I was never a big drinker by standard definitions, whatever you think that means. I was a big thinker, however, often thinking about my next glass of wine, craving it, far more than I wanted to admit. Over the past year or so, I’ve been working through my relationship with alcohol and ultimately have decided to live AF, that is “alcohol free.” I want to share a little bit about my journey.
Do you remember your first taste of alcohol? Perhaps it was Communion wine? Or one of your parents let you take a sip of their beer? My parents stopped drinking alcohol before I was born, so my first sip of alcohol came unintentionally courtesy of my sister, who is ten years older than me. We were at a family wedding, and the reception hall was unbearably hot. I was about 11 years old and very thirsty. The teeny tiny classes of soda from the bar were completely inadequate. I drank mine in one sip and reached for my sister’s glass of Coke to quench my thirst, except it was a rum and Coke. I could not believe how awful the taste was. I could not believe someone would drink something so appalling on purpose. When I realized what had happened, though, I became afraid someone would know that I had had alcohol. I felt weird and woozy and hid in the bathroom until I felt better.
I didn’t drink alcohol again until I was 19, in Spain during college. From that time on, alcohol consumption became part of my social life. When I became a mother, however, drinking wine—my drink of choice—became a part of family life. I found relaxation and connection in taking a glass or two. Wine was such a part of modern “mommy culture” that I didn’t think twice about drinking it regularly. Raising kids is hard work, so what was the big deal about having a little wine to unwind at the end of the day, I thought. I had even convinced myself that a little wine now and again helped me be a better mom because I would be less likely to be short-tempered with the children. I thought if I were a little numb to the noise, the demands, the never-ending to-dos, I would have more patience.
And maybe drinking wine would not have become such a big deal for me if I had not had a miscarriage last year. The grief destabilized me. Drinking wine became a daily habit to deal with the sadness and pain. Over time and with a lot of work, I healed my broken heart and the grief quieted. I had better coping mechanisms for my sadness yet the daily wine habit lingered. I was aware of this and didn’t like it, and yet still felt resistance to changing it. Some months went by and I kept hearing about This Naked Mind by Annie Grace from friends and acquaintances. I even bought the audiobook on Audible (love Audible) and yet still resisted listening to it because I didn’t want to be lectured.
About this same time, I decided that I wanted to get back in shape. With no baby on the way, I had no excuse for the small belly that remained and would not budge. At age 41, I knew losing weight would only get tougher if I didn’t start soon. I knew that limiting drinking, if not giving it up altogether, had to be part of the process. I did my first 28-day fitness transformation in June 2018. I tried to abstain from wine and couldn’t. Our anniversary came and I felt I had earned a cocktail and some wine at dinner. And since I had already failed in abstaining for the rest of the fitness challenge, I continued to have some wine later in the week and the next week and the next week too.
At this point, I knew I needed to listen to This Naked Mind.
Listening to the book was a life-altering experience. Before beginning the book, I would have defended my drinking of wine by saying that I really loved the taste of it (myth 1) and that I loved the way it makes me feel (myth 2). But when in the beginning of the book, Annie describes how most people find their first taste of alcohol repulsive, I identified wholly and my memory of that wedding long ago resurfaced. She had instant credibility with me. I also realized that, while not having identified with the alcoholic profile, moderation also didn’t work well for me.
I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of person. When Annie explains how alcohol is a poison and how that adverse reaction is your body’s way of protecting you, I felt a need to make a clean break. She explains how alcohol in whatever form is basically ethanol, a pure poison. This hit me hard. I am a person who aspires to live a non-toxic life. This whole blog centers on this idea and I really do live this way. The cognitive dissonance she describes was accurate for me. I could no longer tell myself that a little wine doesn’t hurt.
Alcohol has a strange way of fooling you into thinking that it isn’t bad. Your taste buds adjust, your brain changes, and you’re hooked not only on the alcohol but also on the sugary delivery system, hence the belly. Annie Grace debunks all the myths and stories you tell yourself. She calls out all the supposed health studies linking alcohol to heart health and such for their dubious claims. She explains how closely linked alcohol is to cancer, especially breast cancer, and other diseases. It also makes the body produce and store more estrogen and can even damage your DNA.
About the same time, I watched a YouTube video where this very smart female neuroscientist gets drunk on camera. At the end she’s trying to be funny when she says in her slurred speech, “Don’t forget alcohol is a poison.” Then she passes out. This image has stuck with me because drinking is completely voluntary poisoning. We are hurting our bodies and yet we keep drinking it because the alcohol creates neural pathways that connect it emotionally to many false beliefs.
I finally understood the powerful ritual aspect of drinking and all of the marketing and peer pressure that go into perpetuating the “mommy happy hour” phenomenon. I gave myself grace and released all judgement I had of myself. I continue to pass no judgement on others as well because when you are unaware that you are on the slippery slope of the pitcher plant’s trap, how can you have anything but compassion.
I truly feel that the resistance I had in listening to the book served me because I wasn’t ready to hear the message before. At a point about two-thirds of the way into the book, I had a light-bulb moment when I knew I had already had my last drink. There would be no conscious “last drink” because how could I go back after already learning what I had learned. No, I was done. I am done.
My last drink was on July 27, 2018. I had two glasses of low-quality white wine at our neighborhood beach. I have a very fond memory of that evening. I enjoyed my time with friends and family playing on the beach. Looking back, I know to my core that the alcohol did not create the fun. I created the fun, and I can create more alcohol-free fun in the future. This Naked Mind severed many false beliefs surrounding the role of alcohol in my life. When contemplating giving up drinking, I thought what would I do on vacation, girls’ night out, concerts? And the answer is easy, enjoy myself! Enjoy the special times and relationships, just like I had all the years before I ever drank and perhaps as I have done these past three months, indulge in a tasty blood orange mocktail in Cape Cod, a kombucha at my favorite restaurant with a gal pal, and dancing on stage with Chris Isaak and remembering every moment.
I am entirely emotionally congruent with the decision to abstain from alcohol. I don’t feel deprived or like I am making a sacrifice for my health nor am I declaring myself an alcoholic, which never seemed to be the right label or mindset for my experience. I love using the term “alcohol-free” in place of sober, which to me has a negative connotation. Alcohol-free, on the other hand, expresses what I feel: freedom. I have freedom from wanting alcohol and freedom from thinking about alcohol.
As for my fitness challenge, I lost five pounds the first time I did it, while I was still drinking. The second time I did it, completely alcohol free, I lost another five pounds and the stubborn belly fat. Best of wall, I felt absolutely no deprivation and was able to more deeply explore my relationship to sugar. I now weigh less than what I did when I got married and more importantly feel fitter and younger than I have in years.
This Naked Mind is by far one of the most influential books I have ever read. I felt a palpable change in my thinking from one moment to the next over the course of listening to the book. If you are thinking about exploring your own relationship to alcohol, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For me, living AF has been another awakening, another phase of my quest for a life well lived. I am ready for more fun than ever, all alcohol-free, empowered, and knowing that I made an authentic choice right for me.
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