Today, I’m talking about something SUPER VULNERABLE and scary: I’m putting my relationship with alcohol under the microscope. You may have seen my Instagram posts from my 30-day journey without alcohol. On Day 1, I woke up and started writing this post.
Only, I didn’t know it was a post, I thought it was just some diary ramblings never to be seen by anyone else. But, the thing is, we need to be brave enough to show people our mistakes, our challenges.. Our ugly. I believe with all my heart this is the only path to create authentic community. And that’s so what I desire for Luminous Leanings! If you’re reading this, you’re a part of it and I am so grateful. I hope my story serves your awakening journey, as always.
When I was in my early twenties, I used to have pretty crazy experiences from drinking on a regular basis. *RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU CAN RELATE!* At least one night a week, it seems, I would get drunk and experience hangovers, extreme embarrassment and sometimes even black outs or “brown outs” – where some things were clear from the night before but with some memory gaps.
Now it fascinates me that I ever used to justify and even normalize these experiences. Society and my culture taught me the “okayness” of binge drinking. My peers mirrored it and would praise and defend my behavior right alongside their own.
I think looking back, the most painful part of it all is that I ever felt alcohol was the necessary cloak I had to don to shield myself from uncomfortable feelings, the topmost one being social anxiety.
And I don’t even consider myself a socially anxious person. I mean – I’ve always made friends easily and have always been able to maintain high energy levels in the throes of intense conversations and social performances. I am comfortable in the roles of Extrovert, Social Butterfly, even Social Organizer.
And yet… when I look back on some of my heaviest drinking episodes, I can feel that old familiar fear of, “What will they think of me?” It comes out unexpectedly, and I think we all experience it. I hadn’t felt it in eons until now. Not since I lived in DC and especially New York. My grad school days in New York are quite cringe-worthy when I remember all of the insecure fights my now-husband and I would have, 99% of which were alcohol-fueled.
No good came of drinking as far as our relationship was concerned, ever. And yet… we identified with the drinking so much because we met in Ireland (some might call it the drinking capital of the world), we bonded over a shared love of craft beer and whiskey, and co-created a dream of starting a brewery one day. We even brewed all of the beer for our wedding.
I am looking at my drinking past with a new perspective, one that doesn’t readily drum up feelings of self-compassion and forgiveness, but rather disbelief and bewilderment. I recognize that I didn’t have the tools in my early twenties to put limits around my drinking. At least not the kinds of limits I’ve adopted in the past 4 years. I didn’t yet have body awareness, mindfulness habits, or a sense of my mind-body connection. I hadn’t yet started practicing meditation or yoga (at least not in any meaningful, consistent ways).
Even now I can sense the painful delusion around attaching to those not-so-glamorous drinking memories. I can feel it in my ego – a desire for things to be different, for me to have been different. But this is not the way things are.
But now I have the opportunity to do things differently. I decided to take a month’s break from alcohol. I’m going to reevaluate my relationship to it. Maybe afterwards, I’ll have more limits on the number or types of drinks. Maybe I simply won’t put myself in social settings where I feel such a need/attachment to alcohol as a defense mechanism.
I’ve seen the way alcohol affects different people differently. Sure, lots of my friends can drink to the point of drunkenness and just become cute, silly, maybe a bit sloppy. No one gets hurt. And yet, I know I contain a different kind of fire within me. I have a family history of alcoholism – it’s in my genes. So why would I play with that fire?
Our culture relies on alcohol as a crutch for creating connection. We have been herded into isolation by capitalism and the patriarchy, and desperately feel inadequate to foster meaningful community without it. I’m struck by how many times I’ve defended alcohol as a connector, a social grease for unsticking the awkward places in all of us as we come out of our shells.
But I struggle to think of a time when alcohol made me more myself, or made my conversations with others more meaningful or profound. Perhaps it made me slightly more forthcoming with strangers, but too easily could I slip down the slope toward belligerence and poor judgment. How many mornings have I awoken to replay every conversation and action from the night before with overwhelming embarrassment? It’s not just ego at play in those moments, it’s a deep sorrow that I was not true to myself.
When I identify with a buzzed version of myself, I’m identifying with someone who needs a drink to feel confident, beautiful, social and free. But I am already all of those things.
Alcohol has meant different things to me at different times of my life: liquid courage for taking the stage at an amateur open mic, armed with nothing but my guitar and a beer. Liquid love for numbing a broken heart after feeling the sting of rejection from a boy. Liquid comfort, time and time again, for making my night feel meaningful or special. Liquid escape for moments of fear or boredom.
It hasn’t always taken one of these forms – and on the massive scale, my drinking has been limited, contained and responsible. But when I look back on the most shameful nights of my life, alcohol was always involved. The worst fights I’ve had with people close to me were alcohol-induced. The times I’ve questioned my own character and ethics were always related to bouts with alcohol.
These are just a few of the questions I started asking myself on day one of my journey without alcohol:
- What role do I want alcohol to play in my life?
