Here's to All of Us
I’ve told this story before, but it continues to show me new parts of itself—and of me. And truthfully, it’s hard to let another year go by and not make note of it in some way. In 2011, the year I turned 60, I found myself wanting to mark that milestone in some way. I considered physical feats, bucket list items, and various forms of retail therapy, but nothing struck me. So I let that day in late September pass, and figured something would eventually strike me as a way to pay tribute to that significant birthday and the beginning of a new decade.
Although this goal slid to the back of my mind, by Thanksgiving, I realized I knew my answer. I’d spent years negotiating with myself about moderation when it came to drinking wine, but, in the same way that I am more interested in eating a bag of popcorn than a bowl, my efforts weren’t successful. On the Sunday after we all ate too much turkey that year, I decided I’d try my life without any alcohol at all. I purposely didn’t tell anyone at first because I wanted to be able to change my mind. I also didn’t make a huge deal out of it. I just stopped drinking. I switched first to sparkling apple cider and then to Fresca, because it didn’t have as much sugar. I still pour it into a wine glass at the end of the day and relax on the couch in the exact way I did with the wine. But now, I can actually get up afterwards and do something else, if I want to. I don’t fall asleep quite as early, say things I wish I hadn’t, write overly emotional late-night texts to friends, or knock over quite as many wine glasses as I used to. At least I don't do those things as frequently as I used to. At first, I also slept better and lost weight but, as with many women my age, both sleep and weight control are kind of eternally elusive.
This living a full, rich life is a tricky business.
This year marks 10 years of not drinking. I don’t miss the alcohol, nor the hangovers, the occasional embarrassment, the general lack of motivation, or the calories. Sometimes, late in the afternoon, I do occasionally long for the feeling I used to have when I knew that I would soon get to sit on my couch and zone out, but I’ve found other ways to do that—meditation, playing with the dogs, going for a walk, and watching bad TV, among them. In return, the biggest benefit has been being emotionally present. Sometimes being fully in the moment isn’t even that fun, when something difficult is happening or when I’m worried, but mostly it is a gift I didn’t even know I needed or wanted. I can think more clearly, tell the truth, and manage my emotional state much, much better than I was ever able to do when I was drinking.
As you might imagine, drinking was an issue in my family of origin. My dad drank three beers every night and a couple of more on weekends. My mother hated it, and it created a constant, low-grade stress. Although my father never said so, I am relatively sure he did it just to remove himself from really having to engage, and this just made things worse. My brothers were both alcoholics, and the list of bad results from their drinking is nearly endless and mostly grim. But we also didn’t do much processing or truth-telling in my family. I suppose it was partly the time I grew up in, but the best barometer for happy families was how they looked on the outside more than how the individual people inside actually felt. I didn’t really start drinking until I was in my 20s, and I was lucky that it didn’t ever result in car accidents, arrests, divorces, or worse. But I was frequently not present with other people, nor with myself.
The last 10 years of my life have been, for the most part, lovely. Not drinking has definitely added to that quality, but there is so much more to it than just avoiding opening that bottle and having a glass of wine. What I’ve gotten from it is the ability to trust myself, to succeed at something I thought I wouldn’t be able to do, and to be honest with myself about how life feels both with it and without it.
This living a full, rich life is a tricky business. We kind of imagine ourselves as able to meet whatever comes our way and yet, all of that is often just too hard to manage or face. So, we drink, or we sleep, or we lie on the couch and hope tomorrow will come quickly. But we really are all so brave, whatever that looks like for each of us. I have mentioned my recent “anniversary” to a few people, and we have all agreed that 10 years goes by quickly. For me, I feel gratitude for whatever got me thinking about not drinking in the first place, and always for our grace and humor as we help each other navigate all of this.