September 6, 2023

6 Takeaways from being Alcohol-Free.

It’s not easy; I’ll start with that.

It’s really, really difficult to stop drinking alcohol and not become someone who you don’t like and are pretty sure no one likes: the preachy, uptight, sober* know-it-all.

My reasons for not drinking aren’t super complicated or sensitive, and I understand why people don’t want to be asked, but I wish it was something we could collectively talk about more. I kind of relish the opportunity to make it less of a big deal, to make it normal to talk about something so many people do all the time, every day. But unlike work, children, politics, relationship issues, and daily complaints, sobriety seems to be kind of a taboo.

I came home one night in April after having maybe one more drink than I really needed, but nothing out of the ordinary—certainly nowhere near the nights I’ve thrown up, blacked out, or sustained a mysterious injury. I’m not sure why the five or six drinks I’d had hit me in a particularly awful way, but once I got home, all I could do was lie still on my bed and hope that the feeling would pass.

A question came to me in near exasperation: why am I doing this to myself?

I used to have answers for that question:

Drinking made it easier to be relaxed around other people.

Drinking was a reliable way to feel better or feel less.

Drinking was a shortcut to friendships and connections.

But at some point, all the answers above began to lose their sheen of truth.

Drinking with other people was always followed up by anxiety and worry about what I’d done or said, no matter how sure I was that no one cared or remembered.

Drinking had stopped making me feel better. Often that first sip of the night was a kind of resignation to whatever followed, whether it was fun or misery—an easy morning or a brutal hangover.

Drinking made it harder to know my friends for real, and suddenly, that was something I wanted.

It seemed obvious—it was time to stop drinking alcohol. What else can you do when faced with that kind of unrelenting clarity? I couldn’t put my head back in the sand, and, surprisingly, I didn’t want to. The decision felt like something that was always hovering out of focus in the distance—a point at which I was always going to arrive, and maybe even looked forward to.

Here’s the thing that makes it so hard not to be super annoying about not drinking: my life has honestly gotten better in every way since I’ve stopped. And I want to tell people that because I want to let them in on the secret that I’ve stumbled across, one that could change things for them in a positive way. Of course, doing that always runs me the risk of being the annoying sober girl who stops getting invited to parties.

But this is my little corner of the internet, so whatever. Here are my takeaways.

1. My mental health is better than it’s ever been.

I no longer spend mornings (and afternoons and evenings) agonizing about what I’d done the night before or chastising myself over the number of calories consumed or money spent. I so earnestly want to feel good about myself, but every night out just reinforced that I didn’t deserve to feel good. I was willingly doing something that actually made me feel terrible, and something in my brain couldn’t reconcile it. I felt bad, therefore some large part of me must be bad.

2. Sometimes people need permission to drink less.

And sometimes it just takes one person saying they’re not drinking much or at all for everyone else to relax a little. The pressure to get wasted and have the best night ever suddenly dissipates. The same way it feels easy and habitual to drink when others are drinking, it feels easy to drink less when someone is already doing that, and not just because they’re sick or have an early morning or have to drive, but because that’s just their decision.

3. I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I drank like one.

Since I was a teenager, I drank for one specific reason, and that was to get drunk. It was never about identifying fruity notes in a wine or trying a new cocktail at a bar. It was about finding alcohol that I could tolerate best, that would make me the least sick, that was the right balance between affordable and decent quality, and that was easiest to store at the event in question (will there be a cooler available?)—in that order. It was never about whether I would drink—it was about how I would drink. Drinking was a foregone conclusion.

4. When I stopped drinking, I started making progress on all my goals.

It’s easy to compartmentalize your life and pretend that what you do in one area won’t impact another—society wants us to see ourselves as a jumble of disconnected, disparate parts that rarely talk to each other. When I stopped drinking, it was easier to recover at the gym and way easier to show up, week after week. I could focus on my work and meal prep and do all the things I actually cared about without a weekly overturning of all sense of balance and progress.

5. Drinking was never what made me fun or interesting.

And, look, I have zero regrets about the 17 or so years that drinking was a huge part of my life. I have enough stories and adventures to fill an entire shelf of books, and I’m glad I do. It was a huge rite of passage in my life and a big component of some of my favourite memories. I don’t wish I could go back to university or my solo trip to Bali or countless music festivals and concerts and do those things sober. But I have done those things drunk, and that seems good enough for now. Nothing lasts forever, right? Or maybe it’s more correct to say that nothing is meant to last forever, though we can certainly force things to stay as long as we want.

6. For most of my life, I have been terrified of being alone with myself.

Drinking was a reliable and acceptable way to abandon myself in plain view. No one, including my family and partners, ever cautioned me that I had a problem or should change. I could drink and turn up the music and be sure that I would never have to look myself in the eye. Sobriety is kind of like being nervous to see a friend you knew you should have texted a long time ago, but when you see them again, they’re not angry at you—just happy to see you again.

Not drinking alcohol has been a homecoming to me. Sorry if, in the end, I am sometimes annoying about it.

*Sober means different things to different people—used here to mean alcohol-free.


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