September 4th, marks 2 years since I've had an alcoholic beverage. I don't identify as having quit drinking, nor was there any commitment or goal made that brought me to this point. I just haven't wanted to drink. This experience is interesting to me and so it is probably worth sharing. Let me explain...
I know that I am an irresponsible drinker. I'm not an alcoholic, but more often than not, when I drink, I drink a lot. I've tried setting ground rules for myself many times. Always eat before my first drink. Have water after each drink. Set a stopping time so I can get enough sleep. Drink earlier so I can get to bed earlier. Don't have more than 4 drinks. Don't have more than 2 drinks. Drink slowly. For me, these have never worked. There's always some reason I'll make an exception to drinking before eating, and after 2 drinks I don't care about the rules anyway. Ground rules don't work for me.
Some time in 2019, I was probably hungover and I decided to make a list of all the things I like and don't like about drinking. I also tried to list things I can do instead. I wrote the list and then threw it in a pile of other lists (I like making lists). I came across it months later and I was really pleased with how thorough it was. Sadly, I think I threw it away since then, but I will try to re-create it for you here.
Things I like about drinking:
- Social lubrication
- Reduced inhibition
- Easy entertainment
- Making new friends
- Getting to know people better
- The flavors - beers, wines, cocktails, scotch, whiskies, tequilas, etc. Love tasting.
- The atmospheres - places to go, neat bars, people's houses, hotel lobbies, walking around
- The depravity - laying on the counter, inventing stupid games, having bad ideas and then doing them, staying up all night
Things I don't like about drinking:
- Crippling headaches
- Upset stomach, vomiting
- Eating greasy crap food during the night and the next day
- Terrible sleep quality
- Anxiety for days
- It's expensive
Things to do instead of drinking:
- Video games
- Board games
- Night walks
- Movie theater
- Movies or TV shows at home
- Decaf coffee or tea
- Ping-pong, bowling, pool, volleyball, darts
- Make or build something
I understand that some of those "instead" things are things that go with drinking. I just wanted things that are social, but aren't just sitting at a bar. Things to do for date night with my husband. I don't care if other people drink, I just don't want be twiddling my thumbs.
This list was just a step along the path. No changes were made due to this thought experiment. The last time I drank, I was on Kelly's Island with my husband and my 4 year old daughter. It was a beautiful Wednesday at the beginning of September. I hadn't been drinking much in general, but it was beautiful and we had a case of Truely, and a case of Highlife. I had a lovely time day drinking and playing with my daughter on the beach, building a fire, and staying up into the night. Nothing bad happened. I didn't do anything embarrassing or regretful. In fact, it was lovely and fun. I woke up the next day and was tired from poor sleep, but wasn't even hungover. I got to sleep in while Bob and Jackie went and had father-daughter breakfast together. Then I got up and had a great day exploring the island and playing. Why was that the last time I drank? No clue. It was just time for a break I guess.
Looking at what was left and what Bob drank, we figured I had drank 14 Truelys. The realization that I had drank 14 Truelys by myself was a little startling. I mean, it took me all day and night, but that's still a lot. I still had reactive anxiety from it. I have suffered a lot of years of anxiety. I won't take medication for it. Two things have made all the difference for me and anxiety 1) Gaba (the amino acid). Don't give me that gaba-doesn't-cross-the-blood-brain-barrier-so-it-can't-possibly-work bullshit. I can talk about Gaba on a different day, but just know that the difference it made for me was profound. And 2) not drinking. It's become abundantly clear that one night of easy drinking, i.e. 3-4 drinks with no embarrassments or regrets, can send me into 3-5 days of terrible anxiety. Maybe that's the reason why it was the last time. I had a wonderful time, but still condemned myself to several days of anxiety afterwards.
Ultimately, I came away from that day with one sentiment: I need a different relationship with alcohol. I didn't know what that meant though. So I decided to not drink while I thought about what the hell that means. I never did figure it out, but that isn't why I still haven't had a drink. While mulling it over, I came to realize that I think I've gotten everything good I was going to get out of alcohol. Every time I drink I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for more, but it's just the dregs.
