What I Learned By Not Drinking

Every year, I give up drinking for at least 2 months

I’m pretty open about the fact that I drink a lot. Pretty much each day, give or take. But for a few months each, for the last five years, I’ve taken a break from booze altogether. And every year, I relearn the same things:

1.) The hard part isn’t physical

At least not for me. I don’t have a physical dependency on alcohol.

So…. I mean. That’s good.

I say this not as an accolade, but because people often ask and I sometimes wonder. But no, I don’t experience withdrawal. I don’t experience shaking. I don’t have emotional side effects. I count myself blessed, because so many do.

I guess maybe that makes sense, because I don’t drink to get drunk.

I’m not a black-out drunk, I hate the spins, and I’ve only thrown up a handful of times. I absolute hate the feeling of being drunk. I just like the habit of having a beer. I’m that “social drinker,” “recreational drinker,” “casual drinker” that so many of us are — and think others are.

I won’t drink just anything — I don’t care for wine or hard liquor (vodka and I had a particularly tumultuous breakup — not because of vomit, but the “emotional hangover” it gives me.) I just like beer.

That’s not to say that beer isn’t unhealthy, because it is. But what all of this means is that my beer habit is closer to a cookie or soda or fast food habit, and less like cigarettes.

I may sound like that seemingly-delusional addict who says “I can stop any time I want,” except I actually do. I am not physically addicted in the way an addict is…

I stop the second I want to

Like, sometimes I decide having barely decided. I’ll decide mid-day, mid-week; hell, I’ll stop mid-drink if I’m done. And then I’ll set a timeframe and last the whole time. Stopping isn’t the hard part.

2.) …Which means my habit is in my head

It’s Pavlovian.

I reach for a beer when I get home in the way some people flip on the TV. I have a beer out at lunch — because I can. I’ll drink beer to write, I’ll drink beer to get ready. I like the feel of a glass or bottle in my hand while out with friends.

And yeah, sure, I like the taste and friendly, baby buzz of beer. But mostly, I like the habit.

Now on to the other parts of what I learn each year:

3.) I drink an insane amount of water

Like, is something wrong with me? I drink a ridiculous amount of water. More than 100 ounces a day, easy, if I let myself.

I’ve learned that often I reach for a beer when I really want water, and when I’m not drinking alcohol I drink an ungodly amount of water — it seems like I can’t get enough water sometimes, like I’m thirsty for more water even as I’m drinking water.

Maybe I’m diabetic, or have some kind of nutrient deficiency, or I’ve just transferred compulsive drinking to a different liquid, or maybe I really am this thirsty? I don’t know. It’s kinda bizarre.

4.) I still wake up with a slight headache

Is this just a normal part of waking up? Maybe it’s because I grind my teeth. Again, I don’t know.

Someone suggested this was just part of the withdrawal. But to clarify: it’s every morning for months. I blame the teeth-grinding. That, or my insatiable dehydration.

5.) Weight loss

I know some of y’all were waiting for the weight loss. I know I look for it each year. And yes, definitely, you can lose weight if you stop drinking (seems obvious enough, when you say it like that.) I’m already pretty thin, so it’s nothing too drastic — maybe a couple pounds or so each year.

6.) Other than that, there’s no drastic physical change

All these people who go sober talk about how healthy” they feel, and I’m like “sure, in theory,” but I just don’t experience it that way. If there’s any difference at all, it’s incredibly minor.

7.) Or emotional change

Sure, it’s more zen to make tea than get grabby with beer. That takes mindfulness, so there’s that. But it’s not like it’s a complete 180 here.

8.) It’s a reflection of mindset

I guess I’m just restating the earlier point.

The fact that this is all a crutch (don’t comment telling me it’s a crutch — I know.) It’s not enough to be told — everyone already knows. It’s something we have to work out for ourselves. And all things considered, I know eventually I’ll get bored of it in the same way I eventually got bored of eating Dunkaroos or entire boxes of crackers when I got home from school. Because it feels exactly the same.

When we’re ready to stop, we will.

That’s the biggest lesson anyone can learn, about anything. When we’re truly ready, we just will.

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