Is Your Moderate Alcohol Consumption A Problem?
I can not begin to answer that for you. That is probably not the most important question either. Perhaps it is more beneficial to ask if there is a better way of life waiting for you beyond alcohol consumption?
The older I get the more I am finding interest in carving out alternative paths for this wondrous journey through life. Paths that hopefully lead to more connection with loved ones and a deeper connection with the universe. Paths that lead to more energy and vitality. Paths that allow greatness and beauty to arise from a seemingly mundane moment. This may all sound like new age hyperbole or the wishful thinking of an upstart yogi, but these quality of life improvements are actually the first-hand results stemming from my recent decision to temporarily step away from booze. There may not be a more alternative life path in American society than a nondrinker, but I am starting to think that true joy for some may exist beyond societal norms.
I Stopped Drinking
I have hit the pause button on drinking alcohol. I have not issued any declarative statements on my quitting drinking nor have I become a champion for sobriety. I simply took a timeout on booze which has now organically extended beyond my initially planned timeframe. As an adult, I never drank and drove and I never allowed alcohol to interfere, interrupt, or even remotely infringe upon my life, relationships, or career. I did, however, consistently drink an average of 2 drinks per day for basically my entire adulthood. Sure I had my roaring late teens and twenties filled with all-nighters and weekend long mania, but that phase and level of engagement with alcohol had been fully put to bed through my own life desires at the onset of my 30's. My relationship with alcohol, though, as I am now able to clearly reflect on, took on a more subtle yet possibly unsettling role in my life. Some may scoff at the notion of 2 drinks per day becoming a subversive agent to one's sense of peace and general contentment, but I am starting to believe it did for me. These 2 drinks recurred more often than not simply out of routine. Typically a glass of wine with dinner and another while watching a television show with my wife. This is also in addition to the random special occasion like a wedding or a guy's getaway weekend. When those wild card moments sprung up the drinks could easily extend beyond just 2. In my mind, though, and backed up by just about every piece of scientific literature written about alcohol, I was not only dwelling safely in the normal range of moderate alcohol consumption for males, I was potentially even gaining some slight wellness benefits from the daily red wine.
Sometime in the past year or so, there was an apparent shift in my body's physiology. I started getting mild hangover symptoms at a more frequent rate and at times for a shockingly low amount of alcohol consumption. Rather than eliminate the overt and direct cause of these pains I continually shrugged them off as simply being a part of getting older. While at some level of my psyche this rational worked, as I continued with my routine of moderate daily drinks, there was a muted yet present internal question arising somewhere within me. On some level, I began wondering what is the return on investment for my relationship with alcohol? What is the net positive benefit I am getting from this routine and does it really trump the slight physical and compounding emotional pain from a wine headache?
The Tipping Point With Alcohol
I had two specific moments that tipped me from a place of quiet internal debate into a mode of taking definitive action. The first occurred when a thought appeared while meditating that gently suggested I take a look at my drinking and perhaps ponder how life could be if I took a break from it. I am fully aware this could have simply been my own underlying concerns coming to the forefront of my mind in a moment of stillness, but it felt different from one of my own thoughts. It was presented to me for my consideration and then it was gone. Although I did not take an immediate resulting action from that contemplation, it stuck with me.
The second specific moment was the one that drove me to take a direct action. I have an older cousin who was very dear to me who died of suicide. There were two days of viewings and a service to honor his life. The evening after the first day of viewings I was with my parents and older brother, who came into town from California, where he lives with his family. We sat and had wine and food while talking into the late evening. It was a rare chance for the 4 of us, the initial nuclear family, to be back under the same roof again without spouses or kids. We tried to process the loss of our beloved family member and comfort each other as best as we could. The next morning of the formal services, one of the most important days of my life to this point, I awoke with a bad headache and foggy brain after consuming just 2 glasses of wine. I was so mad at myself for feeling this way on what would be such an emotional day for my family. I was able to cast aside the resentment that morning and move forward with the spirit of the celebration that took place for my cousin, but a shift occurred in my tolerance for misery.
If it had been some sort of food like bananas or chocolate causing these inflammatory reactions they would have been stricken from my life a while ago without hesitation. Why had alcohol been getting a pass? That day of my cousin's services I decided I would opt into the growing social movement of the Dry January pledge, which is a month long abstinence from alcohol. The timing of that movement seemed ideal to for me to jump aboard. It would also provide a quick and easy answer as to why I was not drinking at any social events.
The Noticeable Changes Without Booze In My Life
Ironically, January was one of the sickest months I have had in years. My wife and my son and I kept inflicting each other with various viruses and severe colds. It was brutal, but even through the coughs and congestion, I could begin to feel a physical and emotional lift from the absence of alcohol. At the tail end of the month, I started to fully shake off the sicknesses and wanted to truly experience the absence of alcohol when at my optimal level of health. So I decided to extend my break from booze beyond just Dry January. In doing so, I made no formal pledges and set no guidelines or rules at all, just simply intending to stay off the booze for the current moment.
