What is the relationship between alcohol and creativity?
“Write drunk, edit sober.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“That is a normal part of creativity – letting go. We always do the best that we can by the light that we have to see by… The success of a creative recovery hinges on our ability to move out of the head and into action.” ~ Julia Cameron
58 days ago, I stopped drinking alcohol. Cold turkey. I finally had had enough of the wonky sleep, poor food choices at dinner time, and fuzzy thinking during my peak morning hours.
Several nights a week, I’d have 1-3 glasses of wine as part of a way to bookend the day; draw a line between being “on duty” and flipping a switch to “off.” When in the middle of a day that was especially frustrating or challenging, I’d fast forward in my mind to being able to settle in after my workday with a great glass of wine and let it all melt away.
I also loved to experiment with pairing different wines with various foods and flavors, as well as with new dishes I created on the fly. Learning about wine regions and wineries was a fun hobby, too, and making selections for my collection felt sophisticated.
I came to realize fully, however, that my hobby and habit had a definitive (yet insidious) cost, most especially to my creativity. Alcohol and creativity do not mix as well as we’ve been led to believe.
I began to notice on the days following the evenings when I chose not to drink that I felt lighter, much more clear and focused, well rested, and eager to conquer challenging creative work (most notably, working on my book). I had courage to dive into the unknown and give it a go.
On these clear, energetic mornings, I was like a skier at the top of a diamond run, being able to see the path through the creative moguls. I could gather up threads among various bits of research with ease, discover the concepts that tied them together, and knit out a chapter that would help light the way for my reader.
Creative Heaven & Hell
Creative Heaven for a writer.
Conversely, my mornings with a slight hangover had a film of fatigue, fuzziness, and dropped connections. My brain, like my cell phone on the mountain roads on the outskirts of my hometown, would drop signals with regularity. I would stand at my French press, stare into the coffee grounds as I poured over hot water, and start to run the questions: “What was I thinking again about that idea? What was the interesting point there? Shit! It was so good! What was it?”
That’s when I started thinking that perhaps I should reconsider drinking alcohol and creativity would come easier.
I also noticed something else that is hard to admit: my drinking was consuming precious courage reserves and sense-of-self bandwidth. Without fail, during the mornings after a night when I had had wine the night before, I would run an icky shame program in the background. It had just enough of a draw and load to weigh me down with doubt and give fuel and center stage to my inner critic.
My Morning Pages were a running litany of reasons why I should stop drinking, as well as why I could continue without harm. It wasn’t a problem. It was a problem. Back and forth. Back and forth.
A Stop Drinking Experiment
I decided to run an experiment. I would stop drinking until the first draft of my book was done (my goal is to have this completed by the end of April 2020). Six months without alcohol—enough time to be a useful longitudinal study.
I am two months into my experiment, and the results are fascinating.
Along with more consistent and restful sleep, I am enjoying greater clarity, improved concentration, and better overall health. I no longer snack before dinner, and I eat healthier meals at dinnertime. Not much of a surprise.
What has been surprising to me is the power of making and keeping promises to myself.
Simply the act of deciding, making a commitment to myself, and honoring that commitment has proven to be a true game changer for my creativity. Commitment begets commitment. Continuity begets continuity. Showing up fully for myself begets more of the same throughout my entire life.
Breaking the habit that held me in a loose, yet draining grip has liberated pockets of energy, insight, thoughtfulness, and grace within me.
Are you consuming something that is causing a latent drag in your creativity?
Courageous Choices Fuel Creativity
Maybe for you, too, alcohol is a buffer that slices two ways. Of course, our culture is loaded to the gills with lore about how drinking eases us into creativity more readily. With all due respect to Ernest Hemingway and other famous creators who espoused such promises, I’m gonna call BS on that. Alcohol and creativity, as it turns out, are not a good mix.
Maybe, though, it isn’t alcohol for you. Maybe it is a toxic relationship. Or a day job that is sucking the life out of you. Or, perhaps it is a choice to separate yourself from joy, unconditional love, or adventure.
How about we bring those choices and habits that are causing latent drags on our creativity right up front and center? Let’s take a good, long look there. What kind of experiment can you run, beginning today, that may prove to be the decision that (once and for all) sets you free?
Deposits of kept promises and courageous choices build our sense of self in powerful, mystical ways. That bridges us over the divide between a former self who walks in pain and isolation over to the Future Self who carries a key in her or his pocket, leaving the prison bars behind for good, and lighting the way for others in the process.