July 2020

Cheers to Freedom

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

My name is Linda. I am not an alcoholic, nor am I powerless over alcohol. In fact, I have recently discovered how powerful I am by leaving a toxic relationship—the one I had with the most commonly available and socially esteemed drug on the planet. I have not had a drop of alcohol in six months. In fact, I’m no longer even tempted to drink. Let me tell you why.

The “problem” with alcohol
When I tell people I stopped drinking, they automatically assume I had a “problem.” My problem was limited to two glasses of wine a night—not an unreasonable amount of alcohol to consume by modern social standards, certainly a far cry from rock bottom, but enough to lead me to question myself. In the back of my mind, a little voice was saying, “This can’t be good for you.” But since I had no specific alcohol-related illness or serious signs of addiction, I popped the cork anyway—every night for the last 18 years.

One evening towards the end of 2019, while sipping a glass of chardonnay and scrolling my Facebook page, a sponsored ad popped up for an organization called One Year No Beer (OYNB). Something about it intrigued me, so I read the post—a woman’s story of how her life changed when she stopped drinking. Her testimonial was just enough to pique my curiosity, and I began to wonder what would happen should I decide to take a ride on that wagon.

The relationship
Wine had become my best friend after five o’clock. It was my treat at the end of the day—something to look forward to, a reward for a hard day’s work. It was my companion on lonely nights and something to do when I was bored. It took the edge off the day, helped me get relaxed, and made social gatherings more fun, or so I thought. These were the benefits I believed I was receiving. And like anyone who drinks alcohol on a regular basis, I could always rationalize it: “I’m ‘only’ having two.”

I was quick to ignore health warnings (alcohol use increases breast cancer risk by 30-50 percent) and recommendations for women (women should limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day). Maybe I thought the rules didn’t apply to me, or perhaps I took my good health for granted. After all, my blood work was fine; I was at the gym every day; I never got drunk or had a hangover.

I had noticed some evidence, however, that alcohol wasn’t doing me any favors. The most telling signs were dehydrated skin and disrupted sleep. After dozing off in my evening wine fog, I would wake up a couple of hours later and toss and turn the rest of the night. I refused to acknowledge that my “friend” had anything to do with it, but deep inside, I knew.

How we met
Ironically, I was never much of a drinker in my younger years. I was introduced to alcohol in college, where I did my part to support the beer industry. But by my senior year, I was done with beer busts and keg parties, ready to settle down.

In my early 20s, I married a health-conscious, athletic non-drinker. We would occasionally have a glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant or at a social event, but we never drank at home or even had alcohol available in our home unless we were hosting a party.

It was after my husband passed away in 2001 that I began drinking nightly. Back on the dating scene for the first time in 20 years, it was the social thing to do, and it helped me escape, however briefly, the pain of my profound loss.

In 2002, I began dating the man I would eventually marry, who was/is a wine connoisseur. I got caught up in his way of life, which included wine with dinner every night, frequent wine tastings, happy hours, wine-themed parties, wine club memberships, a fully stocked wine fridge in the house, etc. The habit took hold, but I continued to believe it was all in fun. I was in control. I didn’t really need wine; I just liked it. That was the story I told myself.

It was only this year when I decided to quit that I discovered how sneaky alcohol had been. Like a malicious cyber attacker, it had secretly infiltrated my operating system without my being aware.

The breakup
The Facebook post for OYNB included an offer to participate in a complimentary five-day alcohol-free challenge. I took the bait, unsure if I would complete five days but figuring I had nothing to lose. I told no one, not even my husband, for fear I might fail or that I would be less socially accepted. For the next five days, I had hot tea with dinner. My throat felt a little scratchy, providing the excuse I needed to substitute tea for my usual wine. This was one of the first of many aha moments. Why on earth would I need an excuse not to drink?

The challenge included brief daily videos offering educational resources, encouragement, and support. One of the attractive things about the program was that it didn’t require a label, a daily meeting or an admission of weakness—only a desire to make a change, however big or small.

After five evening meals with no wine and marking my progress on a calendar, not drinking started to feel slightly less awkward and more natural. And so I decided to up the ante by signing up for the 28-day challenge—a paid program that included continued support and more resources, including access to an online library of materials and membership in a private Facebook group, where people from all over the world meet to share their AF journey. With a decidedly British cultural feel (because that’s where the program originated), the thing I had in common with everyone there was a desire to release myself from a harmful and potentially progressive habit. Goals varied. Some participants were looking to moderate or become occasional drinkers, others to quit forever. For me, it was an experiment to see what my life would look like without alcohol.

The benefits
The first benefit I noticed was a significant improvement in my sleep. Within a week or so, I began sleeping soundly through the night and having vivid dreams for the first time in years. The added bonus? No more leg cramps, sour breath, or cotton mouth. I woke up feeling refreshed and energized each day without the underlying anxiety and depression that had so often visited in the past. Next, I began noticing an improvement in my skin tone and complexion. Additional benefits I’m noticing now include effortless weight management, more time, more money in my bank account, increased energy and productivity, clear thinking, improved concentration, less marital conflict, higher self-esteem, greater self-confidence, more patience, and a strong sense of empowerment and accomplishment.

The ultimate freedom
When I started the OYNB alcohol-free challenge, I had no intention of quitting forever. But that is where I am today, the decision firmly made—alcohol, like a bad boyfriend, in the rearview mirror for good. How did I go from nightly drinker to not-even-tempted teetotaler?

After reading several books and articles, commonly referred to as “quit lit,” my eyes are wide open. (I recommend “This Naked Life,” and/or “The Alcohol Experiment,” by Annie Grace for starters.) It’s clear to me now that there are zero benefits to drinking, therefore eliminating my desire for alcohol and the need for any self-control around the substance. I’m no longer lured in by the empty promise of a more fun version of myself, and I find no need for alcohol’s false sense of relaxation or artificial happiness. I’m no longer trapped by a belief that life without alcohol is boring. I’m having the time of my life without it.

Quitting is easy once you see alcohol for what it is: attractively packaged poison. But simply understanding that fact would not, in and of itself, inspire change. Rarely do we stop a behavior because it is bad for us. We stop when it holds no appeal.

Alcohol masquerades as the cool, sophisticated, fun, glamorous, sexy thing to do, much like smoking did back in the 1950s. And yes, everybody’s doing it. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 86.3 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 55.3 percent reported that they drank in the past month. Based on my personal observations, I would say the numbers might even be higher, as the vast majority of my friends, family members, associates, and acquaintances drink.

But here’s what I’ve learned. No one likes me less because I don’t drink, and no one really cares what’s in my glass. I personally don’t care what’s in yours either. So, if you see me at my favorite restaurant or at a party, please don’t avoid me for fear I will judge you by your drink order. If I talk about my new alcohol-free life, it is not to convince you but to share the positive changes that have come about for me. It’s hard to contain my excitement.

Cheers to health and happiness. Cheers to freedom.

  1. Great. Freedom. The best
    To you and Tom

    — Jim McCready    Jul 4, 09:44 pm   

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