Updated: Jul 1, 2019
The last cocktail I had was on Saturday in Las Vegas. I'm sorry to say it was called "Fifty Shades of Earl Grey." It was the first cocktail I've had in nine months. And I'm happy to say, I think it's the last cocktail I'll ever have. In October of 2017, I took a break from drinking. My friends and readers know that for over two years I've been working a 12-step program for codependency ("the only requirement for membership is a desire to have healthy and loving relationships" says our handbook). This fall I decided I couldn't work a good CODA program without also being sober from alcohol for a while. Also, around that time, the teenager of a close friend of our family attempted suicide, more than once. Thankfully, he was not successful. It made me realize with razor sharp clarity that -- after the fact that God loves them -- the most important thing I can teach my daughters is to manage their feelings and cope with stress. And because of this, I decided I could no longer let my girls, now ages 10 and 14, see their mother use alcohol to cope with anxiety, stress, and sadness. And I had been doing that, regularly. I have never been a "big drinker." I didn't drink until I could legally do so. I never blacked out. I have very rarely been drunk. I could get tipsy on one glass of wine, one gin and tonic. My husband and I came of age in the Central Coast wine country, and when we'd go enjoy an afternoon in the vineyard, we'd usually share a tasting. We'd often split a beer with dinner. In short, I never looked like I had any problem with alcohol. But when I became a mother, I started using alcohol in a way I never had before. I say using, not drinking, because it became a tool to help me cope with the fatigue, stress, and over-stimulation that all parents of small children experience. Before, a glass of wine was something celebratory or to enhance a great meal. But in my girls' early years, a glass of wine while I was cooking dinner (three to seven times a week) was what "got me through" the witching hour. Until this fall, I had a small juice glass in the cabinet sacred to the purpose of my wind-down drink. Three ounces of wine and I was calmed down enough not to snap at my kids in the hour we were all most likely to be cranky and tense, and I was happy enough to receive my husband into our chaotic kitchen at the end of his long day at the office. Then sometimes, I had another drink with dinner. I also had a drink to defuse nervousness before a business networking event, before hosting a party at my house, or during a social gathering that made me feel anxious. I remember jokingly saying to a friend, I could calm down through deep breaths and prayer, but Pinot Griggio works faster. But it's absolutely true. Alcohol makes you feel good quick; but it doesn't make you feel good in the long run, and it doesn't solve the core reason that you feel anxious and nervous in the first place. And again, my girls were watching me. I have overcome chronic anxiety and depression after years of struggle; I take medicine for it, and yet I'm regularly drinking a depressant for a "lift." It makes no sense. So I didn't drink for seven months. And here's a couple things I learned: 1. Being uncomfortable isn't so bad. I could be uncomfortable for 45 minutes every evening in the stretch that I really felt stressed out and wound up. I told my neighbor Jill this and she laughed. Jill knew it was okay to be uncomfortable. I didn't. One of the reasons I needed to quit drinking. 2. Alcohol doesn't protect me. Slightly buzzed (I'm talking half way into a drink, here), I could tolerate frustrating, irritating, unhealthy and unsafe situations and conversations. Sober, I realize I'm allowed to protect myself. I can walk away from conversations and situations I don't want to be in, or I can respond to them using the tools God is teaching me. 3. Though Pinot Griggio works faster than prayer and deep breaths, it's good effects also wear off faster and it's bad effects last longer. There are no side affects to oxygen and prayer. In the last two months, I've experimented. Though it's not an important distinction really, I'm not a chemically addicted alcoholic. I can have one drink and then not have another for weeks. So I did. I had a glass of wine on Mother's Day. I split a beer with my husband one night. I drank a WHOLE beer at my best friend's house. And then this weekend, 50 Shades. Every time, my body felt sick afterwards. My head buzzed slightly. And I realized, you know, this is something I can do without. It doesn't taste that good. It isn't all I thought it was. And it's just not worth it. So. Sober. Here I am. I'm planting a flag today. I'm not a saint. I might slip up.
But my intention is to stay away from alcohol from now on. So while I order a lemonade or a soda water with lime, go ahead and have a glass of wine. I don't mind. But if you see me holding one, take it away. My girls are watching me. I can be uncomfortable. And I'm so happy about that. (In Part 2, I'll talk about how hard it was to quit drinking ,what I will most miss about it, and finding healthy behaviors to replace it.) For a great read on alcohol and mental health, check out this article. "Can We Talk About Alcoholism and Anthony Bourdain?"