The other evening I met up with a guy for a date in a nightclub. I don’t typically choose such a location for a first date, but the venue was host to a new age spirituality event and I proposed it.
He was standing at the crowded bar when I walked in, whiskey already in hand. “What are you having?” he asked. “I’m alright,” I responded. We settled into a corner of the club and began talking. “I don’t drink,” I told him. A look crossed his face as if I had just announced I abuse puppies in my spare time.
“Uh, this probably isn’t going to work,” he said.
I had only stopped drinking a few months ago and wasn’t prepared for this type of reaction. “Why?” I asked.
“That is just fanatical and I like to enjoy life fully,” he said, implying that I was limiting myself and my pleasure.
“So do I.” I don’t feel anything is missing since I renounced alcohol. To the contrary, I’m happier, more centered, and feel fantastic.
I don’t judge anyone who drinks, but I am realizing there is judgment against those who choose not to drink. We’re seen as rigid, unfriendly and unsocial. I’ve seen it in the looks of my friends’ faces when I made the same pronouncement and I know it first-hand to be true because I too once judged those who didn’t drink.
But unlike others who choose not to drink for moral reasons – and who are indeed rigid, unfriendly, and unsocial – my decision to stop drinking arose spontaneously without roots in any sort of zealous conviction.
It wasn’t, as it would be expected, after a bacchanalian night resulting in a raging hangover the next day when one is known to swear off alcohol until the following weekend rolls around. I simply no longer desired to drink. I realized it was not serving me – it was not making my life better, my nights more fun, or socializing more entertaining.
If I had to credit one thing for my lack of desire to drink – it’s my Ashtanga practice. Since devoting myself to the yoga method, I’ve ceased to chase most external stimulation and have found contentment within myself.
My decision is not totalitarian. I had a glass of champagne to toast with friends on New Year’s Eve at a party after landing that night in Delhi. If I wanted to drink, I would, but for the past several months I have not desired a tipple, cocktail, or glass of wine.
I’ve had my moments of drunken jubilee. I partied at nightclubs until 5AM when I was 17 in France, flitted from fashion soirée to soirée inebriated on free bubbly from 18 to 22 in New York. These were valuable times – I experienced drinking, the shallow fun, its ultimate emptiness, and moved beyond it.
When I left New York, my drinking was drastically cut back. My lifestyle changed – I was less interested in the superficial social interactions that alcohol usually entailed. In the past few years, I’ve been drunk only a handful times. More often, I’d have a drink or two with dinner, or to be social when at a bar, just enough for a slight buzz.
The truth is that I never really liked drinking much anyway. It was more a socially conditioned behavior. It is what people do when they’re together to have fun. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the taste of Johnny Walker Black on the rocks or a chilled glass of Veuve Cliquot, but I am equally contented with water. And when I see friends who are dependent on alcohol to have a good time, who continually lose themselves in drink, to stumble home blacked out, making poor decisions they inevitably regret the next day, I have even less desire to follow in their steps.
Alcohol is for people who don’t know how to enjoy their natural mental state. It is self-medicating for symptoms of boredom, apathy, and unhappiness. They can’t enjoy themselves without being intoxicated. Either their friends are insufferable until a few vodka martinis, or they don’t know how to transcend their inhibitions, or they are just unhappy and need an escape from their reality for a few hours.
Like when I quit cigarettes, the desire to smoke eventually fell away. There was a period after I had stopped when I still craved the taste of tobacco and would occasionally succumb to buying a pack. Several years later, that has gone completely. Now when I see someone smoking, I pity the self-loathing behavior that causes them to inhale toxic chemicals in pursuit of fleeting mental relief. I look at a Grey Goose martini the same way. I just don’t desire it.
There are plenty of practical upsides to giving up alcohol, though it wasn’t expressly for any of these that I said goodbye to Johnny, Jack and Jameson.
You have more money to spend on other pleasurable things. If you go out for cocktails on average three or four times a week and live in Manhattan, you’re spending on average $100 a week on booze, minimum, though probably closer to double that. Thinking about how your life could be improved with $600 extra per month to spend on something else. You could travel, lease a Mercedes, or buy and keep an exotic pet for that much money.
You feel better. When you stop drinking, you have more energy to do other things, like go to the gym, practice yoga, or any activity that is good for your mind and body. You wake up each morning feeling refreshed, full of energy and don’t waste an entire weekend morning in misery.
Your social life changes (for the better). You will see who your real friends are. Try to think about what you and your drinking buddies actually have in common, and what you talk about when you’re not wasted.
Plus, I’d rather be stoned anyway.