I’d woven alcohol into every facet of my life.
When I ordered Annie Grace’s book Control Alcohol, I admitted that I would try this thing for real. I downloaded that book to my personal Kindle so that Tim wouldn’t see it on our Amazon orders. Sneaky, maybe. I love my husband, but I wasn’t ready to have that conversation just yet.
I worked for a major alcohol supplier selling fine wine to the restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip. All wines jobs are a little haphazard, but this position was next level. I regularly hand-delivered 100k orders of fine and rare wines, first-growth Bordeaux and DRC, out of the back of my car to loading docks at the Wynn or Venetian. Docks at the biggest hotels in the world are beyond busy and a little dicey for a small vehicle. My work wife’s texts hinted that we might get smashed by a semi-truck while trying to get our fancy wine safely up the ramp.
I’d leave the service entrance, head into the hotel for lunch with a supplier, and meet with Wine Directors for lunch, tasting multiple bottles. A single placement at a top hotel can secure financial stability for the year for some of these smaller producers, so the meetings were always high stress. More tastings in the afternoon, we could see up to eight appointments a day across town, and then finish at a bar for happy hour.
By all outer ideas of success, this was my dream job. The money was excellent, and I worked with one of my best friends selling wine that any sommelier would dream of tasting. Deep down, I knew that alcohol was killing me.
Before my wine sales career, I worked in restaurants. It’s a seamless transition from the restaurant floor to sales for many hospitality lifers, the late-night hours get too long, and wine sales is a much more traditional schedule than closing down a shift on Saturday night. During my final weeks on the restaurant floor, I ate some french fries out of the restaurant’s fryer, not thinking that they were also deep-frying breaded fish and chips. I have an autoimmune gluten sensitivity and landed in the ER and had symptoms for weeks. I wanted out of the restaurant, to ditch the late nights, and I wanted more control over my health.
I look back at how deeply I’d woven alcohol into every facet of my life. Tim and I met behind the bar at an iconic Los Angeles restaurant, years before we got together. Our first dates were fused with cocktails; we had a natural wine bar at our wedding. There was a private winery Jeep tour outside Barcelona on our honeymoon. Drinking had stopped “working” for me long before I quit. It didn’t matter if we were at a dive bar or a tasting menu; the hangover was soul-crushing. If you know the 3am wide awake anxiety, then you know.
So when I ordered Annie’s book to my Kindle that night, I understood that things would change, just not the how. It took me a full six months after reading that book, until St Patrick’s Day 2018, to fully commit to not drinking.
My health was still teetering, I had been nauseous with histamine issues and had migraines for what felt like years, and now I was adding regular trips to the cardiologist for heart palpitations. The irony here that my drinking, which had been more along the lines of never enough for decades, had slowed to a measurable trickle. An early morning Friday ra-ra meeting at the sales job, with hundreds of employees tasting Cabernet out of plastic cups, led to me driving home with a throbbing migraine and throwing up. This happened on more occasions than I can count.
I tried quitting for a week, ten days, then I would go back to having my one sad little glass of sake or Champagne. I know “normal” drinkers who have a single drink and leave it at that don’t think or operate like that. Even that one glass would send me over the edge — either nausea would come back, or I’d lie awake at night thinking I was having a heart attack. There really was no moderating. In retrospect, and from a practical perspective, all signs point to Duh. Just quit. I don’t think that’s how alcohol works in our society.
Something clicked for me on St Patrick’s Day. We were out with friends at the Venetian, people at the tables around us were already catching a holiday buzz, and when my table ordered Prosecco, I passed. I knew that was the day. I made it about eight more hours when Tim and I were having dinner, and he offered me some Trader Joe’s Albarino. I had the smallest pour you can think of, like, a blip of wine, and didn’t even finish it. My rock bottom was a small, steady stream of partial attempts at quitting layered over twenty plus years of heavy drinking.
The next morning, I woke up and searched something like “yoga and sobriety” and found Holly Whitaker’s blog, Hip Sobriety. I fell down my first Rabbit Hole of people quitting drinking on their own and creating something new out of that mess.
I don’t have a perfect sobriety streak. I don’t count the days. After a few years of trial and error, I did change my relationship with alcohol to the point where drinking is not up for debate. It’s just not something that I do. I think it’s relevant to add that at present, I’m working through a rough season with migraine, and adding something into my life that might even potentially trigger another headache is just out of the question. I know other people with a completely different Why behind quitting alcohol, but mine is about managing health conditions, showing up in my best way possible, and self-compassion.