Hi, my name is Muriel, and I no longer drink.
It started simply enough. A friend said on Facebook in late February that he was looking to give up something for Lent. I suggested, somewhat casually, that we give up drinking. No alcohol for 40 days and 40 nights. It meant saying goodbye to a big part of my life, at least temporarily. My friend agreed. And so, two days later on March 1st, my new life as a church lady began.
Now, Lent is over, Easter Sunday has come and gone, Christ has risen from dead, and I am still not drinking.
I have decided not to drink for many reasons. Although it started simply, the origins of my drinking problem are not really simple at all, and the results, so far anyway, are startling. There is nothing like being clear-eyed and bushy-tailed every single day.
When I finally stopped, I had been drinking four nights out of seven. And I did not consider myself to be an alcoholic or to have a serious drinking problem or even to have much of a problem at all. But I did many stupid things while under the influence, including angry texting and emailing in response to conflict, and I lost a few friends along the way. It had became too much of a price to pay.
Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health makes a distinction between physical dependence on alcohol and problem drinking. It says of the latter: “This term describes alcohol use that causes problems in a person’s life, but does not include physical dependence.” Such dependence involves tolerance to the effects of alcohol and withdrawal symptoms when a person stops. I am not physically dependent, thank god.
A big part of the decision had to do with health. When I announced to my doctor that I had quit, she was all smiles. She said about drinking: “Medical research definitely shows that more than one glass of a day for women is associated with a higher incidence of heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, stroke and breast cancer.”
I had chosen health.
I also, I must admit, wanted to lose weight. And it has been a miracle of sorts. Though I don’t weigh any less, I feel lighter.
It just seemed to me not to make sense to sweat doing Zumba for an hour, tire myself out while line dancing for another hour, stretch my endurance while swimming for more than 20 minutes, in one week, only to throw all that effort away by sitting in a bar for a few hours and getting bloated from drinking Guinness.
I think, in retrospect, I drank because I was angry, stressed and sad. I needed to blur the edges of the day.
I would always have a glass of wine on Tuesdays, which is actually my Fridays, since I work weekends. On Wednesdays, I would go to the nearby Irish pub for takeout, and while I waited for my wings, I would have a Guinness. Thursday was and is my big night to go out, so I would drink then too. Then on Friday and Saturday nights, I would drink, because, you know, it was Friday and Saturday night. Any excuse, any day of the week, would do.
I drank everything from Guinness to Pinot Grigio, rum and coke on the rocks to gin and tonic on the rocks, Coors Light when there was nothing else around, bottles of homemade peach wine with my Newfie friends, and maybe even the odd shot of Tequila Rose.
Being angry comes from being a woman in my 50s and divorced. Being stressed comes from working in the media and struggling financially as a single parent of young adult children. Being sad comes from having lost my father in October 2011, who had faith in me, and having a mother, 90, who is suffering from dementia. It also comes from not being where I want to be at this point in my life. And it comes from having lost friends.
I have been told that I have “a complex history of grief and loss.”
Late last year, I was kicked out of a single moms group I called the cabal. We had been getting together every few months for the past 10 years. One member decided she didn’t like me anymore. A dog walker, she convinced the others to exclude me from the pack. It hurt and it felt like grade nine all over again. I meant to ignore this unwelcome development, but after a night in the bar, I told her and the two others in the group by email exactly how I felt. The dog walker responded by sending me an open letter to my therapist to explain her side of the story. In the end, I lost three friends in one go, and this was my rock bottom.
I do think, when people are unkind, it’s best to walk away, but there’s no walking away when you’ve been drinking.
Yes, life is not easy, and we all have problems.
Drinking, however, is not the answer. And not drinking means: I no longer wake up with hangover. I am calmer. My thinking is not disordered by alcohol. I am much more aware of what is going in my life and around me. I am an introvert and drinking helped me be more of an extrovert. Now, without the booze, I need more down time because there is nothing blocking the stimulating world outside. There is also no filter between me and my feelings, and now when I am sad, I am really sad. The feelings are intense. It can feel like the end of the world, if only for a few moments.
But overall, I feel better. I am alive. And I am less angry. Imagine that.
And although our society is awash in alcohol, and people my age drink when they socialize, and I am aware of who is knocking it back around me, I have chosen not to be a part of all that. They say older women are the new hard drinkers. In my case, I was headed down that road. But sobriety is my path now.
There are lots of things to drink and they don’t need to contain alcohol.
God has granted me some “serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, wisdom to know the difference.” Now, I am trying to be brave, and I am happy with the new me.
Muriel Draaisma is a mother, dog owner and an online news reporter with CBC Toronto.