"I like a good beer buzz early in the morning, and Billy likes to peel the labels off his bottles of bud." Oh Sheryl Crow how you so adequately describe the way in which so many of us rely on booze to let loose and have some fun. There was a time when there would be no place I would rather be than in a bar at noon on Tuesday. Okay. I will stop with the early 90s Tuesday Night Music Club references. But really though. Thinking back on my late teens and the first half of my twenties, there isn't much I can remember. I will say this, I did work in the service industry earning at least $100 a shift and have absolutely nothing to show for it. I would leave the restaurant emotionally, mentally and physically drained head straight to the local dive bar and leave all my tip money there. When I do the math it makes me cringe. 5 years, 52 weeks, 4 shifts/week, a hundred bucks each shift. This means I spent over ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars on booze, smokes and all forms of reckless entertainment in between. Madness. Sheer madness.
The money aside, the most significant loss from that period in my life is time. Time in the form of memories lost, opportunities missed and relationships ruined. Of course it wasn't all bad. If it had been all bad I would have realized that drinking was a problem for me much sooner in the game. That's just it. I was a fun addict--addicted to good times with fantastic people. and when I was drinking, it felt like so much fun. So much connectedness. So much life. Until of course I reflect back and think about the nights that ended in screaming matches, upchucking, spins, and completely irresponsible behavior. Don't even get me started on the mornings. The shame, the headaches, nausea and flu-like symptoms. When I really pause to think about the big picture, I remember it really wasn't all fun and games. I wish I could say that I figured this all out and snapped out of it by the time I had my first child, but the truth is, the experience of being a first time parent among other life stressors actually made the problem worse.
I was never a frequency drinker. My stomach couldn't handle it. The hangovers as years went on became more and more deteriorating. My issue has always been in not knowing when to stop. It was like I had this internal motor going and going, never wanting the party to run out. Always wanting the laughs to last. Usually ending with my head in a toilet. It wasn't until I really stopped to analyze my motives. To think about why I was actually drinking, and continuing to drink well beyond the point I should stop, that I was able to see my relationship to alcohol clearly. I have come to realize that even though my actions are ultimately my responsibility, my experience with drinking isn't all my fault. The culture of drinking in our society is pretty pervasive. I always thought it was unique to high school peer pressure or college frat parties. But I have come to find that binge drinking actually continues and in some circles gets worse as we progress further into adulthood. Whether we are new parents at social gatherings, young professionals at happy hour, mid-lifers, retirees whose day-to-day responsibilities and empty nest often result in more-than-ideal partying too. Even in the Bible it seems, in the story of the wedding at Cana, Jesus is turning water into wine. So until very recently, it never occurred to me that choosing to abstain from alcohol was a 'normal' thing to do. It just never seemed like a realistic choice unless I labeled myself an alcoholic and started attending AA. Don't get me wrong, the 12-step model is amazing in terms of its spiritual practice and wisdom. It just overwhelmed me and somehow never felt like the right place for me, despite many invitations and opportunities to go with friends and acquaintances.
In my spiritual work, both with yoga and my deep love and affection for Jesus, I have learned that drinking is less than ideal. Seemingly in direct opposition to the story of Jesus turning water into wine, scripture instructs us, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit..." Ephesians 5:18. In our culture though, it can feel like debauchery is a goal to be attained. The greater the state of debauchery, the more street cred or bragging rights you have. I still find myself carrying on about that one crazy night when I lost my keys, or the time I couldn't stop falling over because I finished a 5th of Jack on the way into Manhattan on the LIRR. See, I just did it again. The crazy thing is, even though I know all of this, and even though my life has improved drastically in the three months since I have stopped drinking, I-STILL-LOVE-DRINKING. There is this part of me that probably always will. There is almost nothing else that can bring a group of strangers together and form them into instant friends. The way alcohol lowers inhibitions, takes the edge off, and livens up a party makes it difficult for me to kiss it goodbye forever. I don't know if I am on the path to a lifetime of sobriety. What I do know, is that I have discovered a new level of freedom within myself by abstaining and have learned how to cultivate all the benefits listed above, without the necessity of having a drink...or 20.
So what prompted me to take the leap you ask? There was this one night... a seemingly innocuous gathering among two families. Children running free, adults laughing. Pouring and drinking glass after glass of Riesling. By night's end a girl friend and I had finished 2 bottles AND a magnum of wine and I found myself rather incapacitated for a full 48 hours afterward. I knew something had to change. There is no way I could carry on like this and be the mother, wife and human being I have always envisioned. The more I reflected on my behavior and the motivation behind my drinking habits, the more I recognized that my desire to drink was often to quell this deep seated gnawing, yet subtle anxious energy I carried with me every day. At the end of each day my nerves becoming so fried, that turning to a glass or bottle of wine seemed the only fix. I also recognized that in social situations I was drinking more than I should in order to keep my energy up--artificially, to avoid boredom and seem interesting to others. I was seeking genuine connection without the heavy weight of insecurity, feelings of inadequacy and the emotional complexity I have experienced since early childhood. But since committing to go alcohol free for an entire year, I have learned that I actually don't need any of it to enjoy my life. In fact, I am enjoying it more without drinking. I actually now feel less stressed, and better equipped to deal with anxiety when it does come up. I am more focused, ambitious and energetic. I feel strong and secure in who I am.
So clearly not drinking is a good choice for me. But what is the right choice for you? I can't tell you that. But I'd venture to say that many of you probably never even considered sobriety as a lifestyle choice. I am here to tell you that it is, and a damn good one at that. Namaste friends. Keep fighting the good fight and tuning into your inner wisdom, there you will find your Truth. Honor that and live from that place of authenticity. If you do that, you cannot go wrong. Blessings to you all. (This post was originally posted in October of 2016)