Updated: Feb 17
Today, October 25, 2021, marks one year of abstaining from alcohol.
As I said in my interview with Rebecca Farrar, I never considered myself to have a problem with alcohol, necessarily. I would not say that I am in recovery from alcohol. However, the thought that if I kept drinking, I would become addicted to alcohol was in the back of my mind for a couple of years. When I was drinking, I didn't technically meet the criteria for AUD, but I did think about alcohol a lot. I "controlled" my drinking to one or two in social situations (AKA to soothe my social anxiety), or when I was with friends. Even so, the image of alcohol danced in my mind frequently, even if I didn't always act on it.
When a stressor would present itself, I would immediately turn my thoughts to alcohol. Could I sneak off to have a beer at the bar on campus where I worked (don't even get me started on that)? Could I convince my partner to have date night somewhere where a drink wouldn't be abnormal? Could I call up my friend and see if she wanted to do a "girl's night," a sneaky rouse to make sure we could make margaritas and take shots. When I drank, I didn't drink more than intended, a criteria for AUD. But I told everyone else I did. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get this drunk." "Guess I made my drink a little too strong!" "Oh wow, I guess I overestimated my tolerance!" "Probably should have eaten before..." As if someone could drink a Long Island Iced Tea or take five shots and not intend to get drunk. I felt shame for my drinking, so I apologized to everyone who witnessed it, writing it off as a cute mistake. Although it happened more infrequently than to others, I knew my behavior was a problem. Like I said, even when I wasn’t (binge) drinking, I was thinking and planning when I would drink next. I have addiction in the family, and the mental gymnastics I was performing to drink was a red flag.
A red flag that I ignored for some time. I knew my drinking was a problem, or at least would become one. But I liked how it made me feel! I still struggle with social anxiety, but at this time, in 2019 and early 2020, I had almost crippling social anxiety. I would cry and tremble before going somewhere social, especially if that social event was large or in a crowded space. I would often sneak away to have anxiety attacks in the bathroom. When I discovered how just one drink would make me feel in social situations, I was delighted. With just one drink, that overthinking critical voice in my head would start to get quiet, and sometimes I did not hear it entirely. I felt charismatic, extroverted, laid back, funny, confident. I almost always followed this drink up with a second, desperately knowing that I had to toe the line of buzzed and drunk to appear likeable and appropriate for the event I was at. Once I made this discovery, which felt like a cure for social anxiety, I found it challenging to understand why I would ever be sober at an event if it could be helped.
As the pandemic fell on the United States in 2020, my drinking both calmed and got worse. I only got drunk a handful of times while in quarantine, and had fewer drinks after a hard day. This was only because we left the house for essential reasons (I was blessed to be able to work from home for the spring and summer of 2020), and alcohol was not something you could purchase via Instacart or Postmates. On the rare occasions we did leave the house to go to Total Wine, I would have a drink (just one) any evening I could, knowing it could not be every evening, least I draw suspicion. However, knowing that alcohol was sitting in the fridge, untouched, would be in the back of my mind most days. My mental work of planning, mulling, ruminated, continued. Binge drinking continued.
In the summer of 2020, I read Quit Like A Woman by Holly Whitaker, a book that may sound familiar if you listened to my episode with Rebecca. I was astonished to learn about just how bad alcohol really is for the body, the mind, the spirit. I was appalled. (If this is something that you’re interested in, I would highly recommend this book by Holly.) I decided that I wanted to quit drinking for 90 days. For a few months, I never made it past 60 days, usually caving around 20 days. I returned to work in the fall of 2020. On top of the other mental challenges I dealt with, I also had the stress of seeing people in person, less than six feet away, at a toxic job that didn’t take COVID seriously. Since I was already leaving the house for work, it felt like no additional unsafe action to stop at a place like Walgreens and get a drink for the evening to decompress.
In October of 2020, I began re-taking antidepressants. (Check out this podcast I made – yes spiritual, holistic people can take medication too!) The brand I was starting made it clear that drinking alcohol would have intense side effects. My doctor told me that I could probably drink if I gave it a couple months of not drinking. There was my opportunity. I began medication because I was desperate to feel better mentally and emotionally. I wasn’t going to ruin that with alcohol. I decided to quit alcohol for a year. After that, I decided, I could drink again if I wanted to. My last drink was October 24, 2020.
Today is October 25, 2021. One year later.
Even though I ceased antidepressant use in May of this year, I was in love with being alcohol-free, and decided to keep going. And I still don’t plan on drinking! I did muse on the idea of binge-drinking one more time (Halloween parties, guys!) and then go for another year. I even sent a group text posing the idea! However, the closer I came to one year, I thought about all the ways my life has changed for the better. I reflected on the ways I had an unhealthy relationship to alcohol. I reminded myself that alcohol is nothing less than a poison, and is the same ingredient we put in our car’s gas tanks. Reflecting on the ways I fantasized about and glorified alcohol, who knows if me drinking “one last time” would lead to months more of attempting to quit, binge-drinking, quitting, binging, etc.
Ways My Life Has Changed Since Quitting Alcohol
Deeper, more insightful friendship relationships. I stopped planning happy hours, nights of drinking until I was drunk, and the kinds of people I hung out with changed. I shared more vulnerably, became comfortable with silences, or filled them with thoughtful questions or vulnerable sharing, not by taking a drink.
Viewing fun differently. Alcohol provided fun because it took away my inhibitions, allowed me to worry less, move my body more freely, and interact with others easily. I began to have fun by using more senses. I noticed beauty in smaller things, more simple places. I stopped interacting with people who made it hard to be myself, and started being around people where I felt celebrated sober. I valued one on one, or small groups where we felt safe and secure.
I learned how to sit with discomfort. One of the main reasons most people like alcohol and reach for it in times of stress is because it works, even if only temporarily. Having a drug in a mug (because, yes, alcohol is a drug, even though people still say things like “drugs and alcohol,” as though they are not both drugs) meant my distress tolerance was lower. When feelings became too overwhelming, I had a very simple and easy way to turn that off (even though alcohol use actually leaves you physically more anxious than before you started). Without this crutch to reach for, I had to learn how to be with the feelings instead.
My anxiety and depression improved. Alcohol is a depressant, after all.
My romantic relationship deepened. Because date nights didn’t include alcohol, we were more present with each other, more intentional, and more authentic.
My spirituality deepened. I have always been a spiritual person, but in the last year, I have been more connected to both Spirit and myself than I ever have before. If I wanted to turn to something to soothe myself, I turned to Spirit, the Universe, Goddess(es). I found community in a full moon circle, and my friendships grew. I created community here, at Empowered Spirituality. I learned more about different ways to engage with the spiritual world. I released past trauma accrued from growing up in a conservative and Christian small town.
I slept better, my internal organs are happier, I have better digestion. Read that book y’all!
I am very grateful for the life path that led me here, one year alcohol-free, creator of a podcast, owner of a business, connected to my authentic self, connected to the world around me, (relatively) stable, surrounded by amazing relationships, making good decisions, using my creativity, setting boundaries... Thank you to all of you who supported me along the way! Cheers to another year of vulnerability, intimacy, mindful moments, gratitude, drinking La Croix during happy hours, being myself, getting my only alcohol content from kombucha, co-creating with Spirit, having happier organs, better sleep, and, of course, sobriety!