One year ago I had my last drink of alcohol. Already with that short sentence I can feel the judgement of some that read it. Perhaps after finishing reading this your judgment will change. What is weird about my story is some people, who I would consider friends, or even family, people I am close to do not know that I quit. I never wanted to make it a big deal, partially because I knew people would not accept it. I would get asked questions I didn’t want to answer, I would get comments that would make me question my goals and so I, for a year, kept it relatively quiet. That said, I didn’t hide it either, I attended everything I normally did and I would order water, if asked why I would just respond with, “Not drinking today”. Certainly not a lie but I purposely left out the part that I was quitting. I didn’t feel I had to explain anything, I am allowed to live a life some people don’t understand.
I do think it is weird that alcohol is the only drug you have to constantly explain to people the reason you choose not to do it. You never hear someone say “Oh, why not?” after being told that their friend doesn’t smoke crack. However even the few people who know I quit couldn’t help themselves from asking that question. I always tried to avoid the question because it made me feel like I was put on the spot, isolated and made me feel like I should feel shame for no longer giving in to the societal norm. Yet here I am right now writing several paragraphs to whoever chooses to care. I hesitated to write this, I didn’t think anyone would care and those did would only use it to judge further. However uncomfortable it is for me to talk about I know that if I am serious about change, I have to go through some uncomfortable situations. These situations are part of the process and it is in them where I will grow.
To tell you why I quit drinking alcohol I feel like I should start with telling you why I did it in the first place. Drinking is much a part of our society, perhaps alcohol is the greatest accomplishment of Madison Avenue and the ad agencies that call it home. We drink to celebrate, we drink to mourn, we drink for courage, we drink to socialize and we drink to cope and I did it for all those reasons as well. I rarely drank at home but I loved being out and socializing with a beer. What I began to notice over the last year is that drinking started to become less of a joy and more of a hindrance. I drank to relax and became anxious, I drank to be social but ended up feeling alone. Then to cover up those symptoms I turned to more drinks. It became a cycle that was difficult to notice while I was in it. That is why stopping something like drinking can be so difficult even if it is not a physical addiction; drinking can be destructive while being incredibly intimate. You become so close with your illness that leaving it behind is like killing the part of yourself that taught you how to survive.
I knew it wasn’t healthy. I knew in my heart that my habits were not leading me toward goals I had for myself. Professional goals, personal goals, health goals, everything I worked toward was in jeopardy because for some reason I felt that I was defined by being this social guy who was always happy to have a beer or 5 with you. This story isn’t one with an intervention from family or friends, in fact most people who I would often have a drink with had no idea it was affecting me as badly as it was. It was only when I got really honest with myself did I realize how much it was holding me back.
You see I didn’t understand having one drink, I never wanted one drink I wanted an entire evening of drinks. I wanted the laughs and friends that I only associated with a pint glass in my hand. It was the morning after my last night of drinking that it finally hit me. I had shame. Shame that I let it get to where it was. I remember it was a Saturday morning. I spent the day in my own head. Questioning why I was self destructing. Asking myself if my behavior was lined up with my goals. Thinking about my family, my wife and how she has probably seen this progressively worsen but had been afraid to say anything for fear of how I would react. My daughter, oh my daughter. As I laid on the couch in silence just thinking of how my daughter’s view of me may have changed, and if it hadn’t yet it certainly would if I stayed on the path I was on. That was it for me. I decided that day that I wanted to heal because I have a daughter, wife, and friends who don’t deserve a broken version of me.
February 22, 2020 I became alcohol free. Physically it wasn’t difficult for me to quit, as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t physically addicted, it was mental. Those first few weeks were more inconvenient than anything else. Meeting friends out after work for a drink was what I did, connecting at a brewery’s beer garden on a Saturday afternoon was my weekend thing, without it I was confused. I became bored easily which was frustrating. I thought a few times about just saying “the hell with this” and calling a friend to meet me somewhere. However I knew that each day I stayed sober it would be harder for me to give up that sobriety so I just stayed course. My wife was a big support and she had to be because in the beginning she was the only one who knew. Eventually over time a handful of friends found out, most of them supportive. There were certainly a few times where people saw I wasn’t drinking and became confused, even at times appeared irritated by the notion that they lost a drinking buddy.
That was probably one the largest fears I had, and still have. That is the reason I avoided telling most people that I no longer wanted to drink. I was afraid of being isolated. I was afraid I would no longer be invited to go out after work with friends or that I would quit being part of conversations, parties or get-togethers. I didn’t want any of that to stop. I had no real problems being around alcohol, I mean sure in the beginning when I saw a someone drinking a beer outside I would think “that looks good” but the feeling would pass quickly. Because I was afraid of that social loss, I avoided telling most people. Of course, until now. One year in I feel confident enough to let people know I am not who I was before. I have now become addicted to bettering myself everyday.
Deciding to stop drinking was something I needed to do. I have dealt with anxiety and had spats of depression and drinking was only making that worse. I would drink to help control the emotions I felt but what I came to realize was that controlling your emotions doesn’t mean avoiding your emotions. You have to feel it to understand it. Today I can actually feel, I am no longer numbing the uncomfortable things in my life. Today when I say “I don’t drink” what I mean is “I don’t check out, I don’t avoid my problems, I don’t give myself an excuse” It was hard at first but eventually that goes away. Then that insecurity goes away that often led me to drink in the first place.
One year in and I am still working on myself but alcohol has little to nothing to do with it anymore. It is no longer the roadblock stoping me from progress. I tried to work on other aspects of my life before I quit drinking but I couldn’t heal because I kept pretending I wasn’t hurt. For the last year I have been sober, and that is such an emotional thing for me to say. No one sees my darkest moments but I have been silently winning battles every day.
This is my story, it is not special but it is my truth. This past year I have learned that there are thousands of stories similar to mine but unique in their own way. I finally share mine for a few reasons. One is for a long time I felt drinking was part of who I was when it was just stopping me from becoming what I could be. I am proud that I committed to change and stuck with it despite the year giving me plenty of reasons to fall back into old habits.
Secondly, I hope someone who reads this will look at their own life differently. I am not on a mission to rid alcohol from everyone but to hopefully change the way that some people think of it and to tell people that the community of us who choose not to drink is growing rapidly. We all make choices for ourselves, some good and some bad but they are ours. If someone you know doesn’t drink or shares with you that they want to quit, don’t question their motives. Treat it the same as you would if someone told you they want to quit smoking. Encourage them, appreciate their courage and respect their decision.
Lastly, I share this to tell those that have helped me this past year thank you. Family, friends and even a few strangers all had a part in my success. I know I didn’t do this alone and no one should ever feel they have to. I am grateful for where I am and enthusiastic for the future. I mean if this much change can happen in one year, how can I not be excited for the next one?