Drinking & Judgment

Posted On: 07.31.13

keysI’m collecting stories. Drinking stories. In the past eighteen months, they’ve fallen into my lap. And now I’m seeking them, too.

What I’m realizing more and more is that drinking touches all of us. Whether or not we are drinkers ourselves, we know people who are. Whether or not we have ever struggled with alcohol, we know people who have. Each and every one of us has a drinking story, whether it’s a big one or a small one, whether it’s a major theme or a tiny footnote.

This spring, I hosted two wonderful writers here for one of my Happier Hours. These women write a blog, and have published a book, all about these drinking stories we all have within us. Drinking Diaries, they call it. They have asked me to do an interview for their site and I am excited at the opportunity. I have been delaying do it though. I wasn’t sure why, but now I realize that it was because I wasn’t ready. I am now. And I will do it soon.

I think I have been, and continue to be, fearful of judgment. Alcohol continues to be a taboo subject. I’m not sure why. In this modern day, alcohol is everywhere. Pretty much everyone I know drinks, and drinks regularly, often to excess. It seems stitched into the fabric of our world, drinking. Then again, I might be seeing what I want to see.

The more I talk about this topic, the more stories I stumble upon. I am meeting more and more people who drink very sparingly. People (women mainly) who will go to dinner and savor one glass. People who will maybe have one cocktail a week. These people fascinate me. Alcohol, and wine in particular, has always been something I’ve loved. Always something I’ve wanted to lose myself in. My philosophy with this (and other things, some far more positive) has always been: More is better.

But I’m learning. About myself. That’s what this is all about. Figuring out who I am. Not who I should be, but who I actually am. It’s a really staggering thing to begin to scratch the surface of identity, to strip it all away, and stand back and say, Yup, that’s me.

The most wonderful thing I’m experiencing right now is the utter lack of judgment I feel when I think about, and talk about, this topic. I know people who drink far too much or nothing at all. I have friends in AA and friends who binge drink. I have friends who say they know they drink too much, but aren’t interested in, or are unable, to stop. I am getting so many emails from people who are worried about themselves and their habits and I read every word and it just strikes me: We all have stuff. We all have a story.

I will continue to write about this and talk about this because I don’t think enough people are. Drinking is something that is here and here to stay in our world. It affects body and mind and work and family and relationships. It touches, importantly, on health and happiness. It matters, this thing. And hugely. And it is my deep belief that most of us struggle with it, this thing, however slightly, however indirectly. It is a hovering presence in our immediate or more extended worlds. A shadow. It is there. Here.

I am happy to be where I am. At this point of clarity on what is good for me, on what I need to do. I will go on the record and say that I think it is a bummer that I will not be drinking, but it is a bummer of which I’m already fond. My bummer. I wish that I had an uncomplicated relationship with this nebulous thing, but I don’t. And that’s that. That’s okay.

I had this wonderful conversation yesterday with a new, but already dear friend. Jamie and I talked a bit about drinking, but so much more, and on a park bench not far from here, we concluded that we all have our baggage. My baggage needs luggage, Jamie said. We laughed. Thank goodness for laughter.

Anyway, the point of this meandering post is that I will continue to tell my story and ask you for yours. I think there is an immense, if ineffable power, in telling our stories, in honoring them, and, yes, editing them in ways that might make them better. So, if you have a story, tiny or big, tragic or happy, about you or someone you know, please share it here in the comments or email me at aidandonnelleyrowley[at]gmail[dot]com.

How cool would it be if we actually went there, and had this important conversation? If we talked and listened, just wrote, and just read, and forgot all about judgment?

A pipe dream? Perhaps. But like the bummer, it is mine.

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Why do you think people are unwilling to talk openly and truthfully about drinking? Why do you think it continues to be such a stigmatized subject? Has your life been touched at all by drinking?

