I drink – when I’m out with friends, at a family party, or every once in a while if I cook a fancier dinner at home. Though I’ve tried to be mindful of my alcohol intake, especially as someone with a family history of alcoholism, I’ve never questioned pouring myself a glass of something during special occasions. Then, I got married. We had a beautiful Mass and an open bar at the reception. But in the months that followed, I felt an unexpected and increasing pressure to drink more in social settings.

The Pressure to Drink

My anxiety spirals became frequent.

I need to drink at the party tonight. If I don’t, everyone will think I’m pregnant. Then if they ask, and I say we’re delaying pregnancy, they’ll tell me I’m a bad Catholic for not wanting to have kids right away. And if my secular friends think I’m pregnant, they’ll think I’m irresponsible because ‘obviously Catholic birth control doesn’t work.’”

Before I realized it, I was having “just one more drink” at a party, not saying no when a friend or family member brought me a drink even though I didn’t want it, and even forcing myself to order  sangria when I would’ve rather had seltzer. I was so terrified of being questioned and judged that I used my cocktail of choice as a shield. Meanwhile, my body was giving me many physical reminders that I was in my 30s now and couldn’t drink like I did in my early 20s, with no consequences.

Taking A Break From Alcohol

I reached my breaking point in July 2023 – the peak of the summer social season – when my body crashed. My sleep cycle was messed up. My menstrual cycle was messed up. My stress and anxiety were at an all-time high. I was miserable.

Finally, I decided that I didn’t want to live a life dictated by the rumor mill. To get over my fear of other people’s opinions, I decided to participate in what I called “Sobertember” (à la Sober October and Dry January). I gave up alcohol for the entire month of September, except for two occasions: our wedding anniversary trip and my husband’s birthday dinner, when there would be no one else around. I also decided that, outside of my husband and my parents, I wouldn’t tell anyone I wasn’t drinking unless they asked.

The first week was hard – not because I craved alcohol, but because I was exhausted. According to American Addiction Centers, fatigue can be a sign of alcohol withdrawal, and can be accompanied by anxiety, tremors, gastrointestinal disturbances, and even seizures (though I didn’t experience any of those symptoms).

Once the first week was over, I started to get some clarity on my relationship with alcohol. In the book Quit Like A Woman (which I don’t recommend, but that’s another article for another day), the author argues that throughout modern Western history, alcohol has been a symbol of women’s empowerment and liberation. Which image is most frequently represented in our modern pop culture: temperance icon Carrie Nation smashing saloon windows, or the cast of Sex and the City drinking pink cocktails at the hottest NYC bars?

Though my life in New York was more akin to Pollyanna than Carrie Bradshaw, being involved in the Catholic young adult scene meant that more church-sponsored events served alcohol than not. There were subtle jokes made at the expense of other Christians who had a more stringent view of alcohol, even though I knew several devout Catholics who didn’t drink. There’s a historic bar in Manhattan with a sign outside that reads: “If your grandma was alive during Prohibition, she drank here. Unless she was Baptist, then she drank in the closet.” Catholics have a reputation for being one of the Christian sects with a more relaxed attitude toward alcohol, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some restrictions on it. The Catechism discusses “[t]he virtue of temperance, [which] disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine.” I started to question why a hallmark of my faith was that my church’s young adult event had wine, not that the people who attended had strong relationships with Jesus and a love for the sacraments.

Embracing the Freedom to (Not) Drink

One of the hardest aspects of Sobertember for me was the temptation to explain myself when I refused a drink. As a recovering people pleaser, I could see the wheels turning behind people’s eyes when I said, “No, thank you.” However, for the most part, no one questioned me. In fact, the few that did were intrigued and supportive of my project, and other married women expressed similar frustrations over the scrutiny of the contents of their glass. One major victory was when I went out to dinner with a large group of friends and all I ordered was a ginger beer and lime (my go-to mocktail) – and nobody noticed. I realized that my relationship with alcohol had become less about responsibly partaking in something I enjoyed, and more about pleasing the people around me. But the reality was that I could still have a robust social life – even with people who drink – and choose to not have a drink.

Though I do still drink alcohol, I’ve changed my mindset to, “I don’t have to have a drink tonight. I can have a drink tonight if I want to.” I’ve followed several mocktail recipe accounts online, like Mocktail Girlie and The Mindful Mocktail, so I can make drinks that are tasty and fun without the alcohol – and so that other people who don’t drink alcohol can have an interesting beverage option. This experience has also made me excited to cut out alcohol for short periods of time in the future, whether during Dry January, Lent, or if I do one day become pregnant. And most importantly, it’s taught me that “No.” is a complete sentence and I do not need to justify my choice to not drink to anyone.

Whether you should or shouldn’t drink is a decision between you and God (and possibly your doctor). But if you are considering cutting out alcohol – whether for a time, or forever – it isn’t as scary as you think it is. Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Alcohol should be just one of many little joys in your life, and if it can remain that way, it can be a part of an abundant life in God. However, if you find that it impacts your ability to enjoy all of your other beautiful blessings, getting rid of it may open you up to a more abundant life.

Vicky Wolak Freeman

Vicky Wolak spent her first year out of college teaching middle school English in northern France. She is now a full-time copy editor in New York City. You can find out more about her here.

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