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*Author’s note: This article speaks about alcohol as a recreational substance. If you struggle with substance abuse, please seek support by getting in touch with your local care provider.
In the fall of 2015, I stopped drinking alcohol.
After breaking up with my partner of 10 years, what I most needed was to heal.
I took the summer to contemplate what would be the next step in my life and decided to take a solo trip to Southeast Asia. I knew that I needed to learn to be by myself—for the first time, really—and also wanted to become a yoga teacher.
When I booked my teacher training program in a small yoga school in Thailand, it was made clear that we were to refrain from drinking alcohol or taking drugs for the duration of the training. This wasn’t an issue for me since, due to my anxiety, I had given up smoking pot long ago and only drank in social settings. As an introvert, it helped me feel at ease, but I felt like I could do without it.
The teachings of yoga and its philosophy completely met me where I needed to be met. I absorbed them like a sponge.
I listened intently as our teacher told us about the Yamas and Niyamas—the dos and don’ts of yoga.
I especially identified with Ahimsa, the concept of non-violence, which focuses on being compassionate toward any living being, including ourselves. This means abstaining from toxic substances that can be damaging to us.
I also identified with the concept of Saucha, which talks about keeping our bodies, minds, and speech as pure as possible.
After the teacher training ended, I didn’t feel the wish to drink again, so I didn’t. It seemed natural and easy. Until I came back home.
I arrived just before the Christmas holidays and was met with an obstacle I didn’t expect: many of my friends and family members seemed to have a strong opinion about what I put (and don’t put) in my body.
At Christmas dinner, my mom asked me if I really didn’t want any wine. When someone else offered it to me and I declined, she jokingly said I was “sober,” as if she needed to give an explanation why I was being so “rude” not to accept it.
At New Year’s Eve, my friends urged me to have a glass of champagne. When I said no, they told me to have only half, or at least a sip to cheers at midnight.
Needless to say, it took my friends and family quite a while to come around to the idea that I wasn’t drinking alcohol anymore. And I don’t blame them.
In many cultures, alcohol is deeply engrained in the identity of a country, its people, and its customs—especially around the holidays. But until I experienced it myself, I didn’t know this would become an issue.
I don’t believe that yoga practitioners should stop drinking if they don’t want to. Neither do I believe that we need to follow any dogmas without questioning them, regardless of their origin.
What I do believe in is respecting each other’s choices. I believe in respecting the boundaries we set, especially when it comes to how we nourish and treat our bodies, no matter what our belief systems or practices are.
With the Christmas holidays coming up, a lot of us may start to feel anxious about the encounters and gatherings ahead.
The social pressure to conform, wanting to be left alone, and not be questioned for the choices we make may make us stray from our convictions.
So, this holiday season, be gentle. We can give ourselves permission to set boundaries and say no. And we can choose to be kind to ourselves when we can’t stay accountable.
While it’s brave to stay in integrity with the decision we make, it’s also hard.
And if someone turns down your offer for a glass of wine for dinner, or the champagne at midnight on New Year’s Eve, be kind. Don’t push them. Don’t ask them why. Don’t judge them. Don’t even give them a look.
Simply respect their choice.