I QUIT DRINKING…and I’ve never looked back
It’s been eleven months since I became a non-drinker. Although I never had a problem with alcohol (I didn’t drink every night, or become nasty after downing one too many,) I worked in and around the beverage alcohol industry for years on the client and agency-side which led to nights of socializing with clients, colleagues, and friends in the best bars, restaurants, and clubs in Manhattan. Going out at night was part of the job, but over time I learned that “living the brand” could become a potentially precarious lifestyle if one was not careful. I’m a disciplined person so no matter how much I drank, I always stayed in shape, and even managed to complete three marathons while living an otherwise somewhat toxic lifestyle.
Like many of my generation, I began drinking alcohol as teen. My father was not much of a drinker. Neither he nor my mother had issues with alcohol. They offered my brother and I a taste of their wine or beer at the dinner table, which was cool. My first whiffs of vodka and gin turned my stomach. But over time, peer pressure led to my friends and I experimenting with alcohol. We got drunk on cheap booze for no other reasons then it was the thing to do and part of growing up.
In college, drinking became our past time. It was the epicenter for most of my undergrad experience. I attended class, studied, and partied. It was about going a bit wild, experimentation, sowing your oats…you know, the overall collegiate experience. Heavy drinking became a rite of passage and it was often fun. Unfortunately, after graduation, for many the heavy drinking continues, sometimes for decades, becoming a fabric of our day-to day lives in a sneakily insidious way. We may have not gotten trashed like at those wild frat parties, but drinking alcohol became a pillar of our working lives.
When I entered the corporate life, the drinking didn’t stop. In fact, it became more prevalent. The socializing, team building, and client schmoozing became platforms for letting off steam with alcohol. Better brands than we could afford in college, but in many ways the same behavior. Entertaining over dinners, followed by more drinks became mainstays of corporate life. It’s what we did and what people still do when forging business deals and building relationships. Booze can be a highly effective connector when you know how to handle it.
Over the decades of corporate life, I began to feel that drinking had become a habit. When meeting up over a ballgame, one beer invariably led to another and another, often resulting in a round of tequila shots before closing out the tab. If I did not go out, I’d enjoy a glass of wine, or two, over dinner. On weekends, I’d have a drink before opening a bottle of wine at dinner. Looking back, I could not recall a period of my life without drinking since turning eighteen. For me, and many other boomers, drinking became a way of life, a ritual that accompanied every meet-up and social affair.
As the years flew by and my career took off, change became a constant, but one thing stayed the same. At every place I worked, drinking was part of the curriculum. Alcohol eased the stress and job pressures and was a consistently effective social lubricant. I handled drinking better than most. Sure, I let the drinks get the better of me a few times, but I never let things get out of hand. When I felt inebriated, I bid my farewells and grabbed a cab home. I never missed a day of work or a meeting because I was hung over. But, although I did not experience any adverse effects, drinking had become an integral part of my life. Too much of my work and play revolved around drinking.
In 2014, I had a wakeup call. Following a pain-filled holiday weekend consisting of my rolling around the floor for hours doubled up in pain, I learned I needed robotic surgery on both kidneys. Who even thinks about their kidneys? Thankfully, everything went well, and I never looked back, except for one thing… When I asked my highly regarded surgeon what led me to requiring two surgeries, he shrugged, telling me it was sporadic. For some reason, that did not sit well with me. I began examining my lifestyle closely and came to the conclusion that I had been drinking alcohol for over thirty years without ever considering the ramifications or long-term effects it may have on my health. But I did not change a thing. Once I recuperated, I kept drinking. I loved the taste of rare, aged booze and the rituals that accompany drinking – opening a bottle of wine, popping the cork on a magnum of champagne, cracking open a cold brew, shaking a martini and gently pouring it into a chilled stemmed glass, and swirling a solitary ice cube around a snifter of an exotic dark rum. And, that first sip… heavenly. Since I was deemed free of any disease, I continued living the way I had prior to my surgery. I probably should have been listening more closely to my body.
