I wanted to share something a bit personal in case it might be helpful to someone else. Dec. 30 was my birthday, and one year since I last drank alcohol. It’s been life changing, and I wanted to talk about My Why.
You may know of Dry January. It’s a chance to reset after the holidays, and I started a little early last year after a particularly “fun” birthday. For me, last year was different because a tiny voice had started whispering that alcohol might actually be the total opposite of what I thought it was. I’d begun to notice the pervasiveness of “mommy wine” culture in my own life, in my newsfeed, in the abundance of female-targeted alcohol. As a working mom, I bought into deserving my evening glass(es), believing they gave me happiness and a moment of liberation from the chaos of life. To help with sleep, anxiety, stress, and socializing. To build relationships. But the tiny voice was there, and countering two decades of my beliefs and behaviors.
I spent Dry January not just abstaining but also learning. I learned how, even in moderation, alcohol affects my brain, my sleep, my metabolism, my mood. I learned more about the history of alcohol in our culture, and about the history of alcohol advertising, especially towards women. I learned about the risks and costs associated with alcohol use, both to us individually and to us as a society. I read memoirs by people who’d decided to live without alcohol, and I felt inspired.
You might think a physician already knows the objective data, and generally that’s true. But the other truth is that alcohol is a venerated substance in our culture. Even physicians have a lifetime of conditioning that alcohol is helpful and necessary, to justify their own use. Turns out, it took a lot of cognitive dissonance to rationalize my own use in the face of caring for the repercussions of alcohol use in my patients. When my own long-held beliefs began to loosen, it also began to make less sense to drink at all.
I reached the end of Dry January feeling peaceful, healthier, better rested, and more patient. After spending this time learning, I no longer felt I was depriving myself of anything.
I began to remember who I really am and what truly brings me joy. I began to grow again, learning new tools and perspectives on which to build my life. I began to see blessings and opened doors where I’d overlooked them before. I noticed a new curiosity for myself and the world around me, and from that curiosity grew love, compassion, and happiness in ways I haven’t experienced since childhood.
When the pandemic hit, I cried. Out of stress, sadness, and frustration, but also out of gratitude. I felt immensely thankful that I’d already stopped drinking, especially as memes of moms “coping” popped up everywhere. I am not a religious person, but it’s the closest I’ve felt that God really does have a hand in my life. This year has been horrible for so many, and I can see how lucky I am, in many ways. I found strength that I didn’t know I possessed, and I really think I only found this strength because the process of eliminating alcohol started a path of self-reflection and discovery.
In the past year, I found my job in the ER more saddening and frustrating than I felt I had the bandwidth for, yet somehow I did. I spent more time being a stay-at-home mom than I ever envisioned for myself, which I think would’ve made me feel quite indignant in prior years. This year, it felt like an opportunity—while I might have taught my kids some bad words along the way (oops), my family grew in our relationships and in our ability to just be together. I ran for political office when I saw current leaders making irresponsible and supercilious choices, hoping I could be a voice for those I saw disparately affected by this pandemic. I upped my exercising, and I can finally run a 7:30-mile pace again. Tasks of everyday life feel less like onerous chores. I saved a ton of money, almost $5,000 in fact, by not buying alcohol and by cooking at home more. I sleep really well (usually). I feel present. I feel connected. I can usually hear my inner voice pretty clearly.
So I say, if you hear a little voice questioning a habit or behavior in your life, alcohol or otherwise, listen to it and see where the question takes you. It might be a journey for your soul. It might be an open door. I don’t necessarily regret my drinking past, especially those college years, but it’s not the present or future I choose for myself, and it’s not the life I’d choose for my kids. It’s too concrete for me to say I’ll never drink again but, at this point in my life, I’m not sure why I ever would.