Oh, what a year

I honestly can’t believe it’s been one whole year since I decided to remove alcohol from my life. When I began this journey, I thought it made sense to start this blog so I had a place to share the experiences of ditching the drink.

But to be honest, I’m beginning to think it was a little self-centered to think that it would matter. I mean, seriously.

Here’s my whole sober year in a nutshell:

I quit drinking alcohol.

COVID-19 kept on going on and on.

I kept busy with life in isolation.

I made mocktails in early days and poured the concoctions in fancy martini glasses.

I bought a Soda Stream to make fizzy water that I could drink from red wine glasses with slices of lime.

COVID-19 kept on going on and on.

We bought a new RV. And camped.

I bought a fitness watch and started walking more.

I bought a bike with a fun basket. I started riding.

I bought a digital scale to track the changes I was bound to see with this new me.

COVID-19 kept on going on and on.

We met with friends outside at our Florida RV site. With masks on, we celebrated the election results. Go Blue!

We celebrated the holidays with some family. Others we missed. It was weird. For everyone.

We sold our house in Blue Ridge.

We spent the winter in Florida where we now own a tiki hut and a palm tree.

We ordered take-out from a fancy restaurant for our 29 year anniversary. I drank fizzy water from a Pinot Noir glass.

COVID-19 kept on going on and on.

I did some art. Not enough.

I read a lot of books.

We saw friends. Friends who drank alcohol and friends who did not. It didn’t matter. No one cared.

COVID-19 kept on going on and on.

I got my vaccine.

I had surgery on my hand.

We hit the road for our summer road trip in the RV.

And that’s the end.

A year without alcohol was just another year. It’s just one day after another when I chose not to drink alcohol. I’m still the same me. Not sure I’m any better at being me. I’m maybe a couple pounds smaller (walking and biking helps, I’m sure.) I sleep a helluva lot better. And I do feel pretty healthy.

And that’s the whole story. Alcohol wasn’t adding value, so I ditched it.

And still… . COVID-19 keeps on going on and on.

Decisions, decisions

When I decided to take a break from drinking, I really had no idea what to expect. I had been toying with the idea of putting a cork in it for a few years before I took the leap into full-time tea-totaling. In 2019 I gave up beer. No beer all year, I would remind my beer-drinking friends when I skipped the newest craft beer being rolled out at our local brewery. The “no beer” pledge didn’t stop me from hanging out with our friends and as I wasn’t much of a beer drinker to begin with, it wasn’t a stretch to give up the hops entirely.

Then, the day after Mothers Day in 2020, I decided to take the plunge and remove all alcohol from my life. With the no beer year as a training camp for the big no drinking life, I really didn’t find giving it up that difficult. It was, and is, definitely a mindset thing for me. Like most things I do in my life, once I’ve made the decision to do it, I’m all in. One hundred percent. That’s not to say that I LIKE making big decisions — ’cause I really, really don’t — but maybe it’s because I (over) think the decision for so long that by the time I drop anchor, there’s just no doubt it’s what I need to do.

As an adult, I’ve always been the kind of person who embraces change. I truly believe in the life is short messages and if there is something I want to do, I spend a whole lot of time turning the idea inside and out (see over-thinking note above.) What I tell myself when I’m mulling over a big decision — or even a small decision — is that it would be so much easier if someone could just tell me the right thing to do. Make that damn decision for me already.

Do I need that new laptop?

Should I get take on this new client?

Do we need a new puppy in our lives?

What about selling everything we own and moving into my RV? A good idea? Or no?

Wouldn’t it be great if someone else could just tell me the RIGHT answer to all those questions that buzz around in my head as I try to get to sleep at night?

Obviously the answer to the above question is a big fat NO. It really wouldn’t be great at all to have other people deciding your fate. Because that’s the whole thing about creating your one authentic life, isn’t it? Making decisions. Do this. Or do that. With each decision we make, we’re building our unique storyline.

This decision leads to that thing that happened.

That decision leads to something else that happened.

And on and on.

If someone else was calling the shots, how would we know if we were in the right place?

In the end, all we really want is for people to support our decisions. To be happy for us. To be a supporting character in our story. To cheer us on from the sideline, ready to be called on to join in the fun.

