So I'm drinking again and I'm pretty excited about it. But not for the reasons you might think.
After two years of abstaining totally from alcohol, I learned some cool stuff I would like to share to help other people. And I think the fact that I'm working the moderation thing might be a little more accessible that the total sobriety thing. Like, you, dear reader, might not be so defensive as you might feel if you thought I was going to convince you to never have a glass of Pinot Griggio again. So I'm not. But I would like to point some things out that I noticed in the hopes that we can all have a healthier relationship with alcohol.
It's possible not drinking has given me a bias, like how you might feel that bread is everywhere if you're trying not to eat carbs. But I don't think so. I think alcohol is marketed to us so consistently that as a culture we believe we need it more than we actually do. For those without an alcohol addiction, you can still be robbed of some of your natural joy, power and self-control by regular drinking. For those with an addiction, it can be deadly. So, here are some ways I believe we don't need to drink, even though we think we might, which I hope will be helpful insights to both groups of people.
1. We don't need to drink to celebrate and have fun. There's just something about champagne, isn't there? The pop, the bubbles, the fancy glass! But it's possible to feel great joy over a wedding, a graduation, a baby being born, a promotion. And as I explained in our last blog, alcohol does make you feel even happier initially because it releases dopamine in the brain, but it is also a depressant, so after the initial hit, it actually dulls your senses including your joy. I remember, a few months into my total abstinence, sitting at an outdoor concert with my husband and saying, "Hey! I'm having as much fun right now as I did last year when I had had two glasses of wine." My husband was like, "Well, yeah." But to me it was a revelation. Life can be good! I'm capable of enjoying it! I don't always need chemical help with that.
2. We don't need to drink to handle stress. I'm a little uptight. Those of you who have met me at a speaking engagement or a large party would not know this; you see me smile, laugh, and live it up. But those of you who live with me, next door to me, have driven with me, or have tried to save seats at a public event with me know otherwise. Let's take the outdoor concert for example: I might get kind of wound up on the way there worrying about whether or not we are going to get a good spot on the lawn, and if it will be big enough for all the people we invited and if the people we invite will show up on time or we will have to defend their spot from other tense concert-goers. And when the friends get here, will they like the spot we picked or will it be too close to the speaker or too far from the stage? And if the friends are late will I be too irritated to welcome them? And so. A glass of chardonnay, please, and then I can relax.
Or! I can take some deep breaths and calm down all by myself. I can ask for help (Honey, will you help me guard the blanket?), or I can let my friends find their own seats when they get here because they are grownups and can handle themselves. Do you see what I'm saying? Without the go-to of alcohol to calm down or feel better fast, we can make character changes and life changes that make life better. (See last week's post on using boundaries rather than a buzz to manage life.) The gift bag slogan, left, a riff on the serenity prayer is funny, but also tragic if we actually believe it. Because God can grant us courage to change, and serenity to accept what we can't. We just need to give him the chance.
3. We don't need to drink to enjoy food and other "good life" pleasures. In one of his stand-up routines, John Mulaney said that now that he's sober no one knows what to offer him. "I have this old turnip that we found in a cabinet. Would that be good for you? I know you don't drink." he quips. But food is great even without a wine pairing. You can barbecue without beer. And then you can eat more, because you didn't drink your calories. In the last two years I've discovered the joy of non-alcoholic drinks that are lovely, and also can eat out without getting heartburn, which I'm sad to say was kind of regular for me in my 40s.
4. We don't need to drink to be good parents. Another stand up comic, Tom Papa, jokes that he needs a martini -- nightly drunk standing up at the sink -- to be a good dad. His kids wait around for it to kick in before they approach him. And I think he's just joking? But I'm not the only one concerned about this trend of jokes, memes, social media posts, t-shirts, dish towels and more promoting the idea that fueling your parenting with wine is a great idea. (Shown below, one of the most popular sayings.) An article in Parents Magazine last year addressed this (you can read it here: https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/parenting-with-a-buzz-alcohol-as-self-care/ )
Said the article:
Wine is also a panacea for the trials of modern motherhood, if you buy into the messages in movies like Bad Moms, the memes and GIFs on Facebook, and the cutesy slogans printed on T-shirts sold on Etsy (“I wine because they whine,” ha-ha). “It’s become this wink-wink joke of ‘Parenting is so hard, I need my wine,’ ” says Gabrielle Glaser, author of Her Best-Kept Secret, a book about American women’s relationships with alcohol. But there’s a problem with the punch line: It gives women who have bona-fide drinking issues fodder to justify their behavior.
The magazine's survey, showed one in three parents admitted they’ve thought they might be drinking too much, and 12 percent said they’ve worried they might have a dependency problem. Added to that, 52 percent of moms said they drink regularly with their children around, and 47 percent have been drunk or tipsy in front of them too.
All I really want to say about this is, mama, you can be a great mom without your "mommy sippy cup." You are capable of caring for your self and them. You can be irritable sometimes -- you don't have to drink that away -- and maybe it's good for your kids to see that they are getting on your nerves and so you get cranky and then tell them to knock it off. This will equip them for the world, understanding that they should try not to irritate people (the essence of politeness!). It's better than showing them that the way to handle irritation is to drink. You've got this, mama. And if you don't, if you feel you can't get through the day without drinking, sweetie, talk to someone! Tell a friend, a therapist, a pastor, or your spouse. Either you need a little help managing life, or you need a little help with alcohol. And there is no shame in either thing!
5. We don't have to be all-or-nothing with alcohol. Well, some of do. Addiction is a real thing, as I see regularly in the Twelve Step ministry at my church. No one decides to be an alcoholic, and not everyone who goes through seasons of too much alcohol use becomes one; there are a lot of determining factors in addition.
But we all should examine the way we use it, just like we should assess anything that affects our emotions and how we process them: relationships, social media, food, caffeine. Sometime a season of abstinence is empowering and eye opening, as it was for me. And sometimes, it's just good to grab a sparkling water, sit back in your lawn chair, and see that music, sunshine and fellowship is all you need to let go and feel good. Sometimes it's that simple and you are that strong.