I recently made an important and somewhat life-altering health decision...after a lot of deliberation and soul-searching, I have decided to embrace the world as a non-drinker.
I confess that the decision didn't come easily to me. In fact, I have been considering it for about a year. Yes, that's right, I said a year. Why so long? Well, I am the type of person who likes to think and plan and ruminate when it comes to making changes in my life, and believe me when I say that choosing to be a non-drinker was something I really wanted to research and explore before I decided to put it into practice. I wanted to truly think about how it might change my life. Or not change it.
It started with a pondering ("what might life be like as a person who doesn't drink alcohol?"), then reverted to a rejection of the idea ("but I would miss beer and wine too much, I couldn't possibly!"), then eventually morphed into something in between those two thoughts ("well, maybe I can do this, but should I? And if I do this, what will become of my social life?").
I do love beer. And I do love wine. And if I'm being honest, whiskey is my drink of choice. But the biggest reason this change seems so monumental to me is because of the phrase "I am giving it up". I'm the type of person who, when told she can't have something, decides that one thing she isn't "allowed" to have is the one thing she must have. I'm like a toddler in that regard. For example, I am not much of a dessert-eater. But if one day I declared I was no longer going to eat desserts, you better believe my chocolate cravings would spike.
So instead of saying "I'm giving it up", I am saying that I am "choosing to be a non-drinker". See what I did there? The first phrase is more Lenten. It sounds like I am being punished and having to withhold from consuming alcohol. The second phrase puts me in the driver seat - I am choosing this lifestyle. I don't have to, I want to. In my mind, there is a big difference.
You might be wondering why I am doing this. The easy answer is my health. I just turned 40 years old last month...I recognize I am now entering the second half of my life and I want to make it good. I don't just want to live a long life, I want the quality of my life to be excellent. I don't want to be saddled with chronic illnesses and a body and mind that begin deteriorating long before they should. I understand I can't fully control my health (a hard lesson I have spent 40 years learning), but there are some things I can control that can put me at less risk for disease and other health issues. I can control how I treat my body, what I put into it, and my attitude towards my life.
The not-as-easy answer is that in the last year or so, I began worrying a little about how I was handling my anxiety, and I was concerned that I was relying too much on alcohol to self-medicate as a method of coping with it. Using alcohol to soothe anxiety is counterproductive because consuming alcohol can actually cause more anxiety (and depression). So really it's the type of situation that can become a vicious cycle and can spiral into addiction. I'm not saying that was the inevitable outcome for me - or anyone else who might be in my situation - but it was not outside the realm of possibility.
I consider myself a fairly introspective person who is not afraid to confront my own weaknesses - and who is not afraid to search for solutions to help overcome those weaknesses - and so I decided to take a break from consuming alcohol for a while and in turn, research ways to be more mentally fit (as well as physically strong), and educate myself on how to do so - without the use of alcohol.
I have done a few challenging things in my life that I am quite proud of: I'm a mom (hardest job I have ever done 😉), I got my master's degree while working full time, and I have trained for and completed 2 full marathons (and am in the process of training for my 3rd). But the decision to become a non-drinker is up there for being one of the most challenging projects in my life so far. Why? Well, one reason is because we live in a culture that embraces social activities that are very alcohol-centric: wine tastings, beer festivals, all inclusive packages on cruise ships, the list goes on and on. How does a non-drinker socialize in these situations? Is it boring to be at a wine tasting without a glass in your hand? I have no idea! I have never explored this before now (aside from when I was pregnant and nursing - but then I was doing it for the baby and not really for my own health, this time I am doing it for me), and I am learning a lot about myself.
I am a bit of an introvert (this a huge understatement: I am the poster child for all introverts), so socializing without a glass of wine or a beer bottle in my hand is new territory for me. In the past, holding that drink would give me confidence and would also serve as a protective armor sometimes. As a non-drinker, I can still be at a party with a cup in my hand, but now it will contain seltzer water or diet soda instead of booze. Off goes my chain mail and my helmet, and here I am, just me - being me. It's scary but I am enjoying the challenge of learning how to be the real me with people. A skill I never really gave myself a chance to hone.
Like training for a marathon or taking a graduate course, embracing this new lifestyle forces me to be a little uncomfortable, to feel like a novice, and to be a little scared. When I was younger I shied away from challenges like these. I used to run from the things that made me uncomfortable - the path of least resistance was my favorite path. But now as I am getting older, I am learning to step outside of my comfort zone, because I recognize that is where I can grow.
So why am I writing about this? Well, why do I write about anything concerning health and wellness? 😊 I enjoy sharing my thoughts about being mentally and physically healthy. And also, by sharing this with people, I feel like I am holding myself accountable. I don't have to share what is or is not in my cup, that's my business...but I wanted to share it.
So, you may be wondering how long I plan to be a non-drinker. Is this a permanent thing? Am I "off the sauce" for good? Truth is, I don't know. I am not assigning a timeline to it. And I am not saying that as a way to bail on this lifestyle when it gets tough or if I get bored of it. I am saying that because my decision to not drink alcohol currently has to do with my physical and mental well-being. I feel like I need this hiatus from consuming alcohol and I don't know how long that hiatus will be. Could be days, weeks, months, or years. All I can do is focus on what I need right now, today. And today this is what I need. We'll see what tomorrow brings.