Alcohol, Other Attachments, and Acceptance

A man in a dress shirt and time sitting at a dinner table shelters himself from the glass and bottle of scotch in front of him that is shackled to his wrist

“As soon as I had the realization that sitting down and cracking an ice cold beer when I got home was all I was looking forward to after work each day, I knew I had to make a change.”

Alan Heffelfeffer, Owner of Oak Park Records

This statement, made by fellow music nerd and confidant, Alan, owner of the record shop in the storefront next to the office I used to work (where I spent a considerable amount of time and money) is something that really resonated and has stuck with me all the (four) years since.

Even though it may have taken all this time to actually put it into practice.

It’s really universally-applicable advice, and pertains to much more than just alcohol. You could apply it to video games, tv and social media entertainment, marijuana, shopping—any compulsion, really.

But for me, this specific vice used to exemplify the principle was applicable.

I’ve written posts on how alcohol and other substance abuse (even simply overindulgence in food) is generally just the tip of the iceberg indicating much larger emotional problems at play, and often signifies a facet of your life that’s lacking where you are using that substance to fill the lacuna.

So I’m not really going to open that can of worms.

My intention here is instead to convey how when something has power over you, it’s best to nip it in the bud as soon as you have the realization that you are at its behest.

However, unless you have mastered your mind, in my experience, if you completely cold turkey cut something out of your life that gave you pleasure (i.e., a dopamine hit), you will just replace it with something else.

Such is life.

And even if you are able to kick it and not defer to a substitute, if it is still something constantly on your mind, it still has its fangs in you. Even “healthy” habits, in excess, can have negative effects (overexercise, excessive fasting).

Therefore, you must try to attain a balance. However, if you are unable to achieve a symbiotic relationship using moderation and aren’t routinely mentally grasping for your chosen dopamine stimulus, it must be removed.

Simplicity and adaptability are several of the few keys to life. It’s fine to become accustomed to something, but you don’t want to cling to or require it. Acceptance of a given situation or circumstance, and appreciation of yourself (just being) in that moment is what we should seek.

This condition, or rather, lack of conditioning, is what allows us to achieve soul awareness. Full immersion in the here and now, and inner-tranquility/acceptance without conflict—the ability to be a lucid participant in the human experience.

My downfall started when I when I stopped partaking in that experience.

The Dangers of Letting Go and Resulting Imbalance

Somewhere along the way, I stopped having fun. When I think back on it, it was when I still had no income and was looking to cut costs in as many ways as possible after six months of traveling and living off of savings.

I started going out at very infrequently, and wouldn’t really ever splurge on a meal. Mostly, I tried to limit myself to 50 pesos ($2.50).

But this continued even after I had landed a steady, decent paying online job. The worst part was, by this point, I had even stopped going to the cultural events and other free happenings like live music that I had gotten such fulfillment from in my first several months in Oaxaca.

I think it was the combination of workload (~25 hrs/week) and still being convinced that I couldn’t spend money that persuaded me to relegate myself to confinement. Though I wasn’t going out, I would still occasionally buy alcohol at the store for home consumption, because I enjoyed the taste of a quality beer, and could somewhat rationalize the purchase since I was spending less than $5 a week on it.

Eventually I cut drinking out almost entirely as I knew it was detrimental to both my pocketbook and emotional and physiological health—short bouts of depression, disrusption of the gut microbiome, fatty liver disease, etc.

Ironically, however, in some regards alcohol had benefitted my emotional welfare—but really only from a social interaction and sense of belonging standpoint, much like the wellbeing boost I received from attending local cultural gatherings and events.

I can recall the days living in Chicago when I would go to the bar straight from work. While I enjoyed drinking my flavorful go-tos or trying new beers on tap, it was just as much about the social interaction—shooting the shit with my “barmates,” the bartenders or other regulars I had befriended, or striking up a conversation with new acquaintances.

It was the camaraderie and sense of belonging or community in that space that made me feel content and accepted. I can thank Jake, a former bartender-turned-buddy at Beer Shop in Oak Park (adjacent to my former apartment), for planting the seeds of my love of soul, disco and house music that made me the music curator I am today.

I suppose other crutches I mentioned in the intro, like video gaming (online, as part of a team) and social media also can also improve social welfare in this way, as you are interacting with others via the internet. But in many instances, it is almost a phony sense of belonging, or at the least doesn’t offer the quality connection or strength of bond that in the flesh, person-to-person contact does.

Another “perceived” benefit from drinking, in addition to the “social lubricant” phenomenon, was the relaxation component. Unbeknownst to me, this was also about self-acceptance or contentment.

When I did choose to drink, it was often as a way to calm down and release the day’s stressors, typically from my work editing blog posts. The inability to let go of those external triggers signified my inability to bring my awareness to my internal world, and accept myself and be fulfilled in the present moment.

Practicing Qigong would certainly help me decompress and bring my mind into my body, but the mental stillness and relaxation that resulted often was short-lived. As soon as I got back on my laptop after a great practice, my flight-or-fight system would kick back in.

So, my intention was to use alcohol as a last resort to relax my nervous system. Little did I know at the time, this wasn’t actually what was happening mentally or physiologically.

It took me a while to discover, but drinking often had the opposite effect of relaxation. After even a few sips of beer or wine, I would become more alert, energetic and enthusiastic and wouldn’t want to stop—sensitivity to the opiate response that alcohol can produce is a telltale sign of an addictive personality, something I unfortunately possess.

This lack of willpower likely is a response to the psychomotor stimulant, beta endorphin quality of alcohol I experience that I referred to earlier.

Though most times I didn’t want to stop, I would; my cutoff time was 8pm-ish. This allowed my digestive system a few hours to process the booze before dozing off. Alcohol suppresses sleep quality, and for me personally, it plays into long-term nighttime teeth-grinding troubles.

