On New Year’s Eve I posted an installment of Too Good Not to Share recommending a 30-Day alcohol-free experiment I had done in 2014, with the promise, at that writing, of sharing some of the long-term benefits I’ve enjoyed since then. First, because of the nearly immediate positives of better sleep, younger looking skin, and markedly clearer thinking, when the 30 days were up, I asked myself whether my life had been better having a couple of glasses of wine most nights or whether I felt better without it. It was clear to me that life was better sans booze, so I let the experiment continue — and it has, now, for one thousand, nine hundred eighty-three days.
Many, many times since then I’ve been tempted to have a drink — tempted by, say, alliteration (Margarita Monday!), reflex (pizza & beer), societal norms (wine mom culture is cute), or peer pressure (still a thing at fifty-mumble-years-old). At those times my secret weapon has been asking myself if I’ll be okay tonight (or for the next 30 minutes) without a drink. In the beginning, because it was easy to remember how blah I felt the morning after a couple of drinks, it was usually a no-brainer to realize that I’d rather be slightly uncomfortable without a drink than feel how I knew I would the next morning if I had a couple (it wouldn’t have been just one).
These days alliteration and reflex no longer lure me toward alcohol, and the wine mom culture makes me sad for women who regularly choose to blot out their innate strength in a misled effort to make their lives better. Peer pressure, sadly, is still a thing — not people shoving drinks at me insisting I have one, but feeling left-out or awkwardly obvious, for instance, joining a toast with a tall glass of club soda. Most of these moments, though, are blessedly brief.
The most profound long-term (and still evolving) benefit of being alcohol-free has undoubtedly been gaining a clearer sense of self, emboldening me to be curious about who I was really created to be. It feels so much better than hiding did. Before, I used alcohol to mask myself, trying to fit in; and now I’m using continuing education, therapy, prayer, meditation, reading, and writing to discover who I really am. I have (mostly) gotten used to, and even sometimes relish, not fitting in with the crowd. On an evening out with friends I don’t “have what they’re having,” and instead order some concoction like club soda with mint and lime — and rather enjoy the sidelong glances.
My relationships with my husband, sons, family, friends, self, and even with strangers, are more authentic, as well. I am less likely to please, but more likely to be honest and also more likely to apologize sincerely. I have more compassion for myself and, therefore, for others. I am able to be present for others — comfortable with the discomfort of not being able to fix whatever it is they are facing. In general, I feel more human in my being.
Will I ever have another glass of wine, another margarita? I don’t know. After almost five-and-a-half years, it’s still too intimidating to announce that I’ll never drink again. It is imperative, I believe, to view this alcohol-free journey as an on-going experiment. An experiment doesn’t succeed or fail, it simply yields results which aid in making future decisions. Therefore, there is no need to force myself into an alcohol-free lifestyle, the thought of which would make me resentful that I can’t have a drink and others can; rather, I am choosing not to have a drink today because I like how this experiment is going, and no compelling reason presents itself for me to abandon it now.