Let's talk about drinking.

CC image "Wine Tasting" courtesy of Victims of Circumsolar

CC image "Wine Tasting" courtesy of Victims of Circumsolar

I took my last sip of alcohol on Thursday, November 21st, 2013.

I've mentioned my decision to give up drinking on this blog before, and promised that I would tell you all about it someday. Last month I realized that I had made it through ten weeks of sobriety (double digits!) so, naturally, I tweeted about it:

I was a bit apprehensive about sharing and not sure what sort of reaction, if any, to expect. What came next was well outside of anything I could have anticipated. Not only was there none of the eye-rolling, “Oh yeah, so whaddaya want, a medal?” variety of responses that I had been dreading, but the outpour of support and congratulations was overwhelming. I received numerous responses full of encouragement and - get this - a handful of private messages and even emails from folks who shared that they, too, had decided to give up the bottle. Some of those who got in touch were days, weeks, or months into their new lifestyle, while others already had years of sobriety behind them. None of them expressed any regrets.

At the time of this post I am just a few days shy of three months without a drop of alcohol. Of course, if we’re being realistic, three months is just a start. It’s a drop in the bucket of everything that has the potential to go right if I just keep moving forward. Still, the improvements to my quality of life over the past few months have been nothing short of extraordinary. In light of my recent discovery that a number of you are on a similar path or are thinking about hopping on the wagon, I consider now to be as good a time as any for this post.

Once upon a time, I drank. A lot. I drank to celebrate, to mourn, to have fun, to cure boredom, and to fit in. I drank because it was the “thing” to do, and because it was the thing I’d always done.

When I was in my early-going-on-mid twenties (which is not so long ago, thank you very much), it seemed that everyone around me either learned to balance their partying with the rest of their lives or grew out of it entirely. For my part, I transitioned from nights out at the bar to nights in with a bottle of wine. Or two. And maybe a beer or five. But good wine and beer, of course, so obviously I didn't have a problem. I was still getting out of bed and going to work, right? My bills were paid and there was food in the fridge (okay, so maybe quite a bit of it was takeout), so what was the issue?

The issue, or at least one of many, was the games that I was playing; the mental rings of fire I made myself jump through each time I justified stopping by the liquor store on my way home from work. Games like - and I’m sure some of you are familiar with these - “I’ll only drink x number of drinks per week from now on” or “no drinking on weeknights.” Games that were eventually lost, of course, because never really intended to follow the rules anyway. This is the reason that when you ask why I quit drinking completely and "don't just moderate," I will tell you that I have tried. I will tell you that it does not work for me, and that moderation is simply not possible for some people. And I will ask you why it is so damn important to you that I drink because, after all, isn't what goes into my body entirely my business and no one else's?

Things got iffy for a while. I don’t want to dwell too much on that period of my life (because privacy), but they did. Eventually I decided that it was time to turn things around, and the attempts at abstaining began. And, of course, along with them came the dreaded failures. I would stay away from liquor for a day or two, maybe string together a week at a time, before yet another gathering or stressful day would put a glass of wine right back in my hand. I went through a long process of denial in which I was unwilling or unable to make the necessary sacrifices or take the right steps to get me where I wanted to go.

Until one day I was willing and able, and somehow just fed up and ready.

For the first several weeks following my last drink I kept a journal. At first I wasn't conscious of the benefits of writing down all of the junk that crossed my mind, but it quickly became the best outlet I had. I kept my mouth clamped tightly shut about my decision for the first month, terrified to fall victim again to the cycle of promise-panic-fail-repeat, because I needed this, and I needed it badly. So I stayed quiet, not breathing a word even to Jackson (although he obviously figured it out on his own pretty quickly, given that we live together and all. Smart cookie, that one is).

At first I was certain I was going to go completely out of my mind. I thought I might never sleep, have fun, or remember how to talk to people ever again. I thought I would stick out like a sore thumb everywhere I went, as though someone had fastened a billboard to my head that spelled out between flashing lights, “HEY THERE! I DON’T DRINK. ISN'T THAT WEIRD?”

It’s not weird, though. Not really. Once you get used to it, it gets easier. It gets...well...normal.

Gradually all of those anxieties I had harboured about living life without a drink in my hand began to fade. I re-learned how to do simple things without alcohol; things like watching a movie on my couch, going out for dinner, bowling, and even the occasional house party. I began to sleep properly for the first time in years, and can now rely on myself to get up at the crack of 6 every morning to start my day. I've quit smoking, dropped fifteen pounds, started volunteering, jumped back into old hobbies, and taken control of my finances. Best of all, I have become a willing and active participant in my own life, and I am happy.

I don’t think alcohol is evil, that I am "better than you" (who comes up with this stuff?), or that drinking makes anyone a “bad” person. To be honest, I don't spend much time thinking about anyone else's drinking habits at all. What I do think about is how much easier my days are now, how much better I feel, and how grateful I am to have caught myself before doing any serious or lasting damage to my body or my life.     

Feels good, man.