New year so far + a pretty big life update

My heart always thrills at the sight of an old fashioned long form blog post popping up from one of my dusty, trusty favorite blogs who’ve somehow managed to survive instagram tiktok and substack. There’s just something about reading about someone’s #notsponsored #unfiltered ordinary life, isn’t there?

Well, now that I’m apparently settled into a once per month blogging habit, I figure there’s no time like the very last day of the month to squeak in a second entry to really shake things up around here.

I’m having difficulty mentally grasping that we’re 1/12 of the way done with 2022. The entire period of time from October until about a week ago seriously felt like one very long, very weird month. From all the ridiculousness surrounding covid to the holidays to actually getting covid, I feel like I have the most intense case of brain fog I’ve ever experienced outside of pregnancy. Time feels non linear. Days pass in weeks, but the weeks seem to pass in a matter of hours.

Also, I stopped drinking. Like completely. BAM. Weren’t expecting that, were you?

Just figured I’d come out and say it. This week will mark 4 months since my last sip of alcohol, save for a single celebratory margarita imbibed about 2 weeks into the experiment to mark the baptism of our new godson (Cheers, Caleb!) which was, guess what? A huge letdown. The margarita, that is, not the baby. The baby and the sacrament were both divine.

But let’s rewind to last October. We had a huge family bbq slated for October 2, and it was fun and loud and filled with cousins and hotdogs and lots and lots of what my sisters and I colloquially deem “sparkling bitch waters” which encompasses the entire genre/mood/movement of White Claws and their many derivatives.

Now, dear reader, if you know me at all, if you’ve read my blog for any amount of time over the last 11 years, you know that I love alcohol. I love to drink. I love wine, I love beer, and I super love vodka.

Dave has always made fun of the fact that I actually rate the effects of alcohol over the taste, and much as I genuinely enjoy the bite of a hoppy IPA or the smooth warmth of a Super Tuscan red, he’s not wrong. I loved being just a little bit buzzed. In fact, I would have happily chosen to stay permanently in that state for the rest of my life, were that a viable and moral option.

Because look, I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. Some seasons it crosses over into the darker territory of depression, but my baseline has always been hyper on two. I am high strung. Highly sensitive. However you parse it, I’m a total head case who is wound up about as tight as a person can be wound without sometimes having to resort to letting out little barks and yips of panic just to release pent up angst.

Kidding, I do totally do that sometimes. Just ask my kids.

So all that backstory to say, the first time I experienced the numbing effects of alcohol on my frenetic brain, it was pretty much love at first sip. Not the taste, of course. Had to start out with something really refined like Bacardi Ice, which now that I’m thinking about it, was actually a visionary, fructose-heavy forefather to all the white claws to come. Truly ahead of its time, that malted sugar beverage. But yes, the effect of alcohol on my super intense brain that felt all the feels all the time was…magic.

I started drinking my senior year of high school and gradually worked my way to the title of binge drinker by around the end of my freshman year of college. Regular black outs, vomiting, mysterious bumps and bruises and even more mysterious interpersonal choices were all regular features of my undergrad years. Interestingly enough, my conversion (reversion) experience is tied in tightly with having given up drinking during Lent of my senior year. I can’t say whether my heart would have been receptive to the massive outpouring of grace into my soul at the death of JPII if I hadn’t been sober at the time. I feel so grateful to have been nudged in that direction, and I looking back I can clearly see the hand of God at work.

Once I got to Steubenville for college:the remix, I began taking instruction in the delicate art of moderation. Slowly but surely, my experience of alcohol morphed from abusive to, well, respectable.

The blackouts disappeared, replaced with the occasional regrettable brown out and plenty of memorable nights out in Pittsburgh. I learned the subtle art of achieving a buzz, pacing myself carefully to avoid tipping over the line into inebriation territory, and congratulating myself that I was now well on my way to Drinking With the Saints.

Well, except at weddings. And concerts. And vacations. Basically if it was an exciting Event, I still wrestled mightily to control my intake. I made judicious use of the Sacrament of Confession and went through countless seasons of experimentation in moderation, creating rules about when and how much and with who and what kind…and that’s basically been my story with booze ever since.

