When I made the decision to stop for good. I knew I was done forever. I knew I was done because I had so many stops and starts prior to that. I knew that no matter what happened in the future (good or bad) alcohol was no longer an option and I haven’t had a drink since.
This decision (for me) became a non-negotiable. I told myself there would be no more silent debates, bargaining, justifying or wondering if “I could have one?” because one always became more, often alone at home by myself, and I was ready for a full stop.
That was Dec 14, 2014. Which was ten days before Christmas and 14 days before my birthday. The New Year and girls trip in January was right around the corner. The first 30 days were hard even though I stopped other times before. I had a big birthday dinner out on Dec 29 and most of my friends drank that night, but I didn’t. The sky didn’t come crashing down, I ordered club soda all night long, most people didn’t notice, while those who did notice thought it was cool I chose to not drink. One of my guy friends, a big drinker himself ordered club soda to show his solidarity in my birthday drink choice, which was sweet and nice of him.
You’ll be surprised how well people respond to you not drinking if you give them the chance. I was still raw and wobbly on my birthday so I wasn’t ready to talk about my full stop alcohol-free decision. I didn’t owe anyone an explanation. We talked about other things. My friends didn’t stop being my friends. No one judged, shunned or hassled me that night. Plus not all my friends drink heavily. Some do, some don’t, others have quit as well. There’s a spectrum of drinkers in life as well as my personal social network.
At different points during that first year and even into the second year, I’m not going to lie, there were hard times, life can be hard and I really wanted to drink (numb). Yet each time I pushed through and rode it out, my emotional resolve and neuroplasticity got stronger and stronger. I just keep saying “this too shall pass” and it always did. Life is a constant ebb and flow with work, money, relationships, health, family, daily responsibilities but when we can lean into that wave and ride it versus resist what’s happening, the uncomfortable stuff didn’t feel so disruptive.
Today, 10 days away from my two year anniversary I haven’t thought about using alcohol to numb or emotionally escape from my life for months. It’s almost like my brain has lost the memory, knee-jerk response to use alcohol as my go-to coping mechanism. However, I know if I drink again I’ll be right back where I was. So I stay committed to my alcohol-free decision.
What worried me the most when I quit drinking wasn’t the holiday meal, a night out, or a special celebration because those things are a blip in time. I wasn’t going to let normal life interactions throw me off my alcohol-free commitment.
What worried me the most was the unknown. The catastrophic. What if something horrible happens in the future? i.e. the unexpected death of a loved one. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the intense grief or overwhelming rage. That’s why I started drinking in the first place, after a devastating break up my 20’s.
But that fear has subsided significantly. The tools and resources (functional nutrition, emotional resilience, brain chemistry, stress reduction techniques) that I’ve used to get through the uncomfortable days are now strong tools, resources, and routines that not only work but are things I can use, God forbid if something catastrophic happens. Not drinking for two years has ironically prepared me to deal with my worse fears and worst case scenarios. My brain has rewired, my emotions are more balanced, my mental body is stronger and my physical body is more resilient, simply because alcohol hasn’t been in my brain/body and I’ve learned new ways to live and cope.
Going through life’s normal blips (holidays) and bobbles (daily stressors) without alcohol, I’ve found, is what strengthened me for the big, really hard stuff. When you’re ready, there’s a big, bright world on the other side of alcohol that will be rooting for you and supporting you every step of the way.
Here’s one final piece of inspiration if you’re struggling. I love blasting this song on those hard days, while I drive. It’s one of the many things that help me, especially this part.
“Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know someday it’ll all turn around.”
For more on this topic: Listen to Episode 12, “The Forever Question” on Editing Our Drinking and Our Lives Podcast with Aidan Donnelley Rowley and Jolene Park.