Earlier this year I stopped drinking. I.just.quit. Overnight, I just woke up one morning and said, meh, that's enough for me.
I live in New York City, so it's a fairly big social shift to say - when your friends or dates declare the proverbial "let's meet for drinks-" sure! And then order a club soda or Pellegrino, or - dare I say it - suggest going for coffee instead. (I'm not sure what "Sex and the City" would look if it were shooting today and incorporated something akin to my new lifestyle.)
But it's working. And when I say working, I mean, the one thing I can now count on is this: me. My clarity of mind. No more fuzzy first-date decisions, no more waking up and not performing as well on the tennis court, no more cash wasted on the new breed of Bulldog (gin) or whatever else is popular this week (rye took the cake a couple of years ago). I'm OK jettisoning my deep knowledge of vino acquired from years of reading Wine Spectator and then imbibing the recommended goods.
When I turned 44, I said to myself: wait a minute - there's more to life than running around meeting people and being on TV. You might want to get your *ish together before 45, no? Who knows how long we'll even be on the planet - and I want to be able to accept things peacefully, whenever that day comes. I always knew I was lacking an inner spiritual life, despite my having tried to cultivate one by writing and publishing poetry, reading affirmations, or even going to therapy. One day, someone suggested I read a book on getting rid of self-hate, because it undermines our true nature. The book suggested mindfulness and meditation as a way out. I read it. And devoured the next dozen from the author. And then I went on to read many more by other authors. I'm still reading, meditating, and practicing, and likely will be for quite a long time. While I don't discount the benefits of organized religion for some people, I'm not sure about the social conditioning that often goes along with it. I know it wasn't what I needed. But this new way of living and looking at things, has been a gift.
I'm not unique. While I'm fortunate to have had a pretty good life - I've long known it could be much better (both more robust and serene) - and, that I could be more grateful for the good stuff in it. Every day we see reports of celebrities, athletes, or people in the news becoming train wrecks due to drugs, alcohol, incessant purchases or gambling (leading to bankruptcies), and more. (And there are plenty of people, famous or not, who suffer silently). Although I'm familiar with AA, I never entered that 12-step program (although I know it works wonders for millions of people). I never considered myself an alcoholic, and had no physical changes when I stopped drinking (some of my friends who've done it say they're grumpier, crave more sweets, get bored easily, or don't know what to do with themselves). But - in no small part partially due to living in NYC - "meeting for drinks" became an urban lifestyle I grew tired of.
It just wasn't working for me anymore. It's one.small.step.for.mankind, starting with me. Grace entered my life, really, because it's been easy: I don't miss drinking one bit. Never looked back, don't think about it unless someone asks me (it's why I'm writing this, actually), and have simply moved on.
These days, I spend my time in different ways and with different people. I'm actively spending more time with the people I love and who love me, but I hadn't made enough time for. I more readily cut short budding friendships or relationships that aren't in my best interest, be they a boyfriend, boss, or buddy. If people aren't treating me well, or don't know themselves well enough to yet honor their own true inner nature and goodness, and just can't be kind, it's OK - I let them go. Today, I'm able to ask for more of what I need and deserve. I also accept (with compassion) that I may not always get it. I've become kinder to and more gentle with myself, and subsequently, to others. I admit I do still get angry, hurt, and frustrated sometimes. But those more difficult emotions are getting easier to process on my own - without the cloak of a drink. Each time I'm able to navigate a sticky situation more successfully, I give myself a pat on the back.
Quitting drinking is not for everyone, of course, and it needn't be - but this is my little story. Replacing the things I didn't need or my body didn't require to function - like alcohol (or meat/fish, too, in my case, which I also let go of at the same time) while simultaneously building up more of my inner spirituality and self-love - is paying dividends, in spades.
Perhaps nobody wants you to try it (putting down the booze, meat, credit cards, bad boyfriend/girlfriend/friend/family member/boss/job, etc. and letting it all just go), because fear takes over... It says, if our sense of self and newfound "center" catches fire, then there's no-one to impress but yourself; nothing else for Madison Avenue to sell you so you can "get better." There's nothing "be better" at or about. (Well, I take that back: we can market anything, be it clean living, spirituality, wellness...) But, now I really own - not just "know" - that there's nothing more than your own self (in connection with the greater community that is everyone, including the cosmos) that you "need" in order to be OK. Once I realized that, it gave me new life: I am enough, just as I am right now. I know that as the adult I am today, I'm capable of doing a pretty good job taking care of the child within me - one whom I'd often previously let drive the bus of my life (she wasn't very good at it.) Now, the adult me can take the wheel without things like alcohol to make life's uncomfortable parts more "tolerable." I've truly become more free. I'm grateful to live with the liberty offered by the U.S.A, sure, but that's not the kind I'm talking about: I mean my mind became free. And isn't that what we all want and crave? Isn't it what we think we have (freedom), and then wonder why we feel like we're in shackles sometimes? That we're adults and make choices and decisions - but - that when we step back, we say, "Hey, the five-year old was driving the bus, not me!"
All this newfound acceptance of oneself can be tricky, of course: that kind of strength within can make people feel uncomfortable, because they'll sense it's power. Dare I say it's kind of like "The Force." To extend the admittedly corny and timely analogy (new film installment comes out next month, right?) you could say "The Dark Side" could be something as simple as an unnecessary glass of Prosecco or swipe of the credit card. I've started to dare to be different - to and for myself. I had to explore my own true nature (messy childhood and all, whose isn't?) unfiltered... and embrace all of it with compassion. I found a lot of goodness in there that others had said they'd long seen, but that I hadn't really taken ownership of, myself: an ownership I'd made more challenging with every sparkly sip. But once I really accepted myself and could just sit with myself and enjoy my own company, I didn't need - or want - a drink anymore. New doors opened. I stopped blaming myself for everything that hadn't gone exactly the way I wanted to in life, and in that process, it was easy to stop blaming others, demand "justice" or keep wanting others to "make it right" (even if they were deceased).
We've all heard, "forgive and forget." "Don't sweat the small stuff," and all kinds of other adages meant to encourage you to live in the moment. But first, I had to swallow my lump of coal, and own it: that it's true - life isn't fair. I'll never be someone else, or have what another person has. But I have me. And I'm grateful I do. Once I became OK with that, it became easier to stop reaching for the other things that didn't work for me anymore, like "meeting for drinks" to distract myself from the present. Instead, I'm pleasantly surprised to learn how little I need, now that I have a stronger center. A center that for me, started with quitting drinking. It's enabled me to be present to what is and the people I love. It's the present I've given myself. And it doesn't cost a thing.