1,000 DAYS, A MILLION REASONS & A MILLION WAYS: Saying Goodbye to Alcohol

I used to love drinking. Until I didn’t anymore. 

People curious about my decision to quit drinking alcohol usually ask me (privately) some version of the same two questions: Why? and How?

THE “WHY”

The “Why” is different for everybody. 

My “Why” was like an everything bagel – a really stale one. 

Some people quit out of necessity. They get in legal trouble, their spouse threatens divorce, the doctor (or priest) says “it’s time,” they develop an allergy (that’s a real thing), they “accidentally” say something that incinerates a most-cherished relationship, their boss threatens them with termination, etc. 

Others quit for personal health reasons. They want to lose weight, exercise more, lower their stress levels, reduce anxiety, sleep better, communicate more deeply with their loved ones, learn a new skill, find a new purpose or meaning in life, etc. 

Others quit because they see the effects of alcohol around them and they just want to do things differently. They’re tired of the drama, the missed deadlines, the prurient behavior, the disappointments, the dishonesty, the worrying, etc. Alcohol weighs them down – indirectly, but in a powerful way. And it’s just plain exhausting. 

Some quit for financial reasons. Regular boozing is expensive. I did the math for myself, and I figure (conservatively) that if I had never started drinking in the first place, I would have saved enough money to pay cash for law school. 

Look: 21 years of drinking (I’m 42 and it actually started way earlier than that) x $25 (average) per day = $191,625. My law school charged me a whopping $120,000 (plus a boatload of compounding interest). 

If that math sounds wonky to you, try this one: I quit 981 days ago. My sobriety tracker app estimates I’ve saved myself $24,425 since quitting. Think about what that means moving forward. I’m hoping to get another 50 years out of this ride! 

Even moderate drinking drains the bank. A 6-pack of beer costs $6 – $10. If I bought one every other day (no more than three beers a day): that’s $18 – $40 a week; $936 – $2,080 a year; $46,800 – $104,000 in 50 years.  

The numbers above don’t even account for lost productivity or the healthcare costs associated with regular or prolonged drinking. When I started my journey, I estimated I spent one hour a day drinking (it was way more). I’ve earned back almost 1,000 hours of my life – but it feels like a million. My productivity now is threefold what it was when I quit. I have three active boys, a busy law practice with my spouse, and a side-gig as an artist and marketer. I need all the energy I can get. And I love all of the energy that I have! 

Truth is: there are a million different reasons to quit.  No matter what yours are, have been or will be, keep a few things in mind: 

1. Your “why” is the most important “why” for you, even if someone else tells you it is silly, stupid, meaningless, an overreaction etc. Nobody knows you like you. DO YOU. All the rest of it is just noise. 

2. No one else’s “why” is better or worse than yours. Playing the comparison game will not – I repeat – will not help you. Compare yourself only to yourself and keep moving! It’s a game of progress not perfection. 

3. Your “why” is not a point of shame – no matter how bad you think it is. YOUR WHY IS YOUR SUPERPOWER. Own it. Love it. Remember it. Honor it. Your “Why” got you where you are. And that, my friends, is a blessing – even if it hurts in the beginning. It won’t hurt forever, I promise! 

4. You are allowed to share your “why” with others, but you don’t have to, especially if you’re not ready. Take your time. You may not even really understand your “why” fully until you’ve had some time to clear your mind and think about the impact of your choices and actions. Be patient with yourself and with others. Growth takes time. A lot of it. You’re allowed a little privacy in this process. 

