Ex-Drinkers are Badass

I loved being a drinker—even more than I enjoyed the intoxication. I embodied a very specific brand of drinker that, in hindsight, was downloaded from the zeitgeist. Drinkers are people who work hard and play hard. They are smart, witty and interesting. In many ways, drinking felt like a sport—complete with rules, strategies, winners, losers and lots of great slogans. Drink Responsibly? Please . . . responsibility is why I drink.  

Many of my happy memories were centered around alcohol — dancing in a dive bar to thumping music under black light, long after the boring people have gone home to bed; watching sunsets while sharing a bottle of wine on the beach, at the lake, or in a field of autumn wild flowers; sneaking sippy cups of chardonnay into the movie theater on a rainy summer afternoon. I hate it when people say you don’t need alcohol to have fun. You don’t need running shoes to run, but it helps.

I have some unpleasant memories too—alcohol-fueled emotional tailspins, nasty fights and stupid decisions that could have ruined everything. But those were perceived as the yin to the yang–the innate challenges of my chosen sport. Stoicism grows with experience; humiliation fosters humility. It’s a package deal. Quitters never win and winners never quit.

Being a drinker felt like being a member of a secret society. A sideways comment about needing a drink promoted a fastidious co-worker to a partner-in-crime. At any large event, you can find an inner sanctum of serious drinkers seeking refuge from social expectations—just follow the smokers. The ability to show up for early morning commitments with only a sense of humor to buffer the hangover demonstrates master-level grit. Five-star reliability certifies drinkers as responsible. If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

My identity as a drinker kept me from even considering sobriety as a long-term option. I’d been looking down my nose at teetotalers and one-drink-wonders for most of my life. Boring. Simple. Clearly naïve. My ability to drink excessively and function at a high level made me feel like an incognito rock star. Devoted mom and hard-working professional by day, rebel with no rules by night. I heard alcoholics drink every day. I drink every night.

Reality Bites

The difference between being a drinker and a drunk is in the eye of the beholder. It took me a long time to acknowledge that my reality did not match the identity I was both projecting and internalizing. In my early drinking days, I’d sneak to the bathroom and pour every other round down the drain. I didn’t want to get too drunk. Twenty years later, I was sneaking to the bathroom for refills between rounds. I didn’t want to be too sober. I did want to drink less—bleary-eyed intoxication is not as fun as it sounds. I just had a really high tolerance and had lost my ability to moderate.

Alcohol use disorder is simple and subjective—it just means that a person drinks more than they want to. Like any drug, alcohol causes changes in the brain chemistry. It inhibits executive function and reduces the production of dopamine during non-alcohol related activities. The longer and more often you drink, the harder it is to control.

Most of us try to control our thoughts instead, telling ourselves that we just enjoy drinking—or that we need alcohol to relax. The cognitive dissonance of wanting to drink less and needing to drink more slowly erodes our mental health. We justify and deny and pontificate. We seek solace in the drinker’s identity. At least we’re in good company. I told myself to stop drinking. But should I be taking advice from a drunk?

Drinking was making me so miserable that I decided to quit. I thought sobriety would be a sacrifice– less pain in exchange for less pleasure. I reasoned that if alcohol is fun, not drinking is not fun. This conclusion drove my behavior from the start. I’ve since learned that less pain means more pleasure–duh. More importantly, I now understand that believing something doesn’t make it true.

The good news and bad news are the same: Our minds are crazy powerful.

Sobriety is the New Black

For generations, drinking alone has been frowned upon. Social drinking is healthy drinking. The COVID pandemic changed the rules, normalizing solo drinking as an acceptable coping mechanism for stress and loneliness. Quarantini recipes flooded social media. Liquor stores, classified as an essential service, offered curb-side pickup and home delivery. Jokes about drinking on the job were funny and also true. Everyone’s tolerance went up. So did the collective needle on the alcohol use disorder spectrum.

How and why we drink has changed. As a result, normal drinkers are now battling addiction. The smartest of the bunch are doing what they swore they’d never do: quitting. Sobriety is the new black.

Overcoming alcohol use disorder is an elite skill set–the prerequisite for which is an intense career as a professional drinker. Ex-drinkers embody the best of two worlds—they’re strong-willed and willing to take risks. They are also resilient and willing to own their mistakes. They identify in various ways: recovering alcoholics; twelve-steppers; alcohol-free; sober curious; none-of-your-business. Whatever–they used to drink and now they don’t.

Ex-drinkers are an astute group. When all the drinkers head off to the bar, ex-drinkers exchange a knowing glance. We’re heading home to bed. Because sleeping is a priority. We don’t miss staying out late partying with friends because that’s not a thing. It never was. We went out because we wanted to drink. We tolerated other drinkers even though the conversations were mostly nonsense. Any sense of connection happened despite alcohol, not because of it.

