Every singer has a song called The River I should write a River Song of my own I should write a post about all my favourite blogs And compile a report of all your relevant research I’ll collate a video collection of your artistic creations
I should build my “to be read” list of all your best thoughts And dream, and dream, and dream I should be dreaming all your dreams.
I recently finished a journal notebook – now labelled May 30, 2020 – Nov 24, 2020
May 30 “…I might forget how to have real live conversations with people… It’s cold out. Our weather is all over the map. May held the coldest May day on record and the 5th hottest May day on record. last night was 2 degrees…. Maybe I can get through it better if I frame it as ending in January. I can always reframe in November. My dog is bored. I should mow the lawn. Get beer. Do all the things. Pass school. Do my job. Lose weight. Be an ally. Stand up. Save the world.”
June 1st “Yesterday I called Valentine Domino and the kids laughed because “that was so many dogs ago” – we are telling time by dogs.
June 5th “It’s going to be another hot day. I’m figuring on buying asparagus. I’m figuring on gassing up the van. I might be OK living like this forever.”
June 7th “The dog is chasing a bumble bee. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to teach him to catch flies but not bumble bees… I like this quiet life. I want to write letters and learn things…. I haven’t peed anywhere but home for over three months. Weird.”
Basically I have liked many features of this slow, quiet life. I liked it more when I had a small bubble of people I could hug. If I could hug, hold hands, and dance to live music – and see clients in person. Oh, no, wait – also dine with others. Maybe thinking I’m fine with all that’s gone is simply because it’s been gone so long.
The new journal notebook starts “This winter will be soups and soft blankets – if this were my house I’d hang heavy curtains on all the windows and reflect within that crushed velvet hush.”
I can summon the smell of you in the frigid night, sniffing the air like a winter wolf; cedar, snow, and smoke, and the smell of your skin. I can hear your voice in silence, the words I can’t understand singing at my ears. I can draw your face with my eyes closed. I can taste your skin. I can send protective love on crow’s wing, whether you think you deserve it or not.
I intended to go from Summer Solstice 2019 to Autumn Equinox 2020 without consuming alcohol. I believed I could do this on will alone. Perhaps will is sufficient for quitting a habit – but will is not inexhaustible. I wake up and enter the morning and each day is different when it comes to how much available will I seem to have. Each day holds its surprises for how you will be taxed. I cunningly plan out my will allotment across the day’s known challenges and then the day sneaks in unexpected curveballs and suddenly it’s 4PM, I’ve already borrowed into tomorrow’s will supply and a friend is saying “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink?” and I am no longer sure at all.
My reasons for trying to not drink keep changing. I always know it causes cancer. That is reason enough on the days when I want to live long and prosper and keep this body as healthy as I can for as long as I can. True too though are the days when I might prefer to not live too overly long, and think years of living later for days of pleasure now is a fine trade. I’m keenly aware of my mortality and limited number of days, moments, experiences remaining to me and I don’t want to miss out on anything because I was drunk or hungover. Neither though do I want to be alive but essentially bored for however many moments I have left.
I’m wary of the times I say -to myself or right outloud – “Oh god I need a drink.” Those are the moments when we need to remember our breathing and our lessons from mindfulness and welcome the feeling and acknowledge it and sit with it, and then move past it. Those are the times when we process the feeling, and the underlying feelings and beliefs and perceptions and yearnings and come to a place where we are OK in ourselves just as we are. That is how those moments are best handled. This is not always how the script plays out.
Occasionally a social vignette presents itself where it’s not even a case where “a drink would augment this moment” but more “not having a drink would take away from this moment.” I suspect this is not actually true as I know people who are loving life and enjoying those moments but not drinking, even though they used to drink. I kind of have to surmise that I’m just not there yet.
There is such a dichotomy in drinking socially! It can bring people together when done in moderation, and drive them apart when taken to excess. When people partake in marijuana or harder drugs, there is usually a point in time where they cross an unseen threshold into a world that the not-stoned cannot access. It can make me sad; it’s like they’ve left the room without saying goodbye. But in these weeks of relative sobriety, I’ve learned that the same is true for alcohol. I didn’t notice before because I slid into the tipsy reality with the others, instead of watching them go and being left behind.
In the six weeks there have been 14 social occasions that prominently featured alcohol, as well as a music festival. I’d say that summer is the wrong time to have tried this but each season brings its own temptations. Of the 15 events, I elected to have a drink at 4 despite wanting to drink at all 15. I’d say that’s gotta count for something, but what would that even mean? None of it really matters, either way, in the longest of long runs.
I think it’s an experiment. I’m learning about why and how I drink or don’t. To be honest, I don’t like everything about what I’ve learned about myself. But there’s learning there, too. If I’m going to be a therapist (and I am), there’s no cringing away from this stuff. I wrote a poem in Kingston recently about wanting a drink after opening the box of my Mother’s ashes. The box had been mailed to me by the crematorium 11 months prior and had sat, unopened, in my storage closet.
When I Said
When I said I wouldn’t drink from Solstice to Equinox (so dramatic) I meant I wouldn’t apart from when I did. “So Libra,” laughs Polly, taking a sip from her lipsticked glass. But it takes me a couple of shots of lilac gin before I can invite Polly to my bed. And there are times when cracking a beer is akin to breaking bread. And also! And also and also – I just finally opened the box from the crematorium and in the box was another box with a certificate bearing my mother’s name and in that box was a plastic box and in that there was a plastic bag tied with a twist tie and in that there was my mother. I tucked the end of the bag back into the box and out puffed a very small cloud and I thought: ohmygodthatismymother. And then I drank some scotch. I am sorry I didn’t ask first Greg. You know, it was delicious.
