Why I Believe Alcohol Needs to Stay Out of the Yoga/Health/Wellness Industry

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Last April, I sent out an email that sparked a lot of emailed and in-person conversations. It was all about how I had given up alcohol seven months earlier, and what I had learned about alcohol in that time. It's now been one year since I last had a drink. Read on to see what I sent out back in April, and then to see where I am one year post-alcohol. 

"I haven't had an alcoholic drink in over seven months. I also live in Wisconsin, the heaviest drinking state in the U.S. I'm not pregnant. So what gives? And will I drink again?

Last year my personal goal at the New Year was to treat myself better: to get into better health; to honor my body, mind and spirit; to act as though I am worthy of the best life has to offer. By mid-summer, I had lost 15-20 pounds, was meditating daily, was living more actively, and was eating cleaner and smaller portions. My energy boosted, my joy increased, my peace was deeper, and more importantly, I believed that I was worthy of love and care. Without this attitude of believing in my worthiness, I would not have made the shift in lifestyle that I did, and I certainly would not have maintained it!

By the time September rolled around, my body had gotten into such an energetic balance that the wine and the whisky I loved so much no longer tasted right. I could feel the vasodilation at the very first sip, and by the second sip, I could feel my energy tip into feeling really off. This had never really bothered me before, so I thought it was my imagination, but every time I tried to sit down to enjoy a drink, the same thing happened, and even my tastebuds weren't having it. Since energy is important to me, I decided to take a little break from alcohol. Little did I realize that seven months later I'd still be on that break!
Serendipitously, I completed my Level 1 Reiki training during this time, and part of the requirement was abstention from alcohol (amongst other energy-changing substances like caffeine and sugar) for a period of time before and after attunement. I took this as confirmation that my energy field needed a break from alcohol, and since I felt amazing, I'd keep on with abstaining.

During these past months, I've educated myself a bit on alcohol. I've always loved wine and love learning about how wine is made, what soils do what to which wines, etc., but that's not the education I'm talking about. This is an education on energy.

I started with the Yoga Sutras and the concepts of ahimsa (non-harm), sauca (purity), and brahmacharya (moderation). I asked myself what these concepts, which I ascribe to as a yoga practitioner and instructor, meant to me personally. How does my energy change with what I feed myself, literally and figuratively? Do I act with pure intention, aligned with my values, if I'm adding alcohol--essentially ethanol , a central nervous system depressant and a legally ingestible drug--to my energy field? Or am I diluting my natural, healthy energy and over time inviting myself into a state of dependence on that depressive state? Brahmacharya has to do with our right use of energy. Why do we do what we do? Is it self-serving? Does it harm us or others? What is our intention, and what are our boundaries? These aren't fun little quizzes to ask oneself! They make us face our best and worst attributes, bringing to light all the hidden nuances we'd rather hoped to just live alongside without dealing with.

I next stumbled upon (don't you just love when life synchronizes like that!?) Ann Dowsett Johnston's book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol . You guys, I read this like a freaking novel! I could not put this down! The author talks about her own journey out of alcoholism, weaving in facts, figures, and other women's stories of alcohol in their lives. She discusses the college generation (1,825 18-24 year olds die from alcohol-related use each year, and about 45% of college students binge drink on the weekends, increasing alcohol-related hospitalizations and rapes. 90% of rapes involve alcohol.), but she doesn't stop there. She lovingly points out that the rest of us are numbing, self-medicating, trying to feel special, working up courage, or soothing ourselves. The one that got me, though (other than trying to feel special--anyone else get Mad Men chic vibes when drinking?) was her note that most of us women turn to drinking to escape from perfectionism. That blew me away with its truth. Paige Cowan, one of the women Johnston interviewed, had this to say.

'I think we're living in a culture that's so demanding: you never feel like you're good enough. It wears people down. People are exhausted at the end of the day. They go home and have a drink as a way to cope with all of this--a lot of people have to self-medicate because it would be hard for them to look in the mirror otherwise. The whole concept of being conscious--that's hard work. A lot of people just don't want to sign up for it.'

Yet that's just it. For me, living not only as a yoga practitioner but also as an instructor, I already signed up to be conscious. To be here, inhabiting the beautiful, the hard, the ebbs and flows of energy boosts and exhaustion. I can look in the mirror when the inner dialogue gets embittered and judgmental and face it head on, challenging it, speaking truth to its lies. I can't do that if I'm self-medicating, even if it's 'just' a drink. So, will I ever drink again? I honestly don't know. I haven't missed it much: only here and there the thought of a nice whisky or wine has challenged me. The other night I was at an event and everyone else had a drink in hand. The air reeked of alcohol. Instead of feeling left out, I rather felt like I do when surrounded by smokers: grateful I'm not partaking. If I do ever partake again, it will be one glass with a meal, to round out an experience and keep from falling back into that 'need' to numb or to feel special. I still even wrestle with that notion, since it involves making alcohol an essential part of a special experience. Why is it alcohol we seek to make events special? Why not a sparkling water or a tea? Something to think about.

