When I started craving a beer in the afternoon, I knew something had to change.
My name is Elizabeth, and I’m not an alcoholic.
At least, I don’t think I am. But I don’t drink anymore.
That’s because one afternoon last spring, while I was working – writing an article, just like I’m doing now – I got up for a drink of water and ended up cracking open a beer.
It was a Tuesday, I think, or possibly a Wednesday, sometime after one in the afternoon, but before two. In any case, it was definitely not a time when people usually drink. It wasn’t a special occasion, or even a particularly stressful day. I just really wanted a beer, and I drank the whole thing in about 15 minutes. Sitting there, well before 3pm and feeling quite buzzed (I’m a lightweight), I realized I might be going down a bad road.
I’d recently fallen into the habit of having a glass of wine every night with dinner; actually, I had the first glass while I was making dinner, and just kept topping it off right through clearing the table and loading the dishwasher. How many glasses have you had, if you never finish a glass? One, right? That was my reasoning.
It took a couple of weeks, but sometime after that afternoon beer, I quit completely. Cold turkey. I decided to do a dry month, then see how I felt. And because I figured it would be easier to quit something if I also started something else at the same time, I vowed to start meditating every day, too. I’m a huge fan of Pema Chödrön and devour her books, but the main thing she talks about all the time – meditation – I wasn’t really into. I was a skeptic. Nevertheless, I set my alarm ten minutes early and arranged myself on a pillow at the end of my bed every morning, letting my thoughts come and go, like clouds, just like Chödrön says to do.
After my “dry month,” I had a beer with a friend, and a sip of sangria at a picnic, but it didn’t really do anything for me, so I went back to not drinking, and mostly stuck with the meditation, as well. Now, that dry month has turned into nearly six months, and while I do miss my favorite spicy margarita, I don’t ever intend to go back to my daily drinking habit.
I don’t know if I was really on the road to becoming an alcoholic. But I do know that all of the following things happened when I quit drinking and started meditating – and I also know that life is better now. Cheers to that (but make mine a mocktail, please).
1. I lost weight without even trying
This isn’t the first thing that happened – it was a few weeks before I noticed that my clothes were getting loose on me – but it was probably the thing I was the most pleasantly surprised by. I know alcohol has a high calorie count, but I hadn’t imagined I’d lose upwards of 10 pounds in less than two months. I must have been drinking more than I realized.
2. Falling asleep was easier
When I was drinking every night, I’d forget how tired I was and end up staying up late, eating snacks and mindlessly scrolling on my phone. Then I’d have trouble falling asleep, and trouble waking up. After I quit, I got into bed with my book at a decent hour, fell asleep quickly, and woke with the sun, which is my usual morning-person way. I think the meditation helped with this too; I was incredulous that sitting still for 10 minutes could really make a difference to my well being, but it seems to have done something.
3. I felt more in control of my life
During the time I’d fallen into my nightly wine habit, I’d stopped journaling, and cut way down on the number of miles I was running. Since running is one of the main ways I deal with my anxiety and depression, and writing is my livelihood, this wreaked all sorts of havoc with my state of mind. I sank into a depression and struggled to string sentences together. Once I was sober and practicing meditation, my mind cleared and I felt like myself again.
4. Social occasions got a little weird
It definitely feels strange to go to a bar with your friends and order a seltzer. People ask why you’re not drinking; if you’re not prepared with either a witty or a sincere answer, it can feel awkward. A couple of people pressured me to drink – “Just one glass of wine, come on, wine is good for you!” – and it took me by surprise. Why should other people care if I was drinking or not? But some of them seemed to. After a while, they got used to it and it stopped being a thing. But I still feel kind of funny asking if someone wants to go get drinks, knowing that I’m going to have a cranberry-and-lime seltzer.
5. I stopped losing my temper
I’ve always struggled with my temper, but when I’m drinking – even one drink – I can go from perfectly calm to crying hysterical tears in sixty seconds flat. I snap at my children, I say things I don’t mean, I lose all sense of perspective and catastrophize the smallest things. Basically, I lose my shit very, very easily when I’ve been drinking. When I stopped – and with the help of the meditation, which taught me to observe my emotions, letting them roll in and wash out like the ocean – all of that stopped, too.
6. My bank account got fatter
Okay, it got a little bit fatter. I never spent that much money drinking – at bars, people always buy me drinks, and my local wine store had some great bargain bottles. Still, skipping the six-pack at the bodega and no longer buying wine at all had a net positive impact on my bottom line.
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Comment: Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a while?