There’s a lot of buzz on the Internet right now about Dry January, and I thought about sharing my story from the other side of “drying out”.
First, a couple background facts: I grew up with an Irish grandpa who rarely drank anything other than coffee or beer. Now, he wasn’t an alcoholic, but this set the stage for our family to be friendly with the booze. Again, not always in a bad way, though, admittedly, there are some struggles with addiction in the family, but this more about how alcohol was just always around but never a problem for me. We were social drinkers mostly, or my mom or dad would have a drink at the end of a long day. That’s how my mom would unwind from the stress of the day, and believe me, she had stress.
I knew of family members who had a problem with alcohol, but for the most part, I was taught responsibility. Watch your intake, don’t drink and drive, don’t let it control you.
I started drinking here and there in high school, I was always a social drinker. I never drank alone until I was an adult who myself, needed to unwind after a stressful day. Mostly though, I’d go out with my friends after work for a glass of wine or two, or happy hour after work with my coworkers, in my 20s my best friend and I would sit by the pool with a bucket of margaritas on a Friday night. Someone once asked what we were doing for dinner and another friend joked that that WAS our dinner. He wasn’t wrong.
My 30s brought about some changes. Got married, had brain surgery, and had kids. These are all things that bring about a look at ones self and what you’re doing with your life, and I took a look at my drinking. As harmless as it was on the surface, I looked deeper into my own motivations for drinking. No one else’s btw, just my own. I had brain surgery to alleviate headaches (among other reasons) but I was still drinking knowing that alcohol would most likely give me a headache. I didn’t go out as much as I used to but I was still drinking at home, or in limited social gatherings with friends and neighbors. But why?
I drank after a long day at work, after a particular co-worker drove me crazy. A boss stressed me out. A friend made me mad. All of these were legitimate reasons to drink, but were they GOOD reasons? Then what about the social aspect? Hanging out with my friends? Surely that was a good reason, right? Commiserating, celebrating, bonding….
But did I really NEED it? Could I do those things without it? And how much was I really drinking anyway? I knew that addiction was a slippery slope, and that genetics made the top of that slope a tight wire, so I looked hard at my habits. In social situations, I struggled with when to say enough. Once I got going, and my wilder alter ego came out, it was tough to get her to stop. (The fact that I had an alter ego was as much of a red flag as the limits I rejected) when I just stayed home and had a glass after work, it was usually two glasses, and not the standard 4-5 oz serving, who does that? So basically I was drinking about four glasses of wine. I didn’t do a bunch of research on alcohol effects on your body, or how much is too much, but when I looked at it, I knew there was a problem there -for me. My friends and family, even my doctors knew how much I drank. It wasn’t a secret, and it wasn’t an issue, it was normal. I didn’t drink any more than my peers, but everyone is different. I looked at my life now. I had a little person who relied on me. What if he needed to go to the hospital and I’d had a glass of wine? What about the headaches that took me away from being all he needed me to be? They weren’t hangovers, but I could get a migraine that could last more than a day. Was it worth it? Worth the hell of taking care of a baby with a migraine? Worth not being all the mother my son needed me to be, all caused by something I did on purpose? The answer was no. So I quit. Just like that. No fanfare, no big announcement, no one last blast, just stopped.
The quitting itself wasn’t the hard part, the hard part was what happens now? How do I socialize?
Let me say that I had my children later in life, I didn’t get married until 31 and had my first child at 33. Before that, I did my partying. I had a blast in my younger days and will have stories to tell in the nursing home that will make the nurses laugh and my grandchildren cringe. I’m not missing out on anything. I never feel like I’m missing any fun, but sometimes, I get guilted by friends from my past, or new Mom friends trying to bond with me. Why won’t I drink with them? Do I think I’m better than them? How can I sit there all judgey while my lush friend has to drink without me? The thing is, I don’t judge. I don’t care if you drink, and I am sad that you care so much that I don’t. Every person is different, every situation, every metabolism, every genetic factor, all different situations.
For me, it’s been a little over six years, and here is what I’ve noticed: not much. I didn’t lose a bunch of weight, my skin got a little better, but barely noticeable, I don’t get all the headaches alcohol caused, but I still get other headaches. I’m not spending near the money on alcohol, but I do cook with it. I’ve thought about having a glass of wine here and there when the anxiety grips me tight, even poured myself one or two glasses, but I never drink them. Maybe a sip, but I end up pouring it out or giving it to my husband.
I would love to go out with the girls in the neighborhood when they go for drinks, but I don’t because explaining that I don’t drink is an ordeal. Many people assume I’m an alcoholic or someone who sits on a high horse judging all the heathens who do drink. When I explain that it’s neither, I’m met with confusion. Like there is no other reason for a person not to drink, or there has to be a “reason” at all.
I like the idea of this Dry January gaining traction, solely for the reason that maybe people will see that unlike the advice hanging from a plaque on my grandpa’s wall, you can trust a person who doesn’t drink. There is no blanket answer, every situation is different. To those trying it, good luck! It’s not as bad as you think, but don’t expect the whole world to change, you’re only going to notice things within yourself and you and you alone can make the decision of whether it’s worth it to drink or not to drink. To those not trying it, it will be ok when your friend isn’t drinking. I promise. They aren’t trying to shame you for drinking, they just want to hang out with you even if the dynamics have changed. Order them an iced tea and tell them how awful your boss was that day.