Why I Don't Drink Alcohol Anymore
Hi, my name is Tiffany, and I am not an alcoholic, but I don’t drink anymore.
Recently, I tried to remember when I last had a sip of alcohol. I was pleasantly surprised to realize it was a year and a half ago. I didn’t make a deal with myself or a New Year’s resolution. It just, sort of, happened. And as a result, I am feeling inspired to begin a conversation about a topic I usually reserve for private and confidential settings - alcohol.
I was a counselor in top addiction treatment centers for a decade. I also come from a family with a history of addiction. I am a woman who has navigated her own relationship with alcohol over the years. I know firsthand the sensitivity and secrecy around the subject, and how complicated our relationship to “drinking” can be. But it is so very important that we keep this conversation open and ongoing, so we can learn from one another’s experience.
Here is an overview of how it came to be that I no longer drink alcohol.
Let’s start at the beginning. Alcoholism runs deep in my family lineage. It has carved through my life like a slow-moving glacier, altering the landscape of everything I know. It has been a subject I have been keenly aware of since I can remember.
When my parents divorced, I was a toddler, and my mother began seeking treatment for codependency. To put this in perspective, people commonly go to treatment for addiction, but it was almost unheard of at that time to find someone who went to an actual treatment program to heal from the patterns that lead to, and result from, being in relationships with people who suffer from addiction – i.e. codependency.
My mother’s courage to seek help has altered the course of my life. Because, at the same time she was healing, she also put me in small group therapy for children with a provider who specialized in addiction. I was 3 years old and I had a therapist. It was nothing short of miraculous.
As a result, I started talking about my thoughts and feelings since my earliest memories. One day, it would become my profession.
Fast forward to high school, when I began to experiment with alcohol as many young adults do. The best way I can describe why I started drinking is that it simply felt like the “thing you should do.” It felt like the thing EVERYONE did, or at least anyone “cool” did.
I got the cultural download that drinking made you fun, carefree, and the life of the party. I got the message that you laughed harder and created amazing memories when you were drinking with your friends. I somehow understood it was a sophisticated and adult thing to do to go out to a bar and know what kind of drink to order. I was a young and confused girl who desperately wanted to be seen as cool and grown up. My life was in a great deal of turmoil in my teens, and partying with my friends became an identity I put on like a hazmat suite - an effort to protect myself from all I didn’t want or know how to feel.
However, by the time I was in my mid 20’s I was really starting to feel disenchanted with it - I didn’t actually like how I felt drinking. I have a physical and emotional constitution that does not like to feel unwell. I hated how I felt the next day. I hated the anxiety, headaches, and poor sleep. I hated that it facilitated me acting in ways I never would have without ingesting it. I hated the guilt and shame those actions created.
As I matured, my relationship to alcohol and anything that made me feel crappy, changed. My friendships evolved, to people who had a more moderate relationship with alcohol. And while I would drink on the weekends (because that was still “the thing to do”) its presence in my life dramatically decreased.
I graduated with my master’s degree and, after a primary focus on mental health, I found myself working as a counselor in an addiction treatment center. Thus, I began an unexpected 10-year career in this field. God works in mysterious and miraculous ways, and this part of my journey has healed me more deeply and taught me more than I could imagine.
As the years passed, I accumulated hundreds and hundreds of clients in my jobs in treatment programs. Being with these beautiful human beings on their healing journey, watching their triumphs, their struggles, losing some to overdose and suicide, and witnessing so many of them go on to develop sober, amazing lives - profoundly affected me. It helped me gain a deeper understanding of my own life and family systems, as well as humanity in general. It taught me about what people do to cope with pain and how we can heal.
Obviously, this work further shaped the way I see drugs and alcohol. When you watch something destroy the lives of family members and clients that you love, you lose the ability to see it as innocuous. It simply stops being something you associate with fun. It begins to be associated with trauma.
Yet, I would still have the occasional drink or two. I would have a drink when I went to dinner with friends, or at a concert or event. I spent my work life diagnosing addiction in others, and I knew I didn’t meet the criteria myself: I didn’t think about alcohol, didn’t keep it in my house, almost never had more than a couple of drinks a few times a month, never drank more than I intended, never made failed attempts to stop drinking. So, I just went with the flow of “how non-addicted adult females should drink in their late 20s-30s.”
