Before we get started, it might be best to get a few obvious questions on your mind out of the way:
You: So you gave up alcohol six years ago?
Me: Yes, I did.
You: Like, completely?
You: Did you do something over the top, risky or put yourself in mortal danger?
Me: Nope, just woke up one day and said to myself: I’m done with this. I am turning my health and my life around.
You: Were you an alcoholic?
Me: Nope. But, I drank every weekend to the point that a hangover followed by poor food intake was more or less guaranteed.
You: Bars and parties?
Me: Yes, what about them?
You: Well, do you go to bars and parties?
Me: Of course.
You: What do you drink on social occasions?
Me: Iced or regular tea, or the good ol’ H2O.
You: Are you out of your mind?
Me: Usually, yes. But in a radiating bada** sort of way—I hear all the best ones are. Shhhh.
I had no idea how long I’d stay alcohol-free, but gradually days became weeks, weeks became months and well, here I am six years hence, alive and kicking.
The back-story goes something like this.
I had landed myself in the hospital—run down and sick from exhaustion largely owing to a toxic work environment that manifested itself in anxiety, restlessness, a messed up sleep cycle and piss-poor confidence. It was a bit of a wake-up call for me as I lay in that hospital bed with all kinds of wires taped to me, wondering how I got here.
I remember that sight vividly even now. You know that feeling when something just isn’t right? Well, I experienced it run through me head to toe, ten-fold, like tiny currents.
A lifestyle shift was in order.
It started with taking out meat from my diet.
I was becoming aware of inhumane factory farming practices and what these animals endured to make it to my plate. With this knowledge, I wanted no part of these atrocities linked to my karmic footprint and I refused to corrupt my body’s ecogentic composition. Out it went.
Bidding adieu to alcohol quickly followed.
I recall that each time I visualized a bottle of alcohol, I saw a white label strewn with black text: Poison. In the beginning, when I’d go out with friends and they’d wonder why I wasn’t drinking, I politely declined saying I wasn’t up for it. Now I say, “I’m good, thank you. I don’t do alcohol.”
About a year down the line, I turned in my cable-box.
I found that TV programming was feeding the masses curated unhappy and biased news or promoting shows that glorified fame, violence, material possessions and sex. What was missing for me was: a mindful point of view on the hysteria of misguided information that was instilling fear and separation between people rather than fostering a sense of community in our collective humanity.
I had absolutely no fear of missing out and preferred having a sense of control over the density of information I was consuming. So, out it went.
It’d be a few weeks before these changes became a part of my daily existence.
I felt a lightness almost right away, but the real impact was even more palpable after a month. From an entirely superficial standpoint—often pointed out to me by others close to me—my skin was glowing, I had lost a few pounds and I was beaming. I had energy to invest my time in long walks, yoga and exploring cafes (with books in tow) all around New York City.
I didn’t feel weighed down, given the benefit of zero hangovers or dehydration. Meditation found its way into my world too, along with people who were choosing to pursue healthier options in all facets of their lives.
Simply put, without alcohol, I felt clean—inside out: mind, body and spirit.
It might seem like I kept giving up a lot of “fun” things, but for me it was about making a massive change to get my life in order.
Other than the immense health benefits of giving up booze, I added three other substantial things in my life:
The gift of presence and attention.
We live in a world where “busy” and multi-tasking are revered. In the past, I have overbooked myself and found myself frantically shuttling from one social event to the next. I’d often cancel plans last minute or shown up uber-late because I showed no control over what I was saying yes to.
I have now learnt to pause and think through an invitation, before saying yes or no.
I understand fully which persons are positive and which ones are distractions in my life. The latter hardly exist, because I am no longer worried about keeping up appearances or being polite; meaning, I am more than comfortable backing off or walking away from that which does not serve me, without guilt.
If I have you on my calendar, you are important to me and I will show up. My undivided attention is yours when we meet. And I just love that I have become more mindful, listen better and engage in dialogue more completely.
As a result, I have been blessed with some wonderful people who came into my life either through mediation, yoga or my writing and have helped me expand my tribe.
Curating who gets to stay in my life is the loudest yes I have lovingly said to myself.
Feeling it all.
I find there is a strong social acceptance around over the top alcohol-induced behavior. For me, it helped me relax, perhaps even shed away some of my social anxiety, and wherever there was questionable behavior, not one person flinched.
Granted, I did not put myself in life-threatening situations, but come to think of it, anything can escalate to that point without notice.
The one aspect I did not master was having a full grasp on when enough was enough. See, the buzz from all the energy around me just kept me going from one bar to the next. Not every situation amounted to some form of binge drinking, but more or less every instance left me in a brain-fog and a stupor that needed to be slept off till four p.m. the next afternoon.
Alcohol was my escape. It might be for many people, but when we no longer have this option we are left with experiencing what is in front of us in all its raw and unrelenting presence. I have felt each emotion in its fullness and entirety. Admittedly, there was a whole bunch of them I’d rather not have felt.
I do sincerely feel that I am better for it, and my response varies when I am met with emotions now.
I journal, talk to a like-minded friend, work out, take a walk or make peace with the situation by taking in a few breaths and then falling asleep.
This connection and truly listening to what is being communicated has worked out quite well.
Learning when to leave.
In a recent article published by Chicago Tribune, a recent federal data cited that alcohol is “killing Americans at a rate not seen in at least 35 years. Last year, more than 30,700 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes, including alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis, which is primarily caused by alcohol use.”
I don’t find this statistic alarming, because sometimes we don’t know when to leave. In the past, I knew it was time to leave after my second drink, but I still stuck around, in spite of poor company at times.
This is in stark contrast to me now.
I was recently vacationing in Costa Rica with an amazing group of people who were inevitably partying till four a.m. the next morning; needless to say, alcohol was involved. I loved every minute of being up that late and I had a great time, but there were at least two nights where I signed off sooner than most of the gang, went back to my room and replenished for the next day of activities.
Six years ago, I’d have kept going ’til I crashed.
I invited all these changes in an embrace of limitless self-love while placing self-care as responsibility to myself, and others who cross my path.
In those initial days, I rarely cast much thought to my decision, and less so now, because it’s just a way of life for me.
Giving up alcohol was the best kind of side effect of going vegetarian, and in a way I am glad it took landing in a hospital for me to take my life into my own hands.
The secret ingredient for me has been a strong “why”; I’d imagine it can be applied to anything we witness in life or when we are on the crossroads of change.
If you have a strong enough “why,” the “how” is a non-issue, and no amount of peer pressure can dissuade you from your decision. Giving up cold-turkey worked for me; it might not for you. I suggest baby steps, starting with two weeks and building gradually from there. If you fall off, start again and enlist the support of friends and family.
I am often asked if I will ever drink again, and my answer usually is, “I haven’t felt the need to so far and I probably won’t in the future.”
My mantra through my journey has been: No more toxicity around or inside me.
So, here’s me raising a non-alcoholic toast to anyone who has been or is considering making this life-enriching change for themselves.
Author: Neelam Tewar
Editor: Toby Israel