A clear head is my new high.
Revealing to someone that you’ve stopped drinking feels a bit like telling them you’re vegan. Typically, you get a response to either declaration akin to farting in an elevator.
That is to say that generally I find people don’t much care for either revelation. I guess because both vegans and non-drinkers are viewed as huge fucking bummers. Way to ruin the good time, asshole!
I get it, I do. When I’m drinking, sober people make me nervous. And I haven’t written about being vegan because ain’t nobody want to read about it, don’t I know.
You probably don’t want to read about my decision to stop drinking either but fuck it. I like hearing peoples’ quitting drinking stories and if not drinking is a part of your journey or you want it to become your journey feel free to share in the comments, I’d love to hear all the stories.
There is an entire Reddit community featuring stories of quitting that I never tire of reading. It’s like sober porn: So you woke up because you pissed the bed your girlfriend was sleeping in and she was angrily shaking you awake by slapping your face and then she kicked you out? Mmmhmmmm, yeah she did. She kicked you out good, didn’t she? And then what happened? Tell me more. And then I can superciliously tell myself, at least I’m not as bad as that guy and move on to the next person’s story.
Please know I have not become a judgmental asshole about drinking. Cory still enjoys his nightly Miller Lite pisswater and I’m fine with that. I’m judgmental about drinking Miller Lite but not drinking in general.
Alcohol is so inexorably entwined in society that people often take your decision to quit as a judgment on their own alcohol consumption and/or they assume you have a raging alcohol problem. Actually, like my attraction to Reddit stop drinking porn, people secretly kind of hope you have a serious alcohol problem so their own drinking seems healthy by comparison. You were pouring alcohol in your coffee travel mug to kick off your work day?! Goodness!!! You hid vodka in your shampoo bottler? Wowzer. Yeah, I only have a glass of wine while cooking dinner and maaaybe a second with dinner. Sometimes I pour a third glass while I scroll social media before bed but WHOA - alcohol in the morning or the shower? Yikes. Good on you for quitting!
I was definitely like that; constantly comparing my own drinking levels with how much other people claimed to be drinking to see where I landed on the consumption spectrum and silently congratulating myself if I scored better. I’m a beer drinker and at my highest point was drinking maybe four a night. Not every night, four is a lot for me. On average, I’d have two a night and maybe three. Yeah, three beers was my magic number.
I never drank to get drunk. I don’t like feeling drunk. I don’t like not being in control of my body or my thoughts, it makes me feel anxious and scared. What I do like is the ceremony of drinking in the late afternoon or early evening after a long day; the pleasurable promise of following up a sweaty summer bike ride or grueling yard work with an ice cold beer. The PSSSSSSCHTTTT sound of cracking open a cold one, that first refreshingly icy swallow and the initial rush of dopamine, that’s my thing.
Until the pandemic hit and I read a ton of ‘quit lit’ (see postscript below) and felt much the way I felt when I finally realized Mormonism was a big fat lie fed to me since my birth. That topsy-turvy, rug-pulled-out-from-under-you disorientation like watching the end of The Sixth Sense and realizing Bruce Willis was dead the entire time (there has to be some kind of spoiler alert statute of limitations. If I just spoiled Sixth Sense for you, that is most def YOUR bad). Your mind spins and crawls back over your entire life as it attempts to readjust to the new perspective and you become aware of things you missed while they were happening.
When you really truly metabolize what alcohol does to your mind and body you get mad. You feel dirty, played, taken advantage of and kinda stupid. Much the same way you feel when you realize the truth behind social media and algorithms. Drinking isn’t a Budweiser party around a swimming pool or a Sex and the City girls night out any more than the bullshit Mark Zuckerburg decides to shove into your feed is representative of reality. It’s life propaganda.
The reality is that alcohol is poison. It fucks up your mind and body. The minute you drink it your body starts working to get rid of it. It’s a Class 1 cancer-causing carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of people every year. And it’s not just crazy drunk driving wild stuff that happens to other people. More than half of all deaths attributed to alcohol are due to deteriorating health effects from drinking too much over time. Cancer, liver, brain deterioration, heart disease.
Admittedly, this health angle never meant all that much to me because when you’re young you feel invincible. But these peri-menopausal days, when I’m working out like a motherfucker to not necessarily improve my health or my physique but to keep it from deteriorating, it means a lot more. Any woman over 45 knows exactly what I mean cuz ain’t none of us losing weight, we’re all busting ass over here just to keep from gaining.
But, like everyone else enjoying a cold one or a glass of wine in the evening, none of that convinced me to stop drinking. Because I didn’t really have a problem-problem, right? It was just… a problem. And not a very big one. So you have a couple beers a night, my brain said. Big deal. There are worse things. You get up every morning and make breakfasts, pack lunches, then work your ass off all day before grocery shopping, dashing home and making dinner, making sure homework is done and getting everyone to bed. You contribute to a 401k and you have a goddamn E-trade account for chrissakes! You deserve your stupid beers.
By the time my ex-husband sued me for child support without warning in January of this year I was back to my usual three beers a night routine. The afternoon the court papers arrived in my mailbox I definitely had more than three beers and woke up the next morning feeling hungover, fat, and defeated.
With the very serious intention of quitting alcohol, I took a photo. A bathroom selfie of a puffy-faced, blotchy-skinned sadsack, ostensibly so a future triumphantly sober me would have this motivational reminder of my low point.
And then I kept on drinking!