- Do I feel more like myself or less like myself during or after a night of heavy drinking?
- Do I want to numb or escape from any part of my life, as someone who is seeking to practice mindfulness?
- How is drinking consistent or inconsistent with my spiritual practice?
I’ve always been a proponent of, “Live your life. Don’t harm anyone or anything.” and I thought alcohol fell within the scope of that. But working in the alcohol service industry has flipped a switch for me. In my current state of New Mexico, we have the fourth-highest rate of impaired driving deaths. If I over serve a customer at the brewery, I could go to jail. Alcohol is never a solo decision – especially if you’re out in public, on the road, or even have your phone in hand. We need to face the uncomfortable music that drinking is poison and can very easily and quickly become emotionally and physically dangerous.
Putting my relationship with alcohol under the microscope has revealed to me so much about my coping mechanisms, escape tendencies, addictive behaviors, and my own suffering. It’s made me take a harder look at all things I consume. I’m making a declaration that I long to stop mindless consumption within my control. Whether it’s shopping, Netflix, insta-scrolling, drinking, or eating – how can we bring mindfulness into these autopilot activities? By stopping, considering, checking in with our bodies and minds before moving forward. By setting intentions and holding ourselves accountable.
I’m noticing I don’t even crave alcohol like I thought I would. What I truly crave is social connection and rest, both of which culture conflates with alcohol. I’m learning how isolating it can feel to not drink. There is a desire to reach out to friends, but without the buffer of happy hour or checking out a new brewery, it feels particularly vulnerable. It’s divisive and polarizing to question alcohol use in your life. You hear stories about pregnant women being social outcasts because they don’t get invited to parties or happy hours where there will be drinking. There is a deep fear of severed belonging that comes with sobriety.
I’ve had to face that, in new and scary social situations where drinking is central, I’m much more likely to disrespect my limits out of vulnerability. It’s also been interesting to realize that I feel a distinct pressure to be the *life of the party* around certain folks who seem even more introverted and afraid than I am. As though, in an effort to put everyone at ease, I choose to over consume and really put myself out there. But what I really want, in all social interactions, is deep, meaningful connection.
As a community, we need to rally around those who choose not to drink. Feel free to start a conversation with them about why, and don’t make it all about you. I get that it’s uncomfortable to have to reflect on your relationship with something as central and unexamined in many of our lives as alcohol. But getting underneath why it’s uncomfortable can open up a world of self-knowledge and self-control you never dreamed possible.
Four days into my 30-day sobriety journey, my grandmother passed away. Not having the elixir of booze on the table made my grief process much smoother and less complicated. Even while dealing with certain triggers while back home for her funeral, it wasn’t hard to say no to alcohol. I felt more sensitive and raw, but I reminded myself that numbing it is never a sustainable solution.
Choosing not to drink for 30 days has been a refreshing wake-up call. It’s created a mindset shift that I don’t have to drink to socialize, to relax, or to reward myself. I don’t have to escape life’s uncomfortable or boring moments. I can instead sit with them, get underneath them, and figure out what it is I truly want. Only then, can I find a more healthy, lasting solution to that desire.
Yes, this takes work. Yes, it might create some initial discomfort. But it is so worth it!
Perhaps more than anything, this journey has expanded my creative choice-making skills. Filling the guilt void with self-care, like a home yoga practice. Filling the bored void with reading or going for a walk. Filling the social void by calling a friend or meeting someone for coffee instead of beer.
It’s also reconfigured my relationship to time. Before, I would have a drink and be down for the count for the rest of the night (i.e. my productivity went out the window.. including self-care productivity). Now, I can mindfully decide whether or not I want to “shut down operations” in favor of grabbing that 1 post-work drink with friends.
When I drink again, I will be bringing with me the wisdom I’ve gained along the way. I will strive to never sip booze unconsciously again. My personal limits have shifted, as has my awareness and understanding of what alcohol can mean to me and my day.
I look forward to foregoing alcohol for one month every year in the future! This has been an incredible challenge, and the lessons I’ve learned about myself have been INVALUABLE. I highly recommend challenging yourself by giving up something with which you have a complicated, possibly addictive relationship. Choose something you find yourself using as an escape. Even if it’s only for 1 week or 1 day, see what shifts occur! Be prepared for discomfort, growth, and probably some truths you can’t ignore. What I’m looking at next: my phone & Netflix habits.
After all, I believe we’re all here to know ourselves more deeply and live more consciously in order to better the world. I’m writing things here that I never thought I would say. It’s not a judgment or act of blame. It’s simply that I’m seeing my relationship with alcohol in a new light. I’ve experienced a radical shift, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.
I’d love to hear from YOU, Dear Ones! Have you examined your relationship with alcohol lately? Or with other addictive behaviors or patterns? What self-care tools did you lean on? What did you learn about yourself? I can’t wait to read in the comments below! You never know whose journey your helping to impact through your courageous vulnerability.