Week 8: The difference between want, must and should


There are three internal songs that run through my mind – should, want and must.

Should is the loudest. Should wrangles you into believing you aren’t good enough and that your decisions are not aligned to some greater version of yourself defined predetermined paths. Shoulds prod you into thinking you’ve failed. They point and laugh. You can’t win with shoulds.

Wants are freeing and uncontrolled. They sometimes lead you to joy, but also recklessness. The key to wants is to know how to read them – which are surface wants and which are deeper. They trick you sometimes, though. You may think it’s shallow but only later, when it hasn’t subsided, you understand it was the crack that led to a must.

Must speaks to who you are as a human. They reveal your core. Musts don’t follow any other direction than the one in your heart.

Most of my daily anxiety comes from deciphering the shoulds from the musts and sorting the wants into the light or heavy. I once read about the crossroads these mixed directions create, but even in knowing I am not alone in the tug-o-war between should and must, this essay didn’t lead me to enlightenment. Either my must isn’t loud enough or I don’t trust it not to be a should in disguise.

I often don’t know the difference between who I should be, who I want to be and who I must be, let alone what I should, want or must have for dinner. And, I don’t even know where to begin to designate the difference.

The end of the year has prompted a shift in attitude. Instead of frantically trying to decide what I should, want or must do, I’ve taken an apathetic approach. I pick a destination and go with it. I don’t care that my decisions might disappoint others or that I am stepping off my true path. It’s not that I’ve reached some level of trust with myself, I’m mostly too exhausted with this mental struggle to care anymore.

This weekend, I should be cleaning my house. I should be making a decision on grad school. I should be writing and convincing friends to read my book for feedback. I should be making amends with friendships gone astray, I should be working hard to bring others some kind of joy.

But I am not.

Instead, I am following the wants. Some may be shallower than others, but, again, I don’t care. I honestly don’t know how to get to must right now, and that takes a level of skill that I haven’t quite obtained, so I am going to start practicing by listening to my wants over my shoulds. Maybe I will eventually find that must.

There are some wants I know how to say no to, such as the not constant but persistent urge to drink. During the funk that’s prevailed the last week or so, I’ve had moments where I’ve uttered, out loud, “I want a drink.” Those around me replied, “No, you don’t,” as if I had the cup to my lips and was about to undo the vow I’ve made to sobriety in one swallow.

It’s foolish to ignore want. It’s unwise to feel that yearning bubble inside and then push it back down because it’s not the right or proper kind of desire. A want is a want, whether it is good or bad or decent.

I did want a drink in those moments, that’s the truth, but so is my commitment to sobriety. Just because I haven’t had a drink in nearly two months. doesn’t mean the want vanishes. It’s there, hanging out in the corner, speaking up anytime it might think I will listen. I hear that voice, but I usually let it speak without a response. I don’t ignore it, but I also don’t turn to it and agree to oblige. I let the want linger in the air until my mind is on some other craving or worry.

Do I want a drink? Yes.

Should I drink? No.

Must I drink? No.

One of the driving forces behind this year-long challenge is that I wasn’t sure where the line between must or want existed when it came to my drinking – must I drink or do what I want to drink – and I was terrified that at some point I had crossed it. The only way to determine if was there was a point was to get sober and try to find it with clear eyes.

It’s going to a lot of practice to translate shoulds, musts and wants, but when it comes to drinking I know where, at least for now. That’s something and it gives me a little hope that deep down I do know what is best for me.

The hardest part of sobriety: Last night E and I had a lovely dinner, decorated our newly bought Christmas tree and watched Christmas movies. It was a night made for glass of red wine or a hot toddy. We did use our wine glasses, though, his had juice and mine La Croix.

The best part of sobriety :My friend and her roommate had a chocolate party this weekend and all the guests brought a chocolate treat. Not having wine or a Christmas-themed beer allowed me to use those saved calories on more desserts.

Stray observations (random thoughts I have that I don’t want to blast on to social media, but still want to say out loud on the internet): While making dinner I had a question about one of the ingredients on the recipe list. Instead of asking Google, I started to call people who I thought might now. The first two didn’t pick up and the third tried to and the call failed because the reception in my kitchen is poor. She immediately texted to see if I meant to call or did so out of accident. I called a fourth and she had answer and so did the third person, who I communicated via text. It’s funny how we don’t call each other anymore, that we would rather interact with a computer than the people we love. Maybe I can start expanding this idea of more actual human connection in other ways.