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35 Comments for: "Drinking & Judgment"
  1. I think it’s wonderful you’re digging deep into this topic. I’m German, Irish, Scottish and Cherokee, so needless to say, alcohol is something in my veins, and not always in a good way. Yes, I think we should have these important conversations, but I’m not sure if we should do it with the desire to feel absolutely no judgment. After all, sometimes we actually ARE in trouble, and might need that stinging glare from the woman across the room to signal that we need help. Sometimes, lack of “judgment” is really just another way to enable. Just my thoughts. And I have many on this topic. Thanks for the chance to participate!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, Cat. And wow. This is already so good. You are right; sometimes, there needs to be some judgment, some objectivity. Some people are in real trouble. And some people are in no trouble at all. I guess my particular interest is the troubled middle in which many of us swim. Those of us who do a complicated dance between moderation and excess, those of us who don’t quite fit the categories of Fine and Not Fine.

      But. You are right that we need to use our critical judgment with this, as with all things. I guess I should have been more articulate maybe and say that what we need is kindness. People who are struggling do not need our judgment (of badness, weakness, etc), but they need our kindness, our hand, our help.

      And as for the enabling thing… Vast, interesting, terrain. We all have enablers in our lives. We are all enablers sometimes. I think we all probably go through life enabling ourselves in some regard, explaining why what we are doing (or not doing) is okay.

      Thank you for participating. Hope you continue to do so!


  2. Keely GRACIE

    Hello Sunday Mornings?
    Or, Hello New Year’s Day?
    Thank you for keeping your focus as it is a voice that is appreciated! You see it as vain, but it’s your vulnerability that sets YOU apart! That. And your passion….
    Hello tomorrow morning? Question mark?
    That is the question some times?

    Keep exploring beautiful! xox

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you!! It’s all about the question marks, isn’t it?? I plan to keep exploring & hope you & others will do it with me. Xox

  3. Yes. You know I’m a believer in going there, wherever there is. And in talking about the tough things, the gray things, the questions. I’m glad you’re doing so. xo

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, you. I know, and cherish the fact that, you are a fellow member of Team Gray. What do you think your “thing” is? The thing you struggle with most? I don’t want to put you on the spot, so feel free to ignore. Just curious 🙂


      • I’m sure my thing is being really present, staying HERE when I am uncomfortable, using the myriad distractions that are available to all of us at any given moment to be elsewhere.

        • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

          I honestly think we all struggle with this, particularly those of us immersed in this odd ether of social media, right? Really important to think about. xxo

          • Yes, though oddly social media hasn’t really gotten in the way for me – I used to be way more distracted and not-present, when there wasn’t an iphone in my hand!

  4. I will always be happy to “go there” with you… So happy that you thought enough of our take yesterday to include it in this post – in this conversation. It is true that we all have our baggage, and that some of us have enough to require luggage, but it is ours. To open and explore and consider – when we are ready.

    It sounds like you are more than ready.
    xoxo, j.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Cheers to going there again & again. And cheers to baggage, too. We all have it so why not carry it out in the open. It’s exhausting trying to hide it, pretend it doesn’t exist. And how boring is a person or a character without a bit o’ baggage? Thanks, you. Xox 🔑🔑

  5. This post has come at a perfect time for me. I’m working on a memoir about love but alcohol is a huge part of the story. It’s so glaringly obvious in the chapters that center around this particular relationship that the memoir focuses on. It’s making me think about drinking and relationships and love and life, so thank you. I’m excited to read about your journey into this wineless world, again as I write about a painful relationship that centered on drinking and sex.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Your story sounds very intriguing! I’m happy that my post came at a good time. Maybe it’s always a good time to think about things that matter? Xox

