Last month, when I mentioned that my dream dinner included sparkling water, a few readers wondered why I hadn’t chosen white wine (with which I’ve had a long love affair). Here’s why…
Throughout my thirties, I regularly drank alcohol. I cherished the ritual of putting the boys to bed, walking into the quiet kitchen, and pouring a cold glass of white wine. The bracing acidity signaled the shift from the work day to a relaxing evening, complete with grown-up conversation and maybe a Frasier rerun (that Niles!). A glass was a reward for parenting two nutty kids and a way to instantly turn off my whirring brain.
I also loved learning about wine; it’s exciting to be an enthusiast! I taught myself how to navigate restaurant wine lists. I learned to differentiate between a grassy Sauvingnon Blanc and a peachy Vermentino. I became friends with the guys at the wine shop and followed funny wine columnists.
Plus, wine seemed to make life bigger. A glass of rosé on a summer evening, a chilled Grüner with salty chips before a meal, a flute of Champagne at a friend’s wedding — what could be better? “People who really love wine think of it as an ordinary part of their meals, like salt or bread,” wrote Eric Asimov in the New York Times. “Regular consumption is the single most important characteristic of the confident wine lover.” That was me!
But, as time passed, my grip on alcohol became slippery. I realized that I was regularly drinking two glasses of wine per night — more if we went to dinner or a party. I had a nagging feeling that alcohol wasn’t under my control, but I pushed it away. Now and again, I tried to take a break, but I would make it only a couple of evenings before treating myself to just one pour, which led to a second, maybe a third. I reassured myself that at least I didn’t feel side effects from drinking, like headaches or hangovers. Plus, it’s chic and European! I come from British stock! It’s part of my larger family culture. It’s FINE.
Cut to 2021. Throughout the pandemic winter, wine bottles filled the recycling bin. But in February, my phone dinged. “Who’s up for a three-week health challenge?” my friend Jordan texted me and a few other women. Her proposal was simple: Eat healthy foods, walk 10K+ steps per day and cut out alcohol. I ignored my nerves and typed a response: “I’m in.”
The first night was the hardest. Around 8 p.m., I craved a drink; I irritably headed to my bedroom to read a book and stay away from the fridge. (I also poured a glass of sparkling water so I could have something to sip.) But it really helped to know I was accountable to the text group. Every night, we’d message each other: “I did it today!” The group was counting on you.
The second night, I felt less tempted; the third night, less still; until, somehow, after a week or so, alcohol, which had been such a constant part of my adult life, wasn’t something I thought much about. (This surprised no one more than me.)
At the same time, something else was happening. Without daily drinking, I felt much more awake, energetic and clear-headed. When the boys came to wake us up in the morning, my eyes would pop open — good morning, world! Writer Sarah Levy said that refraining from alcohol “feels like waking up in clean sheets every day,” and that rang true.
I suddenly wondered: all that time, when I believed alcohol wasn’t affecting me, was I actually slightly hungover every day for years?
Nowadays, I haven’t had much to drink since February. Sometimes I make exceptions. Last month, my dad visited, and we split a bottle of Italian wine at my favorite neighborhood restaurant. We tasted hints of honey and pineapple, and our cheeks grew rosy and warm. I still love the flavors and the feeling. So, I may have wine now and again at dinners out or on special occasions. But for now, for this time in my life, the decision feels right.
I’m so curious: what’s your relationship with alcohol like? How do you feel about it? I’d love to hear.
P.S. Three flavored waters, and “how stopping drinking changed my life.”
(Photo by Sophia Hsin/Stocksy.)