The most positive and dramatic impact was on my sleep and how refreshed I woke up each and every morning. I was having wildly vivid dreams at night too, which were being recalled at a more frequent rate than the past. I started encountering milestones or events that would have definitely been accompanied by drinks in the past. I not only enjoyed them all the same but actually found some deeper levels of pleasure and joy in mostly all of them. The Superbowl, rock concerts, a guy's weekend in Atlantic City, St. Patrick's Day and various birthdays were all met and engaged with a high level of enthusiasm while sustaining the same level if not, even more, gratification. I was especially relishing the immediate moments after an event had ended when I had not taken a single sip of booze, knowing I was clear-headed, fully present, and in line for a restorative night of sleep. No matter how minimal the amount of alcohol is, perception and the experience of life itself get slightly dulled in the moments after taking a drink. I am taking that time back now and it has become time well spent.
Reflection On My Decision
The joy I was feeling from my break of booze made me more inquisitive about my decision and sent me further into a period of self-reflection. I had a dedicated session on this topic with my therapist which yielded an affirmation on my approach of simply staying present with the process and allowing it to unfold organically, not needing to make proclamations or follow any self-directed set of rules. I also came across an intriguing book called This Naked Mind by Annie Grace.
Annie was a business professional with a career that somehow managed to ascend while her drinking devolved into a two bottles of wine per day habit. Annie sets out to make the case that alcohol is a highly addictive substance that wreaks havoc on the physiology of the human body while inflicting an emotional toll that most people tend to compound by drinking more. She feels every single person who drinks has the potential to spiral into full-blown addiction, not because of human behavior, but based on alcohol itself being so addictive. Alcohol stirs physiological changes within the body upon the first drink.
One theme that Annie consistently drills home, which my personal experience differed from, is the notion that if people drink at all they tend to drink more as they progress through life. The majority of people in my circle said goodbye to the binge fueled partying that was commonplace and recurring in college and throughout our twenties. I know myself, as previously mentioned, had left that era with alcohol long ago and had considerably reduced my overall consumption. That does not mean my drinking in the subsequent years should be left unexamined, though. I feel her repetition of this theme, that everyone drinks more as they move along in life, could heighten some complacency in those who may benefit from a change in their pattern of drinking. In Annie's defense, she is very clear that addiction to alcohol in her eyes has absolutely nothing to do with the amount you drink or the frequency, but everything to do with the reasons you are drinking and the resulting impact on your overall health and emotional wellness.
A fascinating part of the book for me and the content I most connected to was her unpacking of the social conditioning to drinking alcohol that is so pervasive and deeply woven into the fabric of our society. She brilliantly deconstructs these widespread belief systems, like drinking leads to relaxation or moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits. It is an eye-opening and contrarian examination of conditioning that we are subjected to in everyday life from the time we are kids.
Will I Drink Again?
My period of heightened self-reflection about my decision to take a break from booze came and went. Perhaps even more important than the examination of my decision, is just how incredible I felt from the elimination of alcohol and how great I continue to feel right now. I can not overstate the overall uptick of energy and wellbeing from the soundness of the sleep I am now getting. The joy of leaping out of bed fully refreshed every single morning, as opposed to the random nightmares of faint head pain and fogginess, is reason enough to continue with this path for now. My therapist and I both agreed should I ever decide to enjoy a beer or glass of wine again, that it would be done in a more mindful manner. That action, should it ever occur, would be the result of a fully conscious decision done with presence, as opposed to just another unconscious act stemming from routine. The thing is, I am not sure I care to have another glass of wine or sip of beer anytime soon, and more importantly it is simply not a concern to me. The elimination of alcohol from being a routine in my life has caused a net positive gain of physical and emotional wellness and those are benefits I want to continue to enjoy.
As we grow older we can only hope to apply the lessons learned through compounding life experience towards the decisions we make today. My decisions in life as a 40 something husband and father are being driven more by a desire for meaning and purpose and are thankfully less influenced by the insecurities that at times plagued my youth. Anything that continually recurs in your life from routine as opposed to mindful decision making can slowly build a residue of regret somewhere in the recess of your mind. Lifelong conditioning and years of routine are tough to even examine, let alone break from entirely. Maybe for you, it is the daily soda consumption or the lack of a fitness routine that has been gnawing at you for some time now. Perhaps you constantly put off making cold calls at work and your sales and career are now suffering as a result. The time in between identifying something you may need to change and then taking a definitive action can potentially be an unsettling period, but you solely possess the ability to negate all unease by taking a small step of action. The unknown can appear like an intimidating deterrent perched prominently at the onset of any new path, but definitive action will always overcome uncertainty.
If there is anything in your life you feel is occurring from routine rather than a conscious and mindful decision give yourself a chance to explore a better way. Take an immediate and singular step of definitive action. Make no proclamations or commitments to a massive block of time. Just take a step and let that feeling sink in. This is not in any way intended to make light or a small matter of someone with severe challenges causing harm in their lives, like someone in the throes of addiction. That is an entirely different scenario requiring a deeper and more comprehensive level of care. The discontent I am exploring is a more underlying issue, but also more pervasive across my generation. This is for the masses who are feeling unease with a component of their life or life as a whole. Something recurring that may not be causing outright destruction, but is possibly detracting from a fuller and richer life experience. The is a call to seek your better way of life. This can be an alternate path to anything involving your pursuit of health, wealth, and happiness. Our decisions and the action we take can and do make a direct impact on our ability to feel true joy in this life. You deserve to walk a path that is lit from the brightest possible glow the universe can shine. Is there a better life waiting for you?