Wow, two episodes in a row where Marc Maron hit me right in a personal spot on his WTF podcast. Last week it was with Allie Brosh, discussing depression and anxiety, and this week it was comedian John Mulaney talking with Marc about their sobriety and alcoholism. Maron has fifteen years sober, Mulaney has nine. There’s a lot that I can relate to with Mulaney, the upper middle class background, the drinking that started in high school, college in DC. But the part that had me nodding along the most was that despite their years of sobriety, both of them talk about how they still kind of want a drink now and then. As they discussed it a little bit though both of them agreed that the desire for a drink wasn’t driven by a thirst for a specific drink or a need to get sloppy drunk, but as a source of relief.
Drinking for me had been in a large part a way to find relief for my anxiety. Drinking can take the edge off, and becomes a way to dull your feelings a little bit. For some people, they can come home and have one drink to take the edge off. There’s no problem. For me though, with the way my brain works, I would say, well if one drink can take the edge off, maybe a second drink would really settle me in. Not just take the edge off, but take my mind off my anxiety all together. Then you think, well, might as well have a drink with dinner, after all the bottle’s open and on the counter. I found usually by the third drink my inhibitions were lowered enough that I didn’t need to justify any more to myself- I had my own permission. The edge was back in the rear-view mirror. I didn’t even remember there was an edge, if I’m being honest. Until the next morning when I woke up hung-over.
You want an edge to creep up on you during the day? Start it off with a hangover.
They both talk about how that initial sense of relief is a big driver behind the urge to drink and how they’ve tried replacing it. They’re both also former smokers. I’ve written before about how I use cigars as a replacement for alcohol. The reason I get home and reach for my lighter? Smoking takes the edge off and I find a great deal of relief in it. It’s a different kind of relief from drinking. Drinking sort of mutes and obscures your anxiety temporarily. Smoking, especially a cigar that may take up to an hour to burn through, doesn’t obscure or mute the anxiety, but helps me confront it in a calming way. As I sit in a chair puffing away it seems like everything’s slowed down. I know I’m not going anywhere for a bit, I find the aroma of the cigar calming and it puts me in a contemplative mood. I can sit there and analyze my anxious feelings, identify their source and roll potential solutions around in my head. I try and blow smoke rings and watch the way that when the light hits the smoke just right you can see it curl, billow and snake its way up and out from the end of the cigar.
There are other ways that I can replicate this sort of mood- meditation is one. I can, if I really need to take the edge off, pop a Clonidine. I suppose a walk would be a productive activity. I know that for my own health I need to cut back on the smoking. But I’m very curious, what have people found to be healthy and productive ways to take the edge of and seek relief at the end of the day from their anxiety?