From Temptation to Triumph: A Sober Perspective on Watching Others Indulge in Wine


My husband and I went to City Winery for a 10,000 Maniacs show last night. After a comedy of errors in our dinner plans, we decided to eat at the venue. We did not want to be the first people at the show, so first, we enjoyed dinner in the adjoining restaurant. We got a cute little table right next to the big, roaring fireplace. We had fun ordering a bunch of little plates and sharing. Truffle fries and burrata. Lox flatbread and kale Caesar salad. I had an NA sangria to drink. It was a bunch of tart fruit juices. It looked like an aperol spritz, and it came in a pretty glass. My husband had an Athletic Brew beer. We ended with chocolate mousse and coffee.


Then we headed to the concert room. The seats and tables are really close together at this venue, making for an intimate concert experience. As the name implies, wine is obviously a big theme. The space is full of bottles and barrels as decor. The establishment gives away a signed bottle from the band. Right down the middle of the dinner menu are color coded suggested wine pairings for each dish. 


As a drinker, red wine was my drink of choice. That first sip hit with its boozy, woozy, acidic taste hitting my lips and my tongue. The welcome elixir would slide down my throat, bringing a blanket of relief. The stronger, more astringent, and more bitter, the better. I wanted a punch, not sweetness.


After the first sip, I felt an almost  immediate euphoric letdown in my mind. A release of nerves and a lightness. Alcohol seemed to loosen the chokehold my inner critic had on me. More sips turned to gulps. I loved this feeling of ease and frantically spent the rest of the night chasing it. Then I ended up spending my whole life chasing it. Working around how to get it, when to consume it, and how to keep it. Walking that elusive tightrope of not enough, just right, oops, now too much. 


I watched the woman in front of me last night drink her wine. I wasn’t trying to be a creep. I had a direct view of her when facing the band. As a sober coach, my radar might be up for other people’s drinking, even if unintended. She was reminding me of me. I saw her tilt that big glass to her lips, her nose inhaling the scent of relief coming her way. I was almost tasting it with her. I remembered. Relief in a glass. I saw her chasing the way I did. She lapped her partner on the round of drinks. And again. Grabbing her girlfriends to get up in the middle of the show to use the restroom. Coming back with giggles and more drinks like naughty school girls. Now the show was just background noise. The drinks became the main stage. I could see it happening before me. I have done this a million times. 


I watched these buzzed up women with their arms around each other, getting farther and farther into their own buzzed up states. Their eyes started glazing over, and their voices were getting louder. I watched them with a huge missing inside. It was an ache for the girlfriends I used to drink with. A sharp pain of longing for being part of a threesome each with our own bottomless stemware. I had an almost homesick kind of feeling for the way I once was and will never be again. I felt a huge ache inside as I witnessed these ladies, but it was not for wine. Not at all. It was for a certain kind of connection, belonging, and shared history. It was not for alcohol. I can recognize that now, after 6 years of living authentically alcohol free. 


I could hardly believe it myself. There was a time when this very scene threatened my whole sobriety. I smelled red wine on a plane once from the woman next to me in close quarters and spent the whole flight wondering if I was being so dramatic about this whole alcohol free journey and should just have one drink. I know the tricky grief of letting go of alcohol, your identity, and more, and how much that hurts even when it's the best thing for you.  


Last night, I was wondering for a second if I missed the way alcohol loosens my tightly wound self and if I wanted some of that. I am happy to report that in a room full of my old friends, the wine bottle and barrels, and one beautiful woman seeking solace in her glass, I did not miss a thing. I sang and moved to the music, feeling an ecstasy of my own making. Being fully alive and not dulled down or distracted with alcohol. All the magic I need is right inside of me. I no longer seek an external substance to fix an inner need. This makes me okay with myself, even if I don't always fit in with others. It is  never comfortable to stand out. I still want to fit in with others, but I have to belong to myself first. Sobriety is the best way for me to stay with myself. It is not easy, but I like who I am now, and that matters more than just jumping ship on me and grabbing a glass to avoid questions or discomfort. 


“Desire is hunger, the fire I breathe; love is a banquet on which we feed.” 

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Learn the stages of alcohol intoxication from my local Northwestern Medicine.


Your Brain on Alcohol

Your whole body absorbs alcohol, but it really takes its toll on the brain. Alcohol interferes with the brain's communication pathways. It can also affect how your brain processes information.

There are several stages of alcohol intoxication:

 There is no designated ‘safe’ level of drinking 

— Amanda N. Donald, MD

  1. Subliminal intoxication. With a blood alcohol content (BAC) between 0.01 and 0.05, this is the first stage of intoxication. You may not look like you have been drinking, but your reaction time, behavior and judgment may be slightly altered. Depending on weight, most people enter this stage after one drink.
  2. Euphoria. During the early stages of drinking, your brain releases more dopamine. This chemical is linked with pleasure. During euphoria, you may feel relaxed and confident. But, your reasoning and memory may be slightly impaired. Often referred to as "tipsy," this stage occurs when your BAC is between 0.03 and 0.12.
  3. Excitement. At this stage, with a BAC from 0.08 to 0.25, you are now legally intoxicated. This level of intoxication affects the occipital lobe, temporal lobe and frontal lobe in your brain. Drinking too much can cause side effects specific to each lobe's role, including blurred vision, slurred speech and hearing, and lack of control, respectively. The parietal lobe, which processes sensory information, is also affected. You may have a loss of fine motor skills and a slower reaction time. This stage is often marked by mood swings, impaired judgment, and even nausea or vomiting.
  4. Confusion. A BAC of 0.18 to 0.3 often looks like disorientation. Your cerebellum, which helps with coordination, is impacted. As a result, you may need help walking or standing. Blackouts, or the temporary loss of consciousness or short-term memory, are also likely to occur at this stage. This is a result of the hippocampus, the region of the brain that is responsible for making new memories, not working well. You may also have a higher pain threshold, which may increase your risk for injury.
  5. Stupor. If you reach a BAC of 0.25, you may have concerning signs of alcohol poisoning. At this time, all mental, physical and sensory functions are severely impaired. The risk for passing out, suffocation and injury is high.
  6. Coma. At a BAC of 0.35, you are at risk for going into a coma. This occurs due to compromised respiration and circulation, motor responses and reflexes. A person in this stage is at risk of death.
  7. Death. A BAC over 0.45 may cause death due to alcohol poisoning or failure of the brain to control the body's vital functions.


Noughty DeAlcoholized Wine pictured from Sober in the City, a Zero Proof Experiences Event. I’ve written about these topics before you might enjoy:  


5 Years Sober and I Want a Glass of Wine


Are Alcohol Free Drinks a Tool or a Trigger?


What Nobody Tells You About Friendships in Sobriety


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