However, the healthier I got, the more I disliked drinking. The moment I would feel alcohol build up in my bloodstream I would feel myself numb out and leave myself, in the smallest way. And I hated that feeling. I had done so much work on being at home in my own mind and body, I had no desire to leave me anymore.
Then I met a man who doesn’t drink. Which, let me tell you, is the most attractive and amazing thing I had ever experienced. Being with someone who chose not to have even the occasional drink at an event, dinner, or on vacation, made it easier for me.
Remember, I had spent my days, for ten solid years, breaking down the cultural messages regarding alcohol consumption with my clients. Yet, because I wasn’t struggling myself with addiction, I didn’t realize how these powerful messages were STILL working on ME in certain arenas.
“You’re on vacation. This is a time when you should have a glass of wine.” I would hear that thought pop up in my mind and began questioning myself: Really? Why? Why is it celebratory to travel to a beautiful place, only to drink a toxic chemical that affects your body in every unhealthy way? You dislike it. You will wake up tomorrow feeling anxious. You hate what it does to people. So why do you feel like you should have a glass?”
I’d have this dialogue with myself over and over again. And when I would normally have had a glass, or a half a glass, or a couple of sips, I stopped having any at all.
Quietly, one month turned into a year and a half.
Please let me be clear. I am in no way intending to compare my experience to anyone who is navigating sobriety from active addiction. People who have walked this walk are warriors and are my personal heroes. I also don’t think I am any better than them. I know that just because addiction didn’t manifest for me yet, it doesn’t mean that at some point in the future it couldn’t if I continued to drink. I have witnessed plenty of people develop addictions well into their later years. I have it in my genes, like them.
I intend to speak to the hearts of all the people who reserve sobriety “only for people who have addictions.”
I want to call attention to the programming you’ve received from the time you’ve been old enough to watch TV or be aware of your family dynamics. The messages about alcohol have been flooding you and teaching you. “Rose’ all day,” women drinking cosmos on Sex and the City, or “mommy wine time.” Feeling sad? Saddle up to the bar. Feeling happy? Go drink and dance at the club. Watching football? Drink beer. Eating steak? Drink wine. Wanna have hot sex? Get loaded first. This messaging is everywhere and in everything.
And the only messages you get about NOT drinking are when someone has a MAJOR problem. We rarely hear from someone who chooses to be sober, not because things got so bad, but because they wanted to feel that much better.
We are obsessed with cutting out gluten, dairy, and chemicals in makeup, and yet we will consume alcohol without question. There is really nothing healthy about it. You can get your antioxidants from fruit. And personally, I have seen alcohol wreck far more lives than gluten ever has. The research on the negative health effects of alcohol on women in particular, (it affects our bodies much more strongly) is nothing short of sobering. We have protected and compartmentalized this chemical in a way that is costing us more than most of us know. But those stats are for another time and another blog.
I am not sharing this to tell you what you should do with your life. I am not a prohibitionist. I have no idea what you should do. I take that back, if you have an active addiction, I know you should seek help. I have no intention of judging or shaming people who drink alcohol. I am often around people who drink alcohol moderately in social situations, and I don’t judge their alcohol use. If they are not hurting themselves or anyone else, it is their life.
I wanted to share MY journey because if this blog inspires one person to get curious about their relationship with alcohol, it is worth it. If even one person finds that they are using it to numb, run from, or alter themselves, and they take steps to do something about it, this is worth it. If even one person sees they are drinking because it’s what their friends do, or what the moms on their block do, or what their coworkers do, but when they get really honest with themselves, they don’t feel good doing it, then I feel good about opening up and sharing.
You can see it has been a process of discovery for me. I know that I feel better than I ever have without alcohol (or drugs) in my life. I know that my mind, body and spirit are healthier and happier as a woman who does not drink. I am funny, connected, high on life, engaged, at home in my skin, sexy, confident, and carefree without alcohol.
Interestingly, everything our culture promised me alcohol would do for me, was the exact opposite of what it ever delivered. Some of the most painful experiences of my life were connected to alcohol, and the best moments of my life had nothing to do with it.
**If you are looking to receive support for a substance abuse issue, I no longer treat those conditions, and would suggest you contact the closest and best addiction treatment program to you for an assessment.