Why I stopped drinking alcohol (more or less).

The First Splendid Truth holds that to think about happiness, we must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

On Friday, I posted about some ways to get rid of “feeling bad.”

It occurred to me that I hadn’t thought to mention a step that I successfully made to eliminate a source of “feeling bad” in my life – quitting drinking.

Alcohol started making me “feel bad” after the Big Girl was born. I was never a big drinker, but in college and afterward I drank about the same as most people. I never loved drinking, but I enjoyed it.

When I was pregnant, I stopped drinking altogether. After the Big Girl was born, and I started having the occasional glass of wine or beer again, I had ZERO tolerance. A half a glass of wine hit me hard.

And not for the better.

Alcohol affects me in several ways. It never really makes me friendly and jolly, as it does many people. First, I become belligerent. I have a tendency to be argumentative anyway, strengthened by going to law school, and alcohol makes me spoil for a fight. And that’s not a fun way to interact with people.

It also makes me less discreet. I say things that I wouldn’t ordinarily say, I’m less tactful, I’m more gossipy.

After these charming effects have worked on me for a while, I then become tremendously sleepy – uncontrollable yawning, pure misery.

These effects were more noticeable in situations when I wasn’t with close friend, but rather was with people I didn’t know well, or didn’t particularly like, or doing something that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Which, of course, were situations where it was all the more important that I be friendly and polite.

What made me focus on the “bad feelings” was the way I often felt the next day. I’d feel anxious and remorseful. “Was I really as obnoxious as I think?” I’d ask the Big Man, trying to get his reassurance that my bellicosity and my indiscretion were all in my mind.

And it wasn’t as though my bad feelings were outweighed by my enjoyment of alcohol. Fact was, I didn’t really enjoy it that much. I can’t tell a good wine from a mediocre wine. I’ve never been able to drink hard liquor. And I’ve always begrudged alcohol the calories it contains, which I’d enjoy more in the form of dessert.

Finally, it hit me – this wasn’t a happy situation. Drinking was fun for other people, but it wasn’t fun for me. I’d rather skip the drink, and skip the remorse, and save the calories.

I’m not saying this solution would work for other people. I enjoy other people’s enjoyment of drinking (unless they talk about fine wine too much). I like the festiveness of martinis and champagne. I like the zestful enthusiasm some people have for drinking–while working on Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, I vicariously enjoyed Churchill’s love for liquor—though, actually, he drank less than most people think.

But it’s one of the most important Secrets of Adulthood (see left column): Just because something is fun for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s fun for me—and vice versa.

I’m happier now that I drink less and behave better. I get home after an evening out, and I’m not eaten up with regret and worry about the way I acted. I feel fine, instead of being so tired that I can hardly take out my contacts. For me, it’s much more fun NOT to drink than to drink.

I could have solved my problem in the opposite way. If I’d started drinking more, my tolerance would have risen, and my behavior would probably have improved. For me, it was easier to skip the drinking than to increase the drinking.

I still have a little wine sometimes, or some champagne at a celebration, or a beer. I drink as much as I like—but I don’t like to drink much, now that I realize that it doesn’t agree with me.

Sometime I regret the fact that I drink so little. Why am I so abstemious and cramped and cheerless? Other people are enjoying themselves so much.

But then I remember—it isn’t fun for me.

The striking fact about my deciding to stop drinking alcohol is that it took me so long to have the idea to do it. Why is it so hard to “Be Gretchen”? Why was it so hard for me to notice that I wasn’t enjoying myself? It can be very difficult to notice what seem to be very obvious facts about your very own self.

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Via a site I just discovered, The Optimized Life, I’ve become intrigued with What Should I Read Next? On this site, you enter the name of a book you love, and the site kicks up suggestions of what you should read next. I entered a few favorites to see what I thought of the recommendations, and from what I could judge, they were pretty good. I’m always trying to figure out good reading suggestions, so this is a real find for me.

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • http://www.DrinksAreOnMe.net Dale Cruse

    This is an interest and honest look into your life, Gretchen. In fact, I linked to it from my weblog at http://www.DrinksAreOnMe.net.

  • http://happinessshared.blogspot.com/ Lori

    Fantastic blog! Thanks for sharing so much of yourself. And thank you for the book link. I’m heading over there right now to see what I should be reading next. :o)

  • http://cheerfulmonk.com Jean Browman–Cheerful Monk

    I don’t drink partly because I don’t have much tolerance for it, either, but also because it doesn’t take much for me to be naturally high. I’ve never understood the idea that people who don’t drink don’t have as much fun.

