How I Quit Drinking
Three years ago today, I quit drinking. I was 27 years old and a regular social drinker. But I was also a health coach working at a nutrition school and I was training for the Big Sur marathon. These two parts of me — party animal and health nut — were not in alignment. After a weekend partying in London with friends, I decided to stop drinking until the marathon, which was a month later.
After the marathon, everyone asked “Are you going to start drinking again?” And I said, “No, I’m feeling much better, so I’m going to keep not drinking.” And I was feeling so much better — I had rocked the marathon, I was more focused at work, I was getting better sleep and waking up with more energy, and my life had less unnecessary drama and more calm. I knew there was no turning back.
Despite how much better I felt, stopping drinking was not the easiest thing to do, for several reasons:
1. My social life revolved around it. Getting a glass of wine with a friend, going to bars on the weekends, having wine at dinner, parties with my big Irish family, weddings, holidays, cocktail hours, Jazz Fest in New Orleans, beer at concerts.
2. Drinking was a way to unwind. So stopping meant that I needed to find other ways to unwind.
3. It made me stand out. It made me different. People asked questions. I didn’t want people to think I was an alcoholic. Drinking was part of the script, and changing that was uncomfortable.
4. I was single at the time. I thought it would be strange to date and enter future relationships as a non-drinker. I live in NYC and people in NYC drink!
But I was clear that alcohol and I did not go well together, and I knew I wanted to stop for good.
I’d like to share some of my tips and the things I learned. The scope of this post is not to address a serious drinking problem, but if you think you have one, please do seek professional help. Rather, the idea is to share some details of what it was like to stop, some tips, and some things that surprised me along the way.
1. You can still go out with your friends. I continued to go out with my friends, and I would just order soda water with cranberry and lime. I didn’t make it a secret that I wasn’t drinking alcohol, but I also didn’t make a big deal about it and I never made anyone feel defensive about their own drinking.
2. You can make up an excuse. There are a million reasons you might not drink, so go ahead and give whatever one makes you feel at ease. You’re on antibiotics, you’re pregnant, you have to drive, you’re doing a cleanse, you have to get up early tomorrow, you’re running a marathon.
3. Yes, your friendships will change. I think people worry a lot that their friendships might change if they stop drinking. Accept that they may change and be confident that you can handle that gracefully. Some friendships may fall away — that happened to me. Other friendships got better. Some people were thrilled, because they used to be the only one not drinking. Change is the only constant in life. It just didn’t occur to me that so many things would change for the better; that was a pleasant surprise.
4. You will be better rested. I didn’t realize how much drinking on the weekends was wearing me out. Sure, I could party and train for marathons, but at what cost? It’s the combination of alcohol and staying out late that’s so exhausting. When I stopped drinking, I would still go out, but usually be home in bed by 12 instead of staying out till 2 or 3. On Saturday or Sunday morning, I would feel so much better, it was amazing. It was like I gave myself a huge gift of time and rest.
5. You will find new ways to unwind. When I stopped drinking, it was springtime, and it actually kicked off a little renaissance in my life. I took some of the buckets of money I was saving and treated myself to a massage. I started hiking with Outdoor Bound; I did the Artist’s Way course with Julia Cameron; I started meeting friends for juice or yoga instead of wine. I began to see drinking as a rather uncreative way to socialize and unwind, and found juicier stuff to do.
6. The right guy won’t mind. I’m in a great relationship now and my boyfriend likes that I don’t drink. When we have something to celebrate, I’ll order a virgin mojito, or I’ll ask a bartender to make me something “festive and fruity with no alcohol.” They are good at that. I’m an awesome designated driver and a cheap date — what’s not to like?
7. It’s not a big deal, in terms of social pressure. I thought it would be such a big deal! Especially the first time I went to a wedding and didn’t drink, or New Year’s Eve, or an office Christmas party. In the beginning, I felt kind of nervous and uncomfortable, but I soon realized that it’s not a big deal. Events that are fun are still fun.
8. It’s a big, huge deal. For me, stopping drinking was the best decision I’ve ever made and I’m so grateful I had the courage to do it. I haven’t looked back once over these past 3 years.
I hope this is helpful and that, if you want to stop drinking or even just take a break, you can see it’s possible, not so scary, and can open up lots of wonderful new possibilities in your life.
Kerry Monaghan is a Certified Health Coach at the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. She supports patients to make powerful choices to support their health and healing.
Photo credit: Evan G