Week 7: Disappoint


It’s not Sunday, I know, and my weekly post for this blog is long overdue. With my trip home to South Dakota, and then resettling back into normal life, I’ve had few opportunities to write. When I did manage to open a fresh post, the words came out cluttered and chunky. The topic I had planned to write about this week is one I do want to share, but it will have to wait until I get the thoughts into some kind of cohesive format. So, for nine days, there has been silence on this blog.

I hate disappointing people. It’s my greatest fear in everyday life and panic over whether or not I let someone down can consume hours of my day. Is she mad at me? Did I say the wrong thing? Is there more I should have done? I’ve made other people’s happiness my personal responsibility, and it’s a never-ending cycle of torture when not every single relationships in my life is light and friendly. All I ever wanted from life is for people to look at me and say, “She was a kind, loving person. She was one of the good ones.” And, a person who is worthy of such praise just doesn’t let people down.

Life doesn’t work that way. We do let people down and they do us. I let people down, probably more often than I care to recall. I must cope with the fact that I disappoint and that I am disappointing at times.

Drinking helps. Under the milky haze of craft IPAs, the constant chatter about how others see me dies down. It’s crowded out by a fake confidence birthed from some place that only alcohol can access. With a glass in my hand, I only have to answer to myself.

Of course, util the morning, when the drink has worn off and I am scrambling to remember the things that I said or did and then analyzing how those around me the night before may have interpreted them. I’ve spent whole days in bed not hung over but crippled with guilt and shame from the the way I acted towards others while drinking.

I don’t have drinking now to drown out the voices, instead I have to listen to them and gulp them down. Let them swirl within me and not react. I am a fixer and any time I think I have disappointed someone I try to fix it, often aggressively. That often makes it worse.

But I am exhausted from caring. Maybe it’s that 32 years of trying to be everything to everyone has finally caught up to me or that I have less patience with bullshit emotions in sobriety, but I am over feeling like I need to pull myself together to make everyone else happy. I am removing everyone’s happiness off of my to-do list.

I disappoint and I am a disappointment, not all the time, but definitely sometimes. Still, I would rather disappoint than pretend.

The hardest part of sobriety this week: Wanting to drink away stress.

The best part about sobriety this week: Having the self-control not to give into that want.

Week 6: The person you used to be


The Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving is itself a holiday. After arriving home and checking in with the parents, you proceed to the bar. On any other week, Wednesday is a slow night at the local tavern – considered a dive in any other city – but on this night it is packed. You swim through a sea of former high school classmates and casual acquaintances. You bob your head through the crowd, trying to find one particular face, but duck into the bathroom when you see the one you’d like to avoid. You strike up conversations with people you have no interest in talking to for more than 30 seconds, but you want the time to prove yourself. You are different, you want them to know, you are not the person they pegged you to be.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is an unofficial high school reunion in all small towns, or at least mine. I was never particularly fond of the ritual but I participated for many of drinking age years for two reasons. The first being catching up with a small cluster of friends, many older than me, and the second the opportunity to recast my character.  Continue reading “Week 6: The person you used to be”

Week 5: A deep breath


Right off the Morse red line stop in Northern Chicago is a string of bars along Glenwood Ave in in Rogers Park. This area of the city doesn’t have the chic of Lincoln Park or the cool of Wicker Park or the bro of Boystown. It’s a neighborhood of students and minorities, it’s simple and earnest. The bars there reflect that. They are dark with flickering lights from the TVs that hang above the bar or the candle-lit lamp on the old tables that separate friends engrossed in conversation. Their windows looking in invite me to come inside and rest, the warmth of the bar and the booze would heal my troubles of the day.

During my first winter in Chicago, I walked by these bars once a week on my way to visit J, an 18-year-old refugee that I mentor. It felt like Midnight on those cold Wednesday and Tuesday nights, the sky orange and pregnant with snow. I often daydreamed about ducking into one of the bars, ordering something dark that came in a short glass, and sitting in a worn leather chair in the corner. I could read or write or watch the other patrons. Something about those bars felt safe and reassuring. Continue reading “Week 5: A deep breath”

Week 4: The Reason


My partner doesn’t drink. Drinking didn’t come up on our first date, which was at a BYOB and we didn’t BYO. On our second date, at a comedy club, while I peered over the drink menu, he leaned over. “I don’t drink, but it’s OK if you order a drink.” He said this because he knows the social cues when two people are together and one doesn’t drink.  I desperately wanted a beer because I couldn’t decided if I liked him without alcohol, but I ordered a lemonade.

