On Jan. 30, 2019, at 11 p.m., I unceremoniously finished a glass of wine, said goodnight to the friends with whom I had been having dinner, and went home.
That’s how my journey into “I’m not drinking today” began. There was no big announcement, no fanfare, no idea that my dry spell would keep going, and going, and going.
The dry spell continues.
Although I don’t have many filters, I have been relatively quiet about my journey into sobriety. I hate that word and all the other words used to label those who, for whatever reason, have chosen to hit the pause button on their alcohol consumption. Whether that choice is for one day, one month, one year, or one lifetime doesn’t matter. The labels and connotations are the same.
But until this new cool becomes “so last year,” the word sobriety will have to do to describe this very private and personal journey. While I have shared a few details now and then through my writing, it’s not something I have discussed in great detail, mostly for the same reasons others like me don’t like to share their sobriety stories.
My Drinking Was Not The Problem
“Oh, you don’t drink. You must have a problem!” is the conclusion to which most people fast forward when you tell them you have chosen not to drink. But if someone told you they no longer eat jelly beans, I doubt you would think they have a jelly bean problem.
Then there’s the other side of the coin.
“Wow, you don’t drink! That’s amazing. Good for you!”
I’m not a superhero. I just stopped putting alcohol into my system because I didn’t like the way it made me feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. That’s it. End of story. There’s nothing good or bad about it. It just is.
But years into this AF thing —an acronym for alcohol-free, not the other thing—, some of those who have heard of my choice to go AF are approaching me with questions about how to do the same. Some of the questions are subtle, some not so much.
Are You Sober Curious?
At first, I brushed them aside, thinking there were enough experts out there whose stories of sobriety were much more interesting. I am not an authority on drinking. I hate giving advice on the subject because I have no idea how or why other people drink. The reasons are as varied as there are people.
I only know why I choose not to drink and how I am able to continue on that journey.
I also hate the “I will never drink again” prediction. One of my concerns has been that giving advice and then drinking a tiny sip of anything with as little as 0.5% alcohol will somehow negate what I have accomplished and invalidate all the advice I have given. (News Alert: Orange juice has 0.5% alcohol, so there’s that.)
Most of all, I didn’t want to be THAT person. You know, the one who breaks a habit and then becomes a holier-than-thou, judgmental bitch who turns her nose up at those weaklings who aren’t as evolved.
Slurring isn’t sexy, but neither is self righteousness.
But more and more people have started asking me about my choice to not consume alcohol. And the questions have come from those whom I least expected. I feel I owe them an honest answer.
How I Stay Sober
So, here it is. My secret to staying sober and my reasons for doing so.
My decision to share is also because, in the post-pandemic-challenged year, the memes and jokes on social media about drinking—especially about women drinking—are cause for concern. The 5 o’clock Mommy Juice hour is starting earlier and earlier, and there’s nothing cute about it.
Among the most dire post-pandemic predictions is the one that says many who survived COVID-19 will be left with addictions they acquired to deal with the pandemic’s challenges.
A few weeks ago, a friend who was celebrating a milestone birthday posted a photo on Facebook showing a bottle of Grey Goose in the center console cupholder of her car as a sign that she was ready to celebrate.
How is this even remotely funny?
The comments cheering her on underneath her post were even more disturbing.
No Labels, Please
Before I tell you a little bit more about my story, I have just one request. Please drop the label. You know the one —alcoholic, and the stigma attached to it.
That blanket term that has been attached to anyone who drinks too much or too often is inaccurate most of the time. At best, it is outdated.
I often wonder how many more people would choose to go alcohol-free if the label did not exist … if the judgmental looks they get when they tell the waiter they won’t be partaking from the bottle of wine everyone else at the table will be sharing didn’t scream, “Oh, you poor thing.”
I have a plethora of handy comebacks for those looks, most of which are NSFW.
Most drinkers don’t fit the stereotype of the alcoholic, a disheveled person on the street, begging for money, and sleeping on park benches. The majority of people who drink too much are professionals with jobs, families, and good salaries. They dress well and have money to buy name-brand wines and spirits, and travel all over the world to sample the latest vintage from the winery of their choice.
Important Disclaimer: If You’re Addicted, Seek Help
I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be an expert on the subject, but according to what I’ve read, alcoholics are physically and emotionally addicted to alcohol, and they can no longer control their drinking. There are lots of in-betweens, which you can research on your own. It’s not my intent to provide medical advice or rehash what a Google search will reveal if you’re interested in finding out more.
This is my story. Any resemblance to the stories of people living or dead, is purely coincidental.
If you are an alcoholic, or if you even suspect that you will suffer physical withdrawals by going cold turkey, this article is NOT for you. Please seek advice from your doctor, your therapist, or someone who can help you detox safely.
But if your drinking has escalated to the point where happy hour is no longer as happy as it used to be, or it has become so automatic you just reach for a cocktail without even thinking whether or not you really want one, then maybe my journey can help answer some of the questions you might be asking yourself.
In other words, if you’re sober curious, read on.
This Is How And Why I Don’t Drink Alcohol
I do it by just doing it. No therapy, no doctor, no detox, no rehab. I just stopped. The support of my life’s traveling companion and my mom were instrumental in keeping me stopped.
I do it because I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with a dryness in my eyes and mouth that would be the envy of the Sahara Desert.
I do it because waking up with a clear head is more fun than a hangover.
I do it because a 6 a.m. 25-mile bike ride before the world is up on a Saturday morning is much more exhilarating than that first sip of Amarone ever was.
I do it because even though I love rituals, there are more satisfying rituals besides opening and aerating a bottle of wine.
I do it because the clarity is amazing. I am much more creative sober than I ever was attempting to imitate Hemingway in his prose and his drinking. Contrary to popular belief, drunken angst kills creativity.
I do it because drowning my emotions — whether happy or sad — in alcohol doesn’t make the bad ones go away, and it prevents me from being fully present to enjoy the good ones.
I do it because my relationships are stronger, and my emotions are under control. Alcohol-fueled disagreements can escalate into relationship-ending arguments very quickly. I no longer choose to engage in arguments that are going nowhere. I pick my battles, which are fewer and fewer these days.
I do it for a host of reasons. But the reasons themselves are not important. Like brushing my teeth, being AF has sewn itself into the fiber of my life, and the why no longer matters.
Staying Sober Is Cool AF
Now, at the risk of having you think my first journey into the AF world was all no wine and roses, think again. I tried going alcohol-free many times before it finally stuck for this long.
Why did it stick this time?
Because somewhere along the line, there was a shift from “I can’t have a drink and I’m missing out on something” to “I don’t want to have a drink because I don’t want to miss out on anything.”
I have been a lifetime nerd. I am now officially one of the cool kids. I guess you can call me cool AF. And this time, the acronym does not stand for Alcohol-Free.
Are you ready to be one of the cool kids, too?