Mental Health Benefits Of Being Alcohol-Free

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It’s a fact: alcohol is everywhere.

No matter where you go, there it is.  Every restaurant you walk into, and at every celebration, you best believe there’s an opportunity to indulge in an alcoholic beverage.  It doesn’t take much thought- drinking is a huge part of everyday culture.  It’s expected, and in fact, it can even be confusing to people when you tell them you don’t drink.

But do you ever stop and think how alcohol affects your brain

On a sunny Saturday, probably not.

As I walked through the Greenway in Boston the other day (one of my favorite urban gems), I passed not one, but two areas designated for outdoor boozing.  Then, a couple of days later, I passed a beer garden in the Charles River Esplanade.

I used to absolutely love these opportunities.

However, as an ex-drinker, my days of beer gardens and brunch always began much happier than they ended- in fact, the mere idea of drinking was always better than the actual consumption.

For over 15 years, little did I know that I was quite literally drinking a depressant.

While drinking, I was snappy, agitated, and impatient.  I was anything but mindful, always awaiting what was next- the next drink, the next bar, the next thrill.

Over the years I’ve realized that my drinking was directly linked to my mental health.  Mental health is just as important as recognizing a physical problem.  Anxiety, depression, and PTSD are serious health conditions that can be just, if not more, crippling as a physical disease.

For me, my anxiety and PTSD are heightened when I consume just one alcoholic drink.  I used to think something was seriously wrong with me.  I would wake up in the morning feeling empty.  I was nervous about the people around me.

Then, when I stopped drinking, those nervous feelings stopped.

I’m not alone.  Millie from Sober Girl Society (one of my favorite Instagram accounts) shared with The Telegraph:

“I knew quite early on that hangovers affected me mentally just as much as they did physically. I’d wake up feeling on edge, like I’d done something wrong or upset someone – even though my friends all told me I’d been perfectly well behaved. Towards my late twenties, even just having a glass of champagne would make me feel uncomfortable and uneasy. Hangover anxiety began to permeate my everyday life. I lost all confidence, motivation, and some hangovers even left me bedridden; not because I was sick or tired but because my mind had gone into overdrive and I was sweating and shaking in panic.”

Our society is quick to provide “quick fixes” for mental health, including medication, material gratification, or even more alcohol to calm the nerves. Having a drink after work or popping a Xanax probably isn’t the answer for long-lasting change, but I can say from experience that meditation, spending time in nature, exercise, and- gasp- abstinence from alcohol- have provided a solace in my soul better than any quick fix.

I’m confident these simple things can work for you, too.

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Not So Glamorous

Marcel Broodthaers Preview at MoMA in New York, 2016

I can’t lie- I loved drinking.  It did something to me that made me feel invincible, interesting, and sophisticated.  Little did I know, it actually did quite the opposite.

As much as I loved a rooftop bar, museum opening, or fashion event, I also loved a good dive- and all the debauchery it brought.

If I hadn’t loved drinking (or at least the chaotic lifestyle), I wouldn’t have gone back to it repeatedly despite the negative effects it had on my life, my relationships, my sanity, and my health.

People suggest, “just have one!” yet quickly realize I do terrible, uncharacteristic things after one- because one always leads to eleven or twelve.

As I began to grow spiritually, I realized alcohol didn’t have the same place in my life.  It blocked my intuition, my connection to my higher self, and stripped me of all my inner peace.  Alcohol leaves me wanting more, hopelessly aware of the emptiness inside of me that a healthy spiritual condition fills.

Do I wish I was that person who could just have one?  Of course.  I never would, and I never will, though.  I’ve accepted that reality.

Instead of drinking to fit in or make others around me feel more comfortable, I’m happy with my carbonated water or Diet Coke today.  It certainly helps me remain centered, mindful, and grateful for the moment.