I've had all the flavors. I don't mean this literally, but I've had "the good stuff", I've had pours from $600 bottles, I've tried all the unique top shelf liquors that I've ever seen, I've explored all the beers and beer styles, I've run amok with wine, and played with the aromatics. I'm just not surprised anymore. The same is true with all the bars and atmospheres. It's sad to say, but it all started to feel so trite.
Don't delude yourself into thinking that nothing good ever came from alcohol. I've gotten a lot of wonderful things from it. For example, I've learned humility and forgiveness. I'm not joking. There is a silver lining to the terrible, embarrassing, regretful things we do or say when we've had a few. When I wake up and feel terrible, and friends and strangers alike bestow compassion and forgiveness upon me, I am both humbled and grateful. I have also learned to forgive others through the same forgiveness that was given to me. This extends beyond the mistakes that people make when drinking. The mistakes we make when we drink aren't so different from the mistakes we make when we are stressed or emotional or scared or tired or hungry or desperate. I've learned humility for my flaws and failures, and have learned to better forgive others for theirs. This isn't something you get from one hangover, but is learned through a pattern of making mistakes. I'm not proud, but I am grateful.
I'm a happy drunk, who loves the whole world. So it won't come as a surprise that I love making friends with strangers at bars. I've come to better understand people who are very different from me, who exist outside the bubble that I live in. Those passing friendships, though ephemeral, mean a great deal to me. I've learned a lot about people and subcultures and mankind in general. I'm glad to have met so many interesting people and have shared some hours being stupid or serious with open hearts.
There are many other great take-aways from drinking, but I'm moving on.
I've had all those wonderful experiences and now I'm curiously exploring a new chapter. At first I would have tiny amount of pot oil to add a layer of entertainment to not drinking. But I'm primed to start tripping on the universe and the infinite nature of things at the drop of a hat, so I decided it might actually be more interesting to just be sober. So I switched to having CBD and tea. This is a great combination. The CBD doesn't do the head stuff, but does give a nice relaxing body feeling. And the hot tea is comforting like sipping on strong cocktail or scotch. It didn't take too many months before I gave up the CBD because it was unnecessary for me to fully enjoy myself. In retrospect, those were just tools for weening my habits off any sort of augmentation. I'm still big into tea, but no longer as something to substitute drinking. Specifically decaf teas because I have a strict 2pm caffeine curfew. I've discovered that soda water with bitters is a good drink to have at a bar. I've also heard some bartenders will make great non-alcoholic cocktails, but I haven't tried any yet.
Do I miss drinking? I can honestly say that the answer is yes and not at all. Both are true. I have a romantic memory of drinking: charming dive bars, running the coin-op table undefeated for hours, drunk late night pizza or taco bell, endless laughter, arguing politics, sipping scotches at swanky gatherings, electric scooter dates, drinking beers in the cold around a fire, secret cigarettes, wine tastings that extend into the night, cooking delicious meals while drinking spritzers, cocktails and fireplaces, frosty pints on patios, day drinking in the sun, staying up till sunrise without a break in conversation.... But let's be honest, most drinking sessions aren't great, memorable ones. Also, I wake up feeling great. I don't miss hangovers. I get good rest. I don't crave hangover food. This feels good. I'm nearly free of anxiety. Our expenses have gone way down. My mind is clearer. Lately, I've been surprise-recalling random lost memories. And I'm happy to report that I'm still fully entertained when going to bars, though I need a reason to want to go.
I haven't quit drinking, I just haven't been enticed by it. I think I'm discovering my new relationship with alcohol without naming it. When I do drink again, I imagine I'll be at a wedding or a party or on vacation or I'll meet someone interesting, and I'll realize that it's the right time to have a drink. It will be a place where I can see that there is something new to be gained from drinking: a new friendship, a romantic evening, an opening of hearts, a playful escapade. I'll see that I'm not scraping the bottom of the barrel, sifting through the dregs, but that a fresh glass of opportunity stands before me and I can choose to drink it, or not, knowing that either way I'll come away with a better understanding of myself.