“When I got sober, I thought giving up was saying goodbye to all the fun and all the sparkle, and it turned out to be just the opposite. That’s when the sparkle started for me.” ~Mary Karr
Growing up I thought alcohol meant adulthood. As a child I eagerly watched the cacophony of advertisements, commercials, TV shows, and movies swirling, mixing, swigging, sipping, and smelling those delicious drinks that the beautiful and the sexy preferred.
Alcohol was literally the forbidden fruit—a mystery and an abomination that not my parents, nor anyone in my family—really had anything to do with. I assumed this was due to my family’s lack of class or sophistication. Wine, beer, and spirits meant pairing with palates and inclusion in the upper reaches of society. It was beyond us, and it seemed foreign and fun. I couldn’t wait to try it.
I remember my first full beer at around twelve or thirteen. I snuck away with my best friend Mimi to guzzle a couple of Coronas in the woods behind my house. It made my head spin and we giggled, but it left me feeling confused and dirty.
Even as a teenager, alcohol failed to prove its glory. The glamour that I’d read about in Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dorothy Parker’s Jazz Age novels never manifested in the desperate high school parties or back seat sessions I had available to me, so I gave it up, opting for other types of drugs like marijuana and LSD.
Fill the Void
I stayed busy striving academically during my years at university, so alcohol never played a starring role. I drank a few glasses of red wine on a Friday night when I cleaned my apartment and learned how to chug an Irish Car Bomb with my friends at our local pub, but it never disrupted my flow.
It wasn’t until I graduated and started working in the “real” world that alcohol became my dearest friend. And looking back, I realize that I only get chummy with alcohol when I’m not feeling fulfilled or satisfied with life.
I finished my degree in 2002, a year after September 11, 2001. The US economy was in a downward spiral, and I had serious doubts about my place in the world. It was hard enough being twenty-two, but twenty-two trying to find a decent-paying job with a BA in Historic Preservation was almost impossible. I landed a paying internship and then a part-time gig as an assistant archivist and filled in my extra hours working as a paralegal at my friend’s dad’s law firm.
After a lifetime of school and four years of university, I couldn’t believe the adult life and the freedom I was promised consisted of desk work for eight hours a day that didn’t pay enough for me to move out of my parents’ house. The prestige and the career I assumed was waiting for me failed to be a possibility. My life was nothing but a rebooted version of monotony from my school age years, so I started drinking to escape it.
I remember needing to go out during my early twenties—like needing it so bad. Staying home alone on a Friday night was akin to suicide. I had my weekend planned and sorted by Wednesday, my friends assembled, outfits purchased, and possible bars and clubs all picked out.
I needed the release. I needed to ring out the chaos and the comfort and the elation those sixty hours away from work could bring me. I needed to dress up, go out, get as drunk and insane and wild as I possibly could to get all that balled up energy and anger out of me so I could stuff down my disappointment at life from Monday to Friday. Even when I worked a Saturday shift at a clothing boutique, I was either still drunk or hungover.
I remember how being drunk made me feel. It made me feel alive, energetic, magnetic, magical, powerful, fun, charismatic, fearless, hilarious, untouchable, and sexy. Alcohol gave me what I could not seem to muster at all during the weekdays sober, but what I so desperately craved.
Looking back, I see now that what alcohol gave me was an undiluted, raw version of myself. What was happening after two or three drinks was what should have been happening sober—I felt like myself.
But years of child abuse and learning to people-please and put others first had forced my authentic self into the backroom. Alcohol was the only way I could feel like myself. But I didn’t know that then and I never stopped at three drinks. I stopped at stumbling, mumbling, passing out at 4am drunk.
Alcohol was an escape from a life and a person I didn’t like, but nonetheless, both I had created.
At twenty-six, I did something radical. I cancelled my wedding to a lovely man and decided to leave the US and travel to Australia. After four years of steady alcoholism, I finally realized that the life I was living was a prison not a life.
As soon as I made the decision to leave, I stopped drinking. I started working more and saving money. I had somewhere to go and someone to be. I wanted a future.
By the time I was twenty-eight, I was married, in love, and pregnant with my first child. Happy and healthy, alcohol had no room in my life. It didn’t come to stay again until after my second child was born, and I realized my husband wasn’t happy. Then, alcohol settled in while I drank myself into ignorance as a mother, wife, homeowner, and business-owner who didn’t want to admit that she had again constructed a prison instead of a life.
Alcohol kept me alive during my subsequent divorce. The pain was so severe that, looking back, I’m grateful I had something to numb it. But two years after my divorce I realized that I was thirty-eight and totally free.
It was time to finally live the life I knew I wanted. I was old enough to know myself and know what I needed to feel creative, alive, and happy. So, on 1 April 2019, I made a list of all the things that were not actively contributing to my life. Alcohol was number one on that list.
