I’ve never been big on drinking.
I didn’t drink basically all through college and for most of law school. After I started “drinking” – which was well after I turned 21 – my “drinking” consisted of half a glass of wine at certain social events (like law school mixers or law firm receptions). Often, even that half a glass would cause me to wake up feeling kind of gross the next day – I was never hungover (even on the rare occasion I drank more than half a glass) but I always felt just a bit “off” after drinking. My skin felt puffy, I felt tired and dehydrated, and I generally spent the entire next day wishing I hadn’t drank.
I’ve also always weighed between 95 and 102 pounds, so even one glass of wine was more than enough for me.
Fast forward to a few years after law school and into practice, I ended up wanting to learn more about wine with someone I was dating. This wasn’t because either of us wanted to drink more wine – it was because the culture of wine is fascinating. We watched some documentaries, went to a few tastings, and generally had fun learning. Shortly thereafter, I ended up dating someone who was very much into drinking a nice glass of wine with dinner or during the week with friends, so I got a bit more into it and would drink wine with him more often than I had in the past. “More often” for me, though, meant once a week or even less sometimes (which was still more than my normal yearly glass).
After that relationship ended, I stopped drinking almost completely. I had never really cared about alcohol before, and without hanging out with people that enjoyed alcohol, I just never found myself in situations where I wanted it. I’ve also been a fitness nut since as long as I can remember, so given the opportunity, I much preferred drinking water to anything else.
When I decided to start traveling, I simultaneously decided that I won’t drink abroad. Partially it was because I already knew I didn’t like drinking and didn’t want to waste money on alcohol and partially it was because I wanted to stay as safe as possible, and never wanted to find myself in a situation where even one glass of wine made me unaware of my surroundings.
At some point in the middle of not drinking, I realized that not only was I happy not spending the money and not drinking, I was also happy to have finally freed myself from the bounds of “but it’ll be fun!” Let’s face it: drinking is a largely social activity. Sure, it is nice to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day alone sometimes, but a lot of our drinking ends up being when we’re out with friends that want company for their drinking. I’ve always hated that and I’ve largely always resisted it, but while traveling, it felt good to go with a firm, “I don’t drink.”
One of my best friends, an immensely successful and talented writer, Irina, is actually a recovering alcoholic and I wanted to get her thoughts on my newfound desire to quit alcohol. I must admit: I’ve never enjoyed drinking so for me, it was a pleasure to give it up. I know, however, that in some cultures, it’s a big part of the “experience” and I know some people enjoy it more than I do. Here’s what my very wise bestie said:
I have to admit: When I quit drinking, it was hard. Not because the “bad” kind of drinking that I started to do (alone, for stress relief, in order to avoid responsibilities that overwhelmed me) was horrible, but because my social drinking was fairly normal. I was never a party girl and never endangered myself while out drinking with friends on occasion, not even during the worst stages of my alcohol abuse. Social drinking is difficult to let go of, however. It happens everywhere! Networking happy hours, “getting to know you” drinks with professional contacts, wine catching up with friends at dinner and, most of all, during first dates. And as a single girl for many years, there were a lot of first dates…
When I went into recovery and sought help for my problem, my closest friends were extremely understanding. I was terrified that I would lose or have to let go of people I truly cared for, but instead I found new things that I enjoyed about my life. When you give up drinking, socializing begins to revolve around more than just happy hour and brunch mimosas. Instead, I got coffee, went to the park, had pot luck dinners and more. Forcing myself to not drink also forced me to discover new ways to entertain myself, and it’s been liberating. I no longer have to worry about the dreaded New Year’s Day hangover or having one too many tequila shots at a wedding in Mexico. And while I’m sure there’s some special cultural rites that I will miss by foregoing a pint of beer when I travel to Germany next year, I’m much happier going to a new city or country and simply saying “No, thanks, I don’t drink.”
I, of course, am super proud of her because it takes a lot of strength to set boundaries for yourself that the rest of the world might not understand. And also – the things we do to make other people happy never cease to amaze me. My whole life now – The LITMO Life – is about doing what makes ME happy. The LITMO Life is about learning to be happy first so I can learn how better to contribute to the world. And that’s what I want other people to get out of it too.
So continuing to drink just for the sake of other people and socializing…well, it made no sense.
At the end of the day, here’s the thing: I think drinking is stupid and it doesn’t make me happy.
So I decided to quit. And THAT makes me happy.
P.S. Follow Irina’s story and her amazing writing at her website, IrinaGonzalez.com.