So far, my decision to give drinking alcohol a break has been pretty amazing. It’s just another part of my story. A decision that only I could make.

But now about that RV thing… (Decisions, decisions.)

The holiday spirit

With just one week left until Christmas Day, the messages of holiday cheer are in full swing. From the best-of-the-best holiday cocktail recipes to holiday music that bellows “That Christmas tree ain’t the only thing getting lit this year,” it’s no surprise that most of us will increase our alcohol intake by an easy 100%. ‘Tis the season, right?

On any “normal” year, the stress and worry of the holiday season has been known to drive people to drink — and then… well, then 2020 happened. This year is like no other. Families are separated. People are alone. So many have lost loved ones — and jobs, and homes. There is no roadmap to guide us through this unprecedented holiday season. Just detours, roadblocks and too many closed for business signs. We’re all sort of winging it; making virtual plans to celebrate together and doing our best to keep our spirits high as we slide into the reality that Christmas is coming whether we have it figured out or not.

So that brings me back to the booze.

Even on a “normal” year, it’s easy to tell ourselves that the Christmas spirit is best jumpstarted with a boozy glass of eggnog. Whether you’re drinking to celebrate or to calm your nerves due to, well… the holidays… alcohol is almost synonymous with this time of year.

And in years past, I was all in.

Our wine cellar in the basement is home to some amazing wines, and the holidays meant there was no guilt in opening the “good stuff.” Bring it on, holidays!

But here’s the weird thing, as I click past 7 months alcohol-free and think about the holidays, what I’m looking forward to most is a mug of hot chocolate around a fire. Some time off to sit with a cup of tea and a good book. Card games and watching corny holiday movies. Turning off the lights and lighting up the Christmas tree. Long hikes with my son. Wearing fuzzy Christmas socks and watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for the 25th time (true story.)

I’ve already been singing along to holiday classics on Spotify and have spent a fair bit of time on Christmas crafty projects, holiday cookie baking and decorating the house.

I’m filled to the brim with Christmas spirit — the alcohol-free kind.

As much as I used to look forward to opening that special bottle of Cabernet, I’m looking forward to knowing that I will be completely, 100% present and clear every single day of the holiday season.

Where’s the parade?

As of today, the counter on the app I use to track my non-drinking days tells me that it’s been 192 days since I imbibed. I crossed over the 6-month milestone 8 days ago. Whee! Except, no WHEE! Not really. I am not sure why I expect these milestones to feel so celebratory.

When I decided it was time to take a real break from drinking, I had pretty high expectations. Certainly, I was convinced that by month six I would look and feel like an entirely different human — unrecognizable to friends and family. The envy of my drinking buddies (because of my amazing transformation, of course.) If I’m being honest, it was part of the draw. This huge desire to really create a better, slimmer, shinier version of myself.

But, alas, I am not patient. Most days I am lobbing the ball back and forth between my optimistic self and her pessimistic sidekick. My expectations are pretty up there. I am easily disappointed. And when I want something, I want it now.

And there’s no parade.

The app ticked past six months and the numbers on the scale have not retracted at the rate I calculated prior to corking the last bottle of wine. And people are not congratulating me on my awesomeness. Don’t they see how I feel? They don’t notice my newfound amazingness? How my skin kind of glistens if the sun hits it just the right way and I’ve just returned from a long walk? How I’m really “not sweating the small stuff” anymore?

The bigger question here, I realize, is not “where’s the parade?” but when am I going to stop believing that I am defined by what other’s think of me. When will I stop believing I need approval for anything I do to better myself or my life?

And this: I can host my own parade.

On a side note, my husband did tell me yesterday that I looked radiant. I was gobsmacked. Maybe it was the lighting in the car–all that natural sunlight streaming through the windshield–but radiant I’ll take any day. Because I’m feeling pretty radiant these days and it’s still really nice of someone to notice.

Plain and simple

When the last of our four children left for college — and we found ourselves a family of 2 living in a big, 3-story, packed-to-the-hills suburban house–we had a yard sale. A mack daddy of sales. We filled the driveway with hundreds of books, toys, clothes, furniture, tools, gadgets, doodads and more. And without even a pang of regret, we freed ourselves from more than 20 years of stuff.

