For anyone not raised in the UK, the relationship the British appear to have with alcohol may seem a little bewildering (although as a nation, we are not unique in our apparent obsession to over-indulge). Ultimately though, it’s one’s own relationship to anything and everything that’s more pertinent.
As a young adult, I drank quite liberally, because I wanted to ….. or at least I assumed I did. It was certainly the case that I fitted in better socially by doing so, and I felt accepted. Thinking back, I don’t know if I really wanted alcohol, or if I wanted to please those who seemed to want me to drink. My decisions were made quite unconsciously, even before the effects of the alcohol took hold.
Social situations now are different because alcohol no longer appeals to me. In some ways, I would like to claim that this virtual cessation has been a fully conscious decision on my part, but in fact, it’s been more of an evolution, it’s just happened. However, I have made one very conscious decision, and although it can, and maybe should, be applied broadly, the issue of drinking is a good place to start. The decision is to examine my set of ‘rules’ in respect of my relationship to alcohol. The rules of the early days were plentiful and yet more or less the same in terms of the outcome: ‘Thou shalt drink in social situations, and be outwardly irritated if the need to drive / take antibiotics etc inhibits this freedom.’ ‘Thou shalt accept alcohol whenever it is offered, because to refuse is …… feeble?’ ‘Thou shalt sometimes drink too much in order to be a source of entertainment to others, and if too much proves way too much then the ensuing hangover is at least the next day’s topic of conversation (along with the entertainment provided beforehand), and thou shalt experience a hint of inexplicable pride.’
I don’t regret the abandonment of these rules, but what have I replaced them with? Is it that my body is a temple and must not be defiled by such poison? Is it a quiet belief that abstinence makes me a better person? (And what does this mean on those rare occasions that I do have a drink?) Even I have wondered if there might be some truth in one or both of these, and this is why I want to take a look at my set of personal rules, the unconscious rules with which I govern my life: do they limit me, or do they contribute to my freedom and enjoyment of life? I suspect it’s the former. Maybe it is being unaware of the rules, rather than the rules themselves, that needs to be addressed, the unacknowledged shoulds and should nots about how life should look, and how one should behave.
Perhaps decisions are best made fully consciously in the moment, in line with what is real, and feels right. This approach may not make my social interactions easier: I can’t wear a label if I don’t have a fixed rule, but whether or not others wish to classify me, needn’t become my concern. My concern is surely that I’m living authentically and true to myself? There’s no real freedom or joy in unconsciously agreeing to a set of hidden rules, whatever their origin; instead, an attitude of self compassion and self respect will likely prove to be all that’s needed to make the most appropriate, fully conscious decisions in any given moment.