Carlo Alcos picked a hell of a day to quit drinking. Here’s what he learned along the way.
Originally published on vagabonderz.com
I picked a hell of a day to quit drinking. A little over three months ago, on February 5, was Superbowl Sunday. I’m not a football fan, but it’s always been an excuse to gather friends together and drink and socialize. This year I happened to have a couple of old friends in town visiting, friends I only get to see a couple of times a year. We were at a fourth friend’s house, someone who we all grew up together with. He had his family over as well. We barbequed, we ate, we drank. Well, I didn’t drink. I was the only one not drinking.
I thought it was going to be a challenge, to be around so many people drinking, to be around three very close friends with whom I grew up drinking (it would have been a rare occasion when we were all together in our 20s without alcohol being involved). But it wasn’t hard at all. Even after everyone left and it was just us four, and they continued drinking, and I drank iced tea.
The decision to stop came the night before. The four of us were out together at a local bar, playing some pool. I’d only had a few drinks, but I realized that I didn’t care for the feeling it gave me. It wasn’t the first time I noticed it. My drinking had already tapered off in a pretty big way up to that point, due in part to me getting older, but mostly due to my non-drinking girlfriend. It’s not that I slowed down or stopped for her (and she certainly didn’t ask me to), but when you spend a lot of time with someone who doesn’t drink, and a lot of time being active, it’s natural to not.
I had an internal conversation with myself that night. I asked myself why I was drinking. I asked myself how it was serving me at this point in my life. The truth was that it wasn’t serving me in any way. In fact, I realized that it’s been a hinderance to me. It’s kept me from learning more about myself; it’s kept me further away from being my true self.
I would never consider myself an alcoholic by any means. Yes, I binge drank for most of my 20s, getting wasted on the weekends and partying with my friends, a pretty “normal” upbringing in our culture. It was always a barometer of “coolness.” It seemed the more one drank, the more hungover one was, the more “crazy” the drunk story was, the cooler one was. Alcohol pretty much defined — was the basis of — my social interactions for the majority of my adult life. It was the binding ingredient for pretty much all of my young adulthood friendships.
I couldn’t fathom being in most social situations (mostly at night, but many during the day, too) without drinking. And going out and dancing without alcohol? Forget it. I usually wouldn’t step foot on the dancefloor without at least four beers in me. While I wouldn’t consider myself an alcoholic because I always had control over my drinking — I knew when to stop and for the most part I had control over myself when drunk — it was definitely a crutch for me. I just wasn’t very comfortable in social situations without at least a slight buzz. I don’t know. Maybe that is a form of alcoholism.
Since the end of my marriage and since I’ve lived in Nelson, I’ve done a lot of “soul searching.” I’ve done a lot of “work” on myself; I’ve even begun to learn how to love myself. I’m growing comfortable in my own skin and relishing human connection, conversations with real eye contact, without the lubrication of a beer. I can go out now to a show and dance like a maniac without a sip of alcohol.
And it feels good. It feels good to come home at midnight actually feeling energized and hydrated (swap beers for water and that will happen) and clear-headed. And wake up the next morning without any ill-effects; in fact, wake up feeling better because I can remember everything in vivid detail from the night before.
I am enjoying this path that I’m on, becoming more comfortable with myself, caring less what others think of me; being sober is an important part of the process for me.
Like why I felt defensive whenever I’d hear someone say they didn’t drink. I don’t know why, but being around people who didn’t drink at all used to make me uncomfortable. Like I was being judged, even though there was no evidence whatsoever of that being true. I can see the same reaction now in some people when I say I don’t drink. Their demeanor changes; they become quiet. Sometimes they’ll justify their drinking. Keep in mind I never question anyone’s decision to drink. It’s just those words, “I don’t drink,” that seem to cause some sort of defensive mechanism to kick in.
When I would hear those words from others, it would initiate me asking myself why I drank. Then I would justify it, maybe even become a little self-righteous about it. Maybe I’d accuse them of being a prude or “not fun.” Being sensitive to this phenomenon, I usually just say something like, “no thanks, I’m not drinking tonight” when offered a drink nowadays. If that’s what it takes to keep everyone on a comfortable level, that’s fine for me.
It also makes me question why drinking has become the norm, for the most part celebrated. Non-drinkers are the outcasts in our culture. Or at least the culture in which I grew up, which I think I can safely say is / was the same for most people in many countries around the world (where alcohol is legal, that is).
Since I stopped drinking I’ve become more sensitive to the conversations around me about alcohol. Just how many stories include — or are dominated by — alcohol. “I’m so hungover.” “I was so wasted.” “I can’t believe how many drinks I had.” How for many (including me in my younger days), it’s something to brag about. Something to connect to other people about.
I’m not judging anyone who drinks. How can I? I’ve only been sober for three months. I’m not even saying I will never have another drink in my life. But it’s certainly interesting to view life on this side of the coin.