A Month With No Drink–Two Years and Counting

images-3Two days, ago, I completed my now annual no-alcohol September. It obviously was not as novel an endeavor as last year’s (my first go at it), which I wrote about in a post linked here and have also pasted below. But going a month without drinking still posed its challenges and continues to be an experiment–a sort of test of my energy, my self-control, my mindfulness, and my emotional state.

September has always been an exciting month for me. While it marks the end of summer–a season that is hard not to love–I have a soft spot for autumn. For me, September is a time of renewal, and harkens back to my love of fresh, clean notebooks and brand spanking new sharpened pencils at the start of each new school year. So it seems right that September is an opportunity to cleanse my system of the tasty glasses of wine and chilled pints of beer I so enjoy consuming during the year’s remaining 11 months.

September is also a month filled with Jewish holidays–some happy, some not. As we both celebrate and repent with friends and family, flanked over crowded tables of food and drink, it seemed easy to focus on the spirit of togetherness rather than the gentle buzz that often fuels my conversation at a slightly faster (read: less inhibited) speed.

I will admit that the earlier part of the month was the toughest. The house was abuzz with two kids back to school, frenetic afternoons and no more leisurely summer dinners. A glass of wine would have been just the antidote, slowing things down a bit in order to wallow in the remnants of warm nights and after-dinner walks to the park with our dogs.

Without booze, however, my focus was clear and I was able to linger in the moment, mental energy intact. As the days of September continued, I began to think of one upcoming day in particular–my son’s bar mitzvah which was taking place on September 22nd. After months of planning every detail, including the selection of wines that I did not taste but instead lined up one evening for my husband and a couple of friends to compare and contrast–I wondered how it would feel to fill my glass with seltzer rather than alcohol.

“You know, you can have a bye on the 21st,” my husband told me. “It’s your son’s bar mitzvah.”

“I know,” I answered, unwilling to commit one way or the other.

The bar mitzvah day approached, and I started to take my mental temperature–would it be easier to give a speech with some wine in my system? Yes. Would it take less effort to navigate the room, schmoozing with relatives I rarely see? Yes. Did I need a liquid boost to bring me to the center of a rousing hora? No.

So I let the decision hang in the air, waiting to see how I felt on that day. It arrived, and after a beautiful service in the synagogue, our crowd of family and friends moved into the sukkah for cocktails. The sunlight was streaming through the leaves and branches that covered the bamboo ceiling of this temporary structure, and I felt overcome with the emotion of the day. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t stressed. I was happy and calm and reveling in the moment. I walked over to the bar and ordered a glass of white wine and enjoyed every sip.

After that day, I continued my month alcohol-free. And now, I’m kind of glad it’s October.

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A Month With No Drink–Six Days To Go

 

calendar-crossed-outJust over three years ago, I wrote a post on Drinking Diaries, announcing that my husband and I were going to be alcohol-free on Mondays. It sounds like no big deal–and it wasn’t–but it was the first time we had made a conscious decision to keep wine off the dinner table. We’re not big drinkers, but it wasn’t strange for us to have a glass of wine with dinner nearly every night. Three years later, we’ve stuck to our alcohol-free Mondays, and often opt for seltzer or iced tea on other days too.

In my continued effort to explore the role drinking plays in my life–and in celebration of our new Drinking Diaries anthology–I decided to go alcohol-free for the month of September. I’d been looking for an excuse to try abstaining for a month, ever since I interviewed Carrie Wilkens, PhD, cofounder and clinical director of the Center for Motivation and Change in New York City, for an article I wrote called “The Art of Mindful Drinking,” During our interview, I remember Dr. Wilkens saying that one of the first things she suggests patients do is to take time off of drinking. And so, I did.

Here’s what I learned:

  • It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
  • I missed drinking most on Friday nights, a sacred evening for our family when we have a longer-than-normal dinner and always stay home.
  • I strangely enjoyed the challenge of saying “no,” particularly during occasions when I would normally have had a glass of wine or two, such as during our book party and at a gourmet dinner out with my husband.
  • All this time, I thought it was wine that was making me tired. But it turns out I still doze off in front of the TV–even without any alcohol in my system.
  • Last weekend, I had to tell a waiter several times that I wasn’t drinking, as he refreshed the glasses at our table from a giant pitcher of red sangria. It made me empathize with other abstainers.
  • I’d expected to feel more clear-headed and energetic without the alcohol, but I basically feel the same. Perhaps the amount I normally drink isn’t enough to make me feel fuzzy and lethargic?
  • I miss drinking when I’m eating a good dinner. There is no doubt that for me, wine not only takes the edge off, but also enhances flavors, adding to my enjoyment of food.
During that same interview with Dr. Wilkens, she explained that “It’s not unreasonable to have alcohol as a part of your life, as long as you are able to assess whether or not you are relying on it too much.” The key, she added, is imageslearning to consume consciously enough to know how you’re being affected.