We downsized our home and simplified our life.

The purging was one of the most incredibly freeing experiences of my life. I felt physically lighter as we moved into our 1000-square-foot condo weeks later.

What’s interesting to me today, 164 days into my alcohol-free lifestyle, is that I realize simplicity and sobriety have a lot in common.

To simplify one’s life is to remove the things that remove you from your life. There were times when alcohol was removing me from my life. So I removed alcohol.

Not unlike the dusty boxes of knickknacks that clogged up the attic of our big house, alcohol wasn’t adding value to my life. So, it just had to go.

Simple.

And it was. Simple. Quitting, for me, was easy. I haven’t spent even one moment wondering if it was the right decision.

What wasn’t easy was the nearly 2 years I spent with this fear of quitting. Thinking about quitting drinking consumed as much of my time as the actual drinking.

The times I considered quitting, I just couldn’t imagine what my life would look like. ALL my friends drink. We meet up at breweries and spend sunny Saturdays at local wineries. We celebrate birthdays, and just regular days, with fancy bourbon cocktails. We hang out in the kitchen, taste testing bottles of red. The fear of losing all all of that camaraderie was crippling.

I even worried about what quitting would do to the dynamics of our marriage. We enjoyed trying new wines and making fancy drinks together. I didn’t expect my husband to quit, but I had no idea what quitting would mean for us. Would he get tired of my tea-totaling and find me boring? The very idea of not drinking ever again was scary.

I spent so much time thinking about quitting that the thinking about quitting drinking became the problem.

Five months in, I feel that same lightness I felt when unburdened of all those belongings. I know that quitting alcohol has simplified my life in so many ways. And here’s the kicker: all those ideas I had about how essential alcohol was in my life? All lies.

A [be]-longing

Growing up, I was a quiet kid. Not the awkwardly quiet kid that gets picked on or shoved in lockers (though, that did happen to me that one time.) No, not geeky quiet, because those kids actually belonged, to each other, at least. I was the kind of quiet kid that was basically invisible.

I was good in school. Never really struggled with the work, so I could hang with the honor roll kids in high school. I became one of them for a few years. I was just smart enough to not get noticed. Not so smart that they were calling my name out when awards were handed out, but smart enough not to be on the teacher’s radar.

Stealing a line from The Three Bears, I guess you could say I was “just right.”

Looking back, I realize I have always been a bit of a chameleon. Put me in a room of people, and watch me conform. (Step up, ladies and gentleman, watch her conform.)

This past six months has busted open something inside me that has me pushing back on my desire to fit in, blend in, go with the flow, be part of the collective. I think I’ve finally, 55 years into my life, figured out who I am. What I believe in. What I don’t believe in. What I stand for and what I won’t tolerate. And I’m feeling rather fierce about it.

I’ve always avoided conflict. My feelings easily hurt. When in a place where the conversation is primarily about a topic that I disagree with, I’ve always kept quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Just smile and don’t contribute. It’s fine.

No more.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realize, I don’t have to fit in. I don’t have to be one of them. Yes, they are entitled to their beliefs about mask-wearing, gun control, (God-help-me) political leadership — but I don’t have to nod and smile. I can leave. Leave the conversation. Leave the gathering. And even leave the friendship.

While we all tend to have this desire to be accepted and brought into the fold, I think what I’ve learned these past few months is that it’s important for me to have friends that align with my spirit. I’ve spent too much time compromising my own values by not taking a stand and making my personal beliefs known to those who call me a friend. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do have to want the same things for humanity.

Quitting alcohol has changed my life (and me) in countless ways. And one of the biggest changes I’m noticing is this: I feel free to be me. Just as I am. Drinker. Non-drinker. Whatever. And here’s the kicker: I was the one stopping myself from being the best version of ME. All those years I spent trying to belong somewhere, and in the end, I was already there.

Forever and ever?

A friend asked me today whether I thought that I was done with drinking forever. And it’s a question that I’ve been thinking about probably since I crossed over into the triple digits of alcohol freedom.