I liked that he didn’t drink. I had had way too many first and second dates that were barely rememberable because my date encouraged another and I would never be the first one to say I’ve had enough.

Eventually I started ordering beers when we were out for dinner or pouring a full glass of wine while we watched TV. We went out with friends and I drank and drank until it was time for us to go home.

“Why doesn’t he drink?” people asked me and I would answer, or maybe I would offer reasoning without any prompting.

He is not a recovering addict. It’s not a religious thing. He doesn’t because he never has.

This answer pulls their head to the side, a visual ‘huh’. They shrug their shoulders and take a sip.

This answer doesn’t often satisfy. “Why would anyone not drink if they didn’t have a reason?” Something as ambiguous as never really have any interest is incomprehensible to most people.

I’ve been worried that my reasoning for this year-long break is also not enough, and I really hate trying to explain it to people. And, it’s not really because people don’t accept my answer, but more so that I am not sure I do.

A month or so ago, I went to a birthday party. I slammed three beers in an hour before dinner. The quaintness of the dive bar, the afternoon light pouring in through the cracks, the $5 Zombie dust, it all swept me up and I gulped down one after another. Then I had two more beers at dinner and another two at a bar before calling an Uber home.

The next day, while fairly hungover, I looked at how much I spent, between all of the beers and the cab home. It made my already queazy stomach flip. I decided to take a break, starting on my 32nd birthday.

So, why I am vowing to a year of sobriety? To save money. To be healthier. To see if I can do that. Those are all the reasons that’ve I said out loud to friends and family when I’ve felt like I’ve needed to justify this experiment. Again, not always for them but for myself.

There are other reasons, too. We had a party a few weeks ago and I was so nervous about opening up my home to so many of our friends. I paced around the house for hours and then poured myself a drink. I stopped myself from drinking the entire glass before guests arrived because I knew that I would drinking and drinking throughout the night to quiet the voices in my head.

I’ve also thought that if my partner left me or if all of my friends decided they no longer wanted to see me, it would be OK because I have alcohol and could drink away the pain.

Anytime alcohol is going to be present at a dinner or party, I think about it all day. As soon as I get my hands on that beer or glass of wine, I gulp half of it down within the first few minutes, relieved to feel the warmness wash down.

Those things scare me. They scare me because there is something hidden underneath them and I need to figure out what that is. I don’t want to drink right now because of that and it’s hard to explain that in a way that makes sense to someone not me.

Why I am a vowing to a year of sobriety? Because I need to remember what Heather is like without alcohol.

The hardest part of sobriety this week: I am not sure there was one. Yes, the celebrations of Chicago would have been nicer with a beer, but also a lot worse. I had a pretty stressful Wednesday evening, the World Series excluded, and thought about alcohol. Instead, I ate.

The best part about sobriety this week: This text message from a friend: “Lemme know how I can best support your not drinking goals. This is a rough time to not be drinking but as cheesy as this is gonna sound I’m proud of you.”


Week 3: Boo


Do you remember Halloween?

Not the Halloween when you’ll probably eat a candy bar, drink a glass of wine and go to bed before 9:30 p.m. because, hey, it’s Monday.

The other Halloween.

The one before you drank too much pumpkin-flavored beer in protest of dressing up, rather than admitting you didn’t dress up because you were too embarrassed in your own skin to pick out an outfit that could drive any kind of negative attention your way.

Not the Halloween where you drunkly walked through the emergency room to find the bathroom while you waited for your then-boyfriend to get stitches in the place a broken beer bottle ripped through a flip flop and sliced his foot open.

Before the Halloween in a dance club too packed with bodies when your were shoved up against the back of your ex boyfriend and his new whatever. Continue reading “Week 3: Boo”

Week 2: The Wanting


It’s 5:38 p.m. Friday evening. My train has stopped in the station closest to my house. I exit through the machine-operated doors and trample down the steps, playing the game where I try to beat the person next to me to the bottom. I saunter out and the late-October chill hits my face.

Oh, my goodness, I want a drink.

I am never home before 6 – never – and so I want to celebrate with a third of a bottle of cab. Or, crack open a pumpkin-flavored beer, poured into a real glass to lessen the cheapness, and take gulps as I sauté and chop for dinner.

I want a drink, I think as I cross the street.

I want a drink, I think as peer halfway into the dry cleaners that ruined my rug a few months ago while walking past the closed establishment. As I wait for the light and cross another street. As I insert the key into the main door of the building. As I walk up the stairs to my apartment.

I want a drink. I want a drink. I want a drink. I want a drink. Continue reading “Week 2: The Wanting”