There are plenty of medical professionals with ample advice on how to quit drinking and scientific treatments that will help you do it. I am neither an expert nor a professional. But I learned a thing or two in my own furnace and I’ve talked to enough folks to know there are a million ways to quit. No matter which path you choose, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the following strategies

THE “HOW”

First, talk kindly to yourself. When you quit drinking, you are going to have feelings. Lots of them. Some may be painful or uncomfortable. And some may be wonderful beyond your wildest expectations. Positive self-talk is absolutely essential to riding this roller coaster. If you’re lucky, your parents taught you how to do this and you’re already good at it. But lots of folks are clueless when it comes to self-soothing. So, try this simple exercise: Imagine yourself 20 years into the future. Close your eyes and picture what you look like, how you feel and all of the wisdom you’ve earned over the years. Picture yourself happy, content, fulfilled and proud. Now, ask that future version of you to talk to the current you. Do it out loud. And keep it simple: “You can do this.” “I’m proud of you.” “This will pass.” “Just breathe.” Do this every. single. day. Keep in mind, there is no such thing as a right way or a wrong way. Just do your best and thank yourself for the effort!

Second, if you’re going to quit drinking, you’ve got to replace old habits with new ones. Use your hands. Try knitting, whittling, braiding leather, stringing beads, weaving. Get yourself a cheap sketchbook, a pocket-sized watercolor set, a notebook, a camera (your smart phone works!). Paint, write, draw, photograph, write poetry, imagine. Whatever you use, it needs to be portable, it needs to be mind-numbing and it needs to be with you all the time. Something you can carry through airport security (okay, maybe not a whittling knife). Every time you feel the old habit creep up, grab your “thing” and get those hands busy. Don’t stop until the urge passes. It will pass. 

Third, there will be plenty of days when you want to drink. Have a plan. When I first decided to quit drinking, I took all the alcohol out of the house. We were in Covid lockdown so there was really no place for me to go to drink, so that made it easy (easier). But, if you know that going to Happy Hour on Thursdays with your coworkers will be a temptation for you, don’t go. Go see a movie instead or check out your local park or nature trail. If you do socialize with drinking friends, ask the bartender in advance to make you a fancy, refillable “mocktail.” I kept a pretty glass, soda water and fresh lemon and lime on hand at all times for the first year. Hot tea is a great sippy cup substitute also. 

Fourth, sweat out that stress. You absolutely have to exercise. Make time. If you had time to drink yesterday, you have time to sweat today. At my drinking peak, I used alcohol daily to blunt a fairly heavy level of work/parenting stress. So when I quit, that energy had to go somewhere. I literally felt like I was going to explode. The first 60 days were the worst. Then my mom and sisters insisted we do remote cardio classes together. I cursed them for days. But it worked. With their help, I started a new habit, and prevented what I thought was sure to be a case of premature death by spontaneous combustion. Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be expensive. Cleaning house counts. Yard work counts. Just move. And make sure you’re sweating when you do it. 

Fifth, ask for help if you need it. Everybody’s circumstances are different. You may have an unsupportive roommate or partner. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start (or how to stop). Maybe you feel trapped or ashamed or like you’re just not strong enough to weather the next storm. There are people who are ready to help you. Ask a doctor, a priest, a family member, a close friend, a local non-profit or a support group. Reach out to someone you trust. Loving arms will catch you. 

Finally, think about how you see alcohol in your life. Look around. We are bombarded with advertising encouraging alcohol consumption in every one of life’s most glorious occasions: weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, the Super Bowl. We use it for celebration and in moments of sorrow. Did you get dumped? Blow that big presentation? Fail your final exam? There’s a concoction for that! 

Alcohol. Is. Literally. Everywhere. I never really noticed this until I decided to quit. And then I asked myself, why do they want me to drink so much? It’s an odd thing, really. 

I often wonder how things would be if, instead of asking “How” and “Why” a person quits drinking, we were to ask “How” and “Why” we all start drinking in the first place. The answer, of course, does not matter. All that matters is what you do today. And I have a question for you: What have you got to lose? 

Author Bio: Christina T. Mazaheri is Managing Partner at Mazaheri & Mazaheri where she practices primarily in the areas of Employment & Civil Rights Law. She is a native South Carolinian and met her husband and law partner, Bernie, while working at the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ firm in Florida. Christina and her family (Bernie, their three boys and their Great Danes) moved to their “forever home” in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky in 2018. Christina handles cases in several states, and she has published articles and spoken on topics dealing with Wage & Hour, Age Discrimination, Arbitration and Family Medical Leave issues in the workplace. When she’s not practicing law, Christina takes an active role in educating her children, who are full-time practitioners of the Art of Fencing. Christina also enjoys creative urban agriculture, historic renovation, painting, music & textile arts, raising and showing Great Danes, and remaining active with her church.  

