What I learned from trying to unwind without wine

I’ve been experimenting with sobriety for a few months – and while it has been a real wellness tool for me, I’ve been hesitant to share about it, for fear of conveying judgment or doing harm. I attended a beautiful conversation, shepherded by Natalie Rousseau, as part of her online circles (13 Moons and The Witches Year), that helped me understand the value of this sensitivity – around addiction, dependence, and the ways we cope with stress and trauma. One of the take-aways was that people who have experienced trauma may turn to drugs or alcohol as coping tools – and in many ways, those tools are effective and serve a need. Focussing just on the substance as problematic can be really unhelpful, when the substance may have been the only available resource for managing a deeper trauma.

We’re living in a triggering time – whether you’re experiencing trauma during the pandemic, trauma caused by the pandemic or if the restrictions, pressures and uncertainty are causing a flare-up of old, unresolved or buried trauma. And this is a long way out of my professional competency…

(There are competent, qualified, wonderful resources available for you:

https://www.pemberton.ca/municipal-services/pemberton-area-virtual-support-hub/general-health-mental-health-counseling-support

https://whistler.bibliocommons.com/list/share/915621879/1634563467)

While unqualified professionally, I think I am able to say: much is hard. If you are finding it hard, that’s okay and you’re not alone or somehow falling short. Be tender on yourself.

We’re all looking for coping tools.

And some coping tools are ones we may have a long (and possibly non-problematic) relationship with.

Wine has been an easy friend for me for a long time. So it was definitely the resource I turned to first at the beginning of the pandemic. Other people were stressing about toilet paper. The Pemberton Valley Supermarket had piles in the aisles. I was telling my husband to get a case of wine. We needed to be well-supplied.

A friend recently shared that she was thinking about drying out for a month. I found myself pouring out a stream of thoughts in response, and so, treading as carefully and gently as I can, I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learned from sidelining my wine habit over the past few months.

Photo by Swarnavo Chakrabarti on Unsplash

Did I have a problem?

When I shared with some friends that my partner and I were experimenting with sobriety, they asked, “was your drinking problematic?”

I didn’t really know how to answer that. I mean, no. I don’t think so. Except, that, we were turning to it frequently, like, on the daily, to cope with pandemic parenting and global uncertainty.

I don’t think things have to reach “problem” status, to experiment with substitutes or expanding the repertoire. And I think that’s what maybe has helped this experiment – it wasn’t particularly fraught with drama, it didn’t demand an intervention or discipline. I think we’d just grown a bit weary of the booze. It felt like a habit that wasn’t energizing us anymore. And I was a little alarmed at the haggard looking woman staring back at me in the mirror. Sure, it’s possible that that was just aging. It’s possible it was pandemic aging and that happened at twice the rate as regular aging. But if taking a break from wine might help arrest some of those signs, I was game.

A friend in the health profession also shared that after 14 – 30 days of taking a break from alcohol, I would feel euphoric. I was pretty sold on the promise of euphoria. Also, I felt my gut biome might want a chance to recover and regenerate itself, and allow my digestive system the chance to work a bit more effectively, because it’s hard for those little creatures to flourish and do well when they’re being doused in a poison every day.

I borrowed Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind from the library. I know some people who have found it to be very helpful. It wasn’t super helpful for me – but maybe that’s because I didn’t need to be convinced intellectually. I think my body was just saying, have mercy, give me a little break. So my mind didn’t need the arguments Annie Grace presents.

What need are you trying to meet with that glass of wine?

“Is your drinking problematic?” or “what’s so bad about alcohol?” were not questions I found helpful, or generative – in the sense that those non-generative questions ended in a blind alley way, a dead-end, or a weird crossroads of yes/no, bad/good… The more generative question, that seemed to create all kinds of options and openings for me, was “what need am I trying to meet with that glass of wine?”

Every time I was inclined to reach for a glass, I tried to ask myself, what is it I’m wanting to get from this…? It was wild to discover how many services I got out of that glass:

  • I’m cooking dinner and I want it to feel more like a party than a chore;
  • I have just finished a day of adulting and no one has given me any recognition for this, so I’d like a gold star now;
  • I feel edgy and anxious and I don’t even know what, and I’d like to take the edge off and just feel a little bit numb;
  • I want to send a signal to myself or my partner that it’s time to loosen up and party;
  • my partner just offered to do something nice for me, by pouring me a drink, and I’d like to say yes to being taken care of, and this is the only thing on offer;
  • my partner is driving me crazy and I’m stuck in a small space with him and I don’t really know how to put words to why he’s bugging me, so might as well have a drink together and pretend everything is fine;
  • I have been “on” all day and now I want to be “off” the clock.

