Quitting Drinking: Part Two
How It Started
I never really drank until I got to college. During freshman orientation, all the new students seemed to spend their nights trawling the campus for parties and booze. It was during this week that I had my first taste of alcohol, and it was disgusting. I drank a few sips of beer and I remember it made me gag. But it seemed like everyone else was into it, and that drinking promised a world of fun, so I kept trying until I started enjoying it.
The Dark Side
After that, it was off to the races. Going to a party wasn't primarily about spending time with my friends, rather, it became about getting my hands on a drink and then, another drink. This pattern continued well after college. Even in my late twenties, I would go to a friend's house for a get-together and my mission would be to get a glass of wine in my hand as soon as possible. For whatever reason, this started to taper off by itself once I hit my thirties, but before that, I found that no matter what promises I made myself, once I had one drink, I couldn't stop until the night was over.
This meant that I would often wake up hungover, not remembering what happened the night before, or, I would remember what happened and be horribly ashamed. I struggled with feelings of depression, which would be exacerbated by a night of heavy drinking. I injured myself pretty badly one time in my early twenties, by falling up a set of stairs and crashing my shin into a step. To this day, I have an indentation there. I would say inappropriate things to friends. Like the time my husband's friend got engaged, and someone asked where the hardware was, because she wasn't wearing her engagement ring. And I kept repeating the question, "Where's the hardware?"
I knew all of this as it was happening, and yet, somehow the full magnitude of how terrible drinking was for me never really sunk in. It wasn't until months after I stopped, when I started to read through my old yearbooks, journals, and emails, that it really hit me. I read about a time immediately after college when I hosted a pre-party at my apartment for my birthday before we were to head out to a bar. I got so drunk that I poured a drink over a friend's head, and wasn't able to make it out to the actual party afterwards. I could write more, but you get the idea.
Triggers and Coping Mechanisms
Even though I don't find abstaining to be a huge struggle, there are still situations in which I hear the siren's call. I was at friend's house with a bunch of friends and their spouses a few months ago, and started feeling a bit uncomfortable socially. I thought for a second about having a drink, but then I thought how much I didn't want one, and so I didn't. I think what made this situation more challenging, was that I didn't bring my usual arsenal of tea bags with me.
My main coping mechanism is to drink either seltzer or tea. On very special occasions, I might have a coconut water or sparkling cider, but I usually stay away from sugary drinks. This means that during holiday celebrations, parties, and when hanging out with friends, I am usually chugging bottle after bottle of seltzer and/or mug after mug of tea. I try to have tea bags in my purse with me, in case I need it wherever I'm going. There is something festive about the bubbles in seltzer, and something very soothing about a cup of hot tea, that just works for me.
Other triggers are being on vacation, having a meal at an outdoor restaurant in nice weather, and Christmas. We typically spend 4-5 days during Christmas with my husband's family, sleeping over at his parents' house and everything. Two Christmases ago, shortly after I decided to stop drinking, I was sitting around playing card games and board games with everyone. For whatever reason, I felt the urge to have a glass of red wine. But I just thought about how it would feel to drink it and the thought was unpleasant, so I refrained.
Then this most recent Christmas, the family opened a bottle of sparkling wine on Christmas Day while we were opening presents. I was tempted to drink it because it was a festive rosé, a beautiful color, and a special bottle that my husband had received as a gift from work. In this case, I thought about how far I'd come, and how I really didn't want the drink.
This is my other coping mechanism, to imagine how bad it would feel to drink the drink, not only the act of it, but also the aftermath. I know some people probably enjoy the feeling of drinking, but somehow that's not the case in my mind anymore. When I imagine the burning feeling in my mouth, throat, and stomach, it's not a nice, warm feeling. It feels toxic.
A Whole New World
Quitting drinking has been one of the best things I could have done for my life and my family. Even after my drinking started to taper off when I hit 30, I used to struggle with low mood all the time and I believe that abstaining from alcohol completely has been the biggest factor in feeling good mentally and physically. So many good things have come out of not drinking ... sleeping well, having energy to do things like exercise, feeling in control, and never being hungover or worrying about what I might have said or done the night before. Also, I used to find that drinking would lower my inhibitions from an eating perspective and I would stuff my face with whatever I wanted. I will say that my weight was starting to get out of control before I stopped drinking and now I'm down probably 7 pounds from my heaviest, not including when I was pregnant.
So ... it was ugly for a long time, and now it is beautiful. I won't say that drinking is the only reason why because there have been many other, smaller changes along the way that have improved my life and outlook. And there continue to be changes for the better, and I look forward to documenting more of them here.