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out the new book from our founder, Claire E. Parsons, called How to Be a Badass Lawyer which is now available on Amazon.

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Tortured No More: How Drinking Less Alcohol Helped Me Write My First Book

Our culture has this trope of the long-suffering tortured artist. There’s this idea that creativity comes from strife and is fueled by addiction and misery. I don’t say things like this often, but I want that idea to die.

First, it’s not true. Sure, there are many wonderful artists who struggled with or even lost their lives or careers to addiction, but there are also many, such as Anne Lamott, Stephen King, or the musician, Riopy, who went into recovery and thrived professionally after. Second, the idea is dangerous because it suggests that creative living is off limits to people who want to have a happy life.

I get upset about both issues because I experienced the opposite of what the trope claims. I experienced an extreme uptick in my creativity after limiting alcohol. In addition, the expansion of my creative efforts has resulted in more happiness, not more suffering.

This year I hit a major life milestone: I wrote and published my first book. I didn’t quite sell as many copies as Stephen King (yet) and I admit that I didn’t say anything nearly so perfect as Anne Lamott did in Bird by Bird. But, by god, I wrote a damn book. I wrote a book while practicing law, raising kids, managing a blog, and surviving two job changes in my household at the same time. I wrote a book even though I could have easily continued to think about it, as I had done for many years before.

Like the trope, this book had its origins in some suffering. It came from my own struggles with mental health and it was inspired by some of the darkest moments in my life. In addition, so many steps that led to me writing the book came out of the angst, grief, and upheaval of the pandemic. Oddly, one of those steps was the realization that I had relied too much on alcohol during the initial months of social distancing.

This is where the trope of the suffering and addicted artist explodes. Other than my initial bout with shame and denial, I didn’t have a torturous experience addressing my alcohol usage. Instead, I implemented some reasonable limits and supports, noticed an improvement, felt good, so kept going. At no point in the decision-making process did I consider limiting drinking because I wanted to be “more productive.”

That’s exactly what happened though. No, I didn’t get more productive in the breakneck way. I didn’t sacrifice sleep, or fun, or time away from my computer. Instead, I found a few extra hours here and there at night and on weekends where I felt like writing.

Think about it. When do most of us drink? Nights and weekends. When do most lawyers have free time to write and pursue personal hobbies or goals? You got it. Nights and weekends. When I started limiting how frequently I drank, I created more pockets of time in which I felt energetic and clear-minded enough to write. And, when things calmed down a bit and I had longer stretches, I could reliably bank a few thousand words at a time until I had a book.

Perhaps this story isn’t as interesting as the long-suffering artist, but it’s a whole lot more hopeful and in more ways than one. It suggests that steps to major life goals might, for any of us, be just around the corner. It suggests that doing the everyday basics to take care of oneself may be one way to reach the highest heights.

And here’s the best thing. Maybe I was a bit of a suffering artist in the early days of the pandemic. Maybe I used alcohol somewhat to avoid the suffering I believed I couldn’t handle. When I decided to make a change, the suffering didn’t swallow me up. Instead, it forced me to grow and make space for something new. It’s easy to get caught up in our habits or the tropes of identity, but it’s possible to break out of them. Even better, it feels really good when you do.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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6 Practical Steps to Support Yourself During Dry January or 300/65

This week, you may be one of many people trying Dry January for the first time. You may even have your sights set on the longer-term goal of 300/65, which limits drinking days to 65 for the year. Last year, I wrote about my experience trying Dry January for the first time and was surprised at how little I struggled with it. Like a lot of people, being at home social distancing during the pandemic had helped me develop some less than ideal habits, including drinking too frequently. By the time I tried Dry January, I was ready for it and I liked the results so much that I decided to do 300/65 too.

I had an amazingly productive year in 2021 and think that examining my use of alcohol helped to power that progress. If you are thinking about suspending or limiting your use of alcohol in January or for 2022, here are some practical steps that may help support your habit change.  