In 2018 I created the “Process of Elimination” diet. Each week I eliminated one food or beverage for an entire year. I began by giving up alcohol on January 1st. Let me tell you, that was a tough choice. Every Monday for fifty-two long weeks, I added another item to the growing list of eliminated food and beverages. The good news is I lost 25 pounds and did not touch alcohol all year. Watching frosty margaritas and ice-cold martinis being enjoyed around me was tough, but I held my ground and made it through the end of December cold turkey. Once the calendar turned to 2019, I regressed to my former ways, drinking a bit less at first, but soon I was drinking regularly again. By June, I had back half of the weight I’d lost. After another month or so, I forgot about the benefits of the diet and how great I felt by living a booze-free lifestyle.
Fast forward to 2020. After the first few months of the lockdown, like many others, I found it too easy to drink at home. I maintained my five o’clock rule before allowing myself a drink, but with the free time and limited places we could go, I found myself having a glass of wine or a drink every night. That streak ended on a Tuesday evening in October when I was suddenly overcome with off-the-chart discomfort in my abdomen that lasted for hours. I writhed on the floor of my bedroom in incredible pain. As I rolled around the carpet clutching my stomach, something came over me that I will never forget. My lifeforce began slipping out of my body. I knew it was serious, and if I did not pull myself back into my body, I would completely vacate my body and probably not return. As I pulled myself back, a “voice” or a “knowing” came over me. It said, “stop drinking alcohol”. You might suggest I was hallucinating from pain, but no, this really happened. A few hours later I lay in the hospital awaiting an emergency appendectomy that saved my life by minutes. Afterwards I found out my appendix was infected and ready to burst. The post-surgical diagnosis required my taking heavy duty antibiotics for two weeks that left me constantly nauseous, weak, and flat on my back. Once I began feeling better, I vowed to never drink again. I have no idea if drinking was the cause of the appendicitis, but what I had heard helped my decision to become a non-drinker. Until now, I never looked back. Next month will mark a year without alcohol, but it’s a meaningless milestone because I’m not drinking ever again.
So how do I feel, and do I miss drinking? Without question, my mind is sharper. And since I never have a hangover, I wake up earlier and hit the ground running every day following a deep meditation. In the same way I felt when I stopped eating meat twelve years ago, my body feels lighter and less taxed. I live in Southern California now, the home of craft beers, tequila, and margaritas. Of course, I miss those tasty drinks. But I’m never tempted to go back because I know, for me at least, the benefits of not drinking far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of my enjoying a few cocktails. I also realized that part of what I missed were the rituals attributed to drinking…uncorking the wine, pouring beer into a chilled mug, or swirling and sipping dark rum.
After the first six months, I decided to sample a few non-alcoholic beers and wines. Here are the verdicts: I discovered that there are several delicious locally brewed non-alcoholic beers. This has been a great find, so every so often I treat myself to a “beer”. Just one does the trick, because for the most part the ritual is what my subconscious missed. The non-alcoholic wines are trickier because when you take the alcohol out of wine, you are basically drinking grape juice. That said, I’ve found a few non-alcoholic whites that provide a reasonable semblance to the real thing.
For many of us, the drinking never stops. It’s part of the fabric of life in America. Like most other western countries, we live in a culture fueled by alcohol. It’s a hobby, a habit, a social lubricant, a social disease, and when misused, the demise of good friends and family whose bodies, minds and spirits fall victim to self-abuse.
I would be a hypocrite if I stood on my soapbox and urged people to stop drinking. I gleaned plenty of enjoyment throughout the years when I was drinking. Looking back, I know at times I overdid it, and I paid the price for my excesses. But that was then, and this is now, and now is the only thing that matters. All I can say is this is what happened to me and why I made this decision that changed my life in a very good way. I’m not suggesting what anyone else should do. That’s not my business. I can only share my experience and what I learned. That’s it, amigos.
But if there is one thing I’ve discovered over the years, it’s the importance of turning down the noise and listening to our subconscious. You’ll be surprised at what it tells you to help you live your very best life.