The following desolate winter months led up to an awful March face-off in Domestic Relations. The subsequent bi-weekly child support wage garnishments and resulting financial trauma were a nightmarish swirl of anxiety and fiery rage that I attempted to douse with even more alcohol.
But, as you may know, alcohol doesn’t eliminate anxiety, it causes more! Oh sure, in the moment, during those first couple of sips, it definitely feels like alcohol calms my hyperactive amygdala and my racing thoughts. In reality, like listening to a love song after a break-up, it dramatizes my thoughts, causes my mind to spin out, sometimes makes me sad, nostalgic even, and we all know how I feel about nostalgia these days.
Everyone knows the obviously terrible stuff about alcohol. Drunk driving, cirrhosis, blackouts, shattered relationships etc. but for me one of the worst things about alcohol is that it steals time.
The thing about drinking is that your night is decided for you. Once you have that first drink, there’s a good chance that’s what you’re doing until bedtime. You’re not likely to be going anywhere or doing anything productive after a beer or two. At least that’s how it went for me. Once dinner was done my night encompassed sitting on the couch drinking my beers.
I don’t like that version of me.
I don’t like shitty nights of sleep.
I don’t like hard-to-wake-up fuzzy-headed mornings.
I don’t like constant analyzation about how much is too much.
I don’t like the toll it takes on my mental health.
I don't like feeling bloated and fat.
I don’t like red, blotchy skin.
I don’t like my kids seeing me drink.
I don’t like blowing money on alcohol.
I don’t like the waste of time.
Alcohol is a time grift. Your evenings are a floaty blur and your mornings are a fuzzy regret. Work days bookended by alcohol-related bullshit. Beer doesn’t add to my life it only takes away. My time, my money, my health, my appearance, my attention… My life?
As of this writing, I’m alcohol-free since July. 100 days, if you want to be exact about it which I do because yay for triple digits! This isn’t my longest sober stint in my forties, I clocked more than four alcohol-free pandemic months in 2020 but this time feels different. I think this time I’m kinda getting off on being sober? Well, California sober. But yeah, it has not been a white-knuckle ordeal. Dare I say it has almost been joyful?
“Joyful,” she says.
Fuck. That kind of talk is akin to a fart in an elevator, isn’t it? Sorry. Let me take advantage of this moment to tell you allll about my incredible vegan nacho cheese.
Kidding. About talking about veganism. Not about my nacho cheese. My nacho cheese IS fucking incredible. You’ll taste it and be like, seriously? This is really just carrots and potatoes? It can’t be! But it can.
Seriously though, I am confronting all the anxiety and stress I was drinking to avoid. And I feel so good in the mornings that I’m hitting the YMCA, which, knock on wood, I’m actually enjoying.
But the big fucking bummer about all of it is that as I slowly amble my merry perimenopausal way into my fifties (I’m 46 wtf!) I’m realizing that all the not drinking and all the working out is the bare minimum required to basically just stay the way I am now.
Jesus. I can’t imagine what kind of shape I’d be in if I drank my way to 50 and the great beyond while riding my couch like a chained veal calf.
Oh, you KNOW there is most definitely a menopause post in my drafts section waiting for me to show it some love. Aging is no fucking joke and the only way through it is sleep, sobriety, boundaries, exercise and a water intake/need to pee ratio you can live with.
Will I drink again? I don’t know. When my kids are grown and Cory and I are traveling and doing our empty nester thing I might enjoy some sweaty summer sunset beers again. Or maybe I drink at a party next month because goddamn this social anxiety regularly rearing its head like the cystic acne of my twenties.
I don’t know. There is no pressure. I don’t have a goal. IWNDWYT means I will not drink with you today. So today is all I’m worried about. For now I’m just piling up todays and enjoying how I feel.
Your support means everything and has seen me through a very tough year. I am endlessly humbled and grateful you are here. To support my writing and receive new posts, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
IWNDWYT - DAY 100
P.S. If you’ve been looking for a boost to help you slow your drinking roll, there is a ton of new-fangled ‘quit lit’ out there that is surprisingly - at least to me - helpful. Women, specifically, are in the game in meaningful ways and it’s not just the dudebro-smoking-cigs-in-a-parking-lot-after-a-meeting-Dax-Shepard-Alcoholics-Anonymous way or the highway anymore. Below are a few of the books and communities that really helped me sort myself out.
StopDrinking Reddit Community: This is where I picked up the acronym, IWNDWYT. Every time I felt like “what the hell, a cold beer would feel great after all this yard work,” I’d scroll Stop Drinking and there was always a post from someone that arrowed into my heart like this one about how becoming sober changed someone’s relationship with their dog.
“This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace: Reading this book and perusing the above Reddit community is a solid jumpstart. This book peels back the curtain on the alcohol industry and explodes the constructs and lies about drinking society has encoded in your mind. White-knuckling isn’t the way. Changing the way you feel about alcohol based on the psychological and neurological science of what it does to your body and mind is key and this book certainly does that. Annie also has a podcast but the book is the best.
“Quit Like a Woman,” by Holly Whitaker details her personal story, but is also an excellent critique on social forces like marketing that keep women specifically hooked on alcohol. It’s wine o’clock har har har. Whitaker is controversial for her critique on AA in the NY Times called The Patriarchy of Alcoholics Anonymous (which mirrors her sentiment in the book) but everything she says about AA really resonates with me. If AA works for you, great, but it’s not my jam. I also just discovered that Holly has a Substack which I’m off to check out.
Finally, buy yourself craploads of seltzer water.
As always, feel free to email me at despiertatemonica at gmail dot com.