I remember my first drink. I was five, it was Christmas Eve, and my parents asked if I wanted a sip of beer. In my family, every event - funerals, potlucks, hanging out - includes beer. Their parents were first generation Americans from Germany and Austria. I guess you could say drinking is in my blood.
When I was in first grade, my mom's little sister was murdered in her college dorm room. State Park Rangers found her skeleton in a shallow ditch several years later. I was a child, my parents were young and dumb, and therapy wasn't available or as accepted as it is now. I snuck beer from the fridge and hard liquor from the alcohol cabinet to nurse the emotional abandonment of my mom and the fear of ending up like my aunt. I felt like an inflated ballon being forced under water. A pressure inside me started to form.
Twenty-five years later, after realizing I never could stop at just two beers, I knew I was an alcoholic. I give myself that label because my days always ended with having to go to the store to buy beer. Sometimes I would take a shot of chocolate vodka before grocery shopping to relax. Sometimes I would buy double my favorite beer just in case they ran out (I ran out). For a long time, as I stood in the beer aisle, my brain would scream "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" in every way you can imagine, but my body would ignore the pleas and buy it anyways. I even transferred money from my savings to my checking a few times to cover the beer-heavy grocery bill.
Moving to a state where I have legal access to cannabis changed my life. Today marks 26 months alcohol-free. But the transition was not easy. Colorado (like everywhere) has a huge drinking culture. The peer pressure to drink is real. The tiny voice that I have worked so hard to forgive and compartmentalize sometimes speaks a little louder and insists that I can have just one drink, like when I'm at a college football game. But I recognize now that that desire to drink is the scared little girl in me trying to desensitize myself from my surroundings. As a highly sensitive person, being alone on the couch and being at a football stadium with 35,000 people around you can trigger the same panicky feelings. A few drinks can take "the edge off," and that's the cumulative snowball behavior that we as a society have accepted as normal.
Some people say cannabis is just an escape from the strict dichotomy of complete sobriety, but I argue that being Cali-sober is a lifestyle. Since I've stopped drinking, I integrate more exercise into my day. My palate has improved and most of my meals are single-ingredient and homemade. I garden and grow food and flowers. I've invested in hypnotherapy for my mental health. My bones don't hurt anymore. I'm writing again and found new hobbies. I experience joy in my day-to-day. I can forgive myself and laugh more easily. Cannabis has given me the space to contemplate, to be mindful, and to slow down from the expectations and hustle.
But what I find best about the Cali-sober lifestyle is that that pressure I've carried with me since I was a little girl, and always will, goes away quietly after smoking a bong and eating a gummy. Alcohol always forced me to put up a good fight.