Dispatches from a sober curious

Are you curious about “sober curiosity”! Well, I’m six months into my sober curious journey and I wanted to share what’s changed since drinking took a backseat in my life.

I was never what *I* would have called a “problem drinker.” Alcohol didn’t seem to impact my work, my relationships, or my health. But when the opportunity presented itself to get bombed, I rarely turned it down. “Why not?” was my innocent refrain…that is, until pretty much the exact moment the clock struck midnight on my 30th birthday.

At least, that’s what I’m told. Because I had a party for my 30th birthday that I cannot, and probably should not, remember.

For sure there were shots. I guess there were beers. Whatever else I ingested that night will remain a mystery. I got obliterated, and thankfully at the end of the night a trusted friend took me home and put me safely to bed.

But instead of passing out cold (not a good look to begin with), I slept fitfully, my heart racing and my temples pounding. I felt panicked. My mind obsessed over flashes of weird things I said to party guests, and really any morbid thought that it could latch onto in general. My body was exhausted, and my anxious brain was trying to outrun it. I’d eventually drift off, only to be pummeled back into consciousness by bad dreams over and over. I glanced at the clock each time I woke: midnight, 2am, 4:30…oh shit– it’s daylight again. I couldn’t remember ever having such a horrible reaction to drinking before. It was truly a dark night of the soul.

But not dark enough for me to make a change. I kept trying, and failing, to achieve the “glory” of my twentysomething benders. But I just couldn’t handle drinking like that anymore. Hangovers that used to last two hours suddenly lasted two days. I told myself it wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t getting kicked out of establishments or ruining friendships, you know, like my friends with a problem were. I was fine. Right? I was still “having fun.” Right?!?!?

Looking back, I almost wish I’d experienced some kind of bigger self-reckoning. My progressive, “low-grade” alcohol intolerance was a mild annoyance but not a dealbreaker. My 30th birthday tipped me off that things were amiss, but my drinking was subtly lowering my vibration in a way that chipped away at me rather than stunning me into surrender. Basically, alcohol was keeping me from living my best life without me even realizing it warranted a big change.

So I didn’t have a rock bottom, a come-to-Jesus moment. I just eventually grew tired of feeling kind of like shit for lots of days, with dwindling returns.

I started to wonder why I drank at all. Was it the conversations? No, I regretted oversharing during most of those. Was it the loosening of anxiety? Increasingly, no; it seemed like more and more, taking a drink was giving me anxiety, not about anything specific, but usually just contributing to a general heightened state of fear. Was I having more fun? You already know the answer, but to me it was pretty shocking: emphatically, overwhelmingly, for the first time in my life, no.

I wondered what to do. Quitting cold turkey, and forever, just seemed so dramatic. I didn’t think my desire to lay off due to general malaise was enough of a reason to be that person at the party with a bottle of water. What if people asked me what was up? I didn’t want to tell my lukewarm story of “just not really feeling it.” And I knew I’d be subjected to these questions, because I’d asked them myself when I noticed someone was suddenly sans sauce.

I found support about this not hard and fast, maybe not permanent decision from a number of places. Melissa Hartwig, founder of the Whole30, summed up her sober curious journey with one succinct line: “I’m not drinking right now.” I followed her on Instagram and grew to like the sound of that. It was noncommittal and centered in the present moment rather than being a pledge or promise. I didn’t know if I could handle something that felt permanent.

Soon after, I read up on the term “sober curious” and found that there was a whole movement of people like me, who realized drinking was bringing them down, but not in a way that felt serious enough to address medically or with rehabilitation.

Funnily enough, not drinking was what led me to realize I had a bigger problem than I thought. I had always minimized the negative effects that drinking had on me, but when I decided to stop partaking as an “experiment”, my findings were loud and clear: alcohol wasn’t a good look for me, and hadn’t been for quite some time.

I started doing more self-care– instead of having a glass of wine (or 3.5) after work, I took a bath with a good book. I started going for walks on the weekend mornings I used to “love” sleeping through. I learned that I actually liked being outside, hot weather, challenging hikes. I liked having energy on Sundays to be out in the world and not curled up in my bed-cave waiting for a $40 Postmates order to stave off the nausea and regret. I liked participating in life. Who knew?

Six months in, I’m still not sure if alcohol could or should have a place in my life. But what I do know is that just because my drinking wasn’t causing major catastrophes, doesn’t mean it was good for me. I never want my life to center around alcohol like it once did. And because I indulged in my sober curiosity, I know that it was robbing me of a lot of experiences I never knew I was missing out on before. Six months in, I know I feel healthier, calmer, and more alive. I don’t think drinking is “bad,” but I know that for right now, I don’t miss it.

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