Now, two years after giving alcohol (and all other drugs and addictions) up, I can easily say that I am so much happier and healthier without alcohol in my life. I don’t miss it at all. In fact, I wish more people would jump on the sober bandwagon.
If you think you might be keen to join me, consider these ten ways giving up alcohol changed my life for the better. I hope these reasons are enough to convince you to ditch the drink.
1. I learned how to feel my emotions.
Instead of numbing myself, I had to learn how to feel all the feels. This led to learning how to feel and clear emotions as well as deal with my childhood trauma head on. Healing my trauma was the best thing I ever did.
When hiding my true self, I had invited alcohol into my life in an attempt to numb the pain I was carrying around in my body, but it also allowed me to be my authentic self without fear. Healing trauma allows you to present your true self to the world.
2. I learned how to play.
Not drinking alcohol leaves more space for you to be a kid again. Instead of sitting at the bar complaining about your problems, you are free to ride a bike, swim at the beach, splash in the pool, run, jump, explore, and learn because life becomes a wonderland again. Living alcohol-free just invites in more of those rare, beautiful, and innocent moments.
3. I lost weight.
Alcohol is pure sugar, people. There ain’t nothing good about it. Bad for your liver, bad for your insulin levels, and bad for your brain. Not one good thing. At forty, I am thinner than I was during my twenties when I was binging all weekend long.
4. I balanced my hormones.
As a female, I can attest to having very disrupted hormone levels. After quitting alcohol, my PMS symptoms drastically improved. Alcohol is sugar, which disrupts your insulin. Because it disrupts sleep, it also throws off your cortisol. Studies have also proven that increased alcohol intake increases your estrogen levels. If you want balanced hormones, say goodbye to alcohol.
5. I slept better.
Alcohol massively disrupts REM sleep. Take a few nights off from your evening wine and see how well you hit the sack. While we mistakenly believe alcohol relaxes us and eases stress, it actually has the opposite effect. Not getting proper deep sleep leaves you feeling worse and worse.
6. I saved money.
Alcohol is expensive, and when you’re drunk you want more and will stupidly spend it. Saving money creates the actual freedom you seek. Not going out to bars and sipping on fancy cocktails is one of the easiest ways to save money.
7. I developed hobbies.
Instead of using alcohol as a hobby, I started to play tennis, learned sailing, and started up a side hustle. As a result of not drinking, I’m much more interesting.
Quitting alcohol sadly means losing a few friends. You’ll instantly notice which friends do have alcohol hobbies. But that’s okay. Having actual friends and real hobbies is much more rewarding.
8. I’m happier.
I’m not as stressed, tired, worried, or angry. Alcohol seems to take away the pain of life momentarily, but it comes back to bite you tenfold the next day. Alcohol is like a health and wellness credit card. You don’t have to pay now, but you will have to pay later, plus interest.
Not needing alcohol to numb or feel comfortable in scary situations is such a relief. My mind is clear and calm, and that brings me immense pleasure and joy.
9. I don’t need alcohol to talk to people.
Instead of running straight for the wine at networking events, I just sip on water and make casual conversation. I am who I am. I also try to make sure that I ask interesting questions.
No more “So what do you do?” I want to know who you are, what you’re about, and I dig around and see what interesting facts about you I can unearth. People become much more fascinating sober.
10. I’m leading by example.
My kids are witnessing firsthand that their mother does not need alcohol, so neither do they. I’m sure they remember when I drank, but I also want them to see me sober.
While I don’t villainize alcohol and I know that they will most likely experiment with it, I want to be sure that they know that they can live a happy and fulfilling life without it.
Bottom Line and Disclaimer
I’m not advocating for the abolition of alcohol by any means. What I am advocating for is more responsible representations of alcohol in advertising, movies, and film. Being exposed to such blatant subconscious programming at a young age gave me the belief that alcohol would add something to my life that I felt it was missing.
And while I know that I used alcohol as medication to treat my unhealed childhood trauma, I know that teaching kids why people use drugs and alcohol would be more effective. If someone told me during my teenage years that people abuse drugs and alcohol to cover up the pain they are in, that could have changed everything for me.
I never sought out treatment from AA because I believed my consumption of alcohol was not irregular or excessive by society’s standards. Looking back, this greatly disturbs me. I needed help. What I really needed was to heal my trauma much sooner. It took many, many years to find the right help to heal.
If you are consuming more than two glasses of alcohol on more than two subsequent nights per week, then you most likely have a problem.
If you need alcohol or any drugs just to get by, then you have a problem.
Drugs and alcohol are ways for us to cope with pain. The best advice I can offer you is to seek help for the underlying issue and heal the reason why you need to drink. I wish you all the best and know that you are more interesting, powerful, and fun sober.