Two Years No Beers

Today I’m answering one simple question: Why did I quit drinking alcohol?

My original plan was to answer all of your questions in regards to my choice to live a sober life, but once I began writing I realized this topic is a whole post within itself. I plan to answer all of your questions in the future, and explain, in depth, how quitting alcohol has proven to have more benefits than I originally could have imagined. The last two years that I’ve spent sober have revealed more to me about myself and life in general than I bargained for, and I’m so grateful. Being completely sober in the face of political unrest, job uncertainty, and isolation during a worldwide pandemic has challenged me to confront myself and grow, a lot. But those stories are for a different day.

Why did you quit drinking in the first place?

This question is the most frequently asked.

I think there is a common misconception in our society that you are either an “alcoholic” for life or someone who can responsibly consume alcohol for life with no real consequences, and little space for those of us in between. You are either someone with an incurable “disease” that will crave alcohol forever – someone who has hit rock bottom and makes a choice to turn their life around, or you’re just a “normal” person who drinks. I think that this is a completely false dichotomy that keeps many people harmed by alcohol but not “addicted” in a self destructive loop that society deems acceptable. Alcohol is the only drug that after you quit, you are then stigmatized as having a problem. I chose to quit alcohol for two major reasons: the health of myself, and the health of my marriage.

My husband and I have been together almost seven years, married for almost three. We spent the first year of our relationship drunk. That truly is not much of an exaggeration. I was suffering emotionally from years of trauma and the resulting post traumatic stress, aware that I was suppressing my feelings, and therefore, healing with alcohol, but not ready to stop. I can’t speak for Kanan so we’ll suffice it to say that he drank with me, and didn’t contest to the frequency, the excess, or the destructive behaviors that resulted. I don’t think that either of us hit a symbolic “rock bottom” from drinking. Most of the things I did were terrible, but normal in this country, and even encouraged in your twenties, so I didn’t feel the need to confront them until much later. Passing out on the floor of my bathroom and being hung over for three days – must’ve partied too hard! Had an emotional breakdown in the movie theater after a couple pitchers of margaritas? Tequila must make me emotional! The problem with this thinking is that when you miss work because you’ve been drinking (I did twice) or drive home drunk (I’m not sure how many times I did this, but I argue that if you’ve ever consumed alcohol as a driving adult, you’ve likely done it too) you can brush it off as a fluke and move on. Drinking is so normal that we endanger ourselves and others emotionally, mentally, and physically but as long as you’re not “addicted” you’re fine.

As the years passed we were drinking less as we advanced in our careers, had more responsibilities, started working out more and eating healthier. I was trying to work through my issues using mainly diet and exercise but had no idea that the alcohol I was still consuming on a regular basis was keeping me stuck by wrecking my already fragile mental health. At this point, I never went out drinking, rarely had more than two drinks at a time, and thought I was being “responsible” by typically only having one beer a day after work. Just enough to keep alcohol in my system at all times.

I’m going to interject for one moment to point out how absolutely asinine it is to use veganism, lifting, Pilates, yoga, kale, massages, facials, running, stretching, vitamins, juices and supplements to try to obsessively heal my body and my depression and anxiety, while frequently drinking ethanol – a depressant and a toxic substance known to cause a myriad of mental and physical health problems, like cancer, depression and anxiety.

There were two things that pushed me to quit. The first was the atomic-level arguments my husband and I would get into if we were drinking. Don’t get me wrong; we still have disagreements, heated discussions, and hurt feelings. We are not perfect and we certainly don’t always magically agree just because we stopped drinking alcohol. However, we no longer have any disagreements resulting from alcohol consumption itself – like someone being out too late or not communicating properly – or any illogical and booze-induced disagreements over random topics that went way too far simply because alcohol makes your brain incapable of logical reasoning. I had a thought one day: How many married couples could have avoided divorce if alcohol was simply not a factor in their relationships? Probably a lot. My parents included. So I made the decision to choose the longevity and health of my marriage over the promise of a nightly “wind down” that you inevitably always pay for in other ways. I am grateful that my husband agreed and we quit together.

The other piece of that story is about me. I drank nightly to help me relax. Not a lot. One beer, maybe two if it was an exceptionally hard day. But it was perpetual and constant. I didn’t ever think I was addicted to alcohol and I still don’t consider myself an “alcoholic.” I had left behind my college days of binge drinking and acting irresponsibly and so by American standards what I was doing was perfectly normal and acceptable. I now owned a business and the stress was unending. The commitments never stopped. One night after popping an edible and washing it down with a beer, my husband frustratingly tried to explain to me that I had a problem. I was resistant – existing in the binary framework of normal versus alcoholic. I wasn’t an alcoholic, so what’s the issue? Until he said something that changed my mind. He said that I was drinking to escape my life. If I needed to get high or drink every night because I was so depressed or stressed, maybe I should figure out why I’m those things in the first place, and fix that.

