About six weeks ago I stopped drinking. It's something we do in our house from time-to-time. We have a break. Usually, it's around January and then we see how long we can go. January because of the fresh start and my husband and my livers are calling for a break after the weeks of holiday cheer. We often go for a few months, but then eventually succumb and have a drink and the cycle starts again. We are not the simple glass of wine before bed couple. Nor are we the crazy binge-drinking, get loaded couple. We are the have 2 glasses nightly and never feel quite great the next day couple. And we're both over it a bit.
And that was the case six weeks ago. COVID had driven our drinking up a little more, and I think that's the case for many of us. Weeks upon weeks of nothing to do each day (or at least no one to see) with no end in sight. Having a glass or two in the evenings was something to help transition from day to night. Most days were marked by a pot of coffee in the morning, water and just wading through the days until the kids were in bed and a bottle was opened for the night. This was the unhealthy pattern that we'd gotten ourselves into.
My husband has been training for a marathon and had cut out the hooch about a week before me. However, I had traveled home to see family were I thought that wine was definitely a coping mechanism. And then the anxiety started setting in shortly after I returned, so the coping continued. And I realized that I was getting myself into another unhealthy pattern that needed to change.
What I've learned this time around is that alcohol has control over many of us that it just shouldn't. We know it's not the healthiest option (and yes, I am aware of the research out there regarding a glass a night as a preventative), and let's be honest, it's about the same as the dark chocolate recommendations. Some of us are fine with one small piece, but many of us overindulge in it.
For me, the urge to drink was directly linked to the amount of stress and overwhelm that I was feeling on any given day. This is a pattern with me - the need to numb the hard and uncomfortable feelings. I had binge and purge issues when I was younger that I was able to work through, but I realized that those same tendencies were now drifting over into my association with alcohol, and the nights of just not wanting to deal or feel were getting more frequent. The Catch-22 is that while you might be able to numb all of the bad in the moment, the after-effects just make everything worse, and so the cycle continues.
I know another reason we drink is when we socialize. Having a community of friends is so important to both our mental and physical health, but let's be honest, if that community is built on nights of drinking instead of true connections then you have a sand foundation on your hands. I think back to how many of my friendships in the 20s and 30s were solidly built on going out and drinking, and I hate to say it, but very few of those friendships remain. We simply didn't care about each other enough to seek out connections outside of meeting at the bar. That is so hard to swallow. I have new friends now, not many but a few, and we do get together for wine and beer. What I can say now is that if I turned up with a growler of kombucha or a few bottles of San Pellegrino for myself, that my new friends wouldn't bat much of an eye.
A lot of people hesitate in giving up drinking, even when they want to because they are afraid of being ostracized by their social circle. I get that, but when you look more closely at it, what the heck is that about? Why would good friends give a crap about what you're drinking and make it a requirement of hanging out? It's like the cliques in high school where everyone had to wear a certain brand in order of being worthy of being included. We are adults now. If we say we don't drink because of a condition, or an allergy, or even a short break because of a diet or challenge, that usually goes over OK and is acceptable. But, if we declare that we've gone off the sauce, then fire and brimstone ensue.
Why am I writing all of this? Really it's because I hope that you're re-examining your relationship with wine as I have. I think many of us have fallen into the coolness of the Winedowns each night when really we might want to do something else.
For me, I just feel better overall. Gone are the fuzzy mornings and dull headaches. I wish I could say that I had magically dropped all my belly fat during this break, but I can't (and yes, it does tick me off). No, I haven't reverted to throwing back junk food to replace the wine, but my body just doesn't let go of the weight that easily. I have more patience with my kids. I am more focused when it comes to my work. So, when the urge to run out and grab a bottle hits, and this happens many days a week, I try to remember that feeling and shift to other ways to handle my stress and overwhelm. I've started meditating. Sometimes simply going into a room by myself to read or watch a show is all I need. I just need something to break the overwhelm and let myself relax.
Will I stay sober forever? I'm not sure. I'd love to be one of those people who can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or the occasional night out with friends, but I'm not sure I am. There is a history of alcoholism in my family, as well as Alzheimer's disease. Both of those scare me as we know how too much alcohol directly affects the health in these cases. But we'll see. One thing is for sure, if I do decide to have a drink again, I'm going be much more mindful of the "why" behind the decision. If it's to cut the overwhelm or to fit in with friends, then I'm probably going to choose another option.