Quitting Before It's a "Problem"
“But it’s not like you have a problem.”
If you want to stop drinking yet have never been in rehab or jail, prepare to hear these words from your friends and loved ones when they learn of your sobriety plans.
“It isn’t like you couldn’t have just one drink once in while.” That’s one I’ve heard a lot, too.
The thing is, it isn’t like I can’t just have one drink once in a while. It’s exactly that. I know I can’t do that because I have tried, repeatedly over the past 10 years, to take just that approach. Experience has taught me I thrive when I don’t drink at all, but as soon as I start drinking “occasionally” I quickly resume my historical pattern of near-daily drinking.
I stopped drinking just before I moved to a new house. While packing, I came across something pretty disturbing—an empty beer bottle wedged into the back of my sock drawer.
“Look at this,” I called to my husband. “This is why I’m not drinking anymore.”
“What is going on there?” he asked.
“I drank this beer at some point and then hid the bottle so you wouldn’t see it in the recycling bin and know I drank it. Isn’t that messed up?” I said.
“Well, I don’t know. It’s just one,” he said.
And it was just one bottle. I did not routinely hide empty alcohol containers around my house. But I frequently did try to hide one or two extra drinks from my husband, who is the picture of perfect moderation. For example, if we were going to a party, I might want a drink before we left, to quell pre-party nerves, but not want him to know I had it.
I am reluctant to provide this example because it may be just the thing someone who is considering quitting might hear and think, “I never did exactly that, so obviously I should keep drinking.” I know this because I have been that person a million times. In the past, a story that included any detail beyond what I had experienced in my own drinking was enough to let myself off the hook.
I share this example because I believe that a woman who hides one beer can a year from her husband in her 30s is very likely to be the woman in her 40s driving to a recycling center to hide her empty wine bottles from neighbors.
People who have uneasy relationships with alcohol don’t tend to get better over time, they tend to get worse. Especially if you have an alcoholic parent, like I do. And I knew if I could really just stop drinking altogether I would be safe from it ever getting worse.
I’ve written many articles about health and alcoholism over the years and this is what the experts always say: Alcoholism is a progressive disease. What that really means is that drinking is risky business. Anyone who drinks is at risk for their drinking to ramp up at any time for any one of the million reasons that life deals out on a daily basis.
In our culture, we are not generally encouraged to think about stopping until we’ve pretty much wrecked our lives. In America, particularly in urban areas where drinking is so commonplace, reasons such as “I don’t ever want to be hungover again” or “Drinking just makes me feel kind of meh” do not seem good enough to permanently pass on alcohol. But they are.
Those are excellent, valid reasons.
We readily accept people who quit gluten because they just feel better when they don’t eat it. If dairy makes a person’s skin break out a bit, we happily pass the soy milk. Vegetarians are well provided for most places food is served. But if you want to quit drinking because you feel bad when you have alcohol but you haven’t even gotten a DUI, the general consensus is there’s something wrong with you.
I suggest instead that there’s really something wrong with this alcohol-centric culture we’re living in.
In truth, it is better and easier to quit while you have to deal with everyone you know telling you don’t have a problem and you don’t need to stop drinking. The only person’s opinion that matters about drinking alcohol is yours. It is OK to not drink for no other reason than you want to level up your life. I am here to tell you that not drinking it is a great idea.