Booze Free Hero: Aidan Donnelley Rowley
Aidan Donnelley Rowley was one of the first people I connected with on Instagram after “coming out” as a nondrinker. The minute I declared myself alcohol-free online, I was pinged by several different people urging me to follow Aidan’s feed @drybeclub, which she describes as a place for those living or curious about living a dry life.
Of course, I followed her there immediately. And not only was I immensely bolstered by the flurry of inspiring mini-essays that she posts there, but also by the community Aidan has cultivated. I was soon chiming into the active conversation that follows most of her posts, following other commenters, and being followed by other @drybeclub people. It was a booze-free internet clubhouse and wow did it help me feel less alone.
It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Aidan’s writing on the topic of booze. Back in 2012, she blogged about an experiment she was running on herself: a year without wine. (You can and should read the whole series here.) Since then, Aidan has alternated periods of drinking and periods of not drinking, ultimately committing to a dry life in July 2016.
Just like me and so many other women, Aidan drank “normally.” She didn’t have the kind of experiences most people think of as “hitting bottom.” Everything looked just peachy from the outside, but she knew she was settling for less than her best life experiences. Quitting drinking for her was a lifestyle upgrade, a choice. Her new podcast, Edit, cohosted by Jolene Park, explores what she calls the gray area of drinking. It’s an area I know all too well, and maybe you do, too.
One of my favorite things about the podcast is how full of tips and insights it is. On one recent episode, Aidan talked about a vacation she had a while back during a period when she was not allowing herself to drink alcohol. She talks about being on a hotel room balcony, wishing for a glass of wine. Instead she asked her husband to buy her candy and she ate a small bag of peanut M&Ms. It helped get her through the moment. We all know M&Ms aren’t the healthiest of treats, but, as Aidan points out in the episode, the occasional bag of candy isn’t going ruin your life, but drinking might.
That is a good thing to remember in the early stages of not-drinking. It also made me think about how often one glass of wine leads to two or three but how I’d never open a second bag of M&Ms.
When Aidan and I talked, we discussed how under the radar this gray area of drinking seems to be. It isn’t talked about that much—yet. Aidan is helping to change that, to remind everyone that you don’t need to hit anything remotely bottom-like to walk away from the wine bottle. She calls is making an early exit; that's exactly what I did.
Aidan is another nondrinker who proves that life after alcohol can be better than we imagine.
Here’s Aidan’s Q&A.
When did you first realize that life could be better without booze?
Looking back, I think I first began to realize that life could be better without booze when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter in 2006. It was something of an accidental discovery as party girl me believed that forgoing alcohol would have been one of the biggest bummers of carrying a child. To the contrary, I loved being pregnant because for the first time, I took such good care of myself. I ate well, got plenty of rest, did prenatal yoga and, yep, went without my beloved Pinot Grigio. It amazed me how clear and strong I felt, how good. And yet, after each pregnancy, I went back to wine. It's interesting how we can realize things in bits and pieces, over time, how it can be a process to fully know something about ourselves. It's certainly been a process for me.
What do you most enjoy about not drinking?
There are so many things I enjoy, but the clarity would be my #1. When I was drinking, everything was filtered, blurred, hazed-over and now it strikes me how colorful and clear my life is. It's not that life is perfect without booze, that everything just snaps into place, but things do, over time, become more and more clear. The hard stuff is still hard, but I can SEE it now and better make sense of it. Waking up with a clear head each day continues to be a gorgeous gift and I have a much sharper sense of what I want and what I don't, what matters to me and what doesn't. My moments with my three daughters (10, 8, 6) and my husband are beautiful and I feel present with them. When I sit down to write, I'm not dragging; the blank page mocks me far less. So, yes, clarity. 100%. During my drinking career, there was so much confusion, confusion I often glorified as intellectual and existential in nature, but no, I was just muddling my mind and my lens on the world.
Do you have any advice for people who might be considering taking alcohol out of their lives?
I am so hesitant to give advice because I think this decision, like all big life decisions, is an intensely personal thing and none of this is one-size-fits-all. I will say though that if you are considering taking alcohol out of your life, forget forever, start small and experiment with a chunk of booze-free time. Set a goal. Maybe a month or six months or a year. If you can't string a few dry days together, that's probably a sign of something you should take a closer look at. If it isn't hard to give it up (and, thankfully, it wasn't for me), keep your eyes trained on that goal. Pay close attention to how you feel without alcohol, what changes in your life, what doesn't. I did my own Year Without Wine in 2012. Taking an entire calendar year off from drinking, experiencing every holiday and anniversary without the gloss and escape of wine, and writing about it all was both fascinating and meaningful. I confirmed what I already suspected to be true, namely that I am much happier and lighter without alcohol in my life. But then I went back to it, for reasons I'm still trying to parse. I danced between drinking and not drinking for a few more years until I gave it up for good in July 2016. I can say now that my year-long experiment was a vital first step and that those subsequent years of "experimentation" all led somewhere amazing. That somewhere? Here. This place of not escaping my life. This place of loving my life. Again, it's all a process. Let it be.
What is your favorite festive nonalcoholic beverage?
I love sparkling water and am a fan of flavored seltzers. My current favorite is Spindrift's blackberry flavor. And I love when I am on a date with my husband at a fun New York City restaurant and I see that they have fabulous, sexy mocktails on the menu. I'm seeing this more and more and it makes me smile; I truly believe that the magic of the Dry Life is catching on.
What is one assumption drinkers have about the dry life that you think they’ve got wrong?
I think that many drinkers (though not all, I'm learning) assume that the Dry Life is boring and tame and no fun at all. I know that I used to believe this and it was hard for me to even fathom a life without wine and boozy exuberance. What I know now, from years of experimenting and now another year of continuous dry living, is that this life can be as scintillating and wild and fun as any other. Not only do I still have fun, but it's a different kind of fun. It's real and unfiltered. The laughter is deep and earned. The conversations and connections are genuine. The memories are sweet and sharp. Here's the thing: I understand the assumption because we are all conditioned from a very young age to believe that booze=fun and it is literally hard for many of us to imagine how a life without inebriation could be fun. But I am here and happy to say that the Dry Life is a bright and meaningful place and, yes, there is fun to be had here. Pinky swear.
Aidan's photo credit: Elena Seibert 2015