Alcohol has always been part of my life…
…the allure of my parents drinking Manhattans with glistening cherries.
…the priest drinking “the blood of Christ.”
…high school keg parties every weekend at the home of whomever’s parents were out of town.
…college binge drinking (most weekends, someone from the dorms was hauled off to the ER for a stomach pump).
…Happy Hours after work (that began on Fridays, then extended to Thursdays, and eventually leaked over to Wednesdays).
…vacations (England: pubs!, Hawaii: umbrella drinks!, Napa: wine tasting!).
…champagne for any celebration, beer for any beach adventure.
…pouring a glass of wine, or grabbing a beer from the fridge, as the first ahhhhhhh after a long day.
One of my boyfriends took a cooler of beer with him wherever we went. He could open a bottle on the steering wheel.
My first husband home brewed beer.
My wife (marriage number two) and I loved pubs. We drank wine and beer at home most nights. We decided multiple times to “take a break.” We’d pour the wine and beer down the drain—or give it to someone—and in just a few days it would sneak back into our house like a child into her parents’ bed.
Five years ago, I started dating Dave, who rarely drinks. I had never spent as much time around another person who didn’t care for booze. It made him sleepy. He’d sometimes drink a Guinness or nurse a glass of red wine at dinner with friends. But generally, it wasn’t his thing. He didn’t care what, how, or if I drank.
When I underwent brain surgery two years ago, I didn’t drink for two months. I thought of it as temporary. I longed for my cold glass of chardonnay and frothy IPA and was happy when I got them back.
But then something happened when we were living in Mexico.
I suddenly became less tolerant of the next-day malaise that accompanied even just a drink or two. And the headaches. I’d always thought booze gave me a lift, but when I began to really look at it, I realized the lift lasted about half an hour—and then the only way to keep it going was to have another. Otherwise, like Dave, I’d get sleepy.
I wanted to do yoga, and write, and do my writing coaching work, and take long walks, and explore Baja feeling my best. I was curious if living without booze would improve my life. I mean, just truly erasing drinking as a possibility.
What would it feel like?
Who would I be without it?
Could I really change my habitual, socialized drinking habits?
It seemed like an adventure to try.
It’s been five months since I decided to embark on the Year of Living Drinklessly. It’s been fascinating to sit in that space between wanting a drink and not having one. Perching in that margin between, “Ah, a beer sounds good” and taking a sip of sparkling water.
I’ve become more and more aware of all the associations I have with booze:
That it makes me happy.
That it’s a celebratory thing.
That only boring people don’t drink.
That it’s the lifeblood of fun.
That it helps me relax.
That it helps me cope.
Also, it’s sophisticated! Look at those Europeans and their elegant sidewalk cafes! (A friend once said to me that the French don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink.)
Now I can see that:
Nothing external makes me happy (it’s an inside job).
The rollercoaster of using booze to bring me up, always involves a coming down.
Celebrating is fun because of the new job/baby/marriage/experience/ people/music/dancing—not the booze.
The French generally drink only at meals—and, of course, there are French people who don’t drink. Drinking or abstaining has nothing to with moral character.
Partying does not have to equate to “drinking.” (I still can’t believe it took me 52 years to come to this one.)
It’s not booze that makes people fun, it’s their spirit, their sense of humor, their willingness to dance on the table! And no, you don’t need to be drunk for that.
That initial morphine quality of a sip of wine can be lovely, but so is knowing how to calm and soothe myself without a substance (through meditation, breathing, thinking a better thought, laughing, petting a dog, taking a walk). And there is no agitation-backlash, headache, or malaise involved.
If I have these tools to calm and soothe myself, who needs a drug to cope? And sometimes, it seems, that what I needed to cope with was the cycle of social drinking.
Four months into my drink-free adventure, I decided to consciously, mindfully partake in some drinking. I was curious what it would feel like to drink again—and to see if my time off had changed anything.
Over the course of two weeks, I went wine tasting, drank champagne to celebrate the release of my book, and sucked down some draft IPA. Each one of these was a social occasion, with friends. Everyone else (even Dave) imbibed.
I never had what you could characterize as a hangover, but each time, I felt less “sparkly” for a few days. It was like I was wearing a long dress, and someone was stepping on the train.
That’s when I realized:
I prefer not drinking.
I feel better. I’m happier. I’m calmer. I love waking up feeling good.
Now I’m not counting the days or months. I’m just living booze-free.
“Free” being the key word, because I do feel free.
I don’t spend time thinking about if/when/where/how I will or won’t have a drink. I don’t wonder if a hangover is coming tomorrow. It gets easier and easier in social situations to just say, “No thanks.”
I don’t care what anyone else does. We all have our reasons to drink or not drink. I spent 52 years one way. Now I’m living another.
Today, in this eternal now (which is all we really have), I’m happily a non-drinker. That may change. If it does or it doesn’t, it’s okay—because I am the one in charge of my life.
If you’re going to drink, make sure you know what’s inside:
True efficiency is taking some time to be fully first thing in the morning. Rushing isn’t always efficient:
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