1. Start on the right foot.

One thing that helped me a lot in January, 2021 was that I had a meditation retreat planned for the days around New Years Eve. On most retreats, participants refrain from using any substances, including alcohol, that can impair the mind. While I had planned on doing the retreat well before I decided to commit to Dry January, it was a very happy accident for me. The retreat got me out of my house for a few days and gave me some distance from my habitual patterns. It also kept me focused so that I didn’t even think about alcohol. While we can’t always start the new year with a retreat, you can structure the first few days or week to support your goals. If you get off to a good start, it may make the whole process much easier. 

2. Get the booze out of sight (or out of the fridge).

I’m a beer drinker most of the time, so the first thing I did to prepare for Dry January was to take the beer out of the fridge. This was a tactical decision that made it harder for me to cave if a craving hit me. After I got through January and committed to 300/65, I decided to just not keep beer around the house. I also redecorate my formal dining room to accept it’s real use in my family: a craft room for the kids. Just to make space, I decided to move the liquor and wine to the basement, a space I only visit when I have a particular need to do so. The unintended benefit of this decision was that I wasn’t constantly reminded of the presence of alcohol in my house. With these subtle changes, it was a lot easier to not even think about drinking.

3. Be a scientist instead of a judge.

I am not the most disciplined person in the world. I’m actually a bit skeptical of discipline since I have tended to be too rigid with myself in the past, which inevitably ended up making myself rebel against all restrictions. But, I am naturally curious. Late in 2020, I started to wonder about my drinking and realized that only life experience could answer the questions I had about it. So, I treated Dry January, not as a referendum on my willpower or quality as a human, but instead as an experiment. Instead of a gold star, each day was another data point. I evaluated that data like a scientist and at the end of the month decided I needed to experiment further with 300/65. When I started drinking again, I made a point log the day as one on which I drank and note how the alcohol affected me. Sometimes it enhanced the experience, like when I shared a drink with a friend or had a nice wine with a favorite meal. Sometimes it just made me feel sluggish or not sleep well or gave me a headache. These data points helped me better appreciate that costs and benefits of using alcohol and to factor that in when I was deciding whether to drink or not.

4. Encourage accountability.

If you are trying to change a habit, one thing is clear: you can’t rely on willpower alone. Willpower is like a muscle; it gets tired. If you have to rely on self-control for your other daily activities (and most lawyers do), it can make you even more susceptible to cravings. Accountability can help this by forcing you to keep the consequences of your choices at the front of your mind. Using Try Dry or another app or tracking your dry and drinking days on a calendar or journal can help you keep yourself honest. If you need external accountability, set up a plan to check in regularly with a friend who can support your goals.

5. Plan for cravings.

Even if you take all the steps above, it is likely that cravings will still arise for you. Therefore, it may be best to have a plan of attack for responding when that happens. I did this by going shopping for tasty alcohol-free beverages before Dry January started. I intentionally looked for new things to try, so the fun of trying something new could remind me that disrupting habits had a good side. I also made a point of being kind to myself and avoiding self-judgment when a craving arose. One of the most common craving times for me happened when I cooked, since I loved to have a glass of wine while preparing meals. Looking for an enhancement that was neither food or beverage, I started listening to music or audiobooks while I cooked. It was just as, if not more, relaxing and it kept my mind off the drink I wasn’t having.  

6. Be prepared for feelings.

While most people who try Dry January or 300/65 are likely to first notice physical changes, it is possible that you may notice emotional differences too. Because alcohol is a depressant and is often used for the purpose of relaxing, it is possible that you may notice an increase in emotions when you limit it or stop using it. I noticed this myself during 2021 and simply relied on my other stress management strategies, including meditation, yoga, warm baths, hot tea, and talking to friends and family. On tough days, I did a combination of these things. Though it’s always difficult to deal with stress, the experience of caring for my emotions with healthy strategies cultivated personal confidence, strength, and helped me get to know myself even better.  

