I’ve never been a heavy drinker. Before last year, I drank 1-2 times a week, generally composed of a single glass of wine. But in 2017 I got divorced and my consciousness, covered in black, felt no qualms about self-soothing with tequila. By the time that the emotional rain began to ease, I was craving a drink with lunch if my morning had been stressful. This was a red flag to me. Had a crutch been born?
One core truism that I’ve learned as a Health Coach and in my own wellness journey is: the body has its own wisdom; it knows what to do. Inspired by an article by Cayla Vidar published on Medium, I decided to commit to my own personal challenge to abstain from alcohol for 21 days with the goal of uncovering whatever biological and emotional insights might be hidden by alcohol. I wanted to "clear the clutter” provided by alcohol and tune into my body’s own reactions.
The following are my observations:
Vanity is revealed. Getting a table for one is embarrassing, my pride won’t let me do it. For some women, dining alone is a matter of logistics; they dine alone on business travel regularly. But, I lost a lover, a playmate, and a beloved dinner partner. I never dined alone before divorce because I never had to. The silence of absence is deafening. In the privacy of my home, I dine alone without loneliness or the loud emptiness of company. I am, in fact, never lonely when I am alone. But if I want tequila, I prefer to leave the mixing to someone else. To request a table for one, there is the implied question of: for a party of just one? One hostess, in an effort to be thoughtful, offered me a magazine when leading me to a table and was moderately incredulous when I declined. To dine alone is to expose myself to pity. To sit at the bar is to order a drink. This is how I discovered that drinking at the bar was a cover for dining alone.
Creativity replaces drinking. I considered having a drink every single day for the first 5 days without exception. Anytime around and after lunch was fair game. It was hard to tell if the desire for a drink was exaggerated by the knowledge of abstention because “deprivation breeds desire for the forbidden”. By day 6, I started to find new ways to spend the mental energy previously occupied by suspended desire. I was no longer craving habits that induced me to drink, I no longer wanted a drink when I was stressed. I craved instead artistic expression when I was stressed, when I had free time, when I was bored. My artistic hobbies were reborn.
Unconscious habits are illuminated. One day I experienced a long, tense day at work and a tiff with a loved one. As I was leaving work, my first thought was Centrolina, my favorite Italian restaurant in DC with fresh roasted Branzino and a bartender who knows me by name. Rosé on my own at the bar is my desired stress medicine. Except I was still under terms of absentia. I rolled my eyes when I considered this stupid cessation of normality. Then I wondered: what else could I do to accomplish calmer, smoother nerves in the manner of tequila without the tequila? The answer proved to be: quiet meditation in my home, tea by twilight.
Emotional chaos requires new tools and coping mechanisms. If I am to survive modern life with its stressors and disappointments, I need some way to intercept the stress and sadness. Alcohol, in moderation, is (to me) one method of acceptable assistance. Thank God that it isn’t illegal, immoral or sinful. However, alcohol can mask a real emotional problem. The pain of divorce needed to be felt at full force and glory, without chaser, to negotiate the journey of healing. Another acceptable form: vigorous exercise. My fitness coach describes exercise, especially vigorous cardio, as “emptying the emotional tank”. I can attest that serious cardio or strength training deliciously clarifies a congested emotional state. The rinsing of emotions is, on its own, a useful survival strategy.
Social Drinking is Habit Forming. We drink because our friends drink. It is culturally accepted in many parts of the world as a method of recreation. Social drinking (meaning: for fun and with friends) imbues social conditioning to drink because that is the accepted and expected thing to do within certain social contexts. It is fun while also potentially dangerous and habit-forming. If we are to interrupt the habit for whatever reason that we choose, we need to either find new friends or we choose to abstain while dining with friends - both of which are somewhat challenging to do. Habits are powerful. I want my triggers to be known, my habits healthy, and my choices conscious.
Social Clarity Arrives. Some people are only fun when you are both tipsy. I learned to avoid these people.
Save money. As I created new habits such as tea instead of tequila and of practicing art instead of dining at the bar, I saved money. I spent more time at home too because I wasn’t dining with friends who drink and that usually meant that I wasn’t dining with friends. Surprisingly, this did not feel like a sacrifice or a hardship. I felt more conscious of what I was choosing to say yes to (better sleep, artistic expression) and what I was choosing to say no to (spending money on alcohol, dehydration, people who drain me).
Learn to Listen to the body. Abstention gave me better, more restful sleep and a dedicated bedtime. I felt genuinely sleepy between 10-10:30 and when I would listen to my body and go to bed, I awoke refreshed and alert. After this 21-day experiment was over, I realized that drinking alcohol after 7pm consistently interrupts my sleep. Which means, if I am dining after 7pm and I want to actually sleep afterwards, I should decline any alcohol. As a cosmopolitan young woman, this is sad information. Who, besides grandparents and babies, eats dinner before 7pm?
The experiment was clarifying and illuminating. It allowed me to check in with myself and confirm that I wasn’t dependent on alcohol to survive modern life and gave me greater compassion for those who might be. It allowed me to tune into my body and discover its messages that inform my choices for greater alignment to my body’s truth and wisdom, which as a Health Coach I know means better holistic health. It gave me a sense of accomplishment, and perhaps most importantly, visibility of my personal power to change my habits, patterns, and outcomes.