People with alcohol use disorder on their resume have, by default, worked very hard to get their shit together. To be the best version of themselves. To think beyond what they want in any given moment. Sobriety is an invitation to forgo instant gratification and pursue self-respect. People who don’t need a drink to get through life increase their sex appeal and cool factor. Ex-drinkers are more badass– not less.

Reformed partiers have depth and a tolerance for humanity that most never-been-a-big drinkers do not. Ex-drinkers are not offended by creative conjugations of the word fuck. They know how to talk about real things. Like emotions and mental health. Better yet, they know how to listen. And yet, bullshit doesn’t fly—your biggest problem is probably you. Which is more helpful than it sounds. If you’re the problem, you’re also the solution. They’ve been there and survived that; they know how to do hard things.

Ex-drinkers help each other out. There’s a code—nobody has to do it alone. Recovery meetings are warm and welcoming. Egos are checked at the door; social hierarchies are irrelevant. We still follow the Las Vegas rule: what happens in the rooms stays in the rooms. You’re safe. You’re loved. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to rant. It’s not okay to talk longer than 5 minutes. But they’ll be nice when they cut you off.

You Gotta Have Faith

I write this with full awareness that I’m being cliché. The ex-drinker stereotype that I’ve described is based on cherry-picked data. But the false inclusivity of the drinker identity is also a delusion—albeit one that is deeply engrained in our collective subconscious. In truth, alcohol does not define anyone or anything. It’s just a drug. Your relationship to alcohol exists in your imagination, just as mine does. It’s not how we drink—it’s how we think.

Mental constructs are powerful. They can trap people in self-made prisons. They can also provide an escape route. Becoming aware of your belief systems is step one. I quit drinking because I had an innate sense that alcohol was hurting me. My survival instincts kicked in. And because I wanted to make the best of the situation, I held off accepting the heavy dose of shame that often accompanies a dark reality.

Could I frame sobriety as a massive upgrade instead of a sacrifice? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all. Maybe sobriety is exactly what I’d been looking for. I wanted peace, joy, happiness, purpose and meaning. I’d been confused—misled—about how to get those things. My experience with alcohol use disorder doesn’t make me stupid and weak. I’m smart and strong for realizing the truth.

When I reexamined the evidence of my journey into alcohol use disorder—all of it, I found it to be neutral. My story had yet to be written; I could decide which details matter, how I felt about them and what happens next.

It takes faith to believe in anything, including the worst. Beliefs are not Truth. Beliefs are stories. Stories have no power until people believe them. Faith brings stories to life. Truth, on the other hand, does not need to be believed. It does not need words or ideas to exist. It does not need to be argued or defended or compromised. Stories are how we make sense of the truth.

While pain is physical, suffering is psychological—it’s a consequence of thought. Hangovers are painful. Living without alcohol is not painful—it feels good. People who think they need alcohol to enjoy life will suffer with or without it. The belief creates the reality. But it doesn’t change the truth.

Humans are storytellers. Words are magic wands. My story is that I loved being a drinker. And now I love being an ex-drinker. As a group, we’ve discovered that life is better in focus. Alcohol keeps the masses numb and dumb. Ex-drinkers know that meaning and purpose come from within. Recovery is the next revolution. I’m proud to join the ranks.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Et Tu Brute?

I help high-functioning drinkers overcome alcohol use disorder without adopting the stigma and shame of the “recovering-addict” identity. If you want to enjoy life as an ex-drinker, and not rely on willpower to avoid self-destructive behaviors, you’ve got to change your relationship with yourself. Register for my free 45-minute webinar or schedule a free one-hour consultation with me (see below).

How to Overcome Alcohol Use Disorder

To overcome alcohol use disorder you must admit that alcohol is causing more stress than it's worth. It's not fun anymore. Drinking too much is a form of self-neglect, not self-care.

group think sobriety

Don't surrender your autonomy to group-think sobriety. Exchanging one set of limiting beliefs for another won't set you free.

Internalized oppression

Is your inside voice a bully? Internalized oppression from patriarchal, elitist and racially-biased "standards" causes fear and shame.

Becoming a Non-Drinker

What's the difference between "recovering alcoholic" and a non-drinker? The words you chose have a big impact on your experience of sobriety. If you don't like what you feel, change what you think.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Do you wish you drank less but find it difficult to stop once you start? Are the legal experts in your head constantly debating the problem—and what you should do? That's alcohol use disorder.
 
You’re not alone. Many of us have been duped into using alcohol as a consolation prize for neglecting our needs--and then criticized for becoming dependent on it. I was able to quit drinking after 30 years without AA, rehab or willpower. My energy, vitality and joy have returned. I help high-functioning drinkers experience sobriety as a superpower, not a disease. 

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