I like to drink. There. I said it. Now, I am fully aware that the statement “I like to drink” means a lot of different things for a lot of different people, but when I say it I mean a few things. I like a glass of wine with a nice meal. I like a cocktail or two over conversation with friends. I love a whiskey on the rocks on a cold Winter night while curled up in bed watching a scary movie. I do not drink like I used to (nor could I) and am entirely in control of my consumption of alcohol. Now that we got that out of the way; I’d like to explain why I took 5 weeks off from drinking.
There are certain periods of time in my life recently where I know when my body has had too much or too little of something. Whether that is healthy food, water, alcohol or dairy, I know when I need to take a break from certain things in my life and I am pretty good at holding myself to it. At the end of January I had a lot of stomach problems that I will not go into (I spent a lot of time on my toilet) and was starting a new medication so I decided to stop drinking for a little while in order to give my body only what it needed and allow myself to get back to some sort of base line internally.
It’s no secret to those who know me (and honestly, no shameful secret of mine to keep) that I have been suffering from depression for a while. The last six or seven months have been really rough for me and I decided to take action in the form of Zoloft. I met with my doctor at the end of January and was put on a daily dose of the antidepressant and was told I should wait between 4-6 weeks to begin seeing results. I know that alcohol and pills are not to be mixed (in excess) so I decided to abstain from drinking any alcoholic beverages for a while, to allow my body a chance to let the medicine do its job unhindered. My line of thinking was very much inspired by the classic experimental rule of science: only change one variable at a time. This was my way of not relying on any other coping mechanism but the medication.
To expand on that, I will admit that alcohol has, in the past, been a form of self-medication. Not to an excessive degree, but if I had a long or particularly difficult day, a glass of wine was my reward (and relaxant) at the end of said day. If I had a bad week, going out and having a few drinks with friends on Saturday night was a great way to relieve stress and let loose a bit before the week started back up again. From time to time, I recognize a pattern in this behavior and take a few days or weeks to settle it down, allowing myself to detox for a bit.
I knew that with my emotions out of whack and my unemployment looming over me, I could easily have gone down a rabbit hole of drinking that would not only be unproductive, but detrimental to my physical and emotional health. When I saw my doctor, it had already been about a week since my last drink (I had a beer with dinner at a friends place) and I decided to hold off. It seemed a good tracker of time to simply abstain for a month and with February a week away, I decided to dub it Sober February. I couldn’t think of a more fun name. Soberuary didn’t have a nice ring to it…
So, I set the goal, told some friends (for accountability reasons) and that was that.
Two days later, my mother called me and asked if I wanted to come to Las Vegas with her and my stepdad to surprise my sister with a weekend stay. I said yes – obviously! It wasn’t until I was on my flight there did I recognize that a rather large challenge was about to present itself. Being in a house with my mother and sister for three days with no alcohol. Oh boy.
A given when visiting my sister is that we will likely have a glass (or two – it’s vacation!) every night with dinner and will probably decide to experiment with making a fun cocktail once during the trip. Especially with our incredibly loving, wonderfully generous, but impossibly frustrating mother to drive us crazy, a glass of wine is a perfect cure-all.
When I arrived, it was only a few hours before my sister asked if I’d like wine with dinner. The look on her face when I told her I was not drinking for the next month (including the time I am visiting) was one of such disappointment that I had not seen from her in my life! She lost her drinking buddy for the weekend and was sadly forced to drink alone that night and for the remainder of my trip! I think daily, she tempted me with her small collection of wines and it was so hard to say no to her, but I stayed strong! The difficulty of staying on-task was elevated when my cousin and her fiancé came in for the weekend. One night we all went out for dinner and drinks. I got a mocktail. And was definitely mocked for it.
Upon returning home, I assumed it would be easier to avoid temptation, but I was wrong! Not only do I have a somewhat impressive bar at home staring me in the face every time I walk in my kitchen, but it is amazing how much you realize about your social life when you stop drinking. I had so many friends reach out to invite me for drinks, happy hour, a beer, mimosa brunch, etc. over the past month, it is insane! I, of course, am not saying this is bad behavior, but it is just something I noticed about being a 20-something in New York City. I got a lot of “Umm….excuse me? Why?!” texts and responses from friends, but no peer pressure or judgements. I did spend an awful lot of this month in bed. But I am unemployed, low on money and depressed so I guess that comes with the territory.
I also recognized how much alcohol enriches experiences. Watching The Oscars without a glass of wine or champagne was just…not as fun. Suffering through the Superbowl without a few beers to keep me busy was even more tortuous than I thought it would be. I think I will now appreciate what a drink can bring to any social gathering or television event. You’d think I’d value the sober experiences more, but it really made me want a drink.
I am writing this on the last day of February and I am going to be honest with you: I can’t wait to have a drink. I plan on going to a party on Thursday and will allow myself a few! On the other hand, I think I could go another month if I needed/wanted to. As much as I love a good drink, I survived just fine without and probably saved so much money because I wasn’t spending it on drinks or a bottle of whiskey. I will definitely be more wary of the amount of money I spend on alcohol (as I was pretty aware of already) and will definitely keep my alcohol intake to a minimum, especially when I want a drink to cope with my day. I have learned that an episode (or six) of The Golden Girls can substitute for a glass (or six) of wine when I am feeling down. I have learned that an almond chai latte with a friend is as enjoyable as it would be with a cocktail instead.
I am entering a non-sober March with a new outlook on drinking and what it means to me. And hopefully, a more solid grasp on my emotional well-being. Cheers to that!