When I quit drinking

For years, each afternoon at 4:30 I’d pour myself a tiny glass of wine when I started cooking dinner.

As a homeschooling mom, it was a small signal I gave myself that the day (for the most part) was done. I was “off duty” and even though there was still a lot to attend to, we were done at least with the bulk of the busyness of the day.

As an easily overstimulated, highly-sensitive person, a glass of wine made me feel more calm when my nerves were jangled from so! much! kid energy! all day long. It numbed me out a bit and I felt less overwhelmed (at least by the second glass).

It was my external cue to breathe. To relax.

And it was a tiny little glass, so no big deal, I reasoned.

I’d refill it once (or maybe twice) while I cooked.

I’d fill it again before dinner and sometimes (though not always) during cleanup, so I never knew exactly how much I was drinking. A glass? Surely more. Maybe two? Two and a bit? I wasn’t sure and that was fine. I think I didn’t really want to know because then I’d worry.

But the math wasn’t difficult. I knew how long a bottle (or a box) lasted, and I could reverse-calculate how much I was drinking, despite my optimistically small glass.

And I knew it was too much, even if no one else thought it was.

And I worried about it. Quite often, actually. Was I drinking too much? Was this bad for me? Could I become addicted? We have a family history, after all, and it’s a brutal one.

And what was I normalizing for my kids? What if they someday drank like this, too?

And finally: how much money was I spending this way every year? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

And the worries would loop, keeping me awake night after night. Though my anxiety spiraled, my behavior was consistend and year after year, and my small glass was always full (even if my internal cup was not).

And then one November, on a random Wednesday morning a few days before my daughter’s birthday, I woke up with a headache. And I laid in bed wondering, worrying: was it hormones, or stress? Or… malbec?

And I suppose simply because I was asking this question (again), and watching my kids growing up before my eyes with another birthday just around the bend, my worry loops accelerated. I so wanted a headache to just be a headache, not a red flag.

And laying there in bed that morning, my head throbbing, I knew that I wanted to finally be done.

Done worrying. Done doing harm to myself, Done throwing the dice on my family and my health. Done not knowing if it was a headache or a hangover.

And whether “done” meant a few days or a week or a month or forever, I had no idea (though honestly, a month sounded hard). I’d have to figure it out along the way. But I would start that very day.

I’m not great at moderation like other folks are. I’m all or nothing –in or out. And so I didn’t “cut back”. I quit. Without a plan or a vision, I went from daily drinking to not drinking at all. I poured the rest of my open wine bottle of red into a wide-mouth jar and threw in a splash of vinegar. Then it would be transformed into red wine vinegar for cooking and I wouldn’t be tempted. Would I regret it? Was this wasteful? Would I buy a new bottle the very next day? I didn’t know the answers as I poured, but leaned in to trusting my gut.

And with time, I would transform that half-bottle into something altogether different and more nourishing, and in doing so I would do the same with my life.

And I never looked back.

Today marks six years.

Six years of learning healthier ways to manage my overstimulation, anxiety, and stress. Six years of being more alive than I’ve been in ages. Six years of taking good care of my body, my brain, my liver, my gut, and my heart. Six years of better self-care.

Six years of life, lived wide awake–not half asleep.

Six years of loving and taking care of me.

And let’s not forget better sleep, less anxiety, and–yes–fewer headaches.

Growing up in Wisconsin, we normalized daily drinking. It’s Just What We Do Here. But damn. I have a long and tragic family history of alcoholism that took more than one life too soon and I didn’t want to throw those dice.

Nor did I want to normalize daily drinking to my kids.

Nor did I want to keep pouring so much money (of which we perpetually have not-quite-enough) into a glass.

Or keep doing harm to my body.

And so I quit.

And here we are.

Six years happier-healthier-wealthier-wiser. It was hands down the best decision I ever made, and I can’t imagine life any other way.

And, as it turns out, it wasn’t hard after all. (No, really!) I suffered far more in the drinking-and-worrying years than I have in the not-drinking years (by leagues). How ironic that I drank to quiet my anxiety only to give it to myself in spades through that very same action.

I had fantastic support during the first year (my husband Pete quit with me as well, until I felt sure-footed enough to carry on on my own). And while quitting for me was about rewiring a habit (not overcoming an addiction), it still felt like a big deal. And it still does today.

And I’m pretty darn proud of myself for going from drinking daily to not at all.

So why am I sharing this? Because in the years since I’ve quit, a few friends have reached out as they tentatively, cautiously, often privately embarked along this same sober path. It’s scary. And it can be lonely in a culture so enthusiastic about getting us drunk.

And whether those sober-curious friends looking for someone to witness the vastness of this leap or something more small and concrete like a few recipes for alcohol-free celebratory drinks, I want them (and you!) to know I’m here. I see you. And I believe in your strength to walk the path you so want to be on.

So if you’re looping in that all too familiar am-I-drinking-too-much? worry spiral, I just want you to know that I get it, I see you, and it is hard. And I also want you to know how lovely it is over here on the other side. And it’s not lonely at all. You’ve got this. I mean it.

Six years! Whoop!

5 thoughts on “When I quit drinking

  1. joan says:

    Beautifully written. Beautifully lived. Congratulations! I loved reading your post because it was so deeply felt and so deeply true. Thank you!

  2. Kathy Inkster says:

    Wow. Just wow! My 6th year sobriety date is this November 9. And our stories sound almost identical. (Except it took a whole lot of people and thousands of meetings to get me here!) I’m thrilled for you and appreciate you sharing your beautiful journey.

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