Sunday, 26 June 2016

Alcohol, Relationships and Happiness

There are, I think, three main phases in the sober journey.

Phase 1, The first 100 days, is all about physical detoxing, grit, determination and a rollercoaster of emotions.

Phase 2, the next six months or so, is all about introspection. We spend hours, days even, thinking about ourselves.

We ask questions like how did I get here? Am I happy? Am I an alcoholic? Am I a good mother?

Then, at some point, we stop looking inward and start looking outward. We start becoming fascinated by the really big things.

The questions I've started asking are along the lines of: what makes a good person? What are the most important things we can do for our children? Is there a God? And, my current obsession: what makes us happy?

So I found a TED talk by Robert Waldinger called 'What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.' (Click here to see it for yourself).

Robert's talk is based on The Harvard Study of Adult Development which studied 724 men and over 2000 of their children over 75 years, asking them about their work, home, health and happiness.

The study found that wealth did not make people happy. Nor did fame. Nor did Leaning In.

What made these men happier and healthier was good relationships.

The study concludes that the more socially connected you are to friends, community and family, the happier and healthier you'll be, and the longer you'll live.

Lonely people (and 20% of the adult population of the USA describe themselves as such) are less happy, their health and brain function declines at an earlier age and they die younger.

The single biggest predictor of a happy, healthy life aged 80 was being satisfied with your relationships at the age of fifty.

This is really important for us, because if you are addicted to booze it becomes increasingly hard to maintain strong, happy relationships.

Over time we alienate more and more of our friends and family, avoid spending time with anyone who doesn't drink enthusiastically, and spend increasing amounts of time drinking on our own.

If you let yourself get to the classic 'rock bottom' you can find that your family and friends have, finally, given up on you.

This is one of the many reasons why alcohol does not make us happy. In fact it makes us lonely and miserable.

I didn't get this when I first quit. In fact, one of my biggest fears was losing all my friends. I thought I'd never be invited anywhere again.

(see my post: Will I Lose All My Friends, written on day 13)

This isn't what happened.

Looking back now I realise that I hadn't made many new friends for years. I used to say I have far too many friends to keep in touch with as it is. I really don't need new ones.

And the only really old friends I saw frequently were the really big drinkers. My other friends had gradually drifted away, probably because I made very little effort to nourish those relationships.

Now (with the possible exception of my friends who, like me, are 'problem drinkers') my old friendships are way stronger. I've taken time to see them, to help them, to listen to them. I've remembered birthdays. I'm making up for lost time.

And I've made a number of really good new friends. One of my best new buddies hardly drinks. Never has. Doesn't like it. There is NO WAY I would have wanted to be friends with her in the Old Days.

Then I wondered how much of this is in my imagination? Am I fooling myself? Is it all self justification?

So - right now - in real time, I am going to do a scientific experiment.

Every Christmas for the last ten years I have bought myself a present: a traditional, leather bound Smythson's desk diary. It lives in the kitchen and details the whole family's social, school and work commitments.

I'm going to look at June 2014 (towards the end of the Drinking Days) and June 2016 and compare the number of social events in both. I'm going to include any pre-arranged event like parties, date nights, dinners, meeting a friend for lunch, coffee or a dog walk, and exclude anything child related (like class parties, sports days, speech days etc).

I'll be back in ten minutes....

Right, scores on the doors are:

June 2014: 12 social events
June 2016: 19 social events

That's a fifty percent increase. Scientific proof that quitting drink improves your relationships and therefore, according to Robert Waldinger, makes you happier, healthier and live longer.

So, go be happy!

Love SM x



14 comments:

  1. I have kept my family calendars for the past 15 years (kind of like a history of our lives). After I get through more sobriety time, I shall go back and do the same as you. I always thought I was happy. Quitting drinking made me realize that I wasn't as happy as I could be...so I move onward towards more sobriety and happiness!!! xo

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  2. Read the happiness project . It's really good

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    1. Wow, I had never heard of it or the author. I have been living in a cave, clearly! I think I hit the introspection part about 35 days early. I'm looking forward to this book!

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    2. Cool. It's a bit OTT but really it's all there if u want to be happier! Changed my life for the better. That and giving up the soup !

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  3. Ditto on the Happiness Project. Anything by Gretchen Rubin! She has a podcast called Happier that fills my day with delight! Thank you for this. I'm all about happiness research!

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  4. Oh am definitely going to read that! However I feel my drinking escalated to deal with ongoing issues of unhappiness so stopping has only highlighted how bad certain things are. Unfortunately these are things I can't change at the moment but I am finding other ways to cope! Will read the book and see if it can help x

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  5. Wonderful thoughts that break a major stumbling block in people's thinking about alcohol. You can be more social, more outgoing, more fun sober! That was a hard one for me to understand. I think you illustrate it nicely here!

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  6. I just wanted to say thank you. Really. Thank you so much.
    I obsessively read your entire blog and then found a couple of other brilliant blogs that were all written by very intelligent and very funny women.
    I am not the only one that has experienced all these things! I am not alone! Your writing has inspired, opened my eyes and helped me. For that I will always remember you.

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    1. Welcome, quitwining, and thank YOU. Glad you found us, and I love your blog which I've just popped over to. Hugs x

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  7. I tried to set up a new blog today so as to kickstart my new approach to getting sober (a positive one!) but I've had technical issues, and managed to delete the new blog, having emailed all my sober buddies with the new address. SIGH. But the important thing for me is that I am nearing the end of my first sober day in a LONG time. Your blog helps me a lot. Annie x

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  8. I really enjoyed the TED talk you recommended. I watched it with my husband for a little dose of reality. We slipped from our three months of AF on our Bermuda trip, but we're back on the wagon and I find your blog and the Jason Vale book before bed helps me stay on track. Thanks again!

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