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How I Realized It Was Time to Quit Drinking

Alcohol wasn’t ruining my life, but it was killing me

Hand reaching for alcoholic beverage with shadow casted on table of skull and bones
Andre Rucker (Prop stylist: Kelsi Windmiller)

My name is Andrew, and I’m not an alcoholic. 

I’ve never blacked out. Or gotten a DUI. Or committed a social faux pas that required rolling out the old “Sorry, I was drunk” apology the morning after. I’ve never woken up with a crippling hangover. I’m not in a program, nor do I consider myself in recovery. 

But a year ago, I just quit drinking. 

I don’t say this to diminish the accomplishments of those for whom sobriety is a struggle. On the contrary, the past year has given me a new and deeper appreciation for what they go through, and how profoundly life-altering sobriety can be. 

I had no overwhelming motivation to quit. My wife and I just decided to take a break from drinking. A Dry January, as they call it.

Within one week, my wife announced that she was done with alcohol for good. The improvements in her sleep were both immediate and undeniable, she said. Nonetheless, I affirmed that my commitment was for one month and one month only.

I missed alcohol and its place in our daily routine. The ritual opening of the dinner wine. The isn’t-it-a-lovely-evening cognac on the back deck. Its sudden absence felt awkward.

When socializing, we found it easiest to play the “taking a break” card, to sidestep that awkward moment when your sobriety makes others uncomfortable. My biggest challenge came when I attended my first literary event since quitting. All my writer friends were milling about with their Chiantis, ryes and IPAs. I ordered a club soda with juice just to keep my drinking hand busy, and to avoid the uncomfortable question, “Why aren’t you drinking?”

Later, when a thoroughly soused poet started shouting his bitterness at me, I felt redeemed. Had this been me in the past? Loud, inappropriately emotional and oblivious to social cues?

There were other benefits, of course. Like the eight pounds that slipped away and never came back. Or my sudden ability to remember a six-digit security code without having to recheck the text three times. My sleep quality was off the charts, too. I’ve never slept so well.

Still, I couldn’t wait for the month to end.

And then I read the book This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace, a fascinating look at the science behind alcoholism. One line in Grace’s book made me finally decide that enough was enough.

“Alcohol has the same cancer-causing effects as asbestos,” she writes.

It flipped a switch in my brain. I’m already a survivor (five years!) of colorectal cancer. After chemo, radiation, surgery and more chemo, I’m lucky to even be here. Yet there I was, with a glass of wine in my hand every evening after work, doing my best to win the Nobel Prize for Cognitive Dissonance.

So I gave it up. Not because it was destroying my career and most important relationships. Not because I had hit rock bottom. I just can’t knowingly put cancer juice into my body. 

I (almost) don’t have to try. 

As Grace observes: “[When] you completely change your mental (conscious and unconscious) perspective on alcohol, you begin to see the truth about drinking. When this happens, no willpower is required, and it becomes a joy not to drink. This is the mystery of spontaneous sobriety.”

I don’t feel like I quit drinking. It’s more like I retired from it. And I’m hoping for a long and healthy retirement.