Changing habits is a tough thing to do. As I have written about before, changing habits relating to alcohol can be especially tricky, since shame and self-judgment can always arise. If you give yourself appropriate supports and a healthy perspective while attempting Dry January or 300/65, it may not just help you find success with your goals but also experience less difficulty while you pursue them.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Book Review: Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker

 I honestly don’t remember when or how I started following Quit Like A Woman (often shortened to “QLAW”) author Holly Whitaker on social media. It’s at least in part due to the fact that I’ve been giving a lot of thought in recent years about how much our work and social lives revolve around happy hour and what Whitaker describes as “a world obsessed with drinking.” And, it’s no secret that lawyers have high rates of problematic drinking. On top of that, like so many working women, with the pressure of juggling work and homeschool and dealing with the general stressors of life in a pandemic, I’ve found myself looking forward to happy hour a little too much at times. So, when Claire told me she was reading QLAW and that it was “mind-blowing” I thought it was time I actually read the book.

To be clear: a sober life is not something I’ve ever considered and it’s not something I’m considering even after reading QLAW. Nevertheless, I can unequivocally say that, like Claire, I found QLAW to be “mind-blowing” despite its flaws (more on that below). 

Whitaker offers a totally new approach to thinking about sobriety. Part memoir, part self-help, Whitaker wants to dispel myths about alcohol (what she describes as “Big Alcohol”); she offers a critical analysis of how Alcoholics Anonymous often fails women; and proposes a completely different approach to sobriety. And she relies on mindfulness and meditation to support her sobriety. She’s also funny and brash which makes it an interesting read in and of itself.

What really resonated for me is Whitaker’s basic premise that in order to “break the cycle of addiction” you need to get to the root causes of your addictions and develop routines and habits to build a life that that she describes as a life “I don’t want, or need, to escape from.” I’ve been thinking a lot about all of my habits and routines (not just drinking) and wondering what habits are “getting in the way of me living my best life” (as Whitaker describes it)? Looking at habits and routines this way is deeply rooted in mindfulness as a way of rewiring our brain to stop, slow down, and make healthier choices.

Another theme of QLAW is that there is no “right way” to sobriety. According to Whitaker, unlike AA’s one-size-fits-all approach, everyone’s road to sobriety must be deeply rooted in the needs and experiences of the individual. This is a basic premise of a mindfulness meditation practice: yes, there is a road map, but how you practice must resonate with you and actually work in your day-to-day life. She also want to eliminate the shame aspect of addiction. And, as Claire talks about her recent blog post, shame can be a barrier to making healthy choices (Kelly McGonigal does some amazing work around habit change and dealing with shame. I’m sure the basic premise of finding your own path and not feeling ashamed is a transformative concept for many. 

Unfortunately, I think where Whitaker misses the mark could keep people from her deeper messages. Most of what Whitaker describes as “tools for recovery” are only available to women with significant financial resources. Moreover, the tools she describes are only available to wealthy women that don’t have children (or at least have live-in nannies that could support the many hours of daily life Whitaker suggests need to go into supporting sobriety). Whitaker’s toolbox seems to consist a lot of spas, warm baths, lemon water, and kundalini yoga and meditation. In fact, at times she writes as if these are the only ways. She even crows at one point that she spent “thousands on therapy” and brags about dedicating her entire evenings to her “routine” as the only ways to get sober. A routine that involves an entire evening surrounded by yoga, tea, baths, reading, journaling, and meditating. An evening routine that a busy working mom could only dream of carving out. Let alone a single mom or a single mom with limited resources. She doesn’t really have any suggestions beyond “figure out what works for you.”  

And, while I found myself nodding along with her criticisms of AA, I couldn’t help but think of how many working women with limited time and resources would love to use her paid Tempest program and build a “toolbox” full of expensive teas and crystals, but AA Is free and available and despite its limitations probably provides comfort and support to women who have no other option. Whitaker doesn’t seem to even acknowledge this.

