I'm going to warn you before you read this blog post that you may feel defensive as you read it. It seems discussing alcohol consumption can agitate people. The most common response I get when I tell people about my decision to participate in Dry January is, "I don't have a problem with alcohol." I'm not writing this newsletter to suggest you do. However, feel free to substitute your own vice (we all have them) instead of wine. Your issue may be online shopping, binge-watching Netflix, overeating or doing just about anything else to numb your feelings.
I have talked to enough women to know many of us have felt uncomfortable at times with how much wine we consume. We live in a culture that has glorified drinking especially for women. You can buy t-shirts, tea towels, fridge magnets and socks that have messages like, "Mommy needs wine." Google it. I even saw a very sad baby onesie that read, "I'm the reason that mommy needs wine." The message is clear - we need wine to cope with life. Or at least that is what we are being sold.
The topic of this email isn't to explore how women are being targetted by advertisers to drink wine as a way to enjoy life more fully. However, if you are interested there are a lot of resources on what is being called The New Sobriety.It turns out it is trendy not to drink. I also recommend reading This Naked Mind or Quit Like a Woman: The radical choice to not drink in a culture obsessed with alcohol.
It was because I had been reading about this new movement and especially the issues concerning women's health and alcohol that I began wondering if I was drinking more than I should be. I knew I was drinking more than I had in my adult life now that the kids had grown up and left home. I started questioning if my frequent sleeping issues were more related to merlot than menopause. There was really only one way to know for certain. I can't quit menopause but I can quit wine.
So, in 2019 I decided to participate in Dry January. I got off to a bit of a rough start in my abstinence journey (four days in I caved at a social event and had a glass of wine). I started again and eventually went for a hundred days without any alcohol and realized that I felt really good. Some of the benefits included sleeping better, losing weight, and saving money.
The greatest benefit was that I had far less anxiety in my life. I was really surprised. The whole reason I liked a glass of wine was so I could relax! And while I had alcohol in my system I did feel relaxed. Overall though, I felt anxious during the day and that had set up the cycle of craving a glass of wine to relax at the end of the day. I had never thought that a calming glass of wine might be feeding my anxiety.
The other thing that I noticed was how often I was drinking for other people. I wanted others to feel comfortable having a drink. I didn't want to be a wet blanket. I didn't want them to drink alone. I know it doesn't make sense since they were having a drink at the table with me so clearly they were not drinking alone. Or I didn't want anyone to feel like I was judging their drinking because I wasn't drinking. I also realized how much of my identity as a 'fun person' was tied to drinking at social events. People-pleasing can show up in so many ways in our lives.
After 100 days, I slowly started having wine again socially. I drank far less and mostly just socially. I noticed the headaches, anxiety and sleep disruption when I had two glasses of wine. And I found myself far more willing to pass on ordering a drink when I was out.
What mostly changed for me was that I no longer see myself as someone who needs a glass of wine to relax or have fun. I don't need to drink to make other people feel comfortable. I don't need a glass of wine to fit in with people who are drinking. I'm a person who enjoys a good glass of wine socially on occasion. A far cry from the woman who had slid into a habit of drinking daily.
This year I am doing Dry January again. And this year I found myself looking forward to it. I don't feel like it is difficult. I don't feel like I'm giving up anything of real importance in my life. I do feel like I'm sleeping better already.
When you start making changes or different choices in your life you will go through something similar. At first, it will seem difficult. You might even relapse or have a few false starts. You might discover that you have to deal with how other people see you. You might have to disappoint people. But once you start to integrate the change into your life and begin to experience the benefits it becomes easier.
What change do you want to make in your life? Is there something you would like to give up but you are afraid of what other people will say if you change? What do you need to give up to be who you want to be? You might need to give up feeling comfortable. You might need to give up pleasing people. You might need to give up your 'social status' in some way. Over time our consistent behaviour becomes the way people predict what we will do. Give them time to see you in a new light. You will probably find out that they are happy to support you in pursuing your own health and well-being. And if they arent? Then you have another choice to make.