  6. I’ve been wanting to take some time to write topic on my own blog for sometime but haven’t found my footing. Alcohol consumption and learning to have a healthy perception of my own drinking and those around me has been a theme in my life for the past several years. I had a bit of a come to jesus moment with my wine drinking four years ago- struggling with lack of self worth, and direction and a cloudy artist mind that was being extra clouded by the drink- I went to see a counselor fearing I was an alcoholic because I drank every day, not wildly but I couldn’t go a day without beer or wine. & Not all day long but if I wasn’t working- alcohol was happening. She challenged me to take 30 days without any drinking- which pissed me off and made me sad. She also recommended I attended AA- just to listen. Long story short- on my 45th day of what I decided would be a 90 day no alcohol time of self balance, I learned I was pregnant with my first child. I continued to see the counselor, and was relieved when she let me know that I was, in fact, NOT an alcoholic like my mother had been in my childhood, and told me to go on living my life. It was over a year and a half before I had my first glass of wine after that first day of deciding to challenge myself, and alas I have mastered the art of just one drink. It’s been four and a half years since my last hang over. The power that alcohol can have over us is staggering. Overall, I think that is the thing I have taken from my experience- as in any relationship, don’t give up your power.

    I could go on and on.
    I knew there was reason I found you in this season!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Wow. Such a story. Would love to talk to you more about all of this @ some point. I’m encouraged & intrigued to hear about your evolution, that you’ve reached a place where your relationship w alcohol is less fraught. I do hope you write about it. I for one would be very eager to read your words. xox

    • Wow Nicolette, you really nailed it with: “…as in any relationship, don’t give up your power.” That’s exactly what it is with alcohol, a very delicate dance, whether you know you’re dancing or not.

  7. Oh I find this topic so interesting. I think there is this huge mistake we make that we are either alcoholics or not but there is so much area in between. There have been two times in my life when I know I had a problem — I lived in Moscow, Russia in my 20s and drank way too much then when my oldest daughter was a toddler (after nursing), I think I drank too much. Now, I can have just one drink so I know I’m not an alcoholic but I think I probably drink too much in that it is too often. I have atleast one glass of wine every day, some times two. I don’t want to give it up because I enjoy thinking about it in a social way… going out for a drink, or enjoying wine with a fabulous meal. But I also use it for something to look forward to at the end of the day. What was the hardest part for you to give up? The glass of wine to wind down the day or the drinks socially?

    I’m a teacher so I think I might use the school year as a fresh start to say I only drink socially. On a practical, less philosophical realm — I find iced herbal tea in the afternoon is a great treat. I love black tea too but think the caffeine might make it hard to sleep. I look forward to reading what more people have to say. Thanks for giving us a safe place to talk about this.

    • Oh one more thing. Both sides of my family has alcoholics in it so I think that is why I make the mistake of saying “oh, I’m not a drunk so I must be ok.” I think what you are talking about is happening to so many of us women so I appreciate your honesty. I think the thing I relate most with you about giving it up is I would find myself saying “it’s a bummer I’m not drinking.”

      • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

        Thanks so much for your words, Sarah. I do think drinking is a gray area for many people, and maybe women in particular? I think I am just more fascinated by the topic of motherhood & drinking so admit that my perspective might be skewed… Walking away from wine the first time, and now again, was both really easy and pretty hard. Easy because after a bit of time I just feel so good that it far outweighs any desire to back. Hard because alcohol has always been a big part, and often a very positive part of my life. I have so many fond, wine-soaked memories of my college days, weddings, etc… I do miss the wind-down glass a bit. I do miss clinking a glass with friends and loosening up a bit. All of that said, this feels great and I’m happy to be doing it. Writing about it also brings me immense satisfaction. The very idea that my words are reaching others adds an important layer of meaning.

        Thank you. xxo

  8. What strikes me about this post is that you think people aren’t willing to talk about drinking. I don’t disagree – some people definitely have trouble openly talking about alcohol. But, that’s not true for all people.

    I can and will tell you all you’d ever want to know about the role alcohol has played and currently plays in my life (in a nutshell, I started drinking in college and drank like a fish; was a social drinker in my 20s; and, as I rounded the bend into my 30s, I have drinks here and there, but maybe once or twice a month). I think most of the people I call friends would be open to discussing the role alcohol plays in their lives, too.

