Why I quit alcohol

people clinking glasses drinking beers at a party
Photo by Yutacar on Unsplash

I’ve never had a problem with alcohol.

Through my 20s, I was your pretty typical young person: going out on weekends with friends, sometimes for casual beers, and sometimes getting a little too rowdy.

I’d spend the occasional Sunday hungover in bed, getting takeout and watching movies. In the summers I went out more. The nights were warm, and we relished being able to walk the streets or sit in a friend’s backyard after last call.

Winters were quieter, the frigid Canadian temperatures making us resistant to leave the warmth of our home for drinks at the bar.

Perhaps I drank less frequently than others in my peer group, simply because my hangovers were worse — a trait I inherited from my father who gets hungover during his first drink.

But it was more than that. Something never sat quite right with me about alcohol.

It felt too…easy.

“What do you want to do this weekend?” was so commonly answered with, “drink and…” that we stopped referring to the drinking part at all.

Drinking was a core part of our downtime.

Alcohol seemed to be central to unwinding, to catching up with friends, to having fun.

And the worst part was that we didn’t even question it. We knew some percentage of our paycheck would go to drinks at the bar, to beers for our fridge.

To Ubers to and from the bar.

To too many shots purchased in alcohol-induced generosity.

To drunk takeout at 3am.

To fast food the next day because we’d be too lazy to cook.

Even more than the frivolous spending, it was the choices we made while drunk that we normalized.

The texts to our ex we sent at 1am.

The cigarettes we smoked because we “liked it when we were drunk.”

The arguments we got into with friends, the people we flirted with even though they were in a relationship, the person who drove even though they’d had too much to drink.

Some part of me has always been resistant to alcohol.

Mostly, this is because I want to take care of my health. Even when I wasn’t a competitive athlete, I loved to run, to be outside. And when I’d be hungover, I couldn’t — or wouldn’t want to — do those things.

At first, it was simply the dread of being hungover — the knowledge that I’d waste a day being hungover — that made me skip drinking some nights altogether.

In the beginning, I’d take part in challenges like Dry January or give excuses like, “I have a kettlebell competition coming up” to justify my sobriety.

But as time passed and the spans where I didn’t drink became longer, I realized it was about more than how it physically made me feel.

As a kid, my mom loved to say to me, “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Growing up, I hated when she said that. Mostly because when she said it, she was telling me she didn’t approve of who I was spending time with.

(In hindsight, she was mostly right).

I do believe that I’m more or less an average of the five people I spend the most time with.

As an adult, my partner makes up a hefty chunk of that, simply because we spend so much time together.

And my current partner doesn’t drink.

What’s more, she’s been the first person I’ve dated that doesn’t drink.

She’s been sober for nearly three years. And when she told me, on one of our first dates, I felt a wave of relief wash over me.

Having a girlfriend that didn’t drink took away pressure I didn’t even know I felt. Without the expectation that we’d be drinking on the weekend, I felt tension leave my body. The tension of having to come up with an excuse not to drink, or the anxiety that I’d drink and regret it.

Of course, it wasn’t a seamless transition. I was used to a life where alcohol was everywhere, where parties were built around the substance.

And so, like any major change, at first I felt a sense of…loss.

There was a part of me that missed going out, drinking a little too much, making friends with strangers. And of course it did: so many years were spent with friends this way.

In a weird way, a part of me had to grieve the ending of a chapter in my life.

Yet even through the grief and the transition, I finally felt…right.

At first, I became aware of how I had used alcohol to quiet any fears or social anxiety.

The moments of dread I felt before going to a party where I wouldn’t know anyone.

The fear of being introduced to a partner’s friends who may not like me.

The part of me that knew I was going to get tired by midnight if I didn’t have alcohol to distract me.

Those things scared me.

Alcohol had always lubricated me for social events. It made talking to strangers easy and moments of silence pass by. It made moments where I felt alone OK.

Sober me didn’t always feel that.

I felt the weight of being alone in a room where I knew no one.

I felt myself becoming tired when the sun fell.

I was aware when I didn’t have anything to do with my hands because I wasn’t holding a drink.

I was conscious I had nothing to do in moments of solitude because I couldn’t just “get another beer.”

As much as it was difficult, though, I also felt a sense of relief that I experienced it.

Alcohol had been masking my feelings of discomfort.

It had allowed me to escape my fear of rejection. It stopped me from having to sit in my discomfort.

And that was the root of my sober fear.

I had normalized using alcohol to make things comfortable. I stopped asking myself why I felt anxious or insecure, instead using alcohol to whisk those feelings away.

Being sober forced me to be uncomfortable. To notice those moments when I felt alone or awkward. And to show myself love and compassion, but also laugh — because I knew no one else would remember those moments tomorrow.

Over time — and it didn’t take very long — I stopped feeling uncomfortable. I stopped dreading going out sober because I might say or do something weird. I stopped thinking my weekends might not be as fun because there wouldn’t be a substance involved.

And you know what I noticed?

I noticed myself going to sleep when I felt tired, often rising with the sun.

I noticed I was looking forward to different things in my weekend: to breakfast with my partner. To my morning runs. To quiet mornings with a cup of coffee and a book. To long walks in the park with my dog. To backyard barbeques with friends. To writing, to reading.

I looked forward to being present.

Cutting alcohol out of my life brought a freedom and happiness that I had never had when it was present.

Suddenly, I felt good 99% the time. My sleep was better. I was less irritable. I was more loving.

I looked forward to parts of my life that I had formerly glossed over — or skipped entirely — because I’d been hungover or drinking.

Maybe it’s cheesy, but without alcohol, my life feels more…full. Because I’m truly able to be present.

And it’s funny, because now when I think about alcohol, I feel the way I used to when I thought about its absence.

I feel dread.

And I can honestly say — I don’t think I’ll ever drink again.

Talking about the things people are afraid to talk about. LGBT+, Startup Culture, Diversity.

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Brigitte Dreger

Brigitte Dreger

Talking about the things people are afraid to talk about. LGBT+, Startup Culture, Diversity.

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