If I’m learning anything from this alcohol-free month, it’s this: I may not be an alcoholic, but drinking can still be a problem. I think that on April 1st, when I am allowed to start drinking again, I will drink much less. Much, much less.
I’ve realized this month that I had to re-learn a lot of things the same way I did when I quit smoking. How to socialize. How to party. How to kick back. How to cope. Even how to handle friendships and my relationship. I didn’t always drink to do these things and they weren’t exactly married to alcohol in my mind, but they were certainly connected. And while I’ve avoided hard alcohol for almost a decade and usually avoid getting drunk, drinking a beer or two on a few days a week has actually impacted my behavior and my body more than I thought it would.
It hasn’t been a challenge, so I assume it isn’t an addiction per se… it’s just been strange. A readjustment. I think that because alcohol is so intertwined with socializing – for most people, especially in a beer-centric city like ours – I’m feeling the same way anyone would feel if they stopped drinking. Even my non-drinking friends have something else to lean on, like cigarettes, pot, extreme religion or AA. I don’t do any of those. I just have lemons in my water.
I’ve talked to a few friends in AA about this and done some research googling, and the consensus is that while alcoholism can be genetic, it can also be a learned behavior. Did you know there are different types of alcoholics, and only one type needs AA? I have no idea if alcoholism runs in my genes. Either way, I don’t think I am one.
I lived at home throughout college, so I never was never a crazy binge-drinking kid . I was always very nervous and afraid when I would visit my friends who lived on a campus; I wouldn’t even attempt to keep up. (The term “pre-game” comes to mind – like, they get drunk before they go to a bar!) But in terms of frequency, it’s definitely a behavior that has been learned.
Three of my longest relationships have been with actual alcoholics who have never sought help. And for the past four years, I have lived with (for lack of a better word) frat boys. So for me, for the last decade, alcohol has been this very normal and almost expected part of life. Going to someone’s house? Take a six pack. Special occasion or romance? Wine. Kicking back? A beer. Rough day? A tall boy, maybe two. A cold or cough? Whiskey. Trouble sleeping? Nightcap. Going out? Even something low key? Bar. Always a bar. Or at the very least, make sure the place has a bar.
Deep down I always knew I didn’t need the stuff, but I was always taught that it was more fun to chose the option of having the stuff. But when you have a dying dad, every day becomes a rough day. When you have a sleep disorder, you’ll have trouble sleeping every night. When you break out of your shell and become an extrovert, you’ll want to socialize every week. These are not temporary things. And what may seem like an innocent beer or two can quickly add up.
While I don’t know much about my genes, I do know that all four of my biological grandparents had or have hypertension. (I don’t trust the “medical history” of my biological parents because at the time, they were teenagers. What history?) And while my dad’s problems have been diabetes related… I’ve seen what circulation problems can do. What happens when your veins and arteries shrink and clog and block. I don’t want that. None of you want that.
For the past 3 and a half weeks, I’ve been taking my blood pressure at the store every day. (I know those machines aren’t 100% correct, but a daily reading can give you a good idea.) When I took my blood pressure on March 1st, I was well into the hypertension range. And for the past few weeks, it has steadily been decreasing. As of yesterday, I’m slightly in the pre-hypertension category. My hope is that by next Thursday, I’ll be back to normal.
Erik and Olivia (and Stanley) told me that red wine is totally awesome for blood pressure problems. That a glass a night can instantly improve your blood flow. Red wine gives me headaches, stains my (real) teeth and makes me barfy. So I could never have more than a couple glasses at a time, anyway.
So ironically (and sadly), red wine seems like the perfect solution to my drinking problem. A small glass every other night would curb those coping/sleeping/kicking back issues that made me want a beer in the first place, as well as keep my blood pressure under control.
I feel like I’ve learned how control the rest. I don’t need beer to go out and have fun. I like that my teeny beer pooch is starting to vanish. I just feel lighter, and cleaner. I will still rock the often-mocked Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus on weekends, but that’s about as far as it will go. Not drinking is actually kind of awesome, and I like the idea of only drinking in a way that’s healthy for me.
Exception: I will still need an occasional Bloody Mary with my boyfriend, and a monthly Drunken Intervention Fan Club with Erin, where I think it’s funny to drink the Teeny Tiny Wine Bottles of Shame:
(The mind-boggling bourbon, grape soda and pineapple soda concoction is not mine, but my roommates’ – further cementing my belief that if anyone has a real problem, it’s not me.)
Edited to add: I love how right after I posted this, Vee tagged a bunch of pictures of me blowing into the Alcohawk on Facebook.