By Vanessa Royle

Why I Quit Drinking

I stopped drinking nearly two and a half years ago. It still feels surreal to write those words. Alcohol was how I relaxed at the end of a long day or week, it was how I entertained people, and it was how I knew to have fun. In the years since quitting, I’ve been able to reflect on how my relationship with alcohol became one I no longer wanted in my life. 

When I first stopped drinking, it was on a whim. It was two months into COVID lockdown and my anxiety, which I’ve managed for as long as I can remember, was hitting an unmanageable level, resulting in regular panic attacks. After reading a lot of psychology articles and talking to my therapist, I decided to cut out coffee (this only lasted a few days), sugar (I also didn’t last long without dessert), and alcohol. At the time, it wasn’t a huge shift. I’d been having a glass of wine during Zoom happy hours or dinner, but that was about it. Without the distractions of travel, work events, and a packed social calendar, I was able to quietly stop drinking without having to explain myself to anyone. My sleep improved, my anxiety became more manageable, and I liked how it felt to wake up clear-headed first thing in the morning. So I decided to keep going with it. 

When I started business school a few months later, this was the story I told to anyone that questioned why I didn’t drink. And while it’s a true story, it’s not the whole story. And it is certainly not the reason why I decided to stay sober. 

I first started drinking at the end of high school. In my typical Type-A fashion, I reasoned that I should practice drinking so that I could drink responsibly during college. It didn’t really work out that way. Instead of learning moderation, I learned how to shotgun a beer, drink hard liquor straight, and win at beer pong. I learned that I loved drinking games. I learned that after the first few drinks, I never wanted to stop. 

College was the perfect place for my relationship with alcohol to flourish. With the constant fraternity parties, game days, and team mixers, there was never a shortage of alcohol or people willing to drink with me. Drinking in excess became an expected part of life, and I never questioned it. I was anxious and regularly embarrassed by my actions, but never felt compelled to make a change. “Work hard, play hard” was my motto and despite doing a lot of regrettable things during this time, I excused it because it seemed that there was always someone more drunk or messy than me. Despite my drinking habits, I was able to get decent grades, captain the club lacrosse team, and keep up with my friendships. I never hit a “rock bottom” or had any major health issues, and I didn’t drink alone, so I reasoned that I didn’t have a problem. 

When I started seeing a therapist regularly during my sophomore year, I was confronted with the fact that my drinking wasn’t “normal.” During weekly sessions, I would recount my weekends and inevitably end up in tears recalling something stupid or embarrassing I’d done while drunk. My therapist regularly said that while binge drinking was normalized in college and within my social circles, it was in no way normal or the right thing for me. My excuse was always, “I’m not the only one doing this,” or “if you think I’m bad, you haven’t seen [other person].” 

Instead of stopping, I constantly tried to engineer around it. I’d cap myself at a certain number of drinks or have an accountability partner. I’d bring a Sharpie to me with parties and note the number of drinks on my hand in an effort to stay in control. None of these methods ever worked. I’d still wake up confused with a blur of ink on my hand with my phone missing or a new bruise on my knee from a fall I didn’t remember. I hated myself for not being able to control my drinking, and yet I craved the out-of-control feeling that I got when I drank. The loss of inhibitions, the blanket over my anxiety, the sense of camaraderie I only achieved when I was a few drinks deep. I didn’t want to let go of letting go. 

My binge drinking continued after graduation. I’d work long hours during the week, then let loose on the weekends, regularly partaking in day drinking, party buses, wine tastings, and drunken kickball games. Even at work, events and off-sites with open bars made me feel like drinking in excess wasn’t outside the norm. I could take breaks from drinking, no problem, but once I started drinking, it was often hard to stop. I blamed the people around me, or the type of alcohol I’d been drinking. I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that alcohol and I didn’t mix. I even went to an AA meeting once with a friend in an effort to prove to myself that I was taking control. As I became more distanced from college, my drinking decreased, but there were still nights and events that brought out the partier in me, a side of myself I no longer liked. 

It took a pandemic to make me stop, and supportive friends, family, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and a renewed sense of self to keep with it, especially through business school (I’ll share more on that in another post). Many people in my life were surprised that I quit drinking. We don’t have a history of alcoholism in my family, and I was very good at hiding the more negative aspects of my drinking from the outside world. Some questioned why I couldn’t just “drink normally”. But I made a choice. Even with moderation, alcohol no longer has a place in my life. 2+ years later I can confidently say that I’ve never felt more like myself. Life is uncertain and uncontrollable, but quitting alcohol has given me more control over my life than I’ve ever had. Being able to navigate the ups and downs of life and make decisions with a clearer head has grown my confidence and I can say with certainty that I love who I am. 

I can’t change the past, make all my wrongs right, or pretend none of it happened. Instead, I can look forward and know that I’ve made the right decision for myself and my future and hopefully help some people along the way. 

Thank you for reading.