The first thing I learned when I quit drinking was that no one knew what to do with me without a drink in my hand, including me. As a self proclaimed party girl since the late 90s, who can blame these confused friends of mine? My personality has been so wrapped up in this image, I barely recognize myself without it sometimes, still. Oh, how I loved drinking. I loved cold beer on hot summer days. I loved red wine on cold winter nights. Bloody Marys, Martinis... I loved it all. Until I didn't. Until somewhere along the line, I started to hate it a little bit. Maybe it was that Fourth of July weekend where I was mildly hungover for days, realizing this feeling wasn't uncommon anymore. Maybe it was my inability to maintain the weight I wanted or the fact that I was only interested in events that offered alcohol. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the latter was not hard to come by.
Oh, how sweet, a baby shower. I hope there's booze.
Oh, good, a movie I wanted to see. So glad the movie theater sells booze.
Final Fridays? Free booze!
There was a lot of booze.
I knew I needed to examine some habits and make some changes. Without giving a mundane timeline, suffice it to say, it has been a gradual process-- and is still a work in progress. But, in the very beginning, I started scouring the internet for ideas. I was not in a place where I needed medical help or AA or anything like that. Many people need a combination of these and can find great success with them. In fact, you can listen to the audio version of the AA Big Book through our hoopla app right now if you're interested. I just wasn't at that place. I didn't identify as an alcoholic nor did I feel like I was in "recovery." I felt like, "hangovers suck and I can't lose weight." But, I was still scared to give it up. Until just a few months prior, my husband and I had owned a bar for God's sake. What would my life be like without alcohol? Do I even want that life? I googled before and after pictures of drinkers vs. teetotalers; I researched how your body reacts to alcohol and what it does once you quit; at one point, and I swear this is true, I googled, "How do people go on vacation sober?," because that is something, to be quite honest, I still don't understand. (I have included a clause in my own personal sobriety agreement that if I ever find myself in Paris again, I will be allowed to drink red wine.) I compiled a list of sober celebrities (shout out to my boyfriend, Ewan McGregor!), and I read a lot of blogs--and there are some really bad blogs out there-- but one I found myself coming back to over and over again was Holly Whitaker's.
Holly Whitaker was a light. She's about my age and has a real matter-of-fact openness that I admire. Her brutally candid stories about her own struggles did not always match mine, nor did her spirituality, but her attitude did. And then she did the best thing ever: She wrote a book called Quit Like a Woman. And I was like, "I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR" and I ordered it.
Holly Whitaker wrote this book specifically for women (and anyone who identifies as a woman- she is very clear) because she feels like drinking culture is especially detrimental to women, and that many recovery groups are patriarchal in nature. Her memoir is messy and sometimes meandering but also a beautiful testament to her own self care. She is inspiring. And she did that thing where she does a before and after photo. I LOVE a before and after photo. Here is hers:
Something I also found helpful was the inclusion of lists of things to do instead of drinking. One thing no one tells you about sobriety is that it can be crushingly boring if you've been drinking for 20 years as a way to ramp up the fun. The beginning of your new life is especially tedious because you will inevitably spend a lot of time at home.(And, yes, I lost "friends." That cliche is true... But none of the ones who truly mattered.) I watched so many British crime dramas and drank so much tea in those first few weeks, it's amazing I didn't come away with a British accent. (By the way, if you're into British crime drama, we have a great selection. I'm on season 7 of Vera, pet.) And, of course, I read a lot of books-- including several memoirs of people in recovery-- many of which did not speak to me at all. But, Holly's did. And, yes, I feel like we are on a first name basis.
Apparently, being "sober curious" is a new, trendy thing. I did not know this until I found myself literally curious about sobriety and doing internet research. Dry January, Sober October... I guess I am on trend! My life goals are slowly being realized.
As a middle-aged, middle-class white woman, I know the secret to a healthy life is lavender oil, acai berries, and yoga-- And I should always strive to balance my wine nights with my professional career while being a perfect parent to boot. My skin should have a youthful glow at all times and my weight should never fluctuate above-- Oh my God, I can't do this.
This isn't working! I'm sorry. I QUIT. -Me in July, basically.
Also, me in July... versus now.
I LOVE a good before and after picture, don't you?
-Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.