  • Jonas Cronfeld

    I stopped getting drunk too, as a part of my personal growth, when I was about 16. Here in Denmark you can buy and drink alcohol from the age of 15, but most start a bit earlier and never stops. Luckily a much older friend of mine made me realise how stupid is it (he was about 45 at the time), for a lot of reasons, and ever since I’ve only drunk a beer or two a month :-)

  • http://pippasporch.blogspot.com Pippa

    Bellicosity ~ now that’s a nice word! Sounds much more hoppy-skippy than you would associate with its meaning. :)
    Gretchen, I agree it is often hard to recognize things which really make us feel bad, especially when the effects are a little delayed. But once we DO recognize them, wow, that gives us power, doesn’t it! And nonono, it has nothing to do with being cramped and cheerless ~ it is all about the beauty of knowing yourself and caring for yourself.
    I have a half-glass limit before wine knocks me over. I am also gluten intolerant and I have only today realized that my approach to alcohol is the same as my approach to all the gluten goodies I don’t eat. Just smelling cake, pasta, pizza or especially bread ~ and I mean really smelling it, closing your eyes and inhaling its wonderful fragrance ~ satisfies me as deeply as if I had eaten it. Same with wine. I love red wine, but not its effects. Just a sip or two, truly focusing on it, is all I need.
    And then I am happy both ways: I enjoyed it to the max, and I stayed pure to my boundaries of being. That is such a wonderfully free, light feeling to carry within…
    Thanks so much for sharing your insights!
    Love & Light,
    Pippa

  • Jessica

    Gretchen,
    Thank you for this post. I have recently been thinking a lot about the role of alcohol in my life as well. I followed your advice a few days and wrote down the things that make me “feel bad.” One of them was feeling the slightest bit hung over. Now, I have a bit of tolerance, and I’ve figured out that I can have two glasses of wine (with dinner) and not feel hungover. I do enjoy wine, so I think I am going to experiment with making this my limit for the next few months. It’s important to be honest about what’s fun and what’s worth our time! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Heather at Grace303

    I am so excited to try the What to Read Next website. What a great idea. I also enjoyed your post about your decision to stop or reduce drinking. I think this is a very good point, i.e. that you need to figure out these things about yourself and not continue doing activities merely because other people might enjoy them.

  • Sharyn

    I think a lot of the problem with it taking so long (if ever) for many people to come to the “drinkings not for me” realization is because of how hard society makes it to accept the concept. You can absolutely be a fun, intelligent, sophisticated, un-uptight person even if you never drink a bit. If people do need to drink in order to loosen up or be fun, they need to look at why it takes drinking to achieve that. On the other hand, if drinking negatively affects your personality – like you seem to feel – then refraining from drinking sounds like a very smart decision.
    Don’t regret not being “able” to have fun while drinking. People are rarely having as much fun as we build it up in our minds that they are.
    I don’t know much, but I know it’s good to know yourself.

  • Karryn

    Thank you for this. The comment about the beauty of self-knowledge is what tipped the scale for me. I always thought I *should* appreicate fine wine, but in truth, I don’t. I have recently quit, wait for it….sugar. This is a challenge but well worth it. It all comes down to how one feels at the end of the day. After all, whose body is it?

  • http://journeyofakitten.blogspot.com barbara

    Thanks for posting about why you quit drinking. Sounds good to me.
    I looked at “what should I read next” and cringed. Having more suggestions on what to read would just not be a good thing.
    “Happiness will prevail!!!”

  • http://www.patsyterrell.com Patsy Terrell

    Few people are having as much fun drinking as they think they are. They don’t realize it because they’re drunk. :) It’s the rare person who can drink very much and maintain a high level of interesting conversation.

  • http://www.loveshakbaby.com kathylynn

    Thanks for writing such an honest article. There is so much truth to what you write. An occasional drink here and there is fine but when it starts affecting your life in a negative way, it’s time to stop.

  • Ben

    Hello Gretchen,
    Thanks for the honesty about your views on drinking.
    If you are interested in developing yourself and leading a happier life, seriously consider totally giving up drinking. I used to drink a fair amount in my younger days. I have also seen first hand the damage that drinking can do to bodies and minds. I reached a stage in my life, during my mid-twenties where I turned my back on the bottle. Soon after I started to become interested in self-development after reading the Steven Covey books. Giving up drinking has given me mental clarity over the past decade and a half. I probably drink once or twice a year and I hate the sluggish feelings I have the next two to three days.
    Patsy is on the money by saying that few people are having as much fun as they think they are when they are drinking. I used to work in a nightclub in my younger days (pre mid twenties) and I rarely saw any happy drunks. I saw plenty of anger and unhappiness, and there was nothing quite like cleaning up vomit twenty to forty times a night to lead to moderating my drinking.

