Cutting Down on Alcohol (Repost)

My next post plans to address my rallying resolve toward quitting drinking altogether. So I thought I’d start with a re-post from an older blog of mine to share a past attempt I made at reducing my drinking.

Since my first Temple Stay experience, I’ve committed to reducing my drinking.

It began during an evening chanting session.  During such gatherings, I sat and listened to a monk’s call-and-response with fellow Korean speakers.  They started with a happiness prayer – promising to do your best, honor teachers and mentors, and live true to the Dharma.

Who’s thirsty?

Next, the “congregation” recited the “5 Precepts of Buddhist Asceticism.”

These five precepts prescribe a healthy and wholesome life.  

Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t trivialize sexual activity, don’t lie, and don’t compromise mindfulness with intoxicants.

In a more positive expression, the precepts ask us to respect life, take only what belongs to us, engage in sex with mindfulness and responsibility, tell the truth, and maintain a clean and unencumbered mind.

I’m not a Buddhist. (Though I once said as much to excuse myself from soju shots during a teacher dinner. Awkwardness prevailed).  

However, I do strive to respect, appreciate, and integrate Buddhist principles into my life. Concepts like impermanence, non-attachment, and mindfulness have have revitalized my life perspective.  

However, when a teacher asks me “what is your religion,” I don’t the Korean translation of “I’m non-religious but embrace some Buddhist practices for the sake of maintaining a healthy body and mind.”

Visiting Mihwangsa Temple reified my spiritual practice and inspired me to commit to daily meditation practices.  On top of meditation, I also feel connected to alcohol temperance and plant-based meals.

Since the beginning of this year, my alcohol use has tapered off.  3-bottle soju benders became relics of my fresh, fawn-eyed Korean genesis.

Since committing to cutting down, I I notice positive changes in my life.

For one, my sleep improves in bounds.  Research suggests that even light alcohol consumption can disrupt our brain’s ability to transition between sleep stages (especially all-important REM sleep).  It explains why one wakes up “feeling tired” after a night of drinking despite not feeling “hungover.”

Second, abandoning a long-held social crutch challenges me to discover my authentic self.  When I contemplated sobering up in the past, the fear of an awkward, boring life roped me back to the bottle.

However, when I push through the initial discomfort of sitting in a bar sober, I find surprising peace and comfort.  I am still capable of laughing, making jokes, engaging in conversation, and forging connections without liquid courage coursing through my veins.

Judgment has been largely non-existent (especially among my fellow foreign peers). If anything, abstinence lends itself to fruitful conversation.

One downside is the rapid onset of fatigue around 11:00 (which alcohol would postpone until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning). Still, this is a small price to pay.  I appreciate waking up on Saturday and Sunday mornings with a clear, rested mind. Now, I rarely waste Sundays puttering on YouTube and eating my feelings after Saturday-night benders.

Additionally, sitting with destructive thoughts in a sober state is crucial for personal growth.  While I once quelled the persistent din of negative self-talk with mindless distraction on weekdays and alcohol on weekends, sobriety forces me to work through pervasive feelings of inadequacy and failure.

Without alcohol and its CNS-depressing effects, I lean on diverse forms of meditation and journaling to encourage healthy introspection.

Moreover, slowing my drinking allows me to re-invent my former young-adult identity – a “fun-loving dive bar habitué.”  Sober breaks provide space for other facets of identity to flourish. I am a son, a friend, a teacher, a writer, an exercise aficionado, and a lifelong learner.  Rather than tear my sense of self down, these facets contribute to building me up into a man I can be proud of.

After long contemplation, I decided the benefits of drinking do not outweigh the costs.  Moreover, I can manifest the benefits of alcohol (social lubrication and confidence) in a sober state through consistent practice.  As a continue to push my comfort zone to new limits, my sober social confidence will someday surpass its drunken foil.

And yet I have not yet surrendered alcohol in full. I still enjoy meeting friends for a beer or two. I may stay out later than I want once ever few months. Once a year, a December teacher trip hearkens be back to drunken days of yore.

Change can be slow. We live life by our own timeline. While health or relationship concerns may accelerate change in some, rapid change is not always a mandate. Despite my occasional dabbles in drinking, I still envision myself a future teetotaler.

Life is most fulfilling when we challenge ourselves to improve and live in accordance with our values.  I value a strong body and healthy mind. But alcohol has long contradicted this belief.

Although it’s not always easy, temperance is ideal. For me.

Sobriety is for everyone. Many enjoy alcohol responsibly and lead very productive and fulfilling lives.

But when we challenge our character assumptions (I need alcohol to have fun) and experiment with different lifestyle choices, the results may surprise us.

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