Hi, I’m Kelly and I’m not an alcoholic; I’m a non-drinker.
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to change my mind. I used to believe that I would never want to live anywhere but New York, that I would never marry or have children or ― most frightening of all ― get a tattoo. Now I live in Seattle, I’m planning a wedding while daydreaming about baby names, and I have half a dozen tattoos.
But the most momentous, life-altering thing that I’ve changed my mind about has also been the most difficult and complicated adjustment yet. My life was never meant to be without alcohol. Yet here I am, 31 years of age, writing this while sipping chai with my glasses.
Over the past year, I slowly but radically changed my mind about alcohol’s place in my life, ultimately deciding to become a non-drinker. This was an unexpected development to both myself and the people around me ― not because I had a drinking problem, but because I didn’t.
I was adamant that only alcoholics should stop drinking. This belief kept me from ever analysing my alcohol relationship. My drinking habits were reinforced by the fact that everyone else was doing it. I continued to drink socially for over a decade.
My older boyfriend used to give me strong vodka and cranberry drinks in college. I didn’t question it. The fact that I was able to have the most violent fights with my loved ones because of drinking never crossed my mind. I speculated that my health was being affected by some undiagnosed condition ― PCOS, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression ― and not the very normal drinking habits that I saw reflected in my friends and family and in the media I consumed.
“Drink responsibly,” we’re told. Like many others, I took that as a reassurance that moderate drinking wouldn’t hurt me.
Like many other people, my alcohol intake increased during the pandemic. Red wine was once a lightbulb at the end of a hard day. But suddenly, it became the only thing that brightened up a dull, stressed-out, and small life.
Three things occurred at once. We moved into new apartments and I chose to move. Dry JanuaryWe read and discussed with a friend. Holly Whitaker’s “Quit Like a Woman.” Any one of those things would have been fantastic for shaking up my routine, but together they managed to wrench me free of alcohol’s grip in a way I’d never experienced before.
Whitaker’s book in particular not only helped me to complete my dry month but made me actively not wantIt is important to have a glass of water. It was just one of the many quotes in her book, which made me see things in a whole new way.
I believe that alcohol will experience its own ‘cigarette moment’ ― a reversal in public opinion and a rejection of it by mainstream culture, seen as something we Used to do ― once we remove our willful ignorance of its harmful effects on us personally and collectively. I imagine our grandchildren will one day be shocked by the idea that there was once a point in time when we drank ethanol at almost every occasion… the same way I’m always shocked to see pictures of my aunts and uncles smoking indoors at family parties in the seventies.
Since reading Whitaker’s book, I’ve become keenly aware not only of alcohol’s downsides but also of the societal rejection she predicted. Whether it’s thanks to the work of quit-lit writers like Whitaker and Annie GraceCelebrities are embracing this trend. Drew Barrymore, Chrissy Teigen Real Housewife Luann de Lesseps publicly renouncing alcohol, or the increasingly hard-to-ignore proof of alcohol’s role in breast cancer, hormonal disruptions and mental health issuesMore and more women are becoming sober-curious.
There is a cultural shift taking place that makes quitting alcohol acceptable and empowers people. act of feminism. We drink to help men, and we can endanger our health. targets women benefitsOur reliance upon a highly addictive substance.
Still, I didn’t give up alcohol overnight. For a while, I was able to drink moderately. I ordered Diet Coke from bars as well as wine at my wedding shower. My drinking was controlled; “healthy,” some would even say.
But I was still miserable the next morning after drinking champagne with some friends at a picnic. I felt numb and anxious. My depression lay heavy on my stomach. I finally fell back asleep, too tired to do anything but sleep.
My teary-stained face was captured in my dark bedroom. I laughed a lot at myself and resolved to stop drinking.
It’s been 108 days now, and the steady hum of anxiety and fatigue that has been in the background for years has faded away. My sleep is actually restful now, giving me energy and motivation to pursue the things I’m interested in. My God! What a time machine. I’ve unlocked so much time.
If you’re reading this and thinking You are great, but you’re not good for me, that’s fine. If you feel that alcohol isn’t having a negative effect on your life, then I’m happy for you.
Being a non-drinker can be an incredibly difficult choice in a culture that worships alcohol, and it’s one that someone has to make for themselves with all the curiosity and excitement and courage they can muster.
Sometimes, I doubt that my decision is correct. Can I drink champagne to my summer wedding? This is what I believe. This seems extreme for someone who can drink moderately again at any moment and would likely still be fine.
But that’s the thing: I don’t want to go through life as the “OK” version of myself. I don’t want to suppress any of my senses and my experience. When I walk down the aisle in July, I won’t down a glass of champagne first to quiet my nerves. Instead I’ll give myself the gift of feeling it all ― the nerves, the joy, the amazement ― and I’ll remember it later, too, every moment of it, exactly the way it was.
Are you looking for help with substance abuse disorders or mental issues? Call 800-662-HELP (4357) to get help in the U.S. SAMHSA National Helpline.