The following is from the June 2015 issue of my ezine, That’s Forkin’ Amazing! (If you like this, you can subscribe and receive it monthly!)
Alcohol is a ubiquitous part of modern life. We toast the bride, ring in the New Year and celebrate communion by partaking in alcoholic beverages. If you’ve ever vowed to hop on the wagon—for the week, a month or even for just for one day—you’re not alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that over 30% of adults in the U.S. did not drink alcohol last year.
So, whether a break from alcohol is your New Year’s resolution, a mandate from a partner or the result of a DUI, the feelings you experience will probably run the gamut. You can expect to feel alternately anxious, excited, resigned, deprived, smug, bored, elated and more. Believe me, I know.
It started innocently enough
My most recent cocktail was June 23, 2014. My goal was a simple one: take the week off from booze. I had been “celebrating” the second season of my television show Fork in the Road with Sheree Clark, since before our June first premiere and I had noticed the toll that my merriment was taking. I felt tired. Looked bloated. Slept like shit.
The truth is my alcohol consumption had been steadily climbing over the last couple of years. Once I left my former career behind—the one that demanded that I fly over 100,000 miles a year for business—I had more time for socializing. I could accept more dinner party invitations and say yes to more social events. I no longer had to be up to catch 5:50 a.m. flights to Chicago. And now that my career involved food, it also involved…wine! Little by little, I realized, I had begun to drink wine nearly every day. Yes, it was mostly organic. Yes, I balanced with my healthy eating habits. Still, I was starting to feel out of control. I needed to knock it off. Just for a week, I said. Make it through a weekend, I told myself. Then, I would be back to normal. I just needed a breather.
But something happened. After a few days of not having drinks after work, I realized that feeling tired and bloated were just the surface conditions of over-indulging. I also had developed some bad habits: I was using alcohol to numb-out, and to “take the edge off” of just about every activity where it would be considered acceptable. I was getting less done. My yoga practice had reached a plateau. I was settling for “good enough” in a lot of ways. And I didn’t like it. So, I moved the finish line: I’d go alcohol-free for thirty days: until July 24.
When I look back at my journal from that time, I am amazed I made it through that first month. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the change was not easy for me. I wrote about feeling depressed and anxious, and how I was having trouble falling asleep. I felt awkward at certain social events (they’re all about the drink, have you ever noticed?). I deliberately arrived late for a few get-togethers, just to avoid the cocktail hour.
I knew that the best way to break a habit is to replace it with a different one, so I started doing new things, including a daily morning meditation and writing in my long-neglected journal. I revisited counseling. I participated in (and also led) several group experiences. None of these activities was specifically alcohol—or abstinence—related. They were just things I did in the name of personal growth. And being sober, I think, made the effects more pronounced and more rapid.
So when July 24 rolled around I was faced with a decision: do I resume drinking, or don’t I? After a month of abstinence, things had settled into a new normal. I didn’t think, “I’d love a glass of wine” so often anymore. I had figured out how to navigate social situations, either by simply not calling attention to my choice, or by faking it, depending on whom I was with. (Faking it meant I walked around with the same glass of wine as a prop the entire evening.) My sleep had become more refreshing. My yoga stretches deeper. I liked where I was headed. So…the new finish line was December 24. Yes, I thought: Christmas Eve, how perfect!
Where does the time go?
On the morning of Christmas Eve I received word that the presenting sponsor for the third season of my TV show had been deemed insolvent. The show’s new season would be delayed or possibly even cancelled. And so I had the perfect storm: I had crossed the six-month finish line, it was a holiday and I had every good reason to drown my sorrows. Which is precisely why I didn’t.
Now, as I write this, I am practically moments away from the one-year mark. I don’t know what will come next and the best part is that it doesn’t even matter anymore. I could never, ever have imagined saying that last summer. What I also could not have anticipated is the reaction I have received from others. Responses from people upon discovering that I am alcohol free have ranged from a curiosity bordering on fascination to being practically shunned. (Please remember, when you run into someone like me who is abstaining, whether temporarily or for the long-term, that it’s not a commentary on your drinking and nobody is trying to ruin anyone’s fun!) But most people—especially my partying friends—are intrigued. Many feel they “should take a break” but they don’t know how or are afraid to try. Some of them look to me, hoping to summon the courage to move forward into unfamiliar terrain.
If you’re one of those who are evaluating your relationship with alcohol, it is no coincidence you are reading this. I don’t have answers for you (I barely have them for me!). But I can tell you this: there are scores of ways to quit drinking, if that is what you want to do, and there is no single right way. In my case, I do believe that thinking about “never” drinking again would have gotten me stuck. In the early days of abstinence, everything was already hard, so the idea of never was just too much. Today I can entertain the thought that I never need to drink again. But that may change. I can tell you this much: in the past year I have never once gotten up for my 5:00 a.m. yoga class and thought “Damn, I wish I’d had a few drinks last night.”
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