A Drink to My Mental Health

laughing with cocktailI stopped drinking for a month. A few of my friends quit drinking for January and that’s where I got the idea, but I was late to the game. I started on January 23rd because I was headed to AWP on February 26th and I certainly wasn’t going to make it through a writing conference dry. Writers are awkward without social lubricant. Originally, I scheduled myself to stop drinking on January 25th, but I came down with a fever and decided those sick and sober days counted. Might as well take advantage of the situation.

I know this isn’t the conclusion I was supposed to come to, but I’ve realized that drinking is good for me. I like myself better when I drink. Sure, the binge drinking is bad for my physical and mental health; I agree with that. I don’t need any more day-long hangovers rolling slowly around in my misery bed. (Although not binge drinking didn’t improve my health as much as I had hoped. I found that I sometimes wake up with a hangover-like headache and dizziness without having a drop, so it can’t all be blamed on booze. And not drinking didn’t improve my gut problems as much as I thought it would.)

I had forgotten how much anxiety I have. I saw not drinking as a way of forcing myself to deal with my anxiety in more productive ways, but I expected to be managing the same level of anxiety. I figured my social anxiety would increase; I was prepared for that. But I had forgotten how much free-floating anxiety I have naturally. I would find my pulse firm and quick in the afternoons. I was afraid, I didn’t know why, and I couldn’t make it go away. It’s like the moment after your friend jumps out at you and says “Boo!” After you’ve realized everything is ok, your body is still buzzing. I had been self-medicating with alcohol to control my generalized agitation for a decade without realizing it. I wasn’t drinking myself into oblivion to control the constant worry; it was the mild social drinking or two glasses of wine in the evening that was making the difference.

My hiatus from drinking ruined my familiarity to alcohol, and that’s what mattered. When I returned to drinking, I wasn’t relying on habit to pace myself. I wasn’t racing to get drunk and sober up enough to go home. I order as many drinks as I feel like and I feel like having fewer drinks now that I’ve taken a break.

My anxiety has returned to what I consider normal. I could see a health professional to treat my anxiety without any alcohol consumption, but that would likely mean another set of drugs. (I’m already on medication for depression.) If a drink or two is what it takes to keep my rampant anxiety to a manageable level, I’ll self-medicate without shame.

One thought on “A Drink to My Mental Health

  1. Lauren, thank you for this brave essay! There is such a fine line between just enough and too much alcohol consumption, and obviously it differs from one woman to the next. (Some women of course wanting and needing absolutely no alcohol and others wanting to imbibe in a way that is healthy for their mind and social life.)


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