On abstinence from alcohol

My journey to 30 has evolved into this very big project of personal goals. But it started with my decision to give up drinking alcohol for a year. How exactly does one who lives in a place like New Orleans, where the drinks flow freely, where you can take it in a ‘go-cup’, where there’s really no need to wait for 5 o’clock, come to the conclusion to completely abstain for an entire year?  Well, it all started with a juice cleanse that left me with an inordinate amount of time to think. Apparently, when I’m food deprived I get even more introspective than I already am. By day 2 of this juice cleanse I was realizing how much more time I had in my day since I didn’t have to think about shopping for meals, preparing meals, eating meals, cleaning meals, and how after awhile I wasn’t even hungry any more. I wondered what kind of time I would have, what kind of mind-shift was possible, if I quit drinking. I wondered if I’d stop wanting it the way I’d stopped wanting food. I know of people who’ve given up drinking for a prolonged time, but I never really saw the need to do it myself. I don’t have a drinking problem. Plus, drinking is such a part of the social fabric here–there’s hardly a networking session, fundraiser, meet-up, university function, etc., that doesn’t have liquor or wine present.

So in my food deprived (or food lucid) state of mind I made the resolute decision to quit drinking from 29th birthday until my 30th birthday. Thirty is supposed to be a big deal–at least that’s what every rom-com movie about 20-somethings say. At the edge of turning 29, I certainly didn’t feel any impending doom about being closer to my 30s. In fact, I was pretty much looking forward to it. So instead of forecasting gloom and doom, I decided I should do something to enter my 30s with a bang…or rather, leave my 20s with a bang. Either way. Not drinking was going to be part of this plan to enter into a new decade with a new attitude.

Other than having to constantly be prepared to quickly shut down anyone’s soaring joy at the prospect of my being pregnant, and then being met with the confused stare of ‘why-the-eff-would-you-CHOOSE-not-to-drink,’ being sober hasn’t been too difficult. It does makes you acutely aware of how uninteresting people truly are. When socializing means that you have at least one drink in your system from the start of any event, being sober means you get to notice all the quirks about people that you might have been less attuned to with the alcohol. Some people who may be mildly intolerable while tipsy turn out to be terrible company while drinking club soda: jokes aren’t funny, conversation is boring, even the food is meh. You may start to wonder why the hell you’ve been wasting so much of your time and energy on these folks and start rethinking how you really want to spend your free time.

Despite my earlier assertion that I didn’t have a drinking problem, on October 27th that confidence started to crumble. I was having a bad day, for whatever reason, and my mind was racing all over the place. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t settle in. Usually at a time like this I’d reach for a glass of wine to “unwind.” But this time there was no glass to be had, and I couldn’t clear my head of the impending panic, couldn’t quell the agitation. I wanted to run, or give in. Ultimately went for a walk and then came home and wrote this:

Although I don’t think I really have a poor relationships with alcohol consumption, I don’t depend on it or abuse it, today I realized maybe I need to rethink what we define as dependency or poor relationship. It’s been about 60 days since I gave up drinking for my 29th year, and it hasn’t really been an issue other than to have to explain at a few social events or just deal with the curious stares of whether I was pregnant. But today, I really was feeling a mixture of anxiety and gloom and all I wanted was a glass of something…wine, champagne, whisky. I just wanted one glass to dull my senses just a little bit. Because they were roaring. And it was making me feel crazy, like I needed to run out of my skin to get away.

Since I can’t escape from my body, escaping my mind seemed like the best next solution. Then I realized, maybe I do have a problem. That I don’t have another healthy way to deal with how I’m feeling. That when I’m  internally screaming, rather than trying to detangle the noise and figure out how to address it, I’d rather silence it and move on to something else. I took the dog for a walk, which helped. I’m writing this now, and that also seems to have quieted the roaring…my head isn’t throbbing anymore and I no longer feel nauseated.

I have some things to think about.

I was left with questions. Do I have a problem? How is “problem” even defined? Do we only have a “problem” once we’ve reached the level of dependency that’s unshakeable? Shouldn’t it be considered a problem that instead of finding a constructive way to deal with anxiety or agitation, a way that’s probably more difficult and time consuming, that we call it socially acceptable to have a glass of something to “unwind?” That we’ve somehow “earned it” because we got through another day? (So long as it’s just ONE, maybe two, to stay within social norms.)

I think we need to reframe how we define problem. I mean we’re not talking about addiction, which is really a medical issue. We’re talking about the ways in which we deal. Get through. Cope. Or rather the ways in which we DON’T. Numbing isn’t dealing. After that glass of wine I don’t think about why I was panicky/anxious/agitated to begin with. I just move on to something more pleasant. And now that I’ve acknowledged that, well…I guess abstaining from alcohol was a good idea after all. How can I work through a problem, prevent its reoccurrence, if I’m ignoring it as a practice? If I can’t think clearly about it?

Lately I’ve been practicing yoga more consistently, which sounds soooooo trite. All the same, I’ve found it beneficial for feeling better physically and de-stressing. Maybe I need to stop, drop, and yoga whenever I’m feeling like I did that day.

Work in progress