What if they think I was a drunk? What if they imagine I was day drinking or passing out at home or stumbling around inebriated every day? What if every positive thing I’ve ever done in my life will have an asterisk next to it now— *but she couldn’t control the alcohol.


These are all the things that went through my mind when I was trying to decide whether or not to share with you that I had given up drinking for the year, and quite possibly, for life. More than anything, I want you to like and respect me. What you think of me matters. It’s mattered so much that I’ve not lived my most honest life.


It would have been really easy to call this a “health journey” or a “detox” or a “challenge,” because it IS all of those things. But as I’ve cruised into my 40s, I’ve developed an intolerance for bullshit, most especially my own.


With age, I’ve become truer to myself. But I realized there was an area where I was not being real. I was using alcohol in a way that filtered the truest version of me. A couple of glasses of wine softened the edges of a hard day. It eased the chronic anxiety I felt, just enough that I didn’t have to deal with it. It relaxed me so that I forgot when others hurt me— I could just let those things go and not speak up.


It served as my buffer from the world and allowed me to keep people and issues at arm’s length.


I never felt addicted. I gave it up numerous times for Whole 30s or just because I needed a break. I didn’t drink every day or to excess. I think that’s important to say because, in our society, the only people who should give up alcohol are “alcoholics.” The rest of us should be able to handle it and “drink responsibly.” (Of course, we never question that the “Drink Responsibly” message is coming from those who have the greatest amount of investment in our continued drinking, but that’s a whole other conversation.)


So for years…YEARS…I thought there was something broken in me because I couldn’t “drink responsibly” for ME. No one would call me an alcoholic based on the evidence, but something bothered me about my drinking. It nagged. I journaled about it and swore a thousand times to not use it in a harmful way. In the words of Laura McKowen, author of We are the Luckiest – the Surprising Magic of a Sober Life, “As they say, it doesn’t matter how much you drink, or how often, but what happens to you when you do. If something is keeping you from being fully present and showing up in your life in the way that you want, then deciding to change that thing is a matter of life and death, you know? It’s the difference between existing and actually living.”


And that’s what was happening. Alcohol was preventing me from fully showing up with my kids, my friends, my husband, and most importantly, myself. It doesn’t matter how much. It doesn’t matter that the amounts I was drinking, and the frequency with which I was drinking it, would make some AA attendees laugh.


It’s the Why. Why was I drinking? What was it softening that didn’t need to be softened in my life? What was it buffering for me when maybe I needed to consider setting a boundary instead? Why do I need a glass of wine to get through homework hour? Dinner with clients? An evening after work? Why do I like that feeling so much—you know the one: that sinking into a warm bath feeling where the world just sort of softens and disappears? Where else can I get it outside of a bottle?


And so I started this journey on January 1 to just be curious about those questions. I was not going to make any proclamations, no #soberlife, no embarrassing myself by saying I wasn’t going to drink again, and then having a cocktail with you at a party. I was determined to be curious about sobriety. Not Sobriety with a capital S, labeling myself as an addict which felt restrictive and not quite fitting, but sobriety as in solemn, thoughtful, self-controlled, dignified.


But the soberer (is that even a word?) I got, the more I realized that I had been reaching for alcohol way more often than I’d care to admit. I had to feel feelings and set boundaries and find something else to do with my time, unable to let the hours wash away in a haze.


It felt fantastic. But also hard and scary.


Now I have to deal with things I’ve pushed back for a very long time. But it’s okay because I’m dealing with them as ME, warts and all. Alcohol doesn’t give you courage, it temporarily removes your self-doubt so you can access the courage you already have. So, I’m tackling the self-doubt head-on. I’m tapping into the deep reservoir of bravery, confidence, humor, sexuality, creativity, anger, and sadness that have been in there all along.


 I never needed the alcohol. It was holding me back. And I’m 46 and tired of being held back. I’m ready to be free.


Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker

The work of Laura McKowen

Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash