A Sobering Decision
I decided to quit on Memorial Day Weekend. After a decade spent living in an unhealthy relationship, I decided to walk away. Maybe not forever, but definitely for this chapter. What did I walk away from? What did I decide to quit?
I had my first adult beverage on my twenty-first birthday; seriously. I’ve been drinking for ten years, never once considering it a problem. Drinking has always been a social activity. I rarely drank on weeknights and, as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance dropped significantly. When I turned 30, my body changed.
The hangovers lasted longer, my tolerance was lower, and the sleep deprivation felt worse. There were so many weekends I’d ask myself, “Is this worth it?”. Was an entire day spent feeling sick and saddled to a couch worth the 3-4 hours of social drinking the night before? Was a Saturday night out worth sacrificing my ability to get things done the next days?
The weight of my decisions became heavier when I started linking my anxiety the morning after drinking to the number of drinks I’d had before. The symptoms of severe anxiety I’d experienced before taking medication returned every morning after a night out. Symptoms like waking up in a panic, feeling like time was slipping away, and immense shame when I didn’t have the energy to do the things I’d planned to do. Worst of all, my inner critic had a field day as lack of sleep combined with feeling physically ill.
Now, I realize sleep deprivation isn’t a good look for anyone. We all become cranky and impatient, but losing sleep has always been a trigger for my anxiety. So, not only am I cranky and impatient, but I’m also stressed out and anxious, and insecure. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?
So, I had a choice to make. I could keep doing what I’ve been doing, knowing exactly how it will affect my brain and my life, or I could make a change. As Einstein said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” After repeated attempts to do both, drink all the drinks, and have a fully relaxing weekend, I knew it would never work. The two are mutually exclusive and I didn’t want to waste more time learning the same lesson.
Ultimately, I had to ask myself, what matters most? Do I want to be a consistent writer or do I want to be a social drinker who writes sometimes? Do I want to wake up rested and ready for a new day, or anxiously rely on my coping mechanisms to survive each Sunday?
This past weekend, Tyler and I went to a neighbor’s cultural gathering to celebrate a new baby. It was the first time we’d been invited over and their entire family would be attending. We’d also be the only white people in attendance. Tyler was excited about the food and I was… nervous. I’ve always enjoyed meeting new people, but I usually had a seltzer or glass of wine to help “take the edge off”. Fortunately for us, we were dog-sitting my sister-in-law’s dog, so I had an easy conversation starter.
Still, at one point, Tyler had been escorted off to be part of a traditionally male ceremony, while I stayed outside with the women and children. My awkward nerves kicked in. “I’m not sure what to do right now,” I thought. I looked around at all the new faces and wracked my brain for any and every excuse I could use to go back home. Instead of running away from discomfort, I took a breath and chose to feel grateful for a moment of solitude so I could soothe my nerves.
“It’s okay to feel nervous. I am surrounded by people I don’t know while they all know each other. I am the new person in this space, and that can feel intimidating for anyone. Be patient and stay. Keep smiling, say hello, and someone will come.”
Eventually, a young woman did approach me and we got to chatting. Soon enough, I was surrounded by twenty-somethings and had a great time. The food was delicious, the company was warm and welcoming, and I celebrated myself for choosing to be patient and compassionate toward myself. Alcohol was not necessary. I gained more confidence in myself by standing in that discomfort while embracing bravery.
Later that night, Tyler and I took our special guest (my sister-in-law’s dog) to a local brewery. Having visited this location many times before, we knew it was very dog friendly and offered both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Tyler and I took turns waiting in line to order food from different locations and grabbing drinks while the other stayed with our sweet canine friend. Again, I’d typically have a drink in hand to “take the edge off” of sitting. Instead, I drank my kombucha, ate my dinner, and watched the people around me. Soon enough, a woman approached to pet our little buddy and say “Hello”. No alcohol was needed.
The following morning, I woke up energized, a little dehydrated from time in the sun, calm, and proud. I’ve already written many blogs about this, but my journey over the last decade has centered on discovering how to thrive with anxiety, not just survive. What used to be a coping mechanism and social lubricant has transformed into the cause of a problem. Plain and simple, my mental health is negatively impacted by alcohol. So I’ve decided to make a change.
Through this first week of intentional sobriety, I’ve learned two things:
1. I can do social things without the aid of alcohol. I’m better for it when I abstain.
2. It helps to have a dog!
All jokes aside, this is just the beginning. I’m looking forward to writing blogs after three months, six months, and one year without alcohol. I’m even more excited to see how my mental health shifts after an extended period without alcohol. In the meantime, I’m looking for new favorites in social settings and preparing myself for all the, “why aren’t you drinking,” conversations that will inevitably follow. I can confidently say, seven days into this new chapter, I’m already feeling better about the decision I made.
If you have also decided to step away from alcohol, I’d love to hear from you! Please send me an email or comment below.
I applaud you! It’s not easy and I haven’t quit completely yet…but really feel that I want to. The part that’s hardest is living such a social life and people asking why and continually offering a variety of drinks the entire time. “Oh, you’re so sweet. No thank you!” just doesn’t seem to satisfy people. So I’ve resorted to “I’m choosing not to drink today for health reasons.” This is the honest truth but a little more than I choose to disclose because the questioning doesn’t stop. It just takes a different turn. So, I applaud you for making the decision to just stop. Maybe I’ll feel strong enough soon to say “Oh, no thank you. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, but I’d love a water!”
Thank you so much for sharing! I haven’t had to face those conversations yet, so I’m curious to see how they’ll go. I do know the discomfort will be worth all the time I’m reclaiming. My mental health is more important than any awkward conversation.
Anxiety is the McCardle curse. And, drinking does fuel the beast the morning after. I applaud your decision. The journey will be a positive and healthy experience.