safe.” Besides, if you weren’t a risk taker you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place.

Given that, why not take a new risk and trade in your life-diminishing alcohol abuse for life-enhancing engagement?

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

Or Kris Kristofferson’s, “I’d rather be sorry for something I done, than something I didn’t do.”

Engage in your life! Do stuff! And if you need help making the shift, that’s what we’re here for!