In 2005, I had just graduated from college. I went to a school in a big party city, and we usually drank 4-5 nights a week. My family is a heavy drinking family.
Drinking was an intricate part of my identity, though I don't think I really realized that until I decided to stop. I began to cut alcohol out of my life right after I graduated from college, but it took me a few years to stop drinking completely.
The process taught me so much, and has benefited me in ways I couldn't have imagined. Here are the things that I love about not drinking alcohol, to serve as inspiration to anyone who wants or needs to cut alcohol out of their life.
Lots of your friends don't want to drink either.
When I was a heavy drinker, I assumed everyone else was too. Honestly, this might sound silly, but I really never noticed that I drank more than most of my friends until I decided to stop.
Once I personally was abstaining from alcohol, I realized that in most social gatherings I was at, alcohol was there, but not everyone was drinking it. In fact, most people only had a glass or two at most, and once I would say "No thanks I'll have a coke", a lot of people seemed to find it refreshing and decided to join me.
This showed me how drinking played a larger role in my life than I realized. Because social gatherings to me immediately meant "time for a cocktail", I never stopped to notice that this wasn't the case for everyone.
Get togethers don't have to be boring.
As mentioned above, my family is a pretty big drinking family. No matter the family get together, alcohol is part of the equation.
When I first made the decision to quit, this felt like a huge obstacle. I thought that I would no longer feel a part of the group, and that get togethers would become boring. I was wrong.
The main thing that quitting drinking changed about me socially is that I no longer am the first person to get drowsy and need to leave the gathering to go to bed.
Because I don't drink, I stay alert, appreciate conversations more, and genuinely have more meaningful connections with those I'm with.
Yes, I will admit messy drunken get togethers lost their appeal, but I'm not sorry for that. But get togethers with family and friends where everyone else is enjoying drinks and I'm sitting with a coffee still were fun, warm, and meaningful. And that was so comforting to realize.
Your friends and family will get over it.
When I first stopped drinking, I won't lie- I got pushback. My friends and family treated me a little bit like a buzzkill. "You really won't toast with us?" and "Now I feel weird for drinking" were two of the most common guilt trips.
But once people saw I was serious and wasn't going to budge, you wouldn't believe how quickly they stopped caring.
I was self medicating with alcohol (and it wasn't working).
After I quit drinking, I realized how I used alcohol as a crutch for social anxiety.
The paradox of this common habit is that oftentimes, alcohol ends up making you say and do things socially that end up embarrassing you later. Once I stopped drinking, my anxiety slowly started to decrease. I think a lot of this had to do with no longer waking up feeling hungover and thinking "Oh no, what did I say last night!?"
If you suffer from social anxiety, there are a lot of things you can try to reduce those feelings: anxiety medications, anti-depressants, and natural stress relievers like Kava or chamomile can help you to unwind without the judgement impairment of alcohol. Self medicating with alcohol can be a vicious cycle for those who suffer from social anxiety, and I am so grateful to be free of that trap.
A glass of wine in your hand won't make you more glamorous/successful/cool
Quitting drinking made me realize that so much of our addiction or attachment to alcohol is really in the ambiance we attach to it.
We get home from a hard day at work and we reward ourselves with a beer because we decide that we "deserve" it.
We go to a celebration and we want a glass of champagne because it symbolizes celebration and glamour.
We go out on a romantic dinner and order red wine because we feel like we should.
The thing is, a lot of this is a superficial attachment to the status symbol or emotional symbol that alcohol is for many of us. Once I gave up drinking, I realized how silly this is.
If you are looking to give up drinking, don't psych yourself out thinking that it will completely ruin your social life. Give it some time, and you'll see just how much of your life you win back when you are no longer under the influence.