I stumbled across this excellent piece of writing by Kristi Coulter on Medium, about her growing awareness of the pervasiveness of alcohol use (especially with women) and her experiences once she gave up booze. It, her and the platform Medium are all winners, and I highly recommend an afternoon swimming in short form musings. Good for the soul.
On January 1st this year I also gave up booze. With an impending 2 months living yogi at an ashram I wanted to get in training, and not being known to do things in a moderate way, I went method style headfirst. Initially I thought i'd have three months off, and re-asses my inputs when I got back to life and reality in March. For anyone who knows me or follows my Instagram feed, I was a total booze hound. I loved the wine industry, the bespoke spirit makers, the inspirational cocktail designers. I loved hanging with buddies over wine, and getting off my chops when the occasion called for it.
The decision to stop drinking while easy with project yogi in train, had some bigger downstream concerns as my time at the ashram came to a halt. I didn't want to start drinking again. I really liked living in a spiritually centred way. What excuse did I have when I re-entered my normal life to keep living la vida wowser? Who was I going to be if I wasn't the me that was feasting on BBQed creatures and snapping pictures of champagne bottle roll calls the morning after?
More critically, what would life be like not sharing glasses of wine with John McGee? 17 years of love had seen a lot of wine under the bridge, and so much of our travel and leisure involved hunting down new wine regions to explore, new hipster bars globally - what if my decision actually derailed our relationship? To even contemplate what I considered to be a rock solid love affair to be held together by wine o clock was enough reason to have a serious look at my relationship with alcohol.
There were friends I had that over a couple of decades, good friends, that I hadn't hung out with without drinking. Like ever. It felt crazy that I had such an attachment to booze and its culture. I never considered myself a problem drinker, but I was beginning to think drinking was a problem. Of course I could give it up any time as they say. I had regularly undertaken periods of fasting and cleansing without drinking, and I didn't drink every day. But I clearly had an enmeshed relationship with alcohol and more broadly I think we have a cultural problem with drinking. It is so easy to keep the bevvies coming without a whole lot of self investigation as to why everything festive, sad, hard, celebratory, or even mundane comes with a side order of intoxicant.
Yogi's and other assorted spiritual pundits don't drink for pretty simple reasons. Intoxicants get in the way of enlightenment. They distract you from your vows to live life without suffering and no one likes an early meditation session with a thumping hangover. With enough yoga, meditation and pranayama you can achieve some awesome states of enjoyment. In Ayurveda, alcohol is classed as a rajasic substance, which is overstimulating for your doshas and takes you away from being in a sattvic state, seen as the optimal mode for happiness and contentment to prevail. For me, the journey of stopping a thousand sips started with just continuing on not drinking booze when I got home.
It was way easier than I thought in my catastrophising of all social occasions and friendship wastelands. People were still interesting, parties were still parties, celebration and commiseration part of life and heart felt. John McGee was still divine, and as a bonus he, and all my other buddies now had a designated driver. In the spirit of not being in denial or worse judgemental smugness, every now and then I sip someones wine or have a mini cocktail. My once razor sharp palate doesn't dig the taste of the alcohol anymore, so I end up just having a sniff of the nose of a pinot or nibbling a marascino cherry and not feeling at all deprived.
This isn't a treatise on the evils of drink, don't get me wrong. It's a musing on my own surprise at not only stopping drinking, but realising how much something as ordinary as a liquid played in my life and choices. It seems bizarre. There were definatly times for me when drinking was a silencer about feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. I absolutely did and said things when drunk that I would never have done when sober, and not all of them hilarious Facebook worthy memes.
Social stuff aside, i'm absolutely sure that my productivity, my spiritual practice and study would all have dropped away if I had returned to my lifestyle of sensory pleasure. Getting up early to meditate and do yoga in winter would NOT have happened, being disciplined would not have happened, and so this austerity has in turn given me a whole swag of motivation and projects that I can absolutely get done. It has also freed up cash, which is a good thing when I am taking chunks of time off earning revenue to write books and hang out in ashrams and monastries.
These are of course a path of investing in future growth, but not supporting the cost of bottles of wine and outrageous restaurant bills makes the balance seem better. For the first time we have planned a trip to Portland and New York not around the most direct route to cocktail bars and Michelin starred restaurants, but where the yoga studios, running tracks, Buddhist temples, wholefood supermarkets and vegan diners are. Uh huh. It's a brave new world. Stay tuned in September for an Instagram travelogue of pretty mocktails, puja and faux meats.
Dr Polly McGee is one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, chef, explorer, yogi, kirtaneer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, advised hundreds of start-ups on how to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages. She is currently the Strategic Marketing Lead for Global Edtech Startup Prosper Education. Her new book, The Good Hustle, is coming out in February 2018