It’s been six months since I decided to stop drinking for 30 days. Some of you may have read my blog post about that experience. I have since decided to continue living my life alcohol free and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.
I was what’s referred to as a “gray area” drinker. Gray area drinking is described as the space between the extremes of ‘rock bottom’ and every-now-and-again drinking. The type of drinking I engaged in is very common. Problem drinking among women increased 84% between 2002-2013 and those are just the cases of actual diagnosed alcohol use disorders. In fact, some experts were calling women’s drinking habits a global epidemic long before the global COVID pandemic, and things have only gotten worse.
Our society has normalized problematic drinking so much that it makes it very hard to identify both for the person experiencing it and to anyone on the outside like friends, partners, or providers.
“Women have an intimate relationship with alcohol and as healthcare providers, we all need to learn to identify at-risk drinking in women so we can best address the social, emotional and industry factors that contribute to problem drinking,” said Katherine Cook, CHD’s Vice President of Behavioral Health. “Problem drinking is an equal opportunity issue and we as women need to question our relationship with alcohol. Our mothers, daughters and friends benefit from this exploration.”
Take for example all of the ads, memes, Instagram accounts, books, apparel, and decorative TJ Maxx signs that capitalize on the ‘mommy’ drinking culture. You’ve all seen them. “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink!” or “Wine… because yoga can’t solve all your problems.” There was even a recent Tropicana orange juice commercial suggesting mimosas are the answer to pandemic parenting. “#TakeAMimoment to help make your mornings a little brighter.” A national ad encouraging moms to start drinking with breakfast. This messaging is everywhere. Just the other day I drove past a marquee outside a liquor store in my small town that reads “Wine is cheaper than therapy!”
I’m here to deliver a different kind of message. Without question, I am less stressed and an overall better version of myself now that I don’t drink. I’m a more patient mom, I’m a more attentive friend, I’m a more considerate daughter, and a more loving partner. I’m also much nicer to myself and I have more fun. I’m not saying that these things aren’t possible for women who still drink. I’m saying that a lot in my life has improved since I stopped.
“Women have an intimate relationship with alcohol and as healthcare providers, we all need to learn to identify at-risk drinking in women so we can best address the social, emotional and industry factors that contribute to problem drinking.”
– Katherine Cook, Vice President of Behavioral Health, CHD
None of this happened overnight of course, even though at first it kind of felt like it. I felt really amazing after the first 30 days. And then I kept feeling – all the feelings. I realized that I had used drinking as a coping mechanism for so long that I hadn’t sharpened any healthy coping skills in quite some time. I have always had mental health issues but for many years had washed them away with the day’s drink(s) of choice. I was lucky that I did not have a physical dependence on alcohol but my emotional dependence proved to be much deeper than I had ever imagined. I decided that I needed to devote as much energy to feeling better as I had trying not to feel anything at all.
If you’re considering an alcohol-fee life, or if you just want to try to replace a couple of unhealthy coping tactics, here are three tips:
- Begin therapy. I found a great counselor who I communicate with regularly via online sessions and who worked with me to create a convenient schedule to help me stay on track. I began medications for the existing diagnosis I had and the new ones I’ve since received. I know medication isn’t for everyone, but it has been a game changer for me. I was hesitant myself for years about putting what I once considered “poison” in my body every day as I literally consumed poison in the form of alcohol daily. Talking to my doctor about my concerns was so helpful. The way she explained it was that if I had high blood pressure or a heart issue, I wouldn’t think twice about taking the medication prescribed to me, so why was I treating my brain any different than the rest of my body?
- Build a network of support. There are tons of great resources out there to connect with other like-minded women who have chosen to stop drinking. I made my Instagram account much more intentional. I got rid of all of the toxic drinking culture accounts and began following people who encourage and empower self-love and sober-living. People like author Laura McKowen and holistic psychologist Nicole LePara and groups like @theluckiestclub, @therromp, and #thedryclub. I also identified a couple of my most trusted friends as people with whom I share my struggles, and I know I can reach out to them whenever I need connection from someone whom I know personally.
- Make time for yourself. Contrary to what it used to feel like, the days actually seem to have gotten longer since I began prioritizing myself. It’s amazing how much time I wasted being wasted. I suddenly have time for all of the things I didn’t seem to have time for before. I’ve reconnected with so many things that make me feel good and started experiencing new hobbies as well. Reading, crafting, exercising, photography, drawing, journaling, meditation, and therapy have all been beautiful outlets for me. Pick one, pick all of them, just start making time to do more of the things you love – no excuses.
I promise you that there is no such thing as small change. If you take the time to occasionally replace a habitual moment in which you would normally drink with something listed above instead, you will start to experience tremendous growth.