Holy shit.

And there it was. The person who’s opinion I respect most in this world is telling me that the way I’m living my life is fucked up, and therefore my mental health is fucked up and I’m using a substance (or substances) as a really ineffective band aid to absolve myself of responsibility to fix it. After three months of mulling those words over, I decided to quit. Slowly reducing the amount of alcohol I was drinking bit by bit, until I toasted to a happy life over a table at my bachelorette party, knowing that with the support of these amazing women, and my husband, I could do anything. That was two years ago.

I know a lot of you are probably wondering if I relapsed. If I miss booze. If quitting was hard. If I traded alcohol in for weed instead. I plan to answer all of those questions in future posts, but the short answer is no. Alcohol (and weed and pills) was a weight on my shoulders that’s gone forever and I never want to carry that weight again.

Because I spent so many years being afraid of what it might mean if I quit, I kept drinking how we’re “supposed” to drink in this country – safely and in moderation, only that’s a complete lie. There is no safe way to consume a poison and no way to moderate the destruction that follows. I was drinking just enough booze to keep myself in a constant state of denial. Never reaching my potential. Denial that my anxiety induced depression was a thousand times worse because of what alcohol does to your brain chemistry. Denial that I could eat all the kale in the world and that still wouldn’t change the fact that alcohol is linked to several different types of cancers. Denial that I needed constant therapy and a clear mind to help me remember the things alcohol helped me forget. Because you can’t heal from things you never confront, and I was storing so much trauma inside myself that it was literally killing me.

There aren’t any cravings. There is no regret. There has never been a moment when I’ve doubted myself or wished I could go back. Every once in a while when I think that alcohol sounds good (the same way a burger sounds good if I smell barbecue…even though I’m a vegan) I pour myself a delicious non-alcoholic beverage in a fancy glass, throw a lemon slice in and think about how grateful I am that I quit drinking alcohol.

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For more information on my personal journey with alcohol, see my 1 year post: https://www.google.com/amp/s/thereallifeveganwife.com/2019/08/17/one-year-no-beer/amp/

One Year No Beer

One year ago I sat around a breakfast table with my sister, my sister in law, and seven of my closest girlfriends to toast to my bachelorette party weekend and it’s success. In the loud cafeteria at Camp No Counselors Seattle we said goodbye over mimosas and departed to locations all over the country – back to our normal lives. I had made up my mind to quit drinking at the dance party the night before. I had been quietly considering it for months, wondering if I had the will power to go through with it. Somewhere between dancing the night away to Whitney Houston and standing in line for midnight nachos while drinking soda water and lime, the decision became crystal clear and easy. Camp left much to be desired, but my memories are all perfect – bunk beds and ping pong, waterslides and the talent show. Three nights in a cabin together with accomplished dynamic women taking breaks from their busy lives and careers to eat burgers in the mess hall and do bad yoga. Most of them I’ve known a decade or more – we’d come a long way from scream-singing Tenacious D songs at college house parties over shots of watermelon rum – most of us have been through a lot since then. I don’t want to say that being together again was like “the old days,” because it wasn’t. To me, it was better.

I’ll just start by saying that fifteen years is a long time to be in a one-sided relationship with something that only takes from you. Something that encourages your self loathing, and cheers for depression to root deeply inside your heart. Something that intentionally wastes your time and energy, strains your relationships and willfully stands strong and stubborn between you and your dreams and goals. I had decided I’d simply had enough of this self-inflicted bullshit.

I’ve never been someone who accepts what is “normal” just because everyone else does it. Sometimes I walk my own stubborn path to my detriment, questioning everything along the way. Critically. But this time I had recognized that for some reason the lemming in me had a thing for booze. I had fallen into the socially-acceptable catchall for life: alcohol fixes everything. Not that I believed this to be true, but on some level almost all of us buy into that narrative, otherwise we wouldn’t regularly drink alcohol. I wouldn’t drink a glass of milk because to me it represents violence, but I’d drink a beer because someone somewhere is selling me an illusion of happiness.

During this last year as I’ve put time between myself and alcohol, I’ve realized something big. We’ve been sold the idea that more money and more things will make us happier. We’re realizing that isn’t true. Each time we reach a new standard or pillar of accomplishment, we move the marker for success onto the next. If we live this way, we never reach happiness. On the sidelines of this over simplistic, capitalist equation for happiness is alcohol, working as an easy band aid when the rest of what we’ve been promised falls short. And it will always inevitably fall short. I believe that being truly happy requires so much more effort than buying something new and washing your guilt and lack of satisfaction down with a beer at the end of a long day. But I haven’t always felt this way.