I have just never had any chill around booze. If there was a bottle of wine on the table, I was mentally calculating how many minutes needed to pass before it would look bad or weird if I reached for it to pour myself a refill. If there was a social event, I eagerly made my way to the bar as soon as I walked in. If I was planning a party, drinks were the first and funnest part of the menu.

But then something started happening over the past year. I started to associate having a drink or two or… three, with waking up in the middle of the night in a blind existential panic, generally around 2 or 3 am.

At first I thought it had something to do with the type of drink I’d had. Had to be wine, right? I’d switch to just mixed drinks. Or maybe just gluten free beer. For months I tinkered with the formula, maybe it was the sulfite content of that prosecco? Maybe it was the gluten in that vodka? Maybe the amount of sugar in that spiked seltzer was messing with my hormones? I tried everything short of, um, not drinking to figure it out.

Until one morning – the morning after that aforementioned family bbq as a matter of fact – I woke up and admitted to myself: it was the alcohol, period.

And I decided that I was done. I never wanted to wake up with my heart pounding and my brain racing at 2 am again. Never wanted to have another hangover. Never wanted to look at my screaming toddler lying facedown on the kitchen floor at 3 pm and have the thought “is it too soon to open that bottle?” run through my head again.

So I stopped.

And, save for a few challenging moments during some of the higher stress points of the past 4 months, I haven’t looked back.

I read a book about a week into the experiment that profoundly shifted my mindset around drinking called “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace. In it, Grace encourages the reader to reframe the concept of not drinking from “I can’t” to “I get to” and that has been a total game changer for me. It works like this: on Friday nights while we’re eating pizza and I’m wishing I could enjoy a gluten free IPA with Dave, my immediate and now automatic response to that impulse is “I get to never feel a hangover again.”

Her book has also been really helpful for my ambivalence around the idea of being someone who “struggles with alcohol”. She makes the case that alcohol is objectively a mind altering substance, and that everybody who drinks it, in any amount, is subject to its chemical effects. Maybe tolerances and tases are lower or higher from person to person, but nobody is immune to its effects, and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you if you do struggle with those effects. It just means that maybe drinking the stuff isn’t right for you.

So, anyway, whew, that’s way longer than I planned! And very self disclosing in a way that aaaaaalmost makes me want to hit delete delete delete but… I won’t. Because maybe someone else will find it helpful.

To answer a few of the obvious questions: is this forever? To which my answer is, right now, yes, it is. I’ve hesitated to tell people what I’ve been doing save for my closest friends because it does feel big and extreme and kind of overwhelming when I think about the rest of my life…but when I think about day in and day out how much better I feel, how great my sleep occasionally is (thanks kids + hormones) and how much more I’m having to lean in and feel my feelings…I am almost speechless with gratitude and relief that this is how I get to live now. Unfortunately I haven’t lost 50 instant pounds or turned back the clock a decade, but maybe it’s still early days?

Does Dave still drink, and is that weird? Yes and no. He still drinks in moderation, as he always has, and it’s weirdly not weird. I’ve even made him the occasional drink over the past month or two, and even that wasn’t weird. I mean I guess it was objectively weird, but it didn’t feel weird to me. Plus, I don’t like and have never liked Scotch, which is his jam. He probably drinks about 50% less in terms of amount and frequency, if I had to estimate, since his partner in crime is out of commission. I asked him what it was like and he said honestly, weird and kind of disorienting at first, but the fruit he has seen in me has made any of the drawbacks more than worth it.

I will say, date nights are pretty lame now. I don’t know what to do to fix it, but dinner and drinks are basically all we did for about a solid decade, so we’re really going to have to work on that one. I’d say that’s probably been the biggest let down in this entire experience, but I’m sure we’ll work it out somehow.

Why not just practice authentic moderation? Like one drink a week? 2 drinks a Saturday? Only drinking Thursday through Sunday? Only drinking at parties? Trust me, I’ve tried every version of this over the years. Another line from “This Naked Mind” resonates deeply with me, went something like “One drink was too many, and 1,000 drinks wasn’t enough.” Basically as soon as I do drink, my brain begins the negotiations for more, next, again, and the silence and contentment of “none” is so preferable to the clamor of “how many?!” For me, abstinence is infinitely more manageable than moderation.

I’m sure I’ll write about this more in the future, but for now, that’ll do pig. that’ll do.

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