Sometimes, there wasn’t really an emotional need underneath, it was just habit. It was just, well it’s 5 o’clock and that’s what I always do at 5 o’clock. Hmm, maybe I can just undo that habit, or substitute something else…

It wasn’t willpower or discipline that helped me, which I found surprising. It was just curiosity and inquiry. Some nights, I’d say, I’m feeling like a glass of wine because work was exhausting and I’d like to reward myself. And simply naming that specific connection sometimes helped the desire to go away. Or it prompted my partner to make me a cup of tea. Or it prompted me to think, hmm, what else could I do to reward myself, to feel rewarded? Maybe asking for 30 minutes out of the domestic melee to go have a hot bath…

My goal wasn’t ever to deprive myself. (I wanted to see if it was inevitable that 2020 would leave me looking like a hag, so there was a little bit of vanity at play, for sure.) Mostly, I wanted to build my repertoire of pleasures and self-care tools, so I could respond to the urge for a gold star for being a responsible adult all day with a fancy oxymel that I’d brewed up or some kombucha in a nice glass or a very dark piece of chocolate… so I could respond to the sense of being jangly, anxious about the world and irritated by everyone and everything with a walk in the woods listening to a podcast, or 30 minutes locked in my room reading my book, or meditation class. Because, honestly, one glass of wine, just led to the bottom of the bottle, and a feeling of inertia and scrolling and bed, and none of those cascading offerings really helped me feel energized, alive or rested.

And as one friend just reminded me, a night of sleep unaffected by alcohol is a better sleep. My partner particularly noticed this. And better sleep means “a life somewhat less in need of it’s edges being taken off” (thank you Anna.)

I think one of the hardest things about parenting, (and pandemic parenting just amplifies this), is that there’s not a lot of space for self-care of any kind at all, which makes the mouthful of wine very effective. You don’t need to get a babysitter, you don’t need to negotiate who’s on duty with your partner, you can literally gulp it, still be there, but also kinda float away… but still be pretty much able to be responsible.

And I think one of the hardest things about being a woman (or maybe about being me, but I think it’s a bit of a gender-package too), is asking for what you need or want from other people, acknowledging that you might have needs or wants, (even knowing what you need, (something, just not THIS))… and that my household members might need to help meet those – that the work of meeting needs and wants, particularly emotional ones, isn’t totally on me. Sure, I’d read the meme: put your oxygen mask on first. But it’s never been that easy, because I’ve never really liked asking for something for myself. Of course I’d put the oxygen mask on if the steward walked down the aisle and handed it to me. But what happens when you feel like you are the steward, and everyone is asking you for a snack, and it seems like they might actually die of starvation if you don’t get it to them right now? When do you get to the oxygen mask when they’re literally dangling off your body crying for a life-sustaining snack? LOL.

Here’s the big truth for me: in order to rely less on wine to get me through, I had to learn how to say to my people, “I’m feeling a bit stressed and still trailing work stuff. Can I go for a walk for 30 minutes before I get started making dinner?”

And wildly, radically, miraculously, they would say yes. And I could return with the soul-feeling of a thirst that had been quenched.

It is an effort to start building some of the alternatives, and that’s hard when you’re already carrying a big load (be that a brand new baby who actually can’t really give you permission to check out for 30 minutes, or a partner who doesn’t have the capacity to say, yes, babe, I’ve got you for the next 30 minutes, or whatever), but I think what I feel most excited to share is the power of this question: what need does this serve, and is there any other way I might meet that? It wasn’t walking away from wine at all. It was walking towards my self wth the kind of hospitality that I used to find on offer in a bottle.

May you be well, and kind to yourself. Thanks for reading.

One thought on “What I learned from trying to unwind without wine

  1. dianezaste says:

    Bravo! Willing to change, willing to share – inspirational.
    I’m sober since 1989 & haven’t regretted one moment of it.

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