With all this being said, does alcohol and yoga mix? For me, it doesn't. Knowing the facts of what alcohol can and is doing to women (some are likening it to a modern marketing version of tobacco), I can't promote a yoga culture that includes alcohol. What does this look like for me? I will not be participating in or promoting events where yoga and alcohol are combined. I will not glibly post a glass of wine on social media in the name of 'balance' (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I will not claim that it's ok to workout so I can have that drink (or cupcake, or muffin, or pizza, but that's another email). For me, there's no justification of a healthy lifestyle AND alcohol, simply because the intent of alcohol can be so detrimental to personal core values. Is this always the case? No, I don't believe so, but I don't want to lead people into thinking that something that can be so detrimental is ok IF it's balanced with working out harder, meditating more, striving more. See how easy it is for that perfectionism to creep in and take charge?

This doesn't mean that I look down on those who drink, or on those who mix yoga and alcohol. I am well aware that a lot of this has more to do with personal intent than on alcohol. Everyone has to come to their own conviction and live from it. Everyone has to be true to who they are and what their values are. All I ask is that you be aware that what you partake of 1. impacts your energy and consciousness, and 2. is being watched by other women who struggle and may feel isolated, by children who learn what is and is not expected or ok. For me, yoga is about liberation. For far too many, alcohol is the antithesis of liberation when they are being completely honest, and being completely honest about alcohol use/abuse is unfortunately under stigma. I want to help erase that stigma.

If you are intrigued but not so sure about this dry life, I highly recommend getting on Instagram and following @tellbetterstories2018,@thesoberglow, @drybeclub, and @hipsobriety for an eye-opening look at the other side of something many of us, myself included, take lightly. And if you have personal questions for me, whether about your own choices or mine, I'm here."

So, where am I one year away from my last drink? Will I take another drink? If so, when? 
The title to this post gives you a big clue as to where I am now. In fact, the more aware I am of alcohol's impact, the more I see it everywhere, and in the weirdest places. Just recently, Yoga Journal ran an ad for an organic wine, which had me and many others scratching our heads. A lot of people come to yoga and/or health and wellness businesses to help heal from addiction. It makes no sense to tempt them or tell them that even in a place they thought they were safe they can't have a complete life without a drink. The health industry is getting in bed with the alcohol industry. Marathons have been pairing up with beer companies for years now, offering a beer at the end of the race as a "reward." Drunk yoga is now a thing. I watched a Facebook Live video of a health and wellness coach joking about how if her cup contained an alcoholic beverage, which she also seemed to imply would be wonderful, she would be face down on her desk within minutes. Fitness and wellness has turned into a drinking game, and I'm tired of it. I'm not the only one, either.
I understand. It seems real and authentic for a fitness/wellness leader to show herself drinking, or to talk about drinking if that's part of her life. I get it and respect it if it's done to truly show her being real and authentic, but I question it when it shows up constantly, or as a joke, or as a reward, or as a gimmick to lure people in: "See, I'm a real person, because I drink to unwind, too!" What message are you sending? If health and wellness is what you are promoting, how does alcohol fit in? All I ask is that fitness and wellness leaders consider carefully where and how they are leading people, and if they are fine with leaving a sincerely health-dedicated portion of the population who are willing to pay for support out of their target audience. As more of the younger generation (see articles here, here, and here) are choosing to avoid alcohol, this may be a big mistake.
Will I drink again? I still don't know; I'm taking it one day at a time. So far, each day has been a resounding, "No!" Since I'm interested in working with energy and promoting health and wellness from the inside out, it really doesn't fit for me. Do I sometimes think about enjoying my favorite whisky, or a glass of wine? Sure. And maybe there will be once or twice a year I do enjoy those. But one thing I've learned in a year without alcohol, and I think it carries over to any bad habit if you're actively replacing it with a good one--if you don't act on the craving, eventually its power lessens. This has at least held true on the energetic sense. As I learn to listen to what my body truly needs and craves, the urge toward alcohol (and sugar, and salt, etc.) is minimized. The body naturally craves what sets it free and nourishes it. 
Like I said earlier, this doesn't mean that I look down on those who drink, or on those who mix yoga and alcohol. Everyone has to come to their own conviction and live from it. Everyone has to be true to who they are and what their values are. As I personally encourage people to live free and healthy lives, I just don't see alcohol creating freedom and health, so I will continue questioning the intention behind it. And if you're wondering--no, I never thought I'd be here with these particular questions, with this particular lifestyle, but here it is. Each journey is unique. If you are curious about the dry life, or wellness, or intentional living in general, reach out. I'm still here, curious myself about the "why" behind choices. Let's dialogue about it, build each other up no matter our choices. 

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