Today is 121 days since that last drop of wine, and when she asked me THE QUESTION, my first response was that I really thought I was done. For good. And that’s the truth as I feel it today, in this exact moment. I really don’t see myself wanting to drink alcohol again. Like the ex-smoker who finds the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke revolting, I’m finding myself more and more turned off by alcohol as the days go by. The smell of red wine is sour to me and a once-loved sniff of straight bourbon makes my nose twitch. Too strong. Too alcohol-y. Too… something.

And why in the world would I ever want to go back? I’m sleeping like a baby. My skin is smooth and my eyes are bright. I don’t have to question whether I should drink on a Tuesday night or lament over whether it’s a good idea to have a second or third glass of wine on a Friday. My brain is free from any drinking decisions (this is where the moderation thing goes wrong for some…it’s too much thinking…thinking about drinking or not drinking.)

And then there’s the fact that I love waking up hangover free every single morning. Especially on Sundays. Having the entire day free and feeling 100% able to do anything i want is such a gift. Although I was never what you would call a heavy drinker, there have been plenty of Sundays when I felt a wee bit “delicate.” So much so that I wasn’t up for a hike In the woods or motivated to jump in my kayak or even spend an afternoon in the art studio. Sometimes it was a morning of counting the hours until the fragility wore off.

No more of those days.

I don’t have time for those wasted hours.

I want to feel good all the time.

So yes, I think today I feel like I’m done now and forever. And I suppose the short answer to that question, which I added in a text to my friend is this:

“I don’t think I want to drink ever again because I love they way I feel being 4 months without it in my body. I hope that I always feel that way because I have learned a lot about the effects and for me I want to slide into old age feeling great!!”

I guess that pretty much sums it up.

Basically amazing

Last week I reached out to a friend who I hadn’t connected with in quite a while. Just your basic “Hey, how are you doing?” message. His response has stuck with me since it popped up on my screen.

“I’m basically amazing.”

Honestly, I was surprised by his answer. I hate to say it, but I’m more accustomed to the “I’m fine,” “Doing Ok,” or “Eh, you know… ” Our go-to, default response to the “how are you” question is typically pretty lackluster, when you really think about it. We probably don’t even truly take in the question before responding with a cookie-cutter (blah, blah) response. We aren’t taking a beat to dig deep for the answer. We’re not stopping before answering to really consider how we really are doing.

My son, Nick, I’ve noticed, is also unique in his responses. He is also a glass half-full kind of guy, so that probably explains it. When I ask him how he’s doing, his response to this generic question is rarely mindless, and is 99% of the time, it’s a positive or upbeat response. “I’m doing great!” (Yes, even with the exclamation points!) or “Awesome! How are you?” It’s funny how that has stuck with me, how different his responses are over others, and how different they are even to my own. His positivity is inspiring.

So, I’ve decided that I just want to be “basically amazing,” just like my pal Rob. Because, well, I am. Feeling basically amazing, I mean.

I have family and friends to love, who love me back. (Basically amazing.)

I live in a beautiful mountain home with the love of my life, where I work and create art and am so at peace. (Basically amazing.)

I am healthy. I am happy. I live life on my own terms. (Basically amazing. )

Why wouldn’t I be amazing?

When people ask me why I quit drinking, I think I’ll just tell them that it’s because I feel basically amazing when I’m not drinking. That might shut down the conversation, as there’s no room for negative feedback to that answer.

I had a pretty big health scare this week with my husband this week. He’s fine, but the big takeaway for me was the reminder that time is ticking. There is a before and an after. I’m happy that my “after” was that my husband is fine. I’m grateful that we can continue our journey together. This is what I have. These days and hours. To love and be loved. To laugh and play and take care of each other. There isn’t going to be a better time to make the best of life.

So, how am I, you ask? I. Am. Basically amazing.

Why, oh why?

Today is Day 83 of this alcohol-free journey. Honestly, I had no idea how many days it’s been since that last sip of wine. I had to look it up on the phone app I downloaded on or about Day 3. The app keeps track of the number of days, as well as how much money I’ve saved. So, to date, it’s 83 days and 581 dollars.

Having that 581 dollars in my bank account seems like a pretty good answer to the question I get every time I take a pass on an alcoholic beverage.

But, why?