Over my bachelorette party weekend I had several epiphanies. The most influential in my decision to quit drinking had to do with the company I keep. I could count on one hand how many alcoholic drinks I had over the course of my five-day party. As I quietly contemplated my decision to quit altogether I realized that I was having just as much fun without alcohol as I have with it (if not more). And then it “clicked.” Instead of drinking to “suffer” through events I attend out of a false sense of obligation, or drinking to “tolerate” people I do not wish to be around, I should stop wasting my time and life and just stop. Stop going and stop doing out of obligation and/or guilt. Give myself the emotional permission to create more time in my life by just saying no. If I don’t want to go, or I don’t enjoy the people, I shouldn’t be there. If I feel like I “need” alcohol to “have fun” then I am clearly using it as a band aid for a bigger problem: I am wasting my life doing things that do not serve me or my real happiness and that makes me unhappy. The other epiphany I had was that when you’re around your real people, the ones that give your life joy and meaning, alcohol is not just unnecessary, it can be a detriment to really experiencing your time together. And our time here is short.

Time. That is a topic I’ve written often about, and after discovering Andy Ramage and the company he co-founded: One Year No Beer, all the benefits of not drinking that I had struggled to articulate became clear. I was rarely a binge-drinker. I considered myself to be a moderate drinker, usually enjoying a beer or two a night after work “to relax.” My husband was the first one to point out to me that I shouldn’t need alcohol to relax, and that perhaps I should spend more time contemplating why I’m so unrelaxed in the first place. I met his ideas with stubborn resistance. I’m not an alcoholic. I work hard. Why shouldn’t I be able to have a beer at the end of a long day? I still, even now do not think that I have or had an alcohol dependency. What I did have was what Ramage talks a lot about: A bad habit that drains my energy while simultaneously sabotaging my physical and mental health. A habit that I engage in without question because society encourages it and deems it “normal.” And a habit that will always keep me from reaching my true and full potential because it is a huge waste of my time. Alcoholism aside, that just sounds terrible.

The focus of One Year No Beer is on the moderate drinkers. Those of us that do not consider ourselves extreme enough cases to need serious intervention or assistance, but who would benefit greatly from being part of a community of other people who just don’t want to drink anymore. Who recognize the untapped potential in a life and mind that isn’t constantly clouded or depleted by alcohol. Those of us that recognize that being an American should consist of more than working and drinking in an attempt to find happiness. Because most of us grew up living this model and are now realizing it’s pitfalls and failures. And we want more from our lives than a cycle that supports a general feeling of malaise.

Once I made the decision to quit drinking, I began to truly recognize how deeply alcohol is ingrained in our daily lives. When was the last time you stopped drinking for long enough to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of a body free of alcohol? From the research I did, the general consensus is that it takes at least two weeks to begin to feel the physical and mental benefits. Much longer if you want to experience things like long-term career or fitness boosts. Most of us will never experience this since we begin drinking as teens and continue on some level, forever. This shocked me to think about. Would I really never let myself experience my full potential because I like beer? That felt absurd.

One thing that the OYNB movement emphasizes is that the benefits of not drinking snowball tremendously. And after a year, I can attest to that. Time seems to multiply because every late night, every hungover or tired day, and every event I did not want to attend simply vanishes and can be replaced by other more fulfilling activities. Sleep improves, energy levels improve, depression and anxiety decrease, workouts are more effective, and work is more productive. Instead of struggling through a full day at moderate productivity, I find that I can complete more meaningful work on my business and personal endeavors in less time. Making time for even more meaningful relationships, goals, and activities. My husband and I have a stronger relationship (he quit too), and I believe that our decision to omit alcohol from our marriage will help us to focus our energy on positive endeavors and leave aside all of the complications and traps alcohol brings into relationships.

But it’s difficult to get that snowball rolling. Between the social event excuses, the work event excuses, and the “wine-o-clock,” “mama needs a beer,” and “life is better day drinking” t-shirts, alcoholism has become so pervasive in our culture that to not drink makes you somewhat of a social leper. My interest specifically on the strong emphasis on moms and females self proclaiming their drinking habits as a “funny” way to cope with our lives fascinates me, but that topic is for another day. As a meme I once read so accurately put it: “Galentines Day is not a thing. You’re an alcoholic.” And as someone who would have scoffed at that comment in a past life, I see it clearly now. Alcoholism has taken on a much more female tone recently- “I’m on a juice cleanse, and by juice I mean wine.” Normalizing drinking, emphasizing it’s importance in our social lives, and excusing our “need” for alcohol is not only shocking, but indicative of a culture that is starved for meaning. So I am happy to leave it behind forever.

Popping that special bottle of champagne my best friend brought and toasting to us, the round table of strong women felt like a break up. An empowering and permanent celebration of acceptance, surrounded by my biggest supporters. I’m leaving alcohol behind and beginning my new life with a different perspective – life is short and I refuse to waste it.