I’ve been asked to write this post for almost two years now, and for whatever reason, I just haven’t been ready. (I appreciate your patience!) I am finally comfortable enough with the journey that we’ve been through to find the words to share it with all of you. Here goes…
A Little Bit of Background.
To make a long story short, and in the interest of privacy, I’m giving you the slightly abbreviated version (but don’t be fooled – this post is looooong). I grew up in a loving and wonderful home that seemed almost perfect until I was 15. That was the year my parents got divorced and my whole world unraveled around me. Not soon after, I reached the age where high school kids start getting drunk at parties and wondering what alcohol is all about. But having seen what substance abuse had done to my family, I made a promise to myself that I would never let alcohol be something that affected my life again.
I didn’t drink a drop through all of high school, even though my friends started drinking and the temptation and opportunity were always there. Even so, I went to parties as the designated driver, and never minded the constant questions I got from others as to why I didn’t drink. But as comfortable as I was with it in high school around my close friends, I was incredibly nervous to start college in a sea of total strangers. I remember coming home at Christmas break and celebrating New Year’s Eve with my high school friends who asked, “are you still not drinking?”
Mid-way through my freshman year, I joined a sorority and my social calendar suddenly got a lot more full. At our very first sorority party, I ended up deciding –why not? – and drank a few beers. I realized that drinking was actually really fun, and that it gave me the social courage that had inhibited me so much before.
The rest of college was pretty typical. I drank – a LOT. But it was college and drinking was the norm – I was no different than anyone else. I sucked at beer pong, but I owned the table in flip cup, and I was always down for a drink off.
Drinking was never a problem for me, but it was certainly the focus of most of our college activities. Looking back now of course, I see it all differently. At the time I didn’t realize just how much time I spent planning drinking activities and recovering from late nights. It all seemed normal, and since everyone else was doing it I never gave it a second thought. My friends and I had four years of constant fun and parties.
Casey and I met in November of 2005, and as is the case for many relationships, ours was fueled by meeting up in bars, happy hours, and dinners over a bottle of wine. We were a great team and I was excited to have a new boyfriend who was always up for something fun. As our relationship grew and we got closer, Casey encouraged me to get into running and working out. The early days of dating and too many happy hours had helped me pack on a few extra pounds.
As I started to get healthier and more focused on fitness and nutrition, I realized that drinking became a lot less tempting, and a lot less important to me. The combination of my new healthy lifestyle along with the fact that I was simply growing up, ended with me passing up drinks and offering to be the designated driver more and more often.
The Tipping Point.
To make a long story, short – I had drastically scaled back my own drinking, but Casey was still drinking like a college kid. Again, it wasn’t really much different than what his friends or anyone else was doing, but I had gotten tired of the party scene and the issues that come along with drinking too much alcohol. The disconnect between our feelings on drinking was starting to affect our relationship. And the more we got into running and fitness, the harder it was for us to justify the unhealthy drinking activities planned on our weekends.
On top of a pretty heavy drinking habit, Casey has epilepsy. The closer our relationship grew, the more nervous I got about his potential seizures and slip ups with medicine after a few drinks. Finally, after one long out of town weekend of too much partying, Casey came home and told me he was done. No more drinking – none, zero, nada. He said that he had seen others head down similar paths, and he wanted to stop himself before he went any farther or lost any more time.
He never came out and asked me to stop drinking, because I volunteered to do it with him before he got the chance. There was no big last hurrah or anything of that nature. It was just over, plain and simple. I’d had my “last drink” a few days before, and didn’t even know it at the time. Giving up alcohol is similar to giving up meat – you make a decision and you stick to it.
The weeks and months that followed were difficult and awkward. People didn’t understand our decision, and we felt very socially isolated and unsure of how to spend our time. We overcompensated, and went out to dinner, movies, or other activities every weekend. Whether you consider yourself to be a big drinker or not, I can promise you this – you’ll never understand the role that alcohol plays in your life until you cut it out completely.
There is only one big negative that I have discovered since I stopped drinking. The hardest part about being a non-drinker is other people’s reaction to the decision.
The Social Paradox of a Non-Drinker.
“Why don’t you drink?” People don’t get it. Everyone wants a story, an explanation. No one judges you when you tell them you’re not into drugs, but alcohol – that’s another story. The first few months of our new non-drinking lifestyle were really tough – thank god we had each other.
We both had friends who didn’t understand, friends who always thought of us as fun partiers, and apparently not much more. We had other friends who rallied around us, making sure we felt comfortable and respected. I guess that’s why the saying goes “you find out who your friends are…”
But for the most part, people are really freaked out by non-drinkers. Someone mentions an upcoming wine tasting or beer sampler dinner in front of you, and suddenly a tension fills the air. But would they care as much if I was not drinking because I was pregnant? Giving up alcohol by choice makes people uncomfortable. And to be perfectly honest with you, in nearly two years of not drinking, we have both found that those who are the least comfortable around us, are also those who struggle the most with drinking themselves. I think that they think we know their secret.
There have been many occasions where I have felt left out and excluded from dinners, parties, and other occasions. Afterwards I’ve been offered “I didn’t think you’d want to come because you don’t drink.” Even if the intention was good, the effect is always hurtful. Maybe I would have gone, maybe I wouldn’t have – but the choice should have been mine.
I have no judgment for those who drink, and for the most part I don’t mind being around it. Just as I will sit at a table with meat eaters at dinner, I have no problem hanging out with friends over a table of beers. That is, of course, if they invite me.
Despite the social reactions we deal with, quitting drinking has been the best decision I’ve ever made. And even though I’ve given you all this back story, it’s not important why we quit drinking. The important part is why we’ll never start again.
A Better Way of Life.
While you may not believe me (and I don’t blame you – I wouldn’t have either), life without alcohol is so SO much better. Like I said, until you remove it completely, you don’t realize how much time and energy you spend planning to drink – seriously. Please understand, I don’t want to be preachy. I just want to show you that a life without alcohol isn’t as unfathomable as it seems. We have discovered so many wonderful things as non-drinkers.
I am never too hung-over to get up early and run. I never have to wonder how I will get home from a party because I can always drive myself. I never have to plan my workouts early in the day, because I know I’m going to happy hour in the afternoon. My bar and restaurant spending is down to almost nothing. My body always feels clean and happy and healthy. I dropped an additional 7 pounds when I stopped drinking. I am always in control of my thoughts and actions. I feel empowered by making a tough decision and sticking to it.
I started drinking when I was 19, and quit by the time I was 27. I’ve experienced both sides of the fence, and ultimately settled into life on the sober side, where after a year and a half, it finally feels peaceful and comfortable to write about today. For me, life is too precious to waste on being wasted.