It’s been a long time since I had a drink. A really long time. The last time I drank was December, 2016.
I didn’t intend to stop after this glass of wine, consumed at a dinner party alongside home-cooked Indian food. But then I noticed that a couple of months went by without my having another drink, and I decided to give some longer-term abstinence a go.
It’s now been almost two years, and this time has been illuminating. Not a stranger to our alcohol-promoting culture – I work in addictions – I became even more aware of how ever-present alcohol is and how challenging it is for folks to get and stay sober.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Alcohol is everywhere. From wine samples routinely offered at grocery stores to vodka on the shelves at CVS to mimosas at a kid’s birthday party (don’t even get me started on how I accidentally served my kid one thinking it was orange juice!), it seems that alcohol is everywhere you go.
2) People tend to have trouble socializing without drinking. Whether it’s dinner or brunch, networking or kids’ parties (see above), almost every social event I can think of has a side of alcohol. In planning a charity event to raise money for eating disorder treatment (note that eating disorders and substance use disorders commonly co-occur), I asked the committee if we could have just a signature drink or forego alcohol completely, but no one else was on board.
3) Still, others have respected my decision not to drink. This might be because of my age or peer group (I’m beyond the going-out-at-night stage in life), but when I declined wine at dinner or gatherings, I didn’t get much push-back. I realize social pressure around abstinence might be more intense for those who are younger and/or in different social circles.
4) Abstinence got easier over time. At first, I actively decided not to drink, but over time, that decision became less conscious and more of an inevitable. Additionally, I wasn’t struggling with cravings/urges, making the decision not to drink that much easier. Those who do struggle with urges have a more significant battle to fight.
5) There’s a reward in accumulating abstinent days. It feels good to work toward a goal and to see the months pass by. That makes it all the more challenging to break the streak and return to drinking. Accumulating sober days, months, and years can be an intervention in and of itself.
Have you ever given up drinking for a period of time? What did you learn or notice?
Please contact us at Gatewell for help with the symptoms of alcohol/other substance use disorders.