Earlier this month, I decided to go three weeks without drinking.
I didn’t have an embarrassing tequila-infused flameout. (At least not recently.) I’d just noticed that my relationship to booze was feeling slippery.
I’d find out friends were pregnant and my first thought would be How do they go nine months without alcohol? Or I’d aim to have no more than 7 drinks a week, but a friend would visit from out of town, or I’d stop by a party on Saturday night, and suddenly (as if totally out of my control!) that number was 12. Plus, I’m Irish Catholic and a writer, so the stereotype odds are not ever in my favor.
Since moving to New York a few years ago, my alcohol consumption has been a steady upward creep. It began with two drinks a week, then, oops, became a fixture in my life. This pattern fits nicely with what I’ve read about alcoholism, which is that it’s a progressive disease. Meaning: You don’t just have a few too many greyhounds one night and realize you need rehab. This shit takes time.
In LA, I rarely drank because I was worried about driving, but here that deterrent is gone—for me and everyone I know. It’s easier to meet at a bar than in someone’s tiny apartment; drink all you want because taxis! To steal from Rich Roll, “New York is Disneyland for alcoholics.”
This is not to say “it’s NYC’s fault, not mine!” (well, a little bit) but to point out that I’ve always been able to say my relationship to alcohol is totally normal. See, everyone else is doing it! I wasn’t showing up at work hungover, (maybe with a mild headache that went away by 10am), and if I was having a mimosa or three on a Sunday at brunch, I wasn’t doing it alone. But of course, we see the world as we are and all that.
And do you need to hit rock bottom before you start making healthier choices? What if you’re on a slow moving train headed in that direction? Why not hop off?
Also, just to be crass about it, if you’d said to me, “is alcohol so important to you that you’d spend $100 a week on it?” The answer would be no, of course, duh. But when I did the math, I was nearing that. So embarrassing!
So, I decided to go three weeks without alcohol to see (1) if I could and (2) if so, what that felt like.
Turns out alcohol has been affecting my life in all sorts of sneaky ways—and I had no idea.
THE PROS OF GIVING UP ALCOHOL FOR 3 WEEKS
- It was easy.
- It was probably easy because I didn’t go to bars at all, and I hardly went to restaurants.
- Since I wasn’t going to bars or out to eat, I had more time. So I watched way more TV. HELLO BREAKING AMISH.
- I drank less coffee. (I was probably sleeping better and not needing three cups a day to get going?)
- Drinking less coffee made it easy to eat less sugar.
- Not drinking made it easier to leave crappy situations. Or to put it another way: alcohol makes it easy to stay in crappy situations. I hate small talk, and I’d gotten into a routine where, when faced with it, I’d just get a drink or two and stay for a few hours. Under this new plan, I wound up not drinking, doing just fine with small talk, and then leaving in about 40 minutes.
- My skin looks better. This might be in my head, but I swear my capillaries don’t seem so obvious and broken.
- It’s possible my moods have been more stable. Eric says no. I’m not sure.
- I have more respect for the truly sober. What made it easy for me was knowing I could quit anytime I wanted. Trying to do this for the rest of my life would have felt like a ton of pressure.
- I don’t need to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Not really.
THE CONS OF GIVING UP ALCOHOL FOR 3 WEEKS
- I was embarrassed to order tap water at restaurants. As an ex-waitress, I hated taking up a table at a chichi place for a bill that was, in waitress terms, nothing.
- Dinners ended earlier because they weren’t fueled by buzzed conversation. (This could also be a pro, but I like that silly conversation, and it’s how I’ve gotten to know people better over the years.)
- I didn’t like calling attention to myself when I put my hand over my glass, or when I refused a free drink at an event, or turned down a free beer at a cooking class.
- I felt the need to explain. I keep telling friends and family that I wasn’t pregnant so they didn’t read into this and get excited for me.
So what’s next?
I hate rigidity toward food and drink, simply because I know what that kind of thinking did to me in my 20s. (Obsession! Time and energy wasted on thinking about calories! No life of the mind!) While there is a slew of crap I try to minimize consuming—meat, processed foods, gluten, and sugar—I can eat them anytime I want. (Progress, not perfection.) Knowing that it’s all my choice makes me feel in control.
Also, I don’t want to cut alcohol out of my life because it’s FUN! I probably want to grab a margarita with you. I want to toast at a friend’s wedding. I don’t want to be the weirdo (which is how I felt, not what I think when I see others do it) smacking my hand over my wine glass, feeling fearful. (Although, when I see others refuse alcohol, I always wonder what the story is.)
So the way I’d like to move forward is by being really mindful of drinking. What I’ve learned from this experiment is that it’s way easier to make one choice for the evening: I just won’t drink tonight, than to keep making a choice about whether or not to have another glass.
So maybe I’ll plan to drink on Fridays and Saturdays, going easier than I would have in the past. And avoid bars.
I’m sure this is an evolving thing. If any of you have ben through this, I’d love to know your thoughts!