What would you give, or give up, to have an extra month in your year?
I woke up this morning a year and a half sober. And the feeling I had was not excited, like you might feel waking up on Christmas or during a vacation. There were no fireworks or sparkling lights, and I did not feel celebratory or even proud of myself. I felt like I’d found time.
Last year I was interviewing a recovering addict named Andrew for a story. Andrew works with my local police department to get folks in trouble into treatment instead of taking them to jail. We were sitting in the center of a large, brightly lit conference room, and I shyly mentioned that I was five months wine-free — which I admit felt silly as I’d been listening to Andrew detail the terrors of addiction to Oxycontin 80s, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin — but my comment stopped Andrew mid-sentence.
I was what is called a gray area drinker, described in a 2019 Colorado Public Radio segment by nutritionist and health coach Jolene Park. “Moderate drinking is defined as one, five-ounce glass of wine for a woman every day,” Park said, and “once it’s more than seven drinks a week, that starts to become heavy drinking. It doesn’t take much to get there, and that’s that gray area where it’s ‘oh, I’m going to have a drink, oh I’ll have another,’ and often easily can become the bottle.”
It seems like there is always a good reason to drink. It’s been a long day or it’s someone’s birthday, annual girls’ trip, family reunion, book club, awards dinner, the holidays! I would often think, I’ll just have one glass of wine tonight, which would turn into four and I would wake up with a hangover. I excused this because I felt like I was a responsible drinker. I didn’t drive after drinking, I could work, work out, and throw a great party. But I also lied to my doctor, and sometimes myself, about how much I drank.
Alcohol is the worst, Andrew had explained in our interview, because it is the acceptable addiction. Unlike meth, coke, heroin, or opioids, drinking is public, it’s how we socialize. Someone might joke to me, “Oh come on, just have one drink! It’s fine!” but as Andrew told me, no would every say to him in a million years, “Oh come on, man, just do a little heroin or meth with us, it will be fine.”
I started noticing the benefits of sobriety right off. Two weeks after I quit drinking, I went home to Missouri to see my dad for the first time after being fully vaccinated for Covid, and he showed up at dinner with several unvaccinated family members, which I wrote about for The Washington Post. I got through that dinner without being sucked into arguments about Covid, Dr. Fauci, or Trump for one reason: I drank Diet Coke and was not fueled by a glass (or three) of wine.
As fellow gray-area drinker, Dr. Gabriel Bosslet, recently wrote for MedPage Today, “I am a better person since I quit drinking. I sleep better. I am more available for my family. I have more productive hours in the day. Do I miss alcohol? Sure, occasionally. My wife and I went to dinner the other night, and while a glass of cabernet with my steak would have been nice, for me the downsides just aren’t worth it.”
At a year and a half sober, I am thankful for all of the expected things. I sleep through the night. I’ve lost 30 pounds. I’m a better listener, can stay awake later, and can always drive home. The most surprising benefit is that I used to think drinking relaxed me and tamped down my anxiety, and now realize alcohol was the match that lit my anxiety.
But the biggest benefit is the extra four or so hours I’ve added to my days because I am no longer checked out — what I used to think of as “taking the edge off” — from five p.m. to bedtime. I figure this equals about a day week, and for me that adds up to about one month in a year.
We often say the thing we want most in our lives is more time and that we would give anything to get it. I gave up wine, and I found time.