“Why aren’t you drinking?”
That was the question that scared me so much for far too long. I would often go to an event with every intention of not drinking, or just having one drink. I would order a drink sometimes out of guilt, sometimes out of fitting in socially, but mostly, out of a deep and burning desire that I never entirely understood. I would feel guilty if the waiter or waitress asked what I wanted to drink, and I would start to say “Just a club soda” or “Just water for me” to attempt to justify why I wasn’t drinking. For many years, it was so much easier to say “Pinot Grigio” or “Vodka and soda” or “whatever she’s drinking” than the dreaded “just a water.”
I considered not drinking to be embarrassing. If you weren’t drinking, you were clearly in some sort of “program” and you couldn’t control your drinking. It was shameful. And I spent many years believing all those lies. In one of the episodes of The Office, Meredith jokes that she gave up drinking during the week. I also realized that Meredith’s drinking was the butt of many jokes. How about when she was eating the sanitizer? Haha! I’m not that bad…am I?
Going from drinking to not drinking is like any transition. I often joke in CrossFit that “transitions kill,” although I won’t take all the credit for coming up with that truth nugget. During workouts, and in life, we can get lost in our own transitions. We overthink how we are going to get from point A to point B, we wallow in the time between movements, and we don’t effectively communicate to our partners. Once you commit to ending that transition, you don’t turn around and consider doing more deadlifts. You move on to the next movement. You hop on the rower and continue to move forward.
Once I quit drinking and got past people asking me why I don’t drink anymore, I got plenty of questions as to how I quit drinking. There is no magic pill. There are so many options and supports, and I’m definitely not a doctor or an expert. I can’t stress enough that everyone has to find their own path, but I can share what I experienced and a little bit of the “how” during my journey to quit drinking.
Define Who You Are and Who You Want to Be
This is one of the hardest challenges to overcome. I spent many years after seeing both my parents drink daily thinking it was no big deal, and the whole family aspect to my drinking is a whole other TED talk. If I wanted to stop drinking, I knew in my heart that I had to define who I was and be able to explain it to others. As much as our culture tries to promote the idea of “just be you and screw what everyone else thinks,” we are all driven by a need for acceptance and to be a part of a group. By being the one that loves her wine, I had unintentionally developed a persona built around my drinking. People liked it because I was fun and carefree, and watching me get drunk, and getting drunk with me, was fun for all, or so I thought.
Once I stopped drinking, I had to be strong enough mentally to redefine who I was. I also learned that the more definitive I was about this, the easier it became over time.
“Why aren’t you drinking?”
“I don’t drink.”
“I didn’t like the person I was when I was drinking.”
That is the most simple and true statement I’ve come across, and I believe it with all my heart and soul, so it became easy for me to say. That statement doesn’t involve much additional explaining, and I’m at the point where I don’t need to go into any more detail. At that point, most people will start explaining how they have also thought about “cutting down” but they don’t think it’s a problem. I had to admit that I had a problem.
Find and Define your Tipping Point
A great book by Malcolm Gladwell is The Tipping Point. This book deals more with the social results and ramifications of major events, but it’s also useful to consider your own personal situation. A tipping point is when the way we view something is reframed. This can happen based on a personal experience, reading a book, talking to someone, learning something new, or a thousand other small events that collectively or singularly can change the way we see something. For me, it wasn’t the hundreds of horrible, eye-watering hangovers, waking up at 2am every night with a racing heart, embarrassing myself in front of friends and family or even blacking out repeatedly with no memory of what happened the night before. I did all these things on repeat, and it only became worse in my forties. I may not have been drinking and partying in public as much, but it was a very rare night when I wasn’t having at least 4 drinks every single night.
I ordered a book from Amazon called This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. Reading this book changed my life. It reframed the way I looked at my relationship with alcohol. My mental language around alcohol used to be:
“Treat yourself. You deserve this! You worked hard, and you need to relax. The way you relax is by having a drink. Think of that first sip. It transports you immediately to relaxation-world.”
Once I read the book, my mental language around alcohol became very different:
“You are being manipulated by a giant corporation to dull your senses into thinking this relaxes you. It’s poison, and it will slowly destroy you mentally and physically. Corporations want to keep you numb and take your money.”
It sounds crazy and harsh, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight, but this worked for me. I stopped drinking on Sunday, September 17, 2017 as soon as I started reading that book. I found my tipping point. I needed a different way to see alcohol and define my relationship with it.
Find and Define Your Support System
When I decided to start this journey, I talked about it with my husband, Steve. I knew he would support me. He’d been dealing with my drunk self for so many years, and the guilt I felt around what I’d done evaporated when he showed how supportive he would be in my next step forward.
After that, I texted two of my closest friends. They happened to be my workout partners at PUSH511, Lysette and Laura. I was scared to death. It’s one thing to tell a spouse, someone that is part of your immediate family that knows you inside and out. Once I externally admitted that I was going to stop drinking, it felt as though my fortress around me was going to crumble. I was admitting out loud that I had a problem that I couldn’t fix by myself. I was going to admit it out loud to people that I trusted that I’d made a lot of bad decisions and couldn’t control myself when it came to drinking.
And they were supportive. They understood, and they were my allies when we would go out. I wasn’t alone in answering the dreaded question, “Why aren’t you drinking?” Even now, as I’ve become the non-drinker at all events, and I don’t get emotionally tied up in my answer, my friends always make sure I have my “special water” whenever we get together.
“Don’t you miss drinking?”
For many of you that have read this far, this is the scariest question you are thinking about right now. My answer is 100% “no.” The closest approximation I can explain to what I miss is sitting outside on a warm summer evening in Fells Point with a glass of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc. But it’s not the glass of wine that I miss. It’s that feeling of being in that moment, on a warm summer night, with people that I love. I don’t need the drink to allow myself the freedom to feel that way anymore. When I order a drink, I don’t say “just a water.” I simply say, “I’ll have a water.”
I obviously don’t miss the negative stuff that comes with drinking, hangovers, feeling numb and crappy, losing hours and days. The craziest part is that I don’t miss the amazing feelings that I attached to drinking. Because I reframed my thinking. I can feel all of my feelings without having it artificially dialed up by drinking. When I feel sad, anxious, depressed or stressed, I feel those emotions, and instead of covering up those feelings with alcohol, I talk it out with my support system, I meditate, I do yoga, I do lots of CrossFit, I go for a walk. And then I am already on the other side of that feeling. Alcohol extended my crappy feelings rather than allowing me to feel them and get past them. And I really don’t miss that at all.