When I learned that I would have to give up drinking 8 years ago, I was none too happy about it.
I obviously realized that giving up the illegal, dependency-causing drugs was for the best, but alcohol? WHY?? I threw a tantrum like a petulant child as my mind raced through every scenario until the end of time where I would need to be drunk, and likely far more so than my peers.
First, I was going to be in a wedding ten days later. I MUST have alcohol there. Second, I’m sure I would have my own wedding some day. There would be parties, concerts, and not-yet-known-to-me events where I would have to drink or likely die (slightly dramatic, I know). Wondering how I could possibly carry out nine months of a pregnancy without alcohol had always been a serious question for me, which was clearly an indication of the problem I had, but I always pushed that thought away into the future.
The first year was hard. I volunteered to serve drinks at a local concert less than a week after entering recovery because I had already committed to it and didn’t want to back out. I think I also wanted to prove to myself that I could say no if I wanted to. It was harder than I expected and although I left that night sober, I realized that if I wanted to get serious about changing things, I probably shouldn’t put myself in those positions anymore.
It helped that I surrounded myself with other people in recovery who also weren’t drinking, but I still had to deal with those times when I was alone. Slowly, but surely, I was able to escape the gnawing need that I had felt for so long, but it definitely took work and persistence.
It’s been eight years and even though there are times when I still miss it, I know where it will go for me and that helps keep me on this road. This is based on my experience and I am in no way trying to tell anyone how to live their life. I’m not demonizing drinking (because I still would if I responsibly could), but just sharing some of the things I’ve learned after giving up alcohol.
Who your friends are
As we get older, do you really want friends who belittle and push you to drink when you don’t want to? If your friends don’t understand that you may not feel like drinking, they may not be your best of friends.
I have friends who drink and know that I don’t. It’s not an issue and there are even a few who will check with me to make sure I’m ok with them drinking around me. That’s certainly not necessary, but the fact that they thought about it tells me that they care. These are the types of people to have in your life.
No one cares as much as you do
Every fear I had about being “that girl who didn’t drink” was based on my own paranoia. I argued that I couldn’t not drink because everyone would make fun of me (see above), it was socially unacceptable, and people simply just don’t do that.
Honestly, most people are more concerned with their own lives to pay attention to what you are or are not drinking. If you’re really self-conscious about it, order a virgin drink or carry a cup around so that people will be less likely to ask you why you’re not drinking. In my case, I drink Diet Coke and no one really cares.
It’s ok to say no
Confidence is a wonderful thing. So many of my actions in the past were based on the fact that I lacked any type of basic self-confidence and wasn’t able to stand up for myself. I went along with things so people would like me, I drank and did drugs so I wouldn’t feel socially awkward, and I certainly didn’t say no and risk backlash.
Recently, Neil and I went out for a friend’s going away party which was a loosely-organized series of bar stops. These days I’m able to spend time in places where people are drinking if they are calm and not reminiscent of crazy college years (neither of which are advised for anyone in early recovery), but as soon as we entered one of the stops, I knew something was wrong. I felt a heavy pit in my stomach as throngs of scantily clad people drunkenly swayed and sang far too loudly to the music. It was noisy. It was crowded. It was a bar with one purpose — for people to get drunk.
I was irritable and on edge, feelings I haven’t experienced while being out in a long time. I felt nauseous. I realized that this bar was too triggering for me and I told Neil that I needed to go. Thankfully, another friend wasn’t enjoying it either and we ended up leaving earlier than we had anticipated.
No matter how long you’ve been in recovery, there are still some places that won’t be safe. Even if you’re not, the same still goes. Don’t be afraid to say no if something doesn’t feel right. If you don’t want to drink, then don’t. If you don’t want to stay, then go.
You learn more by going through things
Anytime, and I mean ANYTIME, I encountered stress, I would drink. I didn’t know how to deal with it in a healthy way, so I did what I did best — not deal with it at all. I immediately turned to drinking to forget what was going on and grasp at what I felt was happiness. This always backfired as I woke up feeling worse physically AND mentally than I had the day before, but I was always able to convince myself in the moment that drinking was the solution.
By no longer having alcohol as an option, I had to sit through difficult feelings and situations. At first I felt like crawling out of my skin, but over time as I learned how to lean on others, communicate, and make different decisions to not get myself in certain situations, I realized how much I was using alcohol as a crutch.
No hangovers = THE BEST
As we get older, hangovers become the REAL DEAL. You’re taken out of commission for much longer than when you stayed up all night in college and went to class the next day (anyone else?). To be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour, get enough sleep, and wake up well rested is something I certainly do not take for granted anymore.
You save so much money
The amount of money that I was spending on alcohol simply to drink by myself in my apartment was ridiculous. Looking at menus while we are out to eat these days and seeing how much ONE drink costs is insane. I can’t tell you how much money would be lost if drinking was still on the table (because let’s be honest, I would never drink just one drink).