Lately, I've been wondering if I have a little problem with alcohol.
Especially in these dark, depressing, and yes, unprecedented times of stress, sadness, or loneliness — it’s something many of us are questioning. How much booze is too much? How often is too often?
Many of us pour a drink in an effort to unwind. Sometimes we do it to celebrate a small victory, or to soothe ourselves when we've had a rough time of it. Maybe we self-medicate to ease our anxiety, even though we know it's not the healthiest option. And while we tell ourselves we aren't physically dependent on booze, we wonder: At what point are we in danger of damaging our bodies? At what point are we in danger of becoming addicted?
Where do you draw the line between someone who enjoys alcohol, and being an alcoholic?
And have I crossed it?
How about last week, when I drank five out of seven days? How about this week, when, after a bad weekend hangover, I promised myself I’d go the full workweek without an adult beverage, but could only make it to Wednesday?
I’m starting to place a disproportionate amount of value in a bottle of wine. It brings me a sort of inner peace that I can’t seem to find anywhere else. Until I’ve had too much and end up feeling like a human mound of concrete the next day.
I need to cut back. A lot. Alcohol has become an emotional crutch. A way to have a party all by myself, now that I’m spending so much time alone as COVID-19 rages on.
Fun and Healthy Alcohol Alternatives
In an effort to find some healthy distraction, I’ve compiled a list of awesome things to do that aren’t drinking.
I’m not sure who else out there needs such a list — but if you’re reading this right now, it might be because you and I are in the same boat. You might be like me — struggling with a vast desert of social distance while trying to curb the alcohol cravings before the self-destruction gets too out of hand.
If that’s the case, I hope this list can give you a little inspiration.
Instead of drinking booze:
- Adopt a puppy
Or maybe in my case, another rabbit. I mean, I LOVE a good, fluffy dog as much as the next dog-lover, but I’m allergic. And we have two bunnies already. A cute little puppy might drive me into a sneezing fit and then eat our vegan pets. So maybe we’ll get another bun to keep me busy.
- Drink a nice warm mug of Tension Tamer tea
It’s delicious — and it has catnip in it! Catnip actually has a calming effect on humans as opposed to the crazy-high effect it has on cats. The presence of a chemical called nepetalactone produces sedative-like effects in humans, making catnip a popular home remedy for headaches as well as insomnia.
I know tea doesn't sound half as fun as a glass of your favorite adult beverage, but it can help to ease your nerves and can serve as an optional alternative when you're making an effort to cut down on the booze.
- Invest in an exercise machine or go for a walk/run
I finally did it. I scrimped and saved and took two weeks searching online before purchasing an elliptical. Now it’s sitting in my small at-home office, taking up all the space. But who cares, because this girl needs to WORK. IT. OUT.
I’m a big fan of running outdoors, but this will help me get through rainy or icy weather, especially now that I've stopped going to the gym because of COVID-19. And if you’re not a runner or you don’t want to make a big purchase, a good old walk outside or an exercise video will give you those same feel-good endorphins. Endorphins that will hopefully be enough of a high to keep me from another Tuesday night bottle of chardonnay.
- Start a new hobby
Honestly, pining for the return of live musical theater and concerts is enough to drive anyone to drink. Many a night I’ve tried to fill the deep void of not performing in or attending a live show by watching live performances online that give me chills, tears, and all the feels. Like this one, from Jagged Little Pill.
But in the midst of no social life and no community theater, I’ve taken the extra time to start working on recording cover songs. I’ve also started working on my own podcast about sex writers, which I hope to launch in the next month or so.
I have much to learn, but I’m discovering that audio recording and editing is something that I absolutely love, and it’s a whole new creative outlet that I can do at home and by myself.
- Get your YouTube on
I can spend hours on end digging around YouTube. And I’m not just talking about the super useful or educational crap (of which there is plenty of great crap). I love watching videos of people doing the most seemingly uninteresting things. Like making their kids’ lunches, shopping, or going through their morning at-home work routine.
- Have a bubble bath and read in the tub
This might look like reading blogs on my phone. Or, even better, it might involve turning the paper pages of a real, live book!
Putting down the phone and picking up a paperback is something I’ve been wanting to do more of. I used to be able to spend hours reading for pleasure (before reading and writing became a daily part of my professional work), and I want to come back to that.
There’s nothing like a good book that you can’t put down. Immersing myself in a great story helps occupy my mind so that I don’t turn to the wine for a little company.
- Clean something
Now this one doesn’t sound at all fun, but hear me out. I can get lost in mundane housework activities — it’s almost like meditation, when I can get in the headspace for it. And making headway with my messy, disorganized house lowers my stress levels almost as much as a crisp pinot grigio (almost).
It’s also a way for me to escape the computer screen and reset my mental energy by doing something that doesn’t take a whole lot of thought — like scrubbing the bathtub or folding the laundry while watching a bad Lifetime movie.
- Write your way out
Whenever alcohol is referred to as truth serum, I know from personal experience that it’s an accurate description. At least, for me. I have a tendency to get myself into trouble when I’m up late drinking, alone and with a device that connects me to the outside world.
I may not be able to go out to the bar and spend a night of debauchery with friends, but I certainly know how to drink and bother people with private messages depicting my deeply personal (and often embarrassing) thoughts. I guess there really is such a thing as too much honesty.
Why not skip the drink and put all the things you want to say into a personal essay? I realize this might sound anti-social, but drinking and talking to ex-boyfriends really don’t mix. Writing and publishing stories about ex-boyfriends, on the other hand…
Now, the trouble with much of this list is that, to me, a lot of these activities pair well with a glass of white wine. Except for the exercising. (Once I went to a work happy hour before my barre class and almost puked during grand pliés.)
But when you love wine and cocktails, the issue isn’t any specific activity that causes you to want booze. It’s the fact that you will always want booze in general, no matter what you’re doing.
I recognize and acknowledge that at this point in my life, I’m very tempted to drink very often. Almost anything can trigger a craving — from a stressful workday to a nice bubble bath, many of the things I do make me want to reach for the bottle.
But focusing on doing other things I love helps me to be mindful and enjoy my time even without the drink. Just today, I determined that I’d get another bottle of wine for tonight — even though I had one last night, too.
But I went to the craft store instead and got the pieces I need to make a gift for a friend. Now I’m writing sans booze.
I call this a success.
I may not want to give it up completely — I want to be able to enjoy a vineyard or a craft beer tasting at some point. There’s an art to it I truly appreciate.
But I do not want to let it control me. Or destroy me.
All things in moderation.