sip of sunshine

What I Learned About Drinking: The Summer of Love

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I was dating a woman who drank. Not like the main antagonist, but daily. Recreationally. As part of “fun.”

What I Learned About Drinking

I would not call myself a drinker. I have a bottle of tequila in my kitchen that I bought over a year ago. I like a margarita every now and then, but it’s not really part of my routine. I’d prefer to say sober and get some creative time in after the entertainment part of the evening is done.

What do you love to do with your person? If the answer is drinking, I hope it’s the same answer for both of you. Because, if your partner is a drinker and you are not… Well, there are going to be disconnections. We never fought about drinking, and my “enjoys drinking” girlfriend. But we didn’t really see the issue the same. She and her family used to like to joke about me and my “not really a drinker” stand. But, this was during the summer of the pandemic, when we visited her younger brother in a different state.

As we headed up into the virus-less country, I made a conscious decision to let it all hang out. We were in the middle of what could be the last months on Earth, why not drink with my girlfriend’s family? Right?

The End of Day Salute

The end of the day came at different times depending on the day of the week. On weekdays, usually, 4 pm would come with the pop of a cap on one of the regional IPAs with about 2X the alcohol of a normal beer. The one I really fell in love with, A Sip of Sunshine, a 16-ounce tallboy that was equivalent to 3 beers. Nice. And yum. And “whoa, I’m a bit fkd up, right now.”

As the tabs would be popped all around the house, I too would join in. I wanted to be social, I wanted to be “high” so I didn’t have to think about the pandemic, and I wanted to be close to my girlfriend. If she’s having a beer, I’m having a beer. I began drinking daily that summer. I was curious. Would I like it? Would I find myself unable to resist the devil’s elixir?

The summer breezed by. We did our best to keep things light. We played with the kids. We hit the hot tub, the tennis courts, and the mountain path. We did a summer routine. And for me, for the first time in my life, I drank every single afternoon alongside my girlfriend and her brother’s family.

I began to get the routine down. I did enjoy the buzz that came with the Sip of Sunshine. I enjoyed my girlfriend’s company. I enjoyed drinking with them. We were all drinking together. It was a tribal thing. I guess. Except it was not. There were aspects of the daily drinking that were troubling me, even as I was leaning in.

I don’t want to be high all the time. And I don’t like waking up foggy every morning.

I was enjoying the time with my extended family doing what they loved to do. But it wasn’t what I loved to do. When you start drinking at 4 pm every day, things begin to become rather predictable. Around 6 pm someone would start talking about getting dinner ready. And if things had not moved toward actually doing dinner by 7:30, one of the more-sober parents would begrudgingly start banging pots and pans around in the kitchen.

What Do You Talk About When Drunk?

I’m not saying my family got drunk every night that summer. I’m saying, i got a bit drunk every night on that trip. And I understood, for the first time, how the routine becomes a habit, and how the habit of drinking becomes a trap. I don’t think the beer was giving them the same lightness I was experiencing. For me it was novel, it was different. For them, it was just life.

If you drink each day of your life, you’re taking the special part of drinking (the buzz) and making it routine. The daily tab pop and toast to “the summer,” became less of a celebration and more of a time-keeping datapoint. “Yes, at some point in the next few hours, an adult is going to have to focus on dinner.”

And what I noticed, as folks get more boozed up, their stories began to run on repeat. It seems that drinking topics often include: old lovers, old high school or college stories, old sports stories. That’s about it. There’s a nostalgic mind that overtakes our rational mind and suddenly we’re all trapped listening to stories of past glories. Why? I don’t know. But there’s something about a drunk telling a story about being drunk in college, and all the fun stuff they did, that makes the fun stuff we’re doing seem pretty boring.

Drinking becomes boring when you do it every day. Drinking becomes part of the day, always. Once the first tab is pulled, we were on our way to someone getting mad, someone passing out, and someone falling asleep before dinner was on the table. This was not my normal routine. I dipped my toe in, but even as it was in progress, I told my girlfriend, “This is fun and all, but I don’t think I’m that much of a drinker.” She would laugh and grab me another Sunshine from the fridge in the garage.

If Drinking Is What You Love Doing

As I’ve been looking for a lover, I have learned that doing what you love together is really important. It is not mandatory that my girlfriend play tennis, but if she does! And it’s not essential that my new girlfriend be sober, but if taking a week off from drinking is a hardship, I’m thinking we weren’t really meant to be together long-term anyway.

Maybe there’s more to it. Maybe, I’m carrying a lot of trauma around drinking. My dad and brother were both alcoholics. My last fiancé loved wine more than she loved being with me. And my summer of drinking was fun, but it was the last of the good times in that relationship. I joined well. But, I was not intending on learning to day drink. And I didn’t really enjoy the conversations after everyone was drinking.

Drinking is okay. For me, it’s an occasional event. Your experience of drinking is up to you. But if it’s about what we’re going to do TOGETHER, drinking is probably not going to form a large part of our essential connection. In fact, drinking is the antithesis of connecting.

A year earlier in the same relationship, I took a #SoberOctober challenge before a trip up to visit the younger brother. It was a lot easier on that trip to observe the silliness of inebriated people. It’s no wonder drinking people like everyone to drink with them. When you’re not drinking the conversations are stupid, circular, and the same damn stories every single night.

Drink If You Want To

Like all fun things, drinking is okay if it’s an escape. Treating your alcohol intake with care is about being aware of how it dulls your awareness, limits your ability to connect with others, and how often becomes an addiction rather than a celebration. That summer, the drinking felt like an ongoing party. Sure, I’ll have another beer, we’re all having a beer.

We had a fun summer. I knew I was out of my element, but I grooved with it. As we left the East to head back to Texas, I knew I would not be continuing the day drinking or even the daily drinking. There was too much I wanted to accomplish creatively to start throwing my evenings off to debauchery. I loved some of the moments. I recall some really good moments together, drinking with my girlfriend.

I also learned that drinking is not a life path that’s going to bring you much joy. And as you get more routine about your nightly start, you get less intentional about what you want to do with your free time. You wanna get lit, right?

Not exactly.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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