    And that’s because alcohol is merely an accessory to our wardrobe. We might have a drink with dinner. We might not. But, it doesn’t define our meal or our friendships or our experiences. And we don’t judge one another (nor jump to the conclusion that someone is pregnant) if someone opts out of having a drink. I think discussing alcohol becomes problematic when people feel they might be judged for the role which alcohol plays in their lives. They aren’t ready to face whatever truth they think others will put in front of them, so they don’t discuss it.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I so appreciate this comment, Nilsa, and it really has me talking. I think that you are right that there are probably a lot of people who are willing to talk about drinking. But I do wonder if the people who are most comfortable doing so are those who really do have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about drinking, where drinking is really just another thing, an accessory like you say. My hunch, and I admit that I could be totally off on this, is that those of us who have a more complicated relationship with alcohol (one that includes moments of doubt/shame/guilt/self-loathing) have a harder time opening up about it because maybe it is scary to do so? Scary because of judgment, yes, but maybe because putting words to something might take it to a different level of existence.

      I think something needs to change is the black and white overlay of the discussion… There are many, many people who struggle with things who aren’t addicted to them, but we live in a culture that likes labels. I think some of us are afraid to be open because we are afraid of the labels. I know that I have felt this way at times, and still do.

      I also think that this topic just really isn’t all that interesting for some people. For those who are lucky enough that alcohol really hasn’t touched their lives this is possibly a discussion that doesn’t inspire and I respect that.

      I am totally rambling now, so cutting myself off, but thank you for making me think.


      • I definitely agree with: “… putting words to something might take it to a different level of existence” and this: “I think some of us are afraid to be open because we are afraid of the labels.” You are totally right that we are addicted to labels and categorizing and generalizing … and the reality is we are all individuals with unique relationships (with people, careers, hobbies, etc.). And that’s what I really love about this post and your willingness to discuss your own experiences on this blog … you open up the conversation … you open up the possibility there are situations the rest of us haven’t considered … you make this a safe place for people to discuss things they might not be willing or ready to discuss elsewhere … for many people, the conversation must start somewhere and ADR is a pretty great place to get the ball rolling.

    • I found your comment interesting because I feel that you are lucky you don’t have friends who will jump to the conclusion that if you’re not drinking, you’re pregnant. I know this is not true for my friends and I assume my situation is similar to others. In my 30s–this child bearing time–if a friend doesn’t order a drink with dinner, we all assumed that. That’s why when I was pregnant, I told people right away over dinner before anyone could gossip later about if I was or not. This probably says a lot about my friendships and the importance of drinking to them/in them, but I think that’s a reality for a lot of women, maybe I’m wrong though. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this. Now, most of my friends are done having kids, so I don’t think we’d all jump to that conclusion. But drinking has always been a huge part of my social life and friendships and relationships, but I’ve never considered myself an alcoholic. I think most people fall in this grey area of addiction that others have mentioned and that’s why I’m so interested in this topic too.

      • I don’t think your situation is unusual at all, Evelyn. In fact, as you suggest, it’s probably quite normal for a lot of people. I was merely suggesting that “normal” for some people doesn’t involve drinking at all or involves drinking, but at a level where talking about the role alcohol plays in their lives is a non-issue. And, I agree with you that just because alcohol does have a role in your life, it doesn’t mean alcohol plays the starring role, either. Aidan definitely opened a very interesting door – most of our lives aren’t black and white – and it’s sort of fascinating to discover all the many grays.

  9. you KNOW i would love to write something for you. btw, I may be showing up in sweaty spinning clothes. Will you pretend not to know me? 😉

    Let’s talk tomorrow about it! xoxo

  10. Sarah

    Aidan, your honesty on this topic is meaningful. xoxo

  11. annabelle

    The thing I love most about your blog, is that it helps me remember that I am not alone in my efforts to break my attachment to alcohol, and I can tell myself ‘Aidan has been here, too’. And I hope from all the comments that you get, that you know you are not alone either, when you are doing as you are right now by having a break from alcohol.

  12. I applaud your courage in talking about this topic. It opens up a forum for those who maybe contemplating this same issue. That’s what so wonderful about the blogosphere.

