I haven’t spent more than a few months without drinking since I was a teenager.
Living in beach paradise, as we do here in Baja California Sur, it’s easy to get caught up in the It’s-Another-Tequila-Sunrise lifestyle. Many people in our little villa love to party. And who can blame them?
They are on vacation or retired. Whoo hoo!
I have nothing against getting wasted away again in Margaritaville. God knows I’ve had a lot of fun doing so over the years.
But recently, booze has stopped being my friend. A few drinks is a surefire ticket to insomnia, migraines and malaise.
Maybe booze has always affected me like that. Perhaps it’s just that in my 50s, feeling like crap bothers me more than it used to.
The other day, a thought came to me during my beach walk: What if I take a year off drinking? I’ll call it, “The Year of Living Drinklessly” (after one of my favorite films, The Year of Living Dangerously).
But wait a minute. Who will I be without drinking? Won’t I be a drag? A buzzkill, a party pooper?
What will happen when I meet my sister’s new boyfriend, who owns a winery and say “no thanks?” That doesn’t seem very nice. (Then again, many people I know haven’t read my books.)
Most of my friends drink. I heard one—wine glass in hand—say, “I decided to stop drinking wine, but after a week I realized it made me really boring.”
When I posted on Facebook that I’m taking a year off drinking, my account blew up. I got a ton of “likes.” A few playful “unlikes.”
I discovered that a number of my friends have quit drinking or regularly take breaks.
One stops drinking every February—a post-holiday cleanse. Another takes what she calls “drinking sabbaticals.” She’s a very social person and enjoys hosting dinners where the wine flows freely; her wineglass is usually filled with sparkling water. A non-drinking couple goes to parties bearing a pitcher of iced tea.
Some friends told me they experimented with non-drinking and never went back. One said she consciously imbibes alcohol sparingly, “like a spice.”
In a private message, one guy said he hasn’t had a drink since September. He stopped because he noticed he was rewarding himself with booze. Without changing anything else, he lost 14 pounds. He said it’s fun to go to parties, drink a virgin drink and watch his friends “get looped.”
He didn’t want to comment publicly, because people might accuse him of having a problem. That says a lot about our drinking (and recovery) culture, when someone who chooses not to drink is hesitant to say so. In my mind, whether or not one has a problem with alcohol is personal—and there are gray areas and slippages that only we can make sense of in our own lives.
I have friends who have thrived in various recovery programs. I have friends who’ve never done much drinking and others who drink every day. I have no judgments. Many of them are happy and outgoing, others not so much, but whatever—we all get to decide how we’re going to journey on this planet.
In my case, I’m thinking of abstinence as an adventure. What will a non-drinking life be like?
Maybe giving up booze is simply the next level of shedding. In the past two years, I’ve shed my job, town, house and possessions. Oh, and a brain tumor, the size of a walnut.
No, my husband and I are not ascetics. We love a fat steak and Temper-Pedic mattress as much as the next guy.
But we are experience junkies. We like to fling ourselves into life and try new things. Right now we have two more months in beachside paradise before we leave for more adventures in California, New Orleans and Chicago.
Oh my god. Am I really going to be boozelesss at JazzFest?
Well, that’s hardly an epic act. People do it all the time. I’m just not usually in that group.
In my short time of abstaining, I feel a little giggly, kind of off-kilter. Like I’m living someone else’s life. Like I’m getting high from abstinence.
Sounds weird, I know, but that’s not all. The other day in yoga I felt floaty, like my bones were a bird’s. Maybe that’s because I’ve been thinking for a while about quitting—and now that I have, it’s a relief.
Having created this arbitrary space of a year off drinking feels like a happy boundary.
I’m noticing that my desire for a drink often pops up around 4 p.m. Happy Hour is in my genes. An herbal tea or a smoothie later, the desire wanes.
When my husband, Dave, and I are on the roof watching the sunset, I think about how a nice glass of cabernet would accentuate the experience. Then I turn toward myself and ask, “Why?”
It’s a habit. It helps me relax. Wine’s ruby color in a glass is an aesthetic pleasure.
So, how can I get those things another way?
I inhale the ocean air, nestle into Dave’s embrace and watch the electric orange spread across the sky.
Author: Kate Evans
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: flickr, courtesy of Dave Rhine