So... How Much Were You Drinking?

I receive this question a lot. I think people ask it for various reasons. First, the vast majority are just good friends that want to understand more about what I'm doing or wondering whether I was drinking more than they realized. The interesting part here is that I think the answer to that question is generally yes and no, which I'll go into more below. There's also a subset of people asking who I know are considering whether their own drinking might be problematic. We all want a benchmark, a comparison to let us know that our own drinking is ok, that we haven't crossed some sort of invisible line in the sand.  

 Oh, Gwyneth... 

Oh, Gwyneth... 

So here's the answer... I was probably drinking around 25-30 drinks a week. I know, I know... that sounds like a LOT. It's more than 3-4 times what is considered "moderate" drinking for women (7 drinks/week). So, here's how that number broke down, starting with a typical weekday evening. Five thirty rolls around and I would pour my first glass while starting dinner. Drinking and cooking had become synonymous for me and it was part of my ritual -- get some water boiling or throw some veggies in the wok, and settle in with a glass of what I felt was very well-deserved wine to relax and stave off the hunger pangs. It all felt very "Gwyneth Paltrow" to me. I typically had my second glass with dinner. There's nothing really to say here except that I don't remember ever enjoying this glass much. We definitely aren't to the point where we're having nice family dinners that don't involve Grant and/or I constantly ordering the girls back to their chairs or to eat a number of bites relative to their ages. Then, we'd start the bedtime routine, so I'd take a little break -- kids in pj's, brush teeth, read books, baths, whatever. And after all of that drama, Grant and I would collapse on the couch to watch Game of Thrones or whatever other show we were into at the moment and I would typically have 1-2 more glasses.

As you can see, it was pretty easy for me to never be "drunk" but to have easily downed the better part of a wine bottle on any given evening. I did have nights where I had less or none but I would never have chosen that. Those nights were the exception because of some unavoidable conflict or a punishment I put upon myself as a result of my anxiety, knowing that my intake was too high. And this is the part that I don't think many of my friends realized, the consistency of it - - it always sounded like a good idea to me. 

Just my typical "weeknight" would have taken me to 21ish glasses/week but that ignores the other large portion of this -- my nights out. I've always been a really social person. It's part of why I decided to give network marketing a try -- there's nothing I love more than meeting new friends and gabbing with old ones! At least one night per weekend and one night throughout the week, I had something going on -- nights out with girlfriends, cookouts with the neighbors, dinners out with Grant and/or another couple. And most of these "events" ended up pretty boozy for me. Again, I didnt always wake up with a hangover (although that happened its fair share of the time) but these nights typically had me drinking even more than I was on any given Monday.    

I admit this now because I think it's important for me to share a little more of my background if I want to continue writing in this space. But the other, more important, point that I want to make extremely clear is this -- the amount we drink should be highly irrelevant to whether we decide to stop or not. (I say "highly" because there are physical changes that happen as a result of a certain level of intake but that's another subject). I believe there are people who drink as much as me who are probably fine to continue and that there are those who drink much less than I did whose lives would benefit greatly from stopping. It is not the amount of booze but the way that booze made me feel that precipitated this decision to give it up.

When I was drinking, I would have told you that those glasses of wine made me feel great. Actually, I would have told you (or not told you) that the only time I felt great all day was when I'd had those glasses. But, as an addictive substance, that's the trick that alcohol plays. It corners the market on our happiness. It pushes everything else out so as to convince you that it's everything, when it actuality it's stealing everything (or at least the joy in everything) from you.        

 Did I mention puffy? 

Did I mention puffy? 

Now, six months out from drinking, I can see more clearly how drinking made me feel. Physically, it made me feel sluggish and puffy. Oh, so puffy... I still worked out almost every day but the energy just wasn't there. And enjoying running after a toddler as I've been doing continuously for the last eight years? Not a chance. 

Drinking was also doing a major number on me mentally. The overriding feeling that I associate with it is shame - so, SO much crushing shame. I didnt keep my drinking a secret (that would mean I had a problem, right?) but I was mortified by it. Every other Wednesday when that recycling truck came around I would cringe, hearing the massive clinking crash as two weeks worth of bottles fell into the truck. I prayed that my neighbors weren't home or wouldn't notice. Maybe we'd had a party, right? But more than others' perceptions of me, I was ashamed in my own eyes. So often, I'd promise myself that change was coming, and sometimes it would be different for a time (see self punishment, supra) but, inevitably, I came back to old patterns and that caused me inescapable guilt, anxiety, and self loathing.  

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But, wait! Was I just being too hard on myself? Is this just another example of my perfectionism getting the better of me? Isn't there a Brené Brown quote about that? Why, yes, yes there is ---->

I wrestled with these questions for a long time. Through years of therapy and a ton of work, I know that perfectionism is my ultimate struggle and that it's bigger than any issues I had with drinking. I knew I needed to let go of the shame but I wondered if the drinking was just the "being human" part that Brown references. And I most certainly wasn't an "alcoholic," I thought, whose first step in recovery would be to admit that I am "powerless" or that my life had become "unmanageable." In other words, I knew just enough to be dangerous.

Last summer, Grant and I began attending church down the road from us at Traders Point Christian Church. It is extraordinarily different from any church I've ever attended or would have been caught dead in the past. I call it rock 'n roll church because they literally start and end each service with a full on, rocking out to Jesus concert. People are waving, dancing, and praying. To be honest, I found the entire display cringe-worthy the first several times I attended. Seeing (sober) people with that kind of vulnerability and unabashed faith and joy made me incredibly uncomfortable at first. But I chose to ignore the displays of joy and the nagging knowledge that many of these people may have voted for Trump and nervously sip my coffee because Aaron Brockett's sermons are freaking amazing. They have the feel of a Bible-based TED talk and every time I go, I take away nuggets that improve my life and deepen my faith, which I would describe as only tenuous previously.    

What I learned and, more importantly, started to believe from attending services was that God purposely made me just like this -- a woman who struggles with vanity, a flaring temper, perfectionism and liking wine too much -- but one that he/she loves unconditionally. That love allowed me to let go of the shame I felt for being a woman that liked her wine too much. Once I did that, I started to want and know that I deserved better than the daily loop that I described above. I decided that after 20 years of drinking, I had a pretty good picture of what life was like with this thing in it and it might be worth seeing what it's like without.

So, now I've gone from the simple question of how much I was drinking to the tangent of what led me to quit. But I think it's impossible to talk about the irrelevance of the former without explaining the latter. As Laura McKowen recently told Megyn Kelly on her show, the question shouldn't be -- is my drinking bad enough to quit? We need to be asking ourselves -- is it good enough to continue? Do the pros I'm reaping from having the daily choice to drink outweigh the cons that only became clear to me during an extended break from it? In my case, as my life improved through a combination of maturity, knowledge of God's love, two years of therapy, and Lexapro, the answer to that question became and remains a resounding "no."     

For more excellent words on this topic, check out the following: 

https://www.lauramckowen.com/blog/2018/5/1/how-much-you-drink-doesnt-matter-a-recap-of-the-megyn-kelly-today-experience