Some Days, I Go Against the Grain (Or, Grape…)

If you had told me a year ago that I would be sober in Sonoma (during crush, no less…), I would have thought you were having a laugh. 

And, yet, here I am.  Coming up on eleven months of blissfully embracing an alcohol-free lifestyle and traveling through picturesque wine country in peak season.

A very special event brought me here.  And, as I let the excitement for that sweep over me, I was simultaneously intrigued with what it would be like to be here.  Now.

In light of the pandemic, most of my alcohol-free existence has been experienced with my partner who is also on this journey.  It’s only recently that things feel like they’ve kicked into full gear with travel and in-person get-togethers.  And, it’s giving a new dimension to this lifestyle change we’ve made.  All the more so in the heart of a place where people come from all over the world for the wine I no longer drink.

I have been exploring what it means to remember the most important thing and understand the trade-offs we make, whether consciously or unconsciously.  And, through that lens, it has been so interesting to see what eliminating alcohol from my life has created space for.  Literally and figuratively. 

I have so much more energy and there are more hours in the day.  Not just from the absence of drinking but the freed-up decision-making.  Decision fatigue is real.  I no longer think about whether or not I’m going to drink at the event, have another glass or get from here to there if I do.  I no longer wonder whether what I said or did or thought was impacted by the alcohol.  I no longer worry that maybe I missed something in the faded light.

When I wake up, I feel great.  Ready to take on the day.  Mornings are my time for strategic and impactful thinking and action.  I am primed to make the most of them.  Every.  Single.  Day.  My days are abundant in a nourishing and enriching way.

I can say with near certain certainty I never would have seen the redwoods if I had gone to Sonoma before now.  Or tasted the delicious food in quite the same way.  Or had quite the solid wholehearted time with my partner.  Driving (ourselves) all over the county through the idyllic rolling hills.  Napa.  Glen Ellen.  Petaluma.  Russian River Valley.  Santa Rosa.  Spaciousness and fall colors all around.  Reveling in a serendipitous antique fair spanning blocks and blocks of a charming town center after an early, cozy breakfast.  Writing.  Photography.  Naps.  Romance enhanced, not impeded, by our choices.

Before I go further, I want to say that there is no judgment or preaching here.  I am firmly in the camp of “you do you” and will happily raise a toast to that together.  I share this because I have been genuinely surprised and delighted by this journey and, while I was becoming a little bit curious, I didn’t fully see a path for myself  until a friend shared with me what it meant to live free and her decision.  It was a complete 180 moment for me.  She touched on all the things I was thinking and feeling and reframed “sobriety” in a way I that made so much intuitive sense to me.  She also shared a book that completely blew my mind and cemented the change in perspective.  I have so much gratitude for her sharing these with me and the shifts it’s created. 

Reframing feels important too.  There is such a stigma around choosing not to drink.  As it’s been said many times, alcohol is the one drug people give you a hard time for not taking.  I am called to turn that on its head and shine a light on the richness of this lifestyle choice.  It’s about savoring life and living it all. 

For me, this journey started as a cornerstone of mindfulness.  (For my partner, it was leaning into physical activity.  He tends towards the extreme and appreciates knowing his long runs won’t be interrupted by even a hint of a hangover and his body will recover much faster.)  I was doing a lot of work in this area and I started to notice the dissonance between being deeply in intention and winding down with a glass of wine or cocktail.  As the familiar buzz warmed me, I noticed a disconnect spreading too.  A buffer.  Between myself and my feelings.  Between myself and everyone else.  We think of alcohol as bringing people together but it keeps us farther apart.  We want to feel closer to others or to enhance the feeling or the moment, but it distances us.  I started to question whether I really wanted that distance and what might be possible if I eliminated it.

As Brené Brown says, “numb the dark and you numb the light.”  What might the light look like in full radiance?  What might I learn if I confronted my fear of the dark?

I would also note that when we numb, we blur.  We have a choice – we can feel our feelings or we can lump them all together and smudge out the lines.  In this paradigm, the feelings can become a soupy generalized anxiety.  The kind that often likes to surface on Sundays or during 2 a.m. insomnia.

Feeling your full feelings can hit you with the punch of pure ethanol at first.  But, as you learn to let them flow, it becomes this beautiful rhythm not unlike the ocean.  Some days, it’s a calm, crystal blue paradise.  Some days, it’s choppy.  Some days, the waves pound and you can get tossed around.  Yet, through it all, there is a cycle and a nature to it.  And, there is so much life in it.

I cry more now.  And, I also realized that – holy sh*t – all those tears needed to be cried before too…  I’m learning how important and powerful it is to feel what needs to be felt.  Joy and laughter too.  All the feels.  That doing so is an act of self-care and essential to wellness.  And, when we do, they can pass through.  They don’t linger the same way when you make space to process them.  Or have the same power over us.  There is a freedom in being there for it.  In full.  And, also, in letting it go.

There has been a learning, or relearning, how to live as well.  As we excitedly made our plans to explore Sonoma, my partner and I affectionately reminisced about how our alcohol-free lifestyle seemed a tad boring at first.  When the spaces that had been filled with alcohol held nothing.  But space…  We had to re-learn what we actually yearned for.  What brought us joy.  And peace.  And happiness.  Perhaps most significantly, we learned to be choiceful about what we allow to fill those spaces.  Not the shoulds or what we think we’re “supposed to” want to do. 

Turns out, we’re both more introverted than we previously realized.  Time in nature feeds our souls.  I need quiet to recharge.  He loves to challenge his physical limits.  As much as outward-facing adventure always lights my fire, I’ve found exploring my internal landscape is pretty fascinating too.  I take great pleasure in writing and coaching and my partner has a creative side we never really made space to allow to surface.  His inner artist and my inner artist actually really vibe and it’s given a whole new dimension to our relationship and our family.  Speaking of, I’ve stopped being apologetic about protecting my weekends for treasured family time.  We’re more present, so we’re better partners and parents and this time is even more magical as a result.  Empathy comes naturally and we all argue less.  When we do have disagreements, we’re able to dialogue and resolve it so much easier.  We’re more resilient and better able to navigate the hard things.

Paradoxically, we always talk about alcohol making you brave – “liquid courage” – but I have never been braver.  I feel more confident taking risks because I trust myself more and I am in a frame of mind to live with intention.  I listen to myself and make space for my feelings and my needs.  When I do this, I actually hear.  And, with true listening and hearing comes remarkable clarity.  Wants.  Needs.  Thoughts.  Feelings.  And that yearning to play bigger.  By staying aware and in intention, I am able to work with my fear and inner critic.  To do what is calling in spite of them.  It is thrilling.  Empowering.  Freeing.  This is, in itself, its own reward.  And, that reward energy creates a virtuous cycle.

I have always had a wild spirit.  A bit of misfit rebel woven in with my type-A Virgo nature.  But I have done the wildest and most wonderful things while living free.  And, the strangest thing is, this feels like my most extreme and subversive act of rebellion.  Going against the grain (or, grape…).  And loving it

I always thought not drinking would feel like a sacrifice.  Daunting.  Limiting.  But, it doesn’t.  Realizing what it can mean to live free is like an open door.  As a dear friend of mine says, I drink as much as I want.

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