If you follow Whitaker on social media, you’ll see that she spends a lot of time attacking what she refers to as Big Alcohol. On her IG account she refers to herself as a “sobriety evangelist.” I think this is an accurate description. If you just google “is alcohol good for you” you’ll get about a zillion hits from respected health and medical professionals some saying moderate amounts are ok, while others agreeing with Holly – no amount of alcohol is safe. But it’s more nuanced than that and I think Whitaker’s sloppy logic could potentially alienate a lot of people that would otherwise benefit from her approach.  

She also wants you to believe that there is a direct causal link between the paternalistic society we live in and the alcohol industry that has brainwashed us into drinking poison. I don’t disagree that the alcohol industry is leaning into the Mommy Likes Wine culture that is troubling. Yes, alcohol is bad for you. And, yes, we are definitely living in a culture obsessed with alcohol, and that women are in desperate need of a sobriety model that actually works for them, but I think this kind of logical leap ignores how truly complex nuanced addiction really is. And I certainly don’t think that any hardworking women with serious addiction problems relying on AA and doing the best they can will appreciate being told they’re brainwashed victims of the patriarchy.

But I don’t want any misgivings or intellectual nitpicking to get in the way of what a life-altering book this is and how many women I’m sure it’s helped – including myself. I know that for many many women (and lawyers) alcohol can be an unhealthy way to cope. And, as Holly describes it can keep us from living our best life. Since reading the book (in conjunction with Kelly McGonigal’s work on habit change and Habits course on the 10% Happier App), I’ve drank less, meditated more, and generally re-examined all my habits that are getting in the way of my best life. So, whether you’re battling addiction or just re-thinking your own habits I suggest reading QLAW. It’s a good book to have your toolbox.  

Loren VanDyke Wolff is an attorney, mom, community leader, and long-time meditator who lives and practices law in Covington, Kentucky. She has contributed several pieces to the blog and has a passion for improving the legal profession. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out the new book from our founder, Claire E. Parsons, called How to Be a Badass Lawyer which is now available on Amazon.

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What Dry January Taught Me about Alcohol, Mindfulness, and Shame

I successfully did Dry January this year but it taught me a surprising lesson about shame. No, I have not been living under a rock. I know about Brene Brown. I watched the Netflix special. Yes, it was amazing. I’ve read many of her books. I know that the research says that shame can steal our power and keep us in a box. But it’s one thing to read or hear about a concept and another to live it, feel it, and understand it as you do.

I had experienced shame before this year, so it was not necessarily a new thing for me. But in general, the feeling was so intense and unmistakable that I could not ignore it. The shame I learned about after doing Dry January, however, was different. It was subtle. It was like a ghost in a haunted house that left signs of its presence but would disappear into the ether when you looked for it. It was not a big, bold feeling for me, but instead the faintest of senses that told me that I shouldn’t think too deeply (or even at all) about my drinking. It is for this reason that I had to try Dry January before I could properly diagnose my own condition: I had been ashamed that my use of alcohol had become so habitual.

For months before January, 2021 rolled around, I had been bored with alcohol. Literally bored. Still, I kept finding myself going to the fridge to grab a beer at the end of the day as if by compulsion. Like most people, I had come to associate alcohol with fun and relaxation. Those things being in short supply during the pandemic, my consumption of alcohol increased to fill this gap. Since I hardly ever needed to drive, there were usually very few reasons to say no either. So my habit became regular and stayed regular even after I started to be concerned about it.

But to be “concerned” about one’s own consumption of alcohol raises all kinds of issues, doesn’t it? If one is “concerned” about one’s use of alcohol, then it raises the question about whether one needs to stop. And we know that if one needs to stop, then they have a ”problem” with alcohol and they must stop totally and forever, full stop. Right? Furthermore, if I—a meditation teacher who espouses the values of mindfulness at every turn—could not control my own use of alcohol, what kind of teacher would I be? And don’t even get me started about what kind of lawyer I might be if I can’t even control myself.

As it turns out, I am just the human kind. Despite eight years of meditation, I’m not enlightened yet and I have cravings just like everyone else. My meditation practice certainly helped me maintain stability during the pandemic but I don’t think anything could make living through a pandemic easy for any of us. Ultimately, though, it was my meditation practice that helped me get out of this mess.

