Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Year of Living Drinklessly: Week One

up on the roof

My Facebook account blew up when I posted that I'm taking a year off drinking.

Tons of "likes." A few playful "unlikes." I was surprised to discover that a number of my friends have quit drinking or regularly take breaks.

One of my good friends stops drinking every February for a post-holiday cleanse. (She likes that February is the shortest month!)

Another takes what she calls "drinking sabbaticals." She's a very social person and enjoys having people over for dinners where the wine flows freely. Her wineglass is often filled with sparkling water. A non-drinking couple who attends these dinners brings their own pitcher of iced tea.

Some friends told me they experimented with non-drinking and never went back. Others did go back and are happy about it. One said she's always drunk sparingly, treating alcohol "like a spice."

I received several private messages. One guy said he hasn't had a drink since September. He stopped because he was rewarding himself with drinking. Without changing anything else, he lost 14 pounds. He said it's fun to go to parties, drink a virgin drink, and watch his friends "get looped."

He said he didn't want to comment publically because people might accuse him of having a problem. It says a lot about our drinking (and recovery) culture that someone who chooses not to drink is hesitant to say so. In my mind, whether or not one has a problem with alcohol is personal. And there are gray areas and slippages that only we can make sense of in their own lives.

I have friends who have thrived in various recovery programs. I have friends who've never drunk much, and others who drink a lot every day. Clearly they want to or need to for whatever reason, and I have no judgments. Many of them are happy and ongoing, others not so much, but whatever--we all get to decide how we're going to journey on this planet.

Most people who contacted me said they chose to stop (or take a break) not because they felt they'd hit bottom. It just felt good to cut back. Some enjoy the challenge. In my case, I'm thinking of it as an adventure. What will a non-drinking life be like?

I haven't spent more than a few months without drinking since I was a teenager. And now that I'm looking at a year off, I'm experiencing unusual sensations. It's as though I'm living someone else's life, that of a non-drinker. And it makes me kind of giggly, kind of off-kilter. Like I'm getting a drug high from abstinence!

Sounds weird, I know, but that's not all. The other day in yoga, I felt floaty, light, like my bones are a bird's. Maybe that's because I've been thinking for a while about quitting--and now that I have, it's a relief. Of course, it's always my choice to drink or not drink. But having created this arbitrary space of a year off feels like I've built a happy boundary.

I'm noticing that a desire for a drink often pops up in me around 4 p.m. Happy Hour is in my genes. An herbal tea or a smoothie later, the desire wanes.

I'm realizing I equate having an alcoholic beverage with doing something "special." I've found a special non-booze drink: limonda con agua mineral, a ton of fresh lime juice and sparkling water. You can get it with or without sugar; I prefer it without (sin azucar). Tastes similar to a margarita. I don't like tequila anyway.

I'm seeing how much I associate pleasure and relaxation with drinking. When Dave and I are on the roof watching sunset, I think about how a nice glass of cab would accentuate the experience. Then I turn toward myself and ask, "Why?"

It's a habit. It helps me relax. Wine's ruby color in a glass is an aesthetic pleasure.

So how can I get those things another way?

I inhale the ocean air, nestle into Dave's embrace, and watch the electric orange spread across the sky.

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