    I am curious about the stories that you are collecting. For the last two years, I am living on the opposite side of the coin. I prefer not to drink and in certain circles I feel like there is a stigma because I abstain from alcohol. I’ve heard, “Have a drink, don’t be boring or Why wouldn’t you want to drink?” I sense, especially around a group of drinkers, that when I am not holding the wine glass in my hand, it makes them feel uncomfortable. In turn, I feel bad for not drinking.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this very personal issue.
    And thank you for taking risks in your writing space.

    • I very much appreciate your issues with alcohol (or the lack of it), Rudri. As I mentioned in my comment above, I don’t drink very much. And I have certainly felt the stares when I opt out of drinking at a bar. I have always shrugged off any suggestion that I need a drink in my hands in the same way I shrug off the suggestion that I need to order dessert just to make my husband feel better that he’s ordering dessert. I generally say it’s fine that they’re drinking/eating sweets even though I’m not. It’s a subtle way of giving permission, of saying “you’re fine” without my own need to join in.

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  14. Karin

    When a number of years ago I went for several months without drinking hoping to lose a little weight, my friends were very negative about my choice. I wasn’t “being fun.” I had trouble seeing I was doing anything different than not drinking the drinks. I wasn’t, after all, asking anyone else to do the same.

    This time around I am doing it because I know it’s a more healthy choice for me (which has nothing to do with weight as that’s under control). Once I had a few months under my belt to find my way without alcohol, I took the time to express my reasons to my closest friends. All I found was support. This is coming from the same people. What a joyous surprise!

    I will grant you this is enough years later, we’re all a little more mature. I feel respected. I’m allowed to make my non-drinking choice while respecting their choices may not be the same. I’m not in-your-face about “I’m not drinking.” I am merely, “No thank you.” With someone who doesn’t know my story, I’m likely to say, “Not right now.” I find that helps put the next person at ease.

    I am mostly quietly leading by example, modeling a life that shows a wonderfully robust, yes FUN, life is attainable without alcohol. I’ll likely remember the conversation we had last night with a clear mind. I’ll be more tuned into you because I’m not sitting across from you trying to chase a buzz that may be elusive. I’ll feel my pain. I’ll feel my joy. I’ll feel what’s in between.

  15. This blew me away. SO MUCH. I have been thinking about it since you wrote it just as I have been thinking about your “messy” post all summer. I initially replied to that post saying that I prefer life “clean” now, and I thought that was true. BUT as the summer rolled out, I was SO aware of the ways I get messy in order to avoid the uncomfortable moments in life whether it’s eating half a pint of ice cream or vegging out in front of the TV when it would make me feel better to go for a walk.

    I also love that you write it’s a bummer to give up a habit but it’s my bummer. So beautiful!!! I don’t really binge drink but I am seeing that alcohol is not my friend. It affects my sleep, it makes me feel groggy, and while most nights I have a single drink, I also have those messy moments where I reach for another glass. I have gone through dry periods because I’ve been so inspired by you and I just love the spiritual roots of your abstinence. Gabrielle Bernstein said something about how when you give something up because you are white-knuckling it, there is just chaos. But if you give something up because you feel compelled by your spirit, it’s beautiful. I just love your essays on drinking because even if we aren’t drinkers, there is always SOMETHING for us. In my case, my something is sugar. Ugh.

    Here’s to being gentle with ourselves and yet full of integrity, to aligning our core with our hearts. xoxo

  16. As someone relatively new to drinking, I find myself still slightly inexperienced when it comes to alcohol. I’m 24 so the privilege of legally drinking is new to me. And I have always approached alcohol with caution. I have seen it do horrible things to friends. I find myself enjoying the process of discovering drinking which is where I would say I am. I don’t know much about alcohol. I love trying new drinks. But I’m lucky in that I never really find myself dipping into excess. I don’t ever miss alcohol if I go a period without having it. And because of that, I don’t think of it as something I would ever actively focus on giving up.

    But I like this post. Because you have me thinking about story and all of the things that can make up a story. You have me thinking about how something that seems to play a minor role in my life might actually be playing a huge role in someone else’s life. Perspective.

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