  • jen

    thanks for writing this..I feel the same way as you

  • mapleleaf

    I love you Gretchen Rubin! I’m only on March and I forgot my book lastnight on the airplane when we landed, but I just absolutely adore you. I saw this “quit drinking” hyperlink on your June 25 post and I thought I would come read it. I found what you had written astounding because as I have been reading THP, I too thought drinking makes me unhappy because I suffer from excruciating “hangover anxiety” that I just cannot shake all day. I am so happy to see you too covered these thoughts as I am using you as my personal mentor right now. Also, I have no children but you and Jamie sound like extraordinary parents and I love the books you mentioned in “March – Parenthood”, and your adcive has been monumental for when the time comes that I do become a parent myself! Reading the advice, I had painful flashbacks of “how ignoring feelings escalates bad feelings” and other such often-practiced bad parenting techniques. You’re amazing. thank you for everything!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m thrilled to hear that my work resonates with you. Good luck with YOUR happiness project.

  • Vorsalius

    “…noticeable in situations when I wasn’t with close friend, …”
    Your grammar is in need of significant repair.   What I quote above is only one of many glaring examples of frank ineptitude.  Take your time, and please read your own writing carefully before inflicting it upon others. 

    • Sha22no+happiness-project Com

       Ew. What a gross thing to say.

      Judging from the other comments, you seem to be the only person having this reaction.

    • Ian

      Vorsalius, you are an arse.

    • Kris

      Then go away. Don’t read anymore.

    • scotty

      hard to disagree with Vorsalius – your grammar isn’t perfect. but perfection is inherently imperfect. your sentiment, story, and sincerity frickin’ rocks socks. totally commend your decision. #inspiring

  • Katie

    I found this post through your 6/26 post on conversation style and I’m so happy I read it! I like to drink lightly and love a quality cocktail/beer/wine. Reading this just reinforced my inner strength to stick to my drinking style rather than easily being influenced by those I’m with.

  • Sam

    Vorsalius ~ If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Unlike you, the rest of mankind lives in an imperfect world. Deal with it.

  • Dj

    I don’t usually post on things like this, but this resignatrd with me. I’ve always recognized the cons to drinking but I continued to do it for years.. Quitting was the best thing I ever did for myself. I hated who I was when I drank and hated myself the next day even more. Reading this reiterated these ideas.

  • Jess

    This is such a great post. I recall when I first read it I was a bit envious, thinking, “I wish I could do that”. Having suffered years of internal nagging and doubts about my own drinking, it seemed important….but also too ‘central’ to my life to really look at honestly. It was a huge blind spot in my happiness, and 10 days ago I decided to quit for good. Thank you Gretchen! For anyone else feeling this way, please come read or share on my new blog: http://why-dry.blogspot.com

    • Caitie Clark

      Hi There – I really like your blog – I hope all is still going well!

    • Name

      And I wish I could do what YOU’RE doing. Congrats.

  • Michael

    this woman is speaking an untold truth and I agree with her in the fact that drinking is a problem as it is not only socially acceptable, in many cases it is celebrated in itself. This is a problem because people feel like they have to drink to go out or they will be the odd one out even if it does not affect them in a good way they feel socially awkward not doing it. This has inspired me to test out not drinking for a while for the first time in my life.

  • Tessa

    I just stumbled upon this article and it’s definitely something that resonated with me. I just turned 29 and I’ve been thinking for a while about not drinking anymore. Alcohol has a terrible effect on my personality and I become a person I can’t stand. Reading this gave me the push I needed to start my own journey of being sober and happy. Thank you for this great post! :)

  • Karen McBride

    Thank you. I recently made a similar decision, based on similar experiences. Drinking makes me crabby and loud when with a crowd. Then I get home, alone, and I spend a sleepless night feeling physically lousy and emotionally on edge. At best, I’m regretful and a little misty-eyed, at worst I’m suicidal. The only downside of not drinking when I’m socializing is that I can see how ridiculous alcohol makes other people. They think they are funny, engaging, interesting, when generally they are just sweaty and noisy. But, I’ll stick with my clear-eyed view of things. I do like the taste of a glass of wine, but I like the taste of Diet Pepsi, too.