Though shame and anxiety about alcohol kept making my mind force concerns about it to the side, basic awareness helped me wake up. I love beer, but I started to notice that it didn’t seem to taste as good. That helped me to see that I wasn’t really getting the enjoyment I was seeking when I went to grab one from the fridge. I also noticed that many days I would make a secret goal not to get a beer, but find myself walking to the fridge anyway. This helped me see that I was not a terrible out of control mess, but rather just someone who developed less than ideal habits while stuck at home social distancing.

When I started to examine my beer drinking nonjudgmentally as a habit, rather than an inherent character flaw, it made me curious. Rather than worry about having to quit for all time and what that might imply about me, I instead started to wonder whether I could just change what I was doing. I had never tried Dry January before, but found myself in a Dry January Facebook group in December. Reading the posts and stories of other members helped normalize what I had experienced and it actually made me excited to try. As it happened, I had already signed up for a virtual meditation retreat for the weekend of New Years Eve. Having done this retreat before, I knew that I would refrain from drinking during the retreat. That was an ideal time to start, since the first few days of any new habit program are always the hardest.

To my surprise, when I returned from the retreat, it was easier than I had expected to just not drink. I had helped myself out on this by removing all the beer from the fridge because I knew I would be very unlikely to be so desperate that I drank a warm beer. Even so, I only occasionally had thoughts about drinking and I was able to avoid it by just doing something else, like playing with my kids, meditating, or working out. I also found other tasty things to drink, like hot tea with honey or seltzer water to satiate my hankering for bubbles. In other words, I learned that I wasn’t totally out of control when it came to alcohol. Rather, I had just needed to disrupt my habit of not exerting any control when it came to alcohol. Dry January gave me the chance to experiment with that and see what happened when I just gave myself a reason to say “no” for a while.

Did this experience drastically change my life? Not really, but it improved it. The most significant change was that I slept better. Sleeping better, in turn, helped me get up earlier, focus better, have more energy, and get more done. I liked that so much that, before the end of January, I committed to 300/65 – which means that I would only consume alcohol on 65 days for the rest of the year. In short, while I had been previously afraid to put restrictions on my use of alcohol before, because I didn’t want to think about that might mean, the reality was that the restrictions supported me and improved my life.

I was so surprised by this that I found myself doing something else entirely surprising: I wrote about my experience with Dry January on social media. Not only were people not judgmental; they were supportive and curious. In response to this, one contact reached out and told me to read Quit Like a Woman. I started it soon after and it helped me better understand my own experience. In the book, the author traced her own struggles with drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders and how she used a gradual approach coupled with self-care practices, including yoga, meditation, and therapy to eventually lead a sober life.

I was not surprised in the least that meditation was among the author’s toolkit, but I had never heard anyone before suggest that one could adopt a reducetarian approach to alcohol. Everything I had ever heard about sobriety before was that you either were or you weren’t and there was no in between. In the same way, I had never consciously considered the possibility that a life without (or with less) alcohol might be better. As the author argued, I saw that I perhaps had been unwittingly affected by the negative and one-sided portrayals of recovery in TV and movies and the marketing efforts of the alcohol industry.

I did not think the book was perfect. I disagreed with the author often but it shared something about alcohol that I was finally ready to hear: a new way of thinking about it. Rather than considering whether alcohol and I just don’t mix, I learned that the better question was whether I was living my life the way I really wanted to live it? As it turns out, I already had everything I needed to make a change. Just like QLAW recommends, I got curious and let myself experiment and observe how alcohol affected me, I was open to a gradual approach, and I had already established a toolkit of self-care practices, including meditation, to help me deal with stress or cravings or bouts of self-doubt. In short, neither Dry January nor QLAW convinced me that I needed to entirely quit alcohol but they both made it clear that if I was going to examine my habits and build a better life I first had to quit shame.

To learn more about this subject, check out the IG Live I did with contributing author Loren VanDyke Wolff on the subject of alcohol, habits, mindfulness, and shame.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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