List-ish: Five ways my life has changed since I quit drinking

Debt free with a ring on it. Thanks, sobriety.

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April 15, 2016, is *around* the time I had my last sloshy boozy bombastic banana sandwich of a bender.

I don’t remember the exact date, and picking a Dry Anniversary is kind of like picking a birth day for the feral animal you found on the side of the road and adopted.

I also didn’t want to jinx myself.

I didn’t tell a lot of people I was quitting. Mostly because I had told them before and was embarrassed to keep talking about it as I leaned into my fourth beer.

I knew it was going to kind of be like watching a kid learn to ride a bike — don’t stare at them or they’ll fall because you’re paying attention.

You can look now.

5) My skin looks years younger.

I’m vain, so let me just start here.

Yes, yes, alcohol affects your capillaries and causes bloating or something something and, being that I am mere mortal covered in aging human flesh, my skin has unsurprisingly improved because it’s not slogging its way through a desert of dehydration five of the seven days in a week.

However, not drinking has taken my nightly discipline from non-existent to actually kind of fun. That same coach-y part of my brain that didn’t let me go to bed until I finished all that wine, young lady, now champions me to do something much more productive.

Like, ta da, actually washing my face every night. (And using a night cream, because gravity.)

Not drinking has allowed me to focus on things other than drinking and the all-encompassing ways it would hot-mess my life.

Sober-me is cool with herself. Basic care like making a bed, washing a face or not worrying about what I said last night are just tablestakes for my daily life. I can move on to the important things I want filling my limited brain waves.

4) I paid off all my debt — credit card, student loan, et. al.

I don’t owe anyone shit.

Do you know how free that makes me feel?

1,000,000%.

It’s the most free I’ve ever felt as an adult.

Granted, I made a lot of other moves that helped me accomplish this goal, like working two, sometimes three, side gigs. But not spending money on booze and its inevitable emotional-spend side hustle definitely made a dent.

No more losing $10 per drink.

No more buying $50 worth of shots for everyone so they’ll hurry up and get as drunk as I am.

No more shopping or buying self-help books out of guilt the next morning.

No more $100 a week therapy sessions to uncover why I keep doing what I say I’m not going to keep doing.

No more $20 pregnancy tests. (JK! Just making sure you’re still paying attention. The off-brand ones are, like, only $10.)

3) I got engaged.

I’m not all that excited to get married. Marriage isn’t that interesting to me. It’ll be cool to have a wedding and commit to something so huge with a person who is exactly what I need to be my most fearless self for the rest of my life…

But I don’t think marriage is that important. It’s not an accomplishment to me. It’s just romantic and legally advantageous long-term. (Legally advantageous assuming it won’t end, but I wouldn’t get married if I thought this wouldn’t last for the long haul because, like I said, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal or necessary. I’m doing this because I want to.)

What is an accomplishment, what is rewarding, what is interesting is that I could have a relationship that could be healthy enough for marriage at all.

I held off through miles of love, obsession and heartache to wait and do this until I had worked out all my own kinks — and then fought for the person who knows and nourishes the darkest corners at which I bend.

That’s what makes me excited about marrying him.

The sense of perspective and calm that every tool I’ve ever used to help me not drink have also helped me be a better partner and settle for nothing less than a similar better partner in return.

I like what I did last night. So I don’t need to live vacillating between states of apology and rage.

Him.

2) I let go of baggage I’ve been trying to leave behind for years.

I once was coming home from a work trip on the east coast and there were two teenage girls on my flight. When we landed, all the passengers began the post-flight shuffle of trying to grab bags, unbuckle belts, stretch out legs, and text awaiting parties that we’d arrived.

It’s easy to forget things in the hustle — especially after a cross-country red eye. The two teenagers in front of me seemed particularly distracted, laughing and whispering to themselves. So when they headed toward the exit as the plane emptied and I noticed a grimey, kissy face emoji pillow sitting in their seat, I naturally thought, “Oh no! They left their gross pillow! I shall save the day!”

I grabbed the yellow circle and ran down the aisle after them.

“Excuse me,” I said, smiling at my heroism. “You forgot this on the seat!”

They exploded in laughter. One of the girls reluctantly plucked the pillow from my hand, now noticeably empty with no award medal.

About 20 minutes later, having gone to the bathroom and patiently talked myself out of a magazine to-go, I made it to the baggage claim.

There, two items were left circling sadly on the conveyor belt.

My suitcase…

And that kissy face emoji pillow.

Oh, I see. They’d been trying to ditch it on the plane and I, with my old-lady talons and Eagle Scout eyes, had derailed their plans.

In this analogy:

Me-now = those girls

The putrid plush pillow = my trauma and baggage

Alcohol = well-intentioned fellow passenger

I don’t think alcohol is bad. It’s fun most of the time and drinking should always be a personal choice. I’m a give-me-liberty-or-give-me-fuck-all kind of gal.

However, it was definitely a personal trap that kept me in a cycle of despair and, eventually, self-inflicted wounds.

I hate and am scared of how dangerous it made me.

Since quitting, I’ve had to face emotional cycles on my own. Having the strength to say no to something I loved (drinking and partying with a drink) taught me that I am capable of establishing boundaries. So now it’s easier to draw and hold steady to a line on my past pain and on people or circumstances that could hurt me in the future.

You have to learn to just be if you can’t drink.

You have to sit in what makes you uncomfortable or deal with bad memories head on.

And allowing yourself to be with something — without a judgemental reaction, good or bad — is the best way through it.

1) I’m more myself — confusion and all.

There’s an adage that says, more or less, that people are more honest when they’re drunk. The truth comes out when you’re drinking, it says.

That’s bullshit.*

*Well, it’s not bullshit in the sense that it makes people say what they’re really thinking in the moment. But what you’re thinking when you’re drunk is usually pretty stupid.

We’re all working through a million things in our head at any one given moment. The thoughts that wrestle their way out in drunken moments are never usually forward thinking or productive. They’re just our dumb reptile brain getting some sunshine.

Today I feel safer with myself. I can keep my mouth shut when I need to and explore those thoughts on my own. I am in control. I’ll still dance on a table because I’m just that kind of person, even without alcohol.

I have learned how to be hard on myself by way of love — how to offer acceptance alongside high expectation, instead of those two ideas living in extreme opposites that I’d visit depending on the hour of the day (ie. Work hard, play hard!).

For the most part, everything is better.

I still struggle with hanging out in places where or at events when drinking is the main activity. It’s boring. And I feel like a square, though that’s easing as I get used to it.

But the hardest part has been accepting that I wasted a lot of time and energy being drunk or hungover.

Did I really have as much fun as I think I did?

Does it matter if I didn’t?

Did I get drunk to get hungover to sleep through something harsher?

Do I make excuses for binge drinkers now because I’m more disgusted by the people who judge drinkers than by the people who make mistakes when they drink?

I don’t want to admit to people who thought I might have had a problem that I, yeah totally, had a problem.

I don’t like the thought of some smug aunt or self-righteous classmate or destructive ex thinking, “I told you so.”

Because what does that mean about me if they were right?

Did I really not know myself at all?

I realize some of that is pride, the kind that drives a person to drink. Maybe that’s what I’ll reconcile in year two.

Today though, I’ll just let myself be proud.

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