  • merrilyn

    Good to see the benefits of giving up alcohol being extolled. I gave up drinking 14 years ago, which was a major turning point in my life. You might be interested in reading about some of my experiences. One post is entitled: How No Alcohol No Drinking Diet and Detoxification Helped Eyesight.
    http://merrilynhope.com/how-no-alcohol-no-smoking-diet-and-detoxification-improved-eyesight/ I have other related posts on the subject of giving up alcohol.

  • Hayley

    I’ve made terrible mistakes because of alcohol… The only unhappy times in my life and marriage have been because I was drunk… I’m so done. It will be difficult, everyone I know drinks, my family drinks… I’ll need to learn how to say no and mean it, but I have to do it, even if it’s too late to save some things I’ve lost. Better late than never.

  • Emilija Stanic

    I was totally with you until you said that you do still drink on occasion. I think that claiming not to drink alcohol means just that. The post is great and I agree with everything you say, but it’s a little misleading. You’re either a non-drinker or a drinker…there isn’t really anything else.

  • z664

    I enjoy my white wine late in the day…it is such a thirst quencher for me. Love it while making cooking. I end up downing 3 -3 glasses A Day…that I am not happy with. I end up not doing projects around the house that I really want done. I wake in the morning and think day after day, cut back slow down…I hardly enjoy taste and have eaten too much crap while buzzed. How do I pull back and get back to enjoying nice glass of wine for special times?

    • diana

      Good post and good question. I’m in the same boat. You’re not alone. I don’t want to quit (yet) altogether, but may have to, since I can’t seem satisfied with one beer or one glass of wine.

      • Ally

        Key for me was to not think of it as never having it again, but as a just not now. When I thought of it as never it was a lot harder to wrap my head around. Adding in eating right and working out and it became easy to choose not to because I saw how fit I was and how good I felt and remembered how crappy I felt before.

  • Drunk on Mocktails

    Very interesting read which I presume rings true for many of us. If you are thinking of giving up alcohol, take a look at my blog Drunk on Mocktails which details how enlightening and fun a sober life can be http://drunkonmocktails.tumblr.com/

  • FOB

    Congratulations. Im glad you didn’t try the ‘raise your tolerance’ approach. It usually ends badly.

  • http://happinessadvocate.wordpress.com/ Sarah The Happiness Advocate

    Do you still not drink alcohol? Or has this changed over time? I quit drinking right before I got pregnant 3 years ago and haven’t looked back because I’ve been so much happier.

  • http://www.hellobrio.com/ Jennifer Coyle

    Weird that I came across this post. But since I started reading your book (I’m about halfway through) I’ve started to really evaluate what other people may like doing that may not be fun for me. And drinking came to mind right away. I am not able to process alcohol properly and therefore it makes me experience anything from throwing up to blacking out to generally feeling like I’ve poisoned myself, and we’re talking about half of a drink.
    While I still enjoy drinking because it helps to loosen me up, the harm I’m doing to my body isn’t any good, and I fear it’s getting worse and worse as the years pass. It’s so hard to say things like, “No thanks” when people ask you what to drink, because it starts the inevitable landslide of “Really?” “Why?” “You don’t like to drink?” “What’s wrong with you?” sort of questions.
    Anyway, thanks Gretchen!

  • Michelle

    Thanks for your honesty. I completely identify with all you wrote above.

  • John S

    Alcoholism is deadly. Most people think that they can “will” themselves to slow down, change habits/behavior or all together stop drinking. If you happen to be alcoholic, will power has very little effect against alcoholism. If you think you have a problem with alcohol or you have a desire to stop drinking, AA Meetings and reading the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, is a great place to start.

    • diana

      Thanks. Hard but true.

  • Bill

    I stopped drinking at 62 I started when I was 16. Drinking was always a lot of fun. I seldom got drunk. I am a successful businessman and graduated college. It gradually started to take control of my life. I could drink a fifth a night plus beer and anything else I could shove down my throat. Then one day I passed out in front of my wife. I got up right away. My head was hallucinating dreaming of weird images and death. I had a blood test tell me my kidneys were operating at 60% . Death was pulling at me. That’s when I said “do u want to live or die” . I took control of my life and stopped cold turkey. I experienced panic attacks while sleeping. I thought someone was choking me, trying to kill me many times while I slept. I thought if I went back to sleep I would die. I went to my doctors office and cried like a baby. He gave me lorazepam which helped a lot. I changed my diet to fruit, vegetables, cheese, eggs and whole grains. I drank water all day. At sunset I ran until my body hurt. After 8 months I lost 25 lbs and felt stronger when I ran. My organs were repairing themselves.

