There are so many opportunities for a drink in Shanghai. We have some of the world's best cocktail bars, craft beers seem to flow like the Huangpu and the city's social life orbits around eating and drinking out. In my alternate career as a food writer, I've enjoyed more than my share of wine dinners and cocktail tastings. But recently I took an alcohol sabbatical. For five months I didn't drink, and it made me reflect on why I do in the first place.
Many of us take that first drink at a party to “loosen up”, to socialize more freely, to make small talk with strangers or to have more intimate conversation with friends. There are many truisms about drinking revealed in sayings like “I have mixed drinks about feelings” or “If you can't be happy, at least you can be drunk.”
Here, I share three steps in reconsidering our approach to drinking.
“One reason I don't drink is that I want to know when I am having a good time.” ― Nancy Astor
Honestly examine why you are drinking in the first place. Consider if you could have as much enjoyment if you didn't drink at all. Talk with a trusted friend; ask them "why do you like to drink?" or "what am I like when I'm drinking?" Have an open and vulnerable discussion around alcohol and its costs and benefits in your life.
At my first few sober social gatherings, I felt a pang as I watched others sip drinks and visibly brighten up. But after a bit, I embraced the challenge of finding my internal bubbly spirit and intentionally relaxing without alcohol's handholding. I used those moments when my mind wandered to a tempting drink in someone else's hand as a chance to practice momentary mindfulness, bringing my attention to what emotions and thoughts were arising without rejecting or attaching to them.
“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.” ― G.K. Chesterton, Heretics
If you decide to reduce your drinking, ask a friend to support you as a wingman in non-alcoholic happiness. For social drinkers, peer pressure can be the highest barrier to cutting back. In fact, when you stop drinking, you quickly learn your friends from your drinking companions. Take this as an opportunity to focus more well-deserved attention on those relationships which need no lubrication, so to speak.
“It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.” ― William Shakespeare, Macbeth
The Bard knew that drinking has its drawbacks. When we drink, ethanol enters the bloodstream faster than the liver can break down, affecting nearly every organ, suppressing glutamate and enhancing GABA receptors in the brain, and putting our liver into overdrive as it converts alcohol into toxic acetaldehyde.
If you are going to drink, you can at least choose your poison wisely. In descending order from best to worst for your health are: vodka (distilled and charcoal filtered), gin, tequila, whiskey, dry white wine, liqueurs, red wine, and beer (contains gluten, yeast and often mold toxins). In order to speed your recovery and perhaps even avoid hangover altogether, before each drink, take a 500mg vitamin C and a capsule of N-acetylcysteine (NAC). After a few drinks, take a few capsules of coconut charcoal. (Yes, I actually carry a pill case with all these in my bag). in the morning, a teaspoon of sea salt in a large glass of water will help your recovering adrenal glands raise sodium and drop potassium concentration.
So, what did I learn from my extended sobriety? I learned that I can enjoy a party without the “help” of alcohol, but having a drink does deliver a euphoria that I will indulge in on occasion. I also learned I can drink less often and less quantity and still enjoy the pleasure of a party, resulting in a win-win—my liver gets a break and my practice to soberly enjoy the moment gets some, well, practice.
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