A non-practicing alcoholic
January is the ‘White Month,’ a period of time where we tout the idea of ‘not drinking’ for the whole month. Presumably, nursing off the New Years Eve hangover, January 1st is supposed to mark off this one month of abstinence from drinking alcoholic beverages. Whatever you call it, taking a white month, being ‘sober curious,’ or embarking on a lifetime of being a non-practicing alcoholic, there are many people out there playing with this idea of not imbibing. I did, in 2018, and this is my story of what I discovered.
Let’s first stake out the environs and my relationship to alcohol to set the scene a bit: I was living in NYC where a brunch bloody mary, an evening cocktail, and a glass of wine (or a few) were pre-requisites of any well-heeled New Yorker worth her rim salt. I mean, the girls of Sex and The City basically demanded it as part of the aspirtaional lifestyle of NYC. I loved the various cocktails that came with Americana cocktail culture; the Cocktail was actually created in response to American Prohibition where the outlawing of booze brought forth speakeasy’s and the diluting of awful-tasting spirits with fruit juice to create the first cocktails. It was very much part of my daily vernacular and yet I wouldn’t classify that I had any problems with alcohol. I wasn’t considering AA or anything, and yet until I stopped drinking I didn’t fully realize the full effects alcohol was having on my life.
It was January 2018, when I started my Teacher Training at Yogaworks. I felt it would be a good month to test-drive the not drinking thing. The training started; the drinking stopped. I realized quickly how common a habit it is to order a drink whenever we were out, and it wasn’t because I actually wanted one, it was just a habit. A glass of wine when I cooked dinner, a cocktail when meeting a friend, a reason to get together, a signal to relax. Finding a replacement option was tricky as I don’t drink sodas and most menus offered the regular coca-cola portfolio or other cloying sugary drinks. Tonic quickly became my choice drink as it was refreshing and not very sweet, and readily available.
One of the major benefits I noticed right away was how much better the quality of my sleep was! I was sleeping uninterrupted throughout the night and waking up, dare I say it, energized?! Even a tiny bit of alcohol can dysregulate your sleeping patterns, affect your hydration levels and wreak havoc on our digestive system, not to mention your liver. I woke up with more energy to play with my kids and the ability to start activating on hobbies and interests that otherwise I would have felt too tired, hungover or unmotivated for. I was no longer waking up sluggish on a Saturday morning, jonesing for a fried bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich and a morning of Netflix binging, kids banging about the tiny NY apartment waiting for us to take them out; Instead, I was catching the sunrise, staking out my favorite coffee shop, hitting the farmers market and kids playgrounds’, and back home by 10 a.m. to planning the rest of the day.
A striking discovery was realizing that alcohol had left me feeling very anxious. The day after even one drink, I’d have this subdued level of anxiousness. I also noticed I was less anxious going into social interactions, because the drinking option was eliminated. I was no longer debating with myself about how many drinks I could have and still maintain a sense of decorum; was the formula one cocktail, one water, or front-load and then water. I’m not sure anyone has cracked that formula ever. I wasn’t worried that I might say something I didn’t mean, or that I would come off in a certain way that I hadn’t intended. Being completely aware of my faculties also allowed me to be fully present, and that presence allowed me to engage deeper and more sincerely with those around me. I could own whatever happened as it was me, fully there. That may have revealed that a few friendships existed only because the bond of alcohol heightened it or the convenience of the mutual “mom’s o’clock” was the actual friendship binder.
I devoted my time to being in the company of people who really lifted me, genuinely made me laugh and I could be totally myself with. I found a clarity that allowed me to go deeper into spiritual practices and commit to a deeper sense of self-awareness. I certainly felt more connected to myself, which allowed me to be more authentic and more stable, and I felt more in command over my health. I made healthier eating choices, led a more active lifestyle, laughed a lot more, and felt a whole lot sexier – all because I felt better, stronger and energized.
One of the fascinating things to wtítness was how uncomfortable others who were drinking around me became when I elected not to participate. It was as if I had broken some unspoken camaraderie code or maybe it was feared that I would be on surveillance for ‘bad behaviour’ – and come on, this is me: I danced on tables at Le Ti in St. Barths, dove off the stages at concerts and busted into kitchens to help line-cooks finish service (this was late night at a NY restaurant I won’t mention.) I certainly had my misbehaviours and was not judging anyone else for theirs. Most of the conversation after a certain hour were imperceptible anyhow and you realized that after three rounds of the same terrible joke, it was time to head home. So I missed most of the late-night antics anyhow. Now there is a quote that, “the most interesting things happen when you stay for the last cocktail,” but I felt that the most important things were happening in the waking hours and being hungover and sluggish for most of it, meant that I was missing a lot of it.
As my lifestyle changed to more mindful awareness, activating a more wakeful presence, I realized that alcohol is both a numbing agent and a dimming tool. A more mindful approach to alcohol consumption helps to create more clarity around the reasons why we want to turn to alcohol. Many think the pre-game drink will elevate your confidence (It’s why they call it liquid courage), or make you less shy (social lubricant), or as Hemingway said, “I drink to make other people more interesting.” Alcohol is a numbing agent that we may be turning to to numb the most vulnerable parts of ourselves; we use it as a crutch, a way to hide, a way to dull the pain and the hurt. We also use it to imitate confidence, create connection, a sense of liveliness and silliness that we imagine we can’t access without alcohol. We believe we need alcohol to produce this desired effect, when really it is shortchanging our own life force, our natural ability and sense of aliveness & liveliness.
I wanted to live a clear, bright, technicolor life, and alcohol was standing in the way of that. So, the one-month turned into three+ years. It brought me closer to the person I wanted to be. It removed a lot of obstacles for me, it eliminated any anxieties and it offered me a chance to live authentically. Then on my 40th birthday, I was offered a lovely glass of bubbly for my Birthday, and I accepted it. I may have a gorgeous glass of red wine at a dinner at Furillen during a magical Gotland summer night when Adam/Albin do a pop-up, or taste a Passion fruit margarita made by my bartender extraordinaire brother on New Years Eve, but on the whole these moments are few and far between. I live the better for it.
Note: Mindfully drinking is a possibility for me, but there are many who may want to and need to abstain completely. In your journey of discovering what your needs are, please find a community that will support you in your abstinence efforts. I can warmly recommend a 12-step program, such as AA, where you will find like-minded individuals who feel that their relationship to alcohol is creating negative consequences in their lives and they have a shared commitment in wanting to stop drinking. There is so much support here for you.
This is a guest post. Any opinions expressed are the writer’s own.