Alcohol-free, Specifically Part 2: Why give it up if not necessary?

When you stop drinking, people will try to hold you to their concept of sobriety, as if you're not allowed to change without doing it in a way that keeps them in their comfort zone. 

We live in a world obsessed with labels, and we crave clear and easy definitions like sober or not sober, alcoholic or non alcoholic. Gray areas make people uncomfortable. They give onlookers the opportunity to judge, compare, gossip and condemn, as if one individual’s choice has anything to do with another’s.

To describe my own decision, and to tread lightly on sensitivity around sobriety definitions, I use the term alcohol-free because it’s honest. It’s the choice I’ve committed to, and I’m not trying to pretend it’s anything else. I use that term not only to describe what I’ve stopped putting in my body, but also, and perhaps more meaningfully, to explain the changes I’ve made in my life since I stopped drinking alcohol. 

I spent the second half of my 30s depressed. Following a debilitating injury, and the loss of what had been my home for a long time, I sunk in to despair. As a result of years on the road working a physical job, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t do any of the things I loved to do nor barely anything I needed to do. At first I stayed strong, thinking it would pass quickly, but when it went on month after month, and then for multiple years, my flame went out. Every day was a struggle. Every step I took hurt (literally), and I was so scared I’d never feel right in this body again.

When recovery from injury and depression did not come easily, I took it as a kick in the butt to get myself healthy again. Healthy in all ways. Body, mind and spirit. 

I said that, yet I didn’t make all the right changes. I made some good choices, and I did eventually get myself mostly healthy and back on track emotionally, but I wouldn't realize until recently that it was only a patch job. I was holding myself together with a few strong fixes, but I hadn’t solved any real problems. I prided myself on my independence, but I was still enmeshed with people who continually hurt me. By not changing my own social habits, by wishing instead that other people would change, I continued to hurt myself.

Meanwhile, I kept hoping that whatever was wrong with me that I couldn’t be normal like everyone else would somehow magically end. I kept thinking yoga would solve everything, and I kept working harder than was good for my body. I kept isolating myself when my depression flared up, I kept mistaking teasing for genuine affection, and I kept being sarcastic when I felt cornered. I kept running from what I needed to face, and I continued to surround myself with people who weren't always good to me. And I kept drinking.

Because that’s what people do, right? Drinking is how we socialize. That’s how we connect when we don’t know how to otherwise. That’s how we meet strangers in hopes that they turn in to lovers. That’s how we’re taught we’ll find the relationships we crave. 

But it’s not how you nourish your soul, and no one tells you that. We’re never told we can simply skip it altogether just because we want to. Abstinence is reserved for those other kind of drinkers. The problem drinkers. Alcoholics. People who can’t handle ingesting a substance that is harmful to all of us, no matter what the dosage. We look at alcoholism as if the problem was the person, not the drug nor the culture surrounding the drug. Yet when a person decides to opt out before developing a habit they can’t control (as if problematic drinking can’t occur at any phase of life, early or later, even after years of not having a problem with it), we still live in a world where that choice is questioned with disdain.

Why is it only an addict can have a problem with alcohol but someone who suffers the social consequences of not willingly participating in alcohol centric culture cannot? Why can a person not check themselves before they wreck themselves and claim that decision with the same joy as someone for whom sobriety was a life or death choice? Why is this such a complex topic that some people get offended if your concept of sobriety varies from theirs?

I don't know the answers to all those questions, but I do know that pride in the choice to abstain is not a privilege reserved only for those who had to fight to achieve it. 

Keep reading to learn what alcohol-free means to me. 

*** Note: If you’re questioning your relationship with alcohol and need someone to talk to, click here to connect 

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