    When I look at alcohol I am afraid it will kill me. I avoid it. Over Christmas I was served hot apple cider. After a few half cups, the after taste alerted me that alcohol was in it. The chef confirmed. No big deal. I did not have another cup.

    Cold turkey is the only way to stop. You must make the decision. You don’t need consulting and support. You must realize

  • Trishbucks

    Just found this post and I too have realised that booze does nothing for me and for a long time now I’ve preferred not to bother even when others are. I like your comment that you don’t have to try to enjoy something just because others do. I actually question how much others do actually enjoy it or just think that they should do. Their problem not mine!

  • AshleyLynne

    I love this and have recently done the same. 2013 was a rough year, but perhaps the greatest issue I faced was my quick turn to liquor to resolve the day’s stresses. After a particularly wild, drink-to-be-happy night, I realized that drinking was no longer just something I enjoyed, but an utterly mortifying, DAILY habit that I had developed. Interestingly, despite this problem, I was massively successful and most people would never have known how bad this had become. On the inside, I was unhappy, lonely, slept terribly, stopped working out, and stopped enjoying everything I once did. I gave up drinking cold turkey, have been sober for two months, and it has been excruciatingly difficult. It is true, “everyone else enjoys it” and unfortunately, liquor is embedded in our culture. People drink everywhere. It is the core of most adult activities. However, I appreciate that there are people that NEVER drink and still have plenty of fun. Moreover, I appreciate the beauty of pure sobriety. Sobriety means no regrets, clear decision-making, inner strength, a feeling of liberation, and a sense of accomplishment – all of which, when combined, are a natural high far better than that of any substance. So cheers to being in the non-drinkers club! It isn’t easy being ‘outside’ the many and most who enjoy drinking. Bravo to you and your many readers who agree!

    • Jackie

      Hi AshleyLynne,
      Congratulations on your decision to stop drinking! I can totally relate to everything you say. I’ve decided to stop because it was getting out of hand. I read Alan Carr’s “Easy Way to Stop Drinking”, which really helped a lot. Have you read it? Since you mentioned that it’s been very difficult for you, I think reading this book would help make it much easier. Good luck!!

      • Christy

        I just purchased the Kindle version of his book after reading your comment. Thanks! This looks promising.

  • chloianna

    My problem is I really like to drink. The taste, the buzz, all of it. Now comes the guilt; the trying to act sober at home; the trying not to fall; the incessant talking and telling secrets to others. It seems alcohol doesn’t really agree with me either. One glass leads to a bottle. I am on the third day of no alcohol. And guess what? I don’t miss it.

  • RAMESH

    As an academic with a string of degrees i always thought i had my alcohol drinking under control. I would binge and give up for 2-3 months and then back to binging. Soon I was out of control and realized all the time i was in denial. I took the bolk step to go to rehab. Today I am 2years and 43 days sober and attend the all important and supportive AA meetings. I get strength from these meetings

  • Maggie Cole

    Gretchen, so glad I found this. It’s as though you were in my head…obnoxious, belligerent, loud, argumentative. And that’s just the night of. The headache and feeling of, “Oh no, who did I offend?” the following morning are just not worth it. So many things unseen in life to enjoy that do not involve alcohol.

  • Katie

    This post is about 7 years old, but it came to my life at the perfect time. I have gone the last 3 days without wine or beer, and I’m realizing today that that may be the longest time without in my adult life. I’m amazed at how much better I feel already. Honestly, my main motivator was my body – getting older at 31 – I was spending more time than ever exercising, but was seeing no physical changes…. probably because I drank in calories what I burned each day, if not more. I’m not saying that I’m quitting. I really enjoy wine. I really enjoy local beers. But I think I would enjoy it MORE if it was special and not the norm. But I am taking the month of May off from drinking entirely, and will re-evaluate from there.

  • Geoff

    We should boycott alcohol so as not to add to the profits of the alcohol industry, which they will use to promote booze and thereby cause even more deaths, injuries, and other damage.

  • Eve

    It isn’t fun for me, either … I do not particulary like the taste of most alcoholic beverages, and I strongly dislike the feeling of not being in control or safe (being abused as a child, this is important for me!).
    Most of my friends did and do accept this (one friends still wishes to see me drunk – as she’s an old and a very good one, I feel tempted to fulfill her wish … but it really scares me – not being in control, plus I always had that the idea (not proved by any evidence), that I might be prone to addiction), AND I was always the designated driver, when I still had a car (again: control! I get to decide when it’s time to leave the party!)