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Around the holidays, I made a conscious effort to monitor my intake of alcohol. We had published “The Art of Mindful Drinking” in our November issue and discussed it with our friends at WCCO, so it was on my mind. When I surveyed the instances I drank and how much, I realized it was more often than I wanted.

There was a common denominator for me: sociability. I wasn’t drinking with weeknight dinners at home, but anytime I was out with friends or family, I’d have a glass of wine. Or two. Or three. I’d get home (safely, as a passenger) and ransack the cupboards looking for snacks. Then I’d sleep hard, wake up late the next morning, and feel awful — both physically and emotionally. Sometimes for days.

Weening Off the Wine Habit

So I started by cutting back, limiting myself to just one glass of wine or one cocktail at an event, and eventually just one glass a week, regardless of my social schedule. In January, I thought why not just one glass a month? I would look at my calendar and made note of the parties, then decided when and if I wanted to drink. I had vodka and club soda at Crashed Ice, a winter sporting event, but passed on alcohol at the Polar Bear Plunge later that month. I planned to have cocktails on our ski weekend in Lutsen and wine on Valentine’s Day, but knew that March and April would be dry months. Summer would be a bit trickier as the social gatherings multiplied, so maybe I’d choose to drink at a concert or nice dinner (as I did last weekend), but pick water for other events that month. As soon as I started examining and planning on when I’d imbibe, I felt less like drinking alcohol altogether.

I started ordering herbal tea at dinners instead of wine, and carrying tea packets in my purse and asking for hot water when we’d go to bars. (Note on this: Be kind in your request to your server, and suggest they charge you for tea or coffee if they are reluctant to just give you water.) Sometimes I’d ask for San Pellegrino with lime wedges or a splash of cranberry juice, or I’d try the nonalcoholic cocktails if they weren’t made with commercial syrups.

Like making changes to my diet, it became easier over time to abstain. But my choices didn’t come without discussion from my peers. “So you’re not drinking tonight? Not even wine?!” or “Are you ordering just water?” For some reason, passing on alcohol seemed more offensive than passing on cake. I could make some people understand with desserts (as much as I dislike the concept because it’s not really true, I’d pull out the “I’m on a diet” card to end the questions), but few understood my reasoning to drink less or not at all. Since I wasn’t an alcoholic, there wasn’t any other explanation — unless I was pregnant, which was the usual follow-up question. (1. No, not that it’s any of your business, and 2. Being pregnant isn’t the only reason women of my age don’t drink alcohol.)

I’ve had some fascinating conversations surrounding the topic of not drinking. One of my male friends chose to give up alcohol for the month of June and says it’s been a non-issue. Perhaps this is only a problem for women? Another female friend confessed that it felt strange to drink around a nondrinker, as if I was judging her or counting her drinks. She made a point that my body language and responses were important, and if I wasn’t drinking, she hoped that I wouldn’t comment. (A point we could agree on, since I didn’t want her opinion on my behavior either.) “If we’re having fun, I would hope that you’d be having fun, too, even if you weren’t drinking.” Of course! I’m a blast, even without the glass. Some friends simply stopped inviting me to meet up for dinner or happy hours. I missed spending time with them, but if they felt uncomfortable around me, then I understood. There’s something communal about drinking, and I was the odd one out.

If my penalty was to be a temporary social pariah, I could accept the punishment. It’s my choice, one that makes me feel better and keeps me on track toward my fitness and weight-loss goals. But the challenges I’ve faced have perplexed me, so I’m curious: Have you faced similar obstacles, whether it’s refraining from alcohol for a night or a month, or longer?

Thoughts to share?

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