Consciously is the key word here. And taking the month off of drinking has made me more aware than ever of when and how much I’m consuming. Another positive factor came from a parenting perspective–it felt beneficial showing my kids that I wasn’t drinking, allowing them to see that I am mindful of my alcohol consumption.

A month without drinking has me feeling refreshed and triumphant, and I’ll probably do this again at some point in the future. I’d be lying, though, if I said I’m not looking forward to the end of the month. I can already “taste” the tannins of a full-bodied cabernet in my mind. But first, I still have six more days to go.

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Eggnog

by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

The truth about eggnog is–it makes no sense without rum. No one wants to admit that, especially someone who quit drinking, but it’s a fact. My husband brought home some reduced fat eggnog about a week and a half ago and it’s been sitting in the refrigerator unopened ever since. I know my husband was trying to do something nice, bringing me a tradition, a little season’s greetings, something he knew I loved, but it’s now just a reminder.

During the holidays when I would go to visit my husband’s family, eggnog was my drug of choice. Pour yourself an eggnog on the rocks, heavy on the rum, sprinkle a little nutmeg and you’ve got dessert and a cocktail all in one. It went down much the way White Russians did when I discovered them in high school–sweet and innocent but with a nice kick. You barely felt yourself getting drunk, but drunk you got.

My husband’s family was always big on the Connecticut Christmas and I just adored being a part of it. At Jon’s parents’ house where we stayed every year (in twin beds–even after we were married) there was a huge, impeccably decorated tree (the kind with ornaments that had been passed down through generations), holiday music on the stereo, home cooked meals and most importantly, regular cocktail hour.

Regular cocktail hour is important here because as someone who didn’t come from the most stable family situation, the need to fit in created a bit of internal tension and alcohol was the most reliable way I knew to melt that feeling away.

The first few times I drank too much in Connecticut, it probably seemed like a fluke. I mean, the drinks flowed steadily because we were in a festive mood without much cause to drive anywhere. It was understandable that we’d catch a little buzz, but I can’t imagine it made the best impression on anyone to have me babbling and slurring and then going off to bed by nine. I seemed to drink more and more on each subsequent trip.

The last time I was drunk at my in-laws, we’d traveled there with our almost two-year-old daughter. Yes, we’d traveled across the country with a toddler–there’s a good reason to drink right there, and now we were trying to keep her entertained in a house with breakables twenty-four hours a day. I’d gotten an early start on the eggnog that afternoon and had decided to go to dinner with my sister-in-law and her good friend while my husband stayed at the house with his parents and our daughter. I’d already had quite a bit to drink before we left and drank so much at dinner I can’t tell you much of what happened because I only see it in bits and pieces. What I do know is that I stumbled back into the house and in an effort to check on my daughter who was asleep in her pack-n-play in the basement, I fell down the stairs. I don’t have any recollection of doing this. I had to be told about it later by my mortified husband.

It would be another six months before I admitted I had a problem and another year and a half before I did something about it. I haven’t had a drink now in nineteen months and for the most part I don’t miss it. Most things I can do just fine now without alcohol. Family, Christmas trees, even spending time with my in-laws, these things are just as good–actually even better.

The only thing that will never work for me without alcohol now is eggnog.

Note: This post originally ran in 2010.

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the author of Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom and Naptime Is the New Happy Hour: And Other Ways Toddlers Turn Your Life Upside Down, which were based on her blog, “Baby on Bored,” and It’s Not Me, It’s You: Subjective Recollections of a Terminally Optimistic, Chronically Sarcastic and Occasionally Inebriated Woman. On television, she acts as the go-to parenting expert for NBC’s “The Today Show” and has been featured on The Dr. Phil Show. Her new book, I’m Kind of a Big Deal: And Other Delusions of Adequacy, comes out June 2011. To read an interview with Stefanie, click here.

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Holiday Decorations Straight From the (Wine) Bottle

I don’t know about you, but I’m not the most creative when it comes to making crafts. So I was pretty impressed when I came across a post from Bottlenotes titled “Eat, Drink And Make Decorations.”

With Hanukkah and Christmas only weeks ago, it’s time to start saving the corks and the bottles. Break out the glue gun and then follow their instructions. Before you know it, you’ll “be able to turn these wine recyclables into menorahs, wreaths, and place holders for your holiday dinner tables.”

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Thanksgiving Round-Up


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To all our fantastic readers and writers—drinkers, non-drinkers, once-drinkers, never-been-drinkers and everyone else on the spectrum–Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re so grateful for all the support we’ve received for what we’re doing here at Drinking Diaries. In honor of the holiday, we’ve rounded up some Thanksgiving-related posts (to read, say, when you’re in the bathroom with your laptop, hiding from the relatives):

Here’s a Great one by Sarah Allen Benton, which is on the Psychology Today blog, on Coping With Family Events Without Alcohol (or when others are banging on the bathroom door and you have to surrender your private time).

And more, from Drinking Diaries:

An essay by Tara Handron on Gratitude Month

An essay by co-editor Caren Osten Gerszberg, “A Mixed Blessing” 

Another post by Caren: “How Puritan Were Those Pilgrims?”