I wrote so many pages in my regular journal while I was at Mariposa. I hardly used my phone and I talked to more people than I can recall. We talked and shared stories and almost never connected on social media. We just moved along with our weekends. I like it.
I also saw friends and acquaintances and hugged some favourite people. I kind of miss Mariposa.
I only just got home Monday evening and since then I went to Merry Wives of Windsor in Stratford one night and I’m working a concert at my home theatre tonight. Tomorrow is movie night with friends and then it’s Kultun festival and then swing dancing in Hamilton on Sunday. How even if this my life.
I’m doing a community art project called #100notebookwomen where, as suggested, 100 women get notebooks. There’s a month and a half and you just do whatever your artsy heart desires. Mine’ll be poems of course. Songs without music. Lyrics without songs. The words to this one follow the image.
I always have a wish at the ready
Affirmation, prayer, whatever they are
My desire thrust at the Universe
At 11:11, dandelions, shooting stars.
How lucky am I? My wish box is empty!
My most recent wishes all came true!
Now I’m dreaming in sweet summer breezes
I’m willing up wishes anew.
11:11 comes twice every day
Dandelions seed, stars fall.
The air tastes of hope, love, and magic.
Summer is wishing season after all.
The wish must be something possible
Where luck is handy but not required
A lover’s kiss? A friend’s good health?
Something absent but much desired.
11:11 comes twice every day
Dandelions seed, stars fall.
The air tastes of hope, love, and magic.
Summer is wishing season after all.
An empty wish box is a blessing it’s true
Of unbestowed wishes, I have but a few.
All the same I think I’ll wish up one or two.
The following is a speech I wrote for and delivered at my Toastmaster’s Club:
Let’s have a little quiz. I’ll read you a list of facts about alcohol and you raise your hand for each fact that you already knew.
1 Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects.
2 The recommended maximum number of drinks is 2 per day for women and 3 per day for men, with at least 2 non-drinking days per week.
3 Alcohol increases the risk of violence and abuse.
4 Alcohol can cause cancer.
According to a survey in 2018, only 28% of Canadians were aware that alcohol causes cancer.
Each “fact” in my survey is actually a warning label used on alcoholic products – or that have been used. In November 2017, a Health Canada study was launched in the Yukon to study the effect of warning labels on alcoholic beverage purchases. Bright yellow labels were used, one stating that alcohol can cause cancer, and the other speaking to recommended maximums.
Four weeks into the study, the Yukon Liquor Corporation gave in to pressure from the national alcohol brands and stopped affixing the labels to bottles and cans sold in their stores out of fear of expensive lawsuits.
Ten weeks later, the study was allowed to proceed, but with pregnancy risk labels instead of ones mentioning cancer risk.
It would appear that the alcohol lobby was afraid that if more people knew that alcohol causes cancer, fewer people would consume it.
According to Spirits Canada president, Jan Westcott, it wasn’t about fear of reduced sales. When asked about the studies linking excessive drinking with increased risk of some cancers, he said, “We’re not denying any of that. We’re just not sure that putting the word “cancer” on a label is the most effective way to convey that information.”
However, a study commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society indicates that putting the word cancer on a label is an excellent method of communication. They found that two thirds of Ontarians would likely reduce their consumption if they learned that drinking alcohol increased their risk of cancer.
Another 2018 study, this one from the Global Drug Survey looked at how different health messages would affect people’s drinking behaviour, and found that the message “Drinking less can reduce your risk of 7 different types of cancer” could get almost 40% of drinkers to reduce their consumption.
So if harm reduction can be achieved by knowing the connection between a crisp cold beer and colon cancer, let’s look at some stone cold facts.
The World Health Organization classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen similar to arsenic and asbestos.
The National Cancer Institute states that 3.5% of cancer deaths are due to the consumption of alcohol. Not “correlated with” but rather “due to”. The causal relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer is known and proven.
8% of breast cancer is caused by drinking – the risk of breast cancer increases even at light levels of consumption, meaning no more than one drink a day.
Moderate drinkers – two drinks a day – are one and a half times as likely as non-drinkers to wind up with colon cancer.
The risk of cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed and there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
Is knowing a laundry list of alarming facts sufficient to decrease alcohol consumption? We can look at our history with public-health-initiated anti-smoking campaigns for an answer.
In 2017 the Centre for Disease Control surveyed five years of mass-reach communication campaigns and found a significant number of smokers decreased the amount they smoked, or quit altogether. When Graphic Warning Labels were introduced for cigarette packages, over 90% of smokers surveyed reported having read and thought about the warnings, over 80% considered them to be personally relevant, and over 40% intended to quit as a result of having thought about the warning labels.
While not everyone – and possibly not even half – the people who read and consider the warnings on harmful products will quit their use of the product, it does appear from anti-smoking efforts that SOME consumers WILL change their behaviours based on warning labels.
What about you? If you do drink alcohol, and didn’t know before today that drinking alcohol causes cancer – will you now opt for soda over scotch? How will the struggle to choose between a glass of merlot now and an increased risk of colon cancer five years from now play out in your life? Are you amongst the two thirds of Ontarians who would consider reducing alcohol consumption?
Knowing might only be half the battle – but hopefully it’s a half you’re now better armed for.