Getting caught in an upward spiral

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Star Donaldson as she was working on her personal essay for Byrdie’s Revival issue. Star’s entire piece is excellent and worth reading, but I wanted to Yes-And a few specific sections of it here.

Star begins by describing a harrowing multi-day hangover and how she felt after it finally subsided:

I was fully shaken and decided to take my first full month off of drinking. This month led to another and another. Before I knew it, I was flirting with actually going sober.

Unlike Star, I didn’t have one particularly notable hangover that led me to drink more mindfully. Looking back over the years, there were many.

But like Star, my intention has never been to become sober. My primary intention wasn’t even really to reduce my alcohol intake. I just felt better the less I drank and I kept listening and following that feeling. Our bodies are remarkably effective at leading us to good health and wellness outcomes, we just need to not ignore what they’re trying to tell us.

Star’s quote above also reminds me of how useful the phrase “I’m not drinking right now” can be for many of us. For many (but not all) of us, it’s ok to do this incrementally. I’m not sober forever. For me, this is neither a 30 day challenge nor a lifetime commitment to abstinence*. I’m simply not drinking today.

After putting an end to something that had made me feel so bad for so long, I realized how much I enjoyed feeling good and uncompromised all of the time.

I like to reclaim the brilliant Seinfeld quote “Here’s to feeling good all the time!” when I’m cheersing with non-alc drinks.

When I started feeling better, I wanted to take it to the next level to see if I could feel even better. I incorporated my very first vitamin (yes, this is real) into my routine, which I previously thought was impossible. After years of trying, it finally felt worth it to prioritize taking care of my body. The multivitamin led to another lifestyle change, and now I infamously start every morning by taking a 90-minute walk to get my 10,000 steps.

Hell yes. This is my favorite part of Star’s piece. It is worth it to prioritize loving and caring for our bodies. And one good decision begets another. Pretty soon you’re upward spiraling.

So many reasons had kept me from drinking, but once I started going out again, I was prompted to explain it to people, and that’s when things got rocky. So many of my wonderful friends were and still are so supportive of me. Making sure to point out the mocktails on every menu and never pressuring me to order anything different. But if I’m being real, a lot of people in my life had severe negative reactions. Saying things like, “It’s not forever, right?”

I’m not here to say when you should end certain friendships. But I am here to say it’s ok to make new friends. It’s also ok to choose to spend more of your finite amount of free time with new friends and let everything else work itself out.

It was hard to see my body as precious or something I needed to protect from alcohol until it hit me all at once. 

Our bodies are precious and worth protecting from harm.

But I’m hopeful that in the near future, drinking will feel like more of a choice and less of an implication in our culture. For now, I’m sober, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll stay that way even if it’s something that everyone doesn’t understand.

That second sentence is a pretty good summation of what mindful drinking means to me. Drinking alcohol being a choice and drinking alcohol being an implication of our culture can both be true. Mindful drinkers prioritize our ability to decide what we consume over the default choices implied by mass culture. We aren’t ignorant of culture or even completely immune to its influence, but we do make conscious choices based on what’s right for ourselves even when they conflict with cultural defaults.

Almost every bar I’ve been to over the past six months has made me a mocktail with ease or riffed off of one of the drinks on their menu. My hangover-induced depression is no longer an issue, and every day I can wake up feeling physically well—which is incredibly special for me. Being more cognizant of not drinking has made me more in tune with the rest of the stuff I put in my body and how I take care of myself. I’ve realized that when I don’t have to worry about recovering, I can work on building myself into the person I want to be.

We are all works in progress. Cheers to Star and to everyone taking steps to build themselves into the person they want to be.


*I’m describing my personal experience here. Everyone is different. Props to you if you are doing a 30 day challenge or if you plan to be sober forever.

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