Why I Made The Decision Not to Drink

For months leading up to this past summer, I had been saying to myself, as well as out loud, that I wanted to take 30 days off of drinking alcohol. There were a number of reasons for this, but chief among them was that I was having a lot of digestive problems and I was trying to heal my gut. Clearly, alcohol wasn't helping when it came to any stomach upset, and I felt like it was making it worse.

Another reason was that I had noticed drinking simply was becoming less fun for me, and it was even causing me worry. For example, if we were attending a party and there was going to be drinking, I would obsess about whether or not I would drink at all because someone was going to have to drive home, and drinking and driving gives me metaphorical hives. Rather than enjoying myself, I would have a drink, glug down copious amounts of water and then spend a lot of time ruminating in my head about how I felt and whether I was reaaaaalllly good to drive home. On the other hand, if we were hosting an event at our home, I often found that I wouldn't really drink all that much, but would feel an internal pressure to drink with my friends or family (this was totally on me, not them.)

This dance was playing out in my mind over and over and it was becoming exhausting.

In June, I began treatment with an acupuncturist and changed my eating habits pretty drastically. Finally, I felt like the timing was right for me to take an extended break from alcohol while I actively worked on my health. I was mentally prepared. I took a six week hiatus from drinking, and to my surprise I saw a huge difference in my mental health, and my overall enjoyment of life. I had expected to feel physically good, but I hadn't expected to feel so much like...myself.

For my birthday, which falls in late August, I decided to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine throughout the week of festivities. They tasted magnificent, but I noticed some key things. The first was that I had a lot of trouble sleeping after drinking, and I didn't feel well rested in the morning. Also, while I didn't experience any panic attacks while imbibing, I had heightened anxiety in the days that followed, and I had an extremely intense panic attack the day after I drank one time.

Then, as I was scrolling through Instagram, as one does, I came across a re-post that read:           "DRINKING ALCOHOL IS LIKE POURING GASOLINE ON YOUR ANXIETY." 
The quote was from Laura McKowen. It hit me a deep place and sent waves of panic through me. This immediately registered as the truth for me, which was illuminating and, ultimately, a little upsetting.

The sum of all these experiences left me in a state of confusion about my relationship to alcohol in general, and what this meant for me moving forward. I am pretty prone to overthinking things (in case you couldn't tell) so I decided to go ahead and allow myself a deep analytical dive into my relationship with alcohol. While I was thinking through my relationship with alcohol, I decided to once again abstain from drinking for a minimum of six weeks.

Initially, it was pretty scary to think about my life in terms of "never drinking again" and I often wondered whether I was making a decision to be "sober." I questioned whether I might have an issue with alcohol since the prospect of not ever having a drink again made me feel very boxed in. Simultaneously, I worried about the fact that I can be quite given to swinging from one extreme to the next, and I didn't want this to be one of "those things."

As I was processing all of this, I looked to some my hero on social media, who I realized were actually sober women. Glennon Doyle, Brene Brown, and January Harshe are all sober women doing amazing, inspirational things, and their work is very fortifying for a person grappling with tough questions surrounding self and alcohol. I also have some relatives who don't drink, and I was able to gain perspective from them. Some don't drink because they feel they go overboard, and others are simply uninterested in drinking. In conversation with them, and after some deep and thorough thought over several weeks, I came to some surprising conclusions. Here is what I found...

Was I getting Sober? 
Sifting through this question was important to me for a few reasons. Sobriety is a hard-fought path for many, many people, and I wanted to give reverence and respect to that process. I didn't want to call myself "sober" unless I was truly in recovery because that is a distinct path. Also, I wanted to consider what the future held for me...was it okay for me to open ended about my not drinking? Or was this an all-or-nothing decision I was making?

I concluded that I was not getting sober, which is an important distinction. First of all, I don't have a problem with alcohol. I had a waning interest in it, which I struggled with partly because I was worried about the social impacts of that. And, I've noticed that my sober friends have to actively work to stay sober. I do not.

Are there still triggers? 
You don't have to be an alcoholic to have situational triggers when it comes to habits like drinking. One thing I noticed about not drinking is that sometimes the fleeting moment where I want a drink will come up. Let's say it's been a particularly trying day, or, alternatively, I'm in a social situation, and I think for a moment "oh, would a glass of wine be nice?" At first, I thought I might be tempted by these moments, but then I would stop to think about the reasons behind why I was wanting a drink and the impacts of my decision (like, the net day)... do I really want a drink, or am I just in need of some self care (maybe even just a deep breath?)

What is interesting is that when I stepped away from alcohol culture, I realized how pervasive it was. We tell ourselves that we "deserve" a drink because we've had a hard day, or that it's "wine o'clock" or whatever. And some of it is totally funny and harmless, and some of it is less so. As I got more and more time under my belt without drinking, I was able to more easily discern how I was REALLY feeling and what I needed to unwind or relax. Being a person who mostly doesn't drink has made me much more thoughtful before I take a drink, and 9 out of 10 times I will simply choose to abstain.

Does it need definition? 
I struggled immensely with this one, which is somewhat odd considering I am less than conventional in so many ways. Yet, I found that I was drawn to labeling the fact that I wasn't drinking. I was able to reason my way into the unconventional on this one, though, and concluded that I don't have to label my drinking as "sobriety" or even as "I never drink." The truth is that I mostly will not drink and this is what I have chosen for myself, and overwhelmingly choose to abstain on a daily basis. But there may come a day where I am compelled to have a cocktail, or enjoy a glass of wine, and if I want to, I absolutely can. I don't have to label that, either.

Maybe it's tougher when we define ourselves because then we think we have to stick to something even if it's not how we feel in the moment. It's been a few months since I've had a drink, and I haven't had a desire to drink...but that doesn't mean that can't or won't change, and I am open to that possibility and seeing how I feel in that moment. I don't have to define it for myself.

What is this really all about? 
What does this decision really come down to for me? Mental health, and overall health. And this beautiful realization that when I don't drink, I feel more like myself for consistent and long periods of time. As I am getting into my mid-30s, I am coming into a whole new self-love vibe. I am comfortable with the fact that I am a pretty serious person who likes to be in tune with the world around me. It's easier for me to do that if I don't drink, and that allows me a lot of enjoyment.

The simple answer: it just feels good. 

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