A post by me (Leah) about how Thanksgiving eve night is the biggest night for underage drinking. Surprised?

Enjoy your turkey and seltzer, or tofurkey and wine, or whatever it is you’ll be eating and drinking!

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Vodka with a Splash of Co-Workers

For our holiday story series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a story, an episode, an experience that took place during the holiday season. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Susan La Scala Wood

It’s that glorious time of the year again, when spiked eggnog starts flowing, cocktail shrimp is aplenty and inappropriate comments fill the air.  Yes, my friends, ‘tis the season of the office holiday party, when we eagerly swap our turtleneck sweaters and wool blazers (in the 4th floor ladies’ restroom) for plunging necklines that leave little to those junior account execs’ imaginations. Give ‘em a few free cocktails, and who knows what could happen next. It’s likely they won’t even remember.  At least they’ll be able to count on a few co-workers to fill them in, possibly with pictures.

Okay, perhaps I’m vaguely remembering my own office holiday party, circa 1997.  I’m sure your company party is a much more dignified affair.  Still, it seems like a good time to remind everyone of a few rules to follow when mixing alcohol with a roomful of officemates.

The first one is simple: Pace yourself.  This rule is so simple, in fact, it shouldn’t be surprising that so many people with above-average intelligence manage to completely forget it.  Perhaps they need a more challenging rule: Drink one glass of Perrier per every two vodka martinis and shot of tequila, followed by three olives, a whole lemon and a scotch on the rocks.  Seriously, I don’t know what it is, but offer free drinks to a group of people who spend the majority of their day in a swivel chair and somehow you’ve got the cocktail version of a cruise ship buffet. Sure, they might not spend a dime, but they’ll pay for it later…and all the next day.

Rule #2:  Wear dark colors.  It’s inevitable.  If you are wearing anything lighter than charcoal grey, red wine will spill on you – even if you’re drinking vodka straight up.  Not only will this glaring red spot take your fabulous quotient down a few notches, it’ll also make the biggest teetotaler in the room look like a clumsy drunk.  Not the look you’re going for as you await your holiday bonus.  Which brings us to:

Rule #2A:  Be especially careful if you’re a hand talker.  I was once at a meet-and-greet party for the parents of kindergarteners when I was telling a story with a glass of wine in my hand.  Needless to say, my Italian heritage kicked in and the next thing you know, my arms went from telling a story to splashing Chilean merlot right in my face. I wish I were kidding. The one saving grace: I was wearing black.

Rule #3: The more you drink, the more you should question your urge to dance.  I know this rule is particularly challenging as the more people drink, the more likely they are to bust a move.  But remember this, while you’re feeling like Britney Spears out there, you’re more likely looking like Elaine Benes [of “Seinfeld” fame].  That’s why I’m going to suggest that before the vodka fountain starts flowing, it might be wise to choose a “designated dancer.” This should be someone who actually does possess some impressive moves (preferably with hip hop abilities) who can steer the attention away from you in your moment of weakness.

Rule #4:  Don’t try to get chummy with the boss.  I know, I know, you’re thinking, “But what better time to get to know the person who’s responsible for my employment.” Actually, I can’t think of a worse time.  In this sort of setting, it’s easy to imagine the hierarchical wall has suddenly come down.  The boss is laughing, he’s nearly done with his fourth Belvedere and tonic.  You can’t help but see it as your invitation to get honest with him. So you talk about the office and life in general and eventually, because you’re feeling so darn comfortable, you decide to ask if the rumor about him and his 23-year-old secretary is true.  See where I’m going?

Rule #5:  Don’t go in a closet.  I know this one sounds obvious.  I mean, who would go in a closet during an office party, right?  Well, let’s just say, you’d be surprised.  In fact, 79% of juicy office gossip involve closets.  Okay, I made that fact up.  But let’s just say I’ve heard a story or two.  And no matter how cute the guy or gal next to you suddenly looks, or how persuasive they may be, heading into a closet with them is a surefire way to become Monday morning’s water cooler talk.  So please, if you remember anything, remember this:  good things don’t happen in closets.

Speaking of Monday, here’s Rule #7:  Keep Monday in mind.  It will arrive. And only you can decide whether you will be able to approach it with your head up or down.  I love having fun with my co-workers.  And I love free drinks.  But I know (partly through experience), that you really do have to be careful mixing the two.  Believe it or not, there is something worse than remembering what embarrassing thing you said or did…and that’s not remembering what embarrassing thing you said or did.  At least with the former there’s the ability to do some damage control.

And finally, we’ve come to Rule #8.  The most important one of all:  Have fun. Honestly, even if you do drink a little more than you should, or you get a little too chummy with the boss, or you do somehow end up in a closet, don’t let yourself worry too much. After all, you’ve been working hard the whole past year; you definitely deserve to have a good time.

Susan La Scala Wood is a freelance advertising copywriter who’s currently working on her first novel.   She does not have an office holiday party to attend this year, but she remembers them well.  Sort of.  Not at all.

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