Since I drank somewhat infrequently (twice or thrice a week), for a while the fixation didn’t bubble up to the point I described in the intro. Though it may have crossed my mind briefly, I certainly wouldn’t ruminate on alcohol consumption on the days without.

However, though I could drink casually, my self-control seemed to only be due to the fact that I was the one financing the habit. When I had an endless supply of beer at my disposal – for example, when staying at my parents’ house – my capacity for self-control told a different story.

Eventually, beyond just difficulty stopping at night, during a five-week stay at my childhood home, I would have the urge to drink every night, and the impulse would be steady on my mind by the time mid-afternoon rolled around.

Not that this signified alcohol dependence, as I could function without it but it certainly had become a crutch.

The way I see it now, ironically, removing the social interaction element from the equation is why I became more infatuated with alcohol by itself. I was looking for something that provided acceptance and contentment—not necessarily an escape from reality as so many others who become alcoholics or video game addicts seek.

The Gradual Clearing Process

After this realization, I reverted back to my non-drinking way for several months. However, I begun using other things to fill that void, like food. Meals used to be an afterthought before, but now I regularly romanticized dinner starting several hours before—even if it was nearly almost just different variations of the same “courses.”

So in the absence of alcohol, I begun using other things as avoidance coping mechanisms to not have to deal with the stress of lack of fulfillment.

However, clearing is a gradual process. You can’t expect years-long ingrained programming to be removed overnight. And as you remove the programming, the patterns are still imprinted.

Look for example at the joint consumption phenomenon, where one trigger, like caffeine, goes hand-in-hand with another, say nicotine. Or a donut. I’ve dealt with both these scenarios before.

After quitting smoking or eating sweets, initially it’s extremely difficult to enjoy the coffee without the complimentary stimulus. Though you are getting closer to the root of your issue, this is a sign of still clinging to your avoidance coping device—just a lesser form of it.

Another example from my life is fasting. I almost always consume content (podcasts, YouTube videos) along with my meals. And when I take food out of the picture, just sitting, watching a lecture on YT doesn’t seem really seem appealing.

Same goes for if I were to try just eating mindfully with no distractions; neither would be the same in the absence of the other.

As you awaken to the program, chances are, initially self-loathing could manifest—in this instance, I’d feel guilty to be just consuming media without a way to rationalize it, e.g., a lunch break.

Or, I would now get down on myself since I was still fixated, albeit with the “lesser evils” of dopamine like coffee (caffeine), nicotine, dark chocolate, and some relatively healthy food indulgences. I failed to remind myself how far I had come, stepping back from recreational amphetamine and alcohol use.

However, self-examination is a painful process. And the more of these compulsions you remove, the closer you come to facing the cause of your suffering and preventing immersion in the present moment—where the real euphoria is.

Food is a bit different than other sensory stimulations, as we need to eat to nurture and sustain ourselves. But when you let everything else go that made you feel whole, you can easily find yourself deriving pleasure from and clinging to it—when its sole purpose, in reality, is sustenance.

Again, I needed to strike a balance between work and play and fitting socialization into the mix, because what I looked forward to or the things that gave me pleasure we’re pretty sad, in hindsight—honestly, maybe even more pathetic than getting drunk… well, not really 😉

Sensory Stimulus Deprivation

I’ve discussed this in other posts, but as soon as I recognize that something becomes ritualistic (a behavior, activity or substance) and controls my focus to the point where I’m incessantly fantasizing about it is when I determine it’s time to take a vacation from it.

We would all be wise to employ enough time away from a stimulus to let it slip from your mind altogether, or at least until it isn’t engrained as a habit. Constantly fantasizing over something even when not engaging with it is little better than to be habitually indulging—it still possesses control over you.

Obviously, you can’t cut food from your life altogether. But whether it’s the sandwich you’ll have for lunch, that first cup of coffee in the morning or post-work pint of beer that evening, fantasizing over these stimuli and living in the future causes you to miss the awe-induing subtleties of life in the present moment.

We must step back from our material fixations to truly appreciate the complexities of life instead of being attached and consumed by them.


The reason for the game is to be free of it. For the games you’ve won, it’s time to let go and be free of them, and not unconsciously double down…

…not wanting something is as good as having it.

Naval Ravikant

The abilities to deploy moderation, cut yourself off, and let things go are big ones in my book, and often don’t get the recognition they deserve.

The incessant perceived “need” for something causes a lack of being present (at least for me personally)—always concerned with the next drink or bite, rather than enjoying the sensation from immersion in the moment.

It’s ironic because I always thought my inability to recall things from the previous day after drinking was due to alcohol’s effects on memory; which, I’m sure is partially to blame. However, I realize now this lack of memory had more to do with dopamine than alcohol—failure to release my mind and be content in the moment instead of chasing what was next.

If you spend enough time removed from something to the point it is no longer a fixation, I see no problem introducing back into your life. As long as you can practice moderation. If this proves difficult, it’s probably time to let it go altogether.

I’ve recently gotten back to other things that used to make my feel whole, like skateboarding (after two year without) and volunteering a at garden. These past times should restore balance.

I’m also drinking again, but only in a social setting, since preventing it in that context ironically seems to do me more harm than good. And I’m limiting myself to two nights a month for now to ensure it doesn’t again become a fixation. I’ll continue to monitor the situation.

It really boils down to the question of what would you rather have? A singular, fleeting euphoric experience of no more than x minutes or hours, or the potential to find the flow of a continuously orgasmic, ecstatic state that allows you genuine contentment.

As I continue to strip back the layers of my attachments, it’s becoming more evident to me which experience is more blissful—I choose the latter.

– CC


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