Experiments with Sobriety — Finding my Focus
I’m writing from a window seat on Alaska Flight 1300 to Orlando. This morning, I woke up to a 4:30 am alarm to get myself to the airport on time. 4:30 came early, my mind and body groggy as I got dressed and made the bed, but there was one thing that made it easier than most other pre-dawn airport wake ups of my adulthood… no hangover or negative effects of alcohol whatsoever.
I’m 16 days into an indefinite period of sobriety, the second longest amount of time off alcohol since I started drinking 15 years ago. This is surprising to a lot of people. A love of booze has become interwoven with my identity and acts as a guide to my social life. I’m known among friends new and old as a wine aficionado, a reputation that I suppose I’ve earned through studying wine (‘Certified Specialist of Wine’ through Society of Wine Educators) and my experience drinking a whole hell of a lot of it. I love the intricacies of wine growing and wine making, the care that goes into a bottle. The stories of producers are passionate and audacious. A proper pairing can elevate both food and wine to near ecstasy. And it’s not just wine, don’t get me started on rye or gin or a well-balanced cocktail. I love that shit.
But once my switch is flipped and the Riedel Burgundy glass meets my lips, another version of myself emerges and she doesn’t like to leave. She can drink grown men under the table handily. She pays no mind to other important aspects of life like exercise, creativity, and my long term goals. She’s fun, irreverent and impulsive. Once she’s running the show, I am many times more likely to end up dancing at a dive bar (or on one) or connecting with other ‘party’ friends for an all night celebration; and the next few days I will pay astronomical San Francisco prices with a hangover and lethargy, anxiety, regret and shame. It is fun (and seems like a good idea) in the moment, but those moments pass and become hazy memories at best. Recently I hit a breaking point after one too many martinis on a Tuesday night and the painful Wednesday morning. I’m tired of paying, it’s no longer worth the price for me. Reveling in the precious rain that provided relief from the wildfire that devastated Butte County and gave the Bay Area 10 days of hazardous air, I gave up alcohol.
This was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, normally a night of boozy merry-making. But I wanted the four day weekend to be productive and enjoyable and hangover-free. I woke up early on Thursday and ran around Lake Merritt, another first, my mind as clear as the air. I was productive all day, enjoyed an evening of good food and conversation with friends for Thanksgiving, and was in bed early drifting to sleep through the lullaby of rain.
In the two weeks since I’ve stopped, I’m feeling clear and focused, showing up more fully at work and able to dedicate time toward thinking about the future and what’s important to me. I’m eating much healthier, with more energy for cooking and the ability to plan. Cravings for salty foods don’t dictate my meals anymore. My body is stronger and leaner without the extra water weight and pain of withdrawal and dehydration. I’m not on the shame rollercoaster from making questionable decisions, and I’m learning to trust myself and follow through on my word. I can’t even quantify how huge of a shift this is. I’m happier than I’ve been in many, many, many years.
I’m applying my intellectual love of wine to coffee and tea, which I enjoy during my now pleasant mornings. I’m learning about nutrition as medicine, able to implement new knowledge without the burden of guilt from what I ate, drank and spent last night.
Surprisingly, it’s also helping me enjoy company more, as I don’t use a drink to help me cope with social anxiety or discomfort. I either get into more meaningful conversations quickly or realize I want to leave. An underwhelming first date that in the past I would have made tolerable with another few glasses of wine, I just ended early and headed home. I realized back at my apartment how much happier I was at home putzing around my kitchen. It’s made small pleasures magnitudes more delightful and makes clear when I need to change my environment. I feel like a child again, with imagination and wonder, in touch with my needs.
I am even tackling other addictive substances of the digital variety and have removed Instagram, Twitter, Candy Crush and Safari from my phone. I’ve recouped hours of my life since pressing the little shaky “X” on my iPhone (with a cracked screen from a hungover morning months ago). This undertaking is not about perfection, but about focus and freedom. I’m cultivating the habits to make my life high impact and robust and memorable. I can’t do that when I’m in the precarious back and forth of drinking. I’m committing to being a version of myself where I can thrive.
This will be a period of second firsts: sober Christmas and New Years Eve, first sober birthday, whatever relationship comes next. I’ve done a week here or there, and one 3 month stint in 2016, but this time is different. I’m not overcompensating for the past but laying a foundation for the future, eyes wide open. I’m incredibly grateful for the chance.
I want to live in a world where people feel as good as I do right now. Quitting alcohol isn’t an elixir, but it allows the focus to make real positive changes that snowball into a legacy. I can’t wait to see what 2019 holds, and I trust that I’ll do something big with it. Another first but hopefully, not the last.