This spring, I decided to go on a hiatus from drinking. I went 30 days without any alcohol and 42 days without beer. The intent was a broader elimination diet to get to the bottom of some food sensitivities, but also, if I'm being truly transparent, I wanted to reset my relationship with alcohol.
Unlike most kiddos, I hardly drank in college. Alcohol became a more regular part of my life in my mid twenties when I moved to DC and found myself immersed in a nonprofit happy hour culture. Turns out working full time for social change involves some less than stellar coping strategies.
Even then, it wasn't until I started working at a local bottle shop last year that I normalized drinking as a daily activity. I was literally surrounded by beer and people who loved beer and I had endless access to beer - it was amazing, but also troublesome. Between the sweet employee discount and the box of free beer samples we couldn't sell in the fridge, my own supply was constantly stocked. At every shift, there were freshly tapped kegs on the growler line to try. Sales reps would come in at 11 a.m. and crack open a brew for us to taste. Sometimes I'd be thinking, "er, can I have lunch first?" But beer culture is often fueled by a ravenous desire for all that's "new," and I felt compelled (by myself, not by anyone else) to drink everything to expand my palate and be versed on as many beers as possible.
At some point, I noticed that I was drinking beer pretty much every single day, and after my first beer, I generally wanted a second. Alcoholism runs on both sides of my family, and I have witnessed the impact up close. I really, really liked beer, but I didn't like that one beer didn't feel like enough anymore (in fact, it hardly felt like anything, which isn't right considering I am rather petite). It felt important to check that habit.
So I went cold turkey, and I learned a great deal in the process.
My friends and community are made of awesome. While I've heard tale after tale of folks giving up alcohol and their social lives suffering, I didn't experience this. Not a single person in my life, from dearest friends to newer acquaintances, pressured me to drink or questioned my decision to not drink. I actually went dry the last few days I worked at the bottle shop, and it's a credit to my bosses and colleagues that even they were fully supportive. This was a revealing lesson that the people I'm surrounded by genuinely care about my well-being, for which I'm deeply grateful.
Drinking is super socially contextual. I noticed that I often wanted to drink because I felt uncomfortable or awkward, or because someone else ordered a beer, or because drinking is part of celebrating together, or because sharing beer is a way to connect with other people, or because I felt people would think I was cooler if I drank. Not drinking meant I had to...actually deal with the feelings that would normally have led me to just order a damn beer.
Not drinking makes it easier for other people to not drink. I was so caught up worrying about my own consumption that I never noticed how my drinking may have inclined the people around me to drink. When I went out with friends and got an iced tea or a seltzer, sometimes they'd order the same. I had underestimated my own contribution to creating a culture of drinking, which was a humbling self-realization.
Beer can be made great again. Beer was special and exciting before I took a break, but in hindsight I wasn't fully savoring or appreciating everything I drank. Sometimes it felt like I was No Facing it, already thinking about the next beer I was going to consume instead of being content and present with the one in my hand. Now that I'm back to drinking, each beer feels unique and meaningful all on its own. And let me tell you, lest you fear that a drinking break will mess up your palate, for me every beer tastes even more miraculous.
There is more to life than beer. This sounds strange coming from someone who recently started a beer blog, but there really are other stunning, momentous, tortuous, heartbreaking, moving, and mind-blowing things in the world than what happens when we mix grain, water, hops, and yeast. Sometimes it feels like the beer community forgets this, and that Beer is The Most Important Thing. But beer is just one of the important things. Sometimes it's not even one of the important things. Sometimes it's just a thing.
Perhaps the greatest lesson gained from taking a break is perspective. Drink, don't drink, brew, don't brew - the best we can do is listen to our bodies and tune into what feels right, and to trust that we will have the chance to check-in and try again. And to that, I'll gladly raise my glass, no matter what is in it.