During the last 83 days, we have been pretty isolated from people. We’ve seen a few friends in the last month or so, but, for the most part, I haven’t had to answer the why question too many times. But, the thing is: I’ve had to answer it every time.

And I wonder, why? Why do I have to offer a reason for quitting? Like what I’m doing is just so crazy that there just has to be a logical reason for doing it? Why do people need to know?

And, more incredulously, why, when I give a reason, do some feel the need to question my reason? Wonder about my true intent. They do, and they have. And…likely…more will. They want to know why, and then if it’s not a reason that they’re expecting or that works for them, they dismiss it.

Which is why… you really don’t need to know why. My why is my own.

I have several friends who are vegetarians, and when they made that choice, I never asked them why. It’s really none of my business why. It’s a decision they made for their own personal reasons. I would never say to them “Oh come on, just one bite of steak. One bite won’t hurt you.” I would never challenge their lifestyle decision. And I support them when they visit my home — ensuring I have meat-free options. I would also never say “Oh, you’re still doing that?”

I know that as we venture back out into our social circles, I will attract curious looks and unsettled reactions when I pass the wine bottle to the left or the right without pouring a glass for myself. I’ve already experienced the negative comments when I gave up beer last year. I heard the “Oh, come on, don’t be a party-pooper,” and have had to explain, to incredulous listeners, that I was doing “no beer for a year.” And even then, I had to explain why I would do that. It got old. Very quickly.

Here’s a why question: Why is it socially acceptable to put someone on the spot for not drinking? I’ve never heard anyone say (out loud) “Why are you drinking?”

But here’s the thing: I don’t care if you drink. I really and truly don’t. No judgements. It’s not my business. So why should you care if I don’t? And why does the WHY matter?

Socially distant

It’s been exactly 2 months since that last glass of wine. I remember it well, as it was Mother’s Day. I enjoyed a few glasses of my favorite wine, while reading a book and sitting on my porch swing. It was lovely. As I put the empty wine glass in the sink, I remember thinking, “Well, that’s it then.” I had been thinking of quitting for a couple years. I spent the weeks prior to Mother’s Day reading everything I could about ditching the drink. So, it was not a bittersweet moment. There were no feelings of loss or regret as I rinsed the drops of cabernet from the bottom of my favorite glass.

I was done.

When I made that decision to quit, we were well into our socially-distant protocols for the pandemic. My husband and I had not seen any of our friends since January. As I sit here now, some 61 days later, I realize that our current socially-distant reality most definitely made my early days of this journey all the easier.

As we navigate our new normal– amid still rising coronavirus cases and moving target guidelines — I find myself apprehensive about re-entering my social scene, even with masks and distancing. I’m having a hard time figuring out whether it’s that I just don’t feel comfortable yet due to the virus, or if there’s a much larger contributor to my anxiety about seeing friends up close and personal.

I’ve been in a pretty sweet bubble for a couple months. I live in a beautiful log home, with mountain breezes that sweep across the porch where I spend hours reading and writing. I have an art studio on our second floor porch that feels like I am floating high about the trees. I play there. There is nothing I could want, except… company. People. Friends. Conversation. Laughter. Storytelling and … wine drinking.

So, yes. There’s the elephant in the room. One hundred percent of my social life with friends has involved wine. Or other forms of drinking. Wineries. Breweries. BBQs with lovely cocktails. Game nights with bourbon tastings.

It’s pretty easy to be this new version of myself (who I love, by the way), when I don’t have to introduce her to anyone who might not like her as much as the old me.

I am smart enough to know that yes, this will happen. When I do finally get out into the world and see more friends again, some will find that this new me doesn’t quite fit within their circle any longer. The invitations will likely drop off and my tribe will be redefined. And, I have to be fine with that. I didn’t do this for anyone else. This new ME is all for me.

For now, I’m doing a day-by-day thing. I’ve spent time with my BFF and it was fine. Weird for her, I think, but fine. She knows me. She accepts me, for sure, no matter what. But it’s still a change in our dynamic. I get it. But I also know I can’t take on those emotions – those feelings others around my not drinking. I have my journey, and I guess, if they want to remain friends, they will have their own.

Until then, I remain socially distant and happily alcohol free.