Sex (And Life) Is Better Without Alcohol

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Growing up I remember my great-grandmother having her drink every day at 4 pm in a tall glass that I used for drinking milk — 3/4 red wine, 1/4 water. At her 88th birthday party, she was sitting on the grass in a wicker folding chair, and just as her drink was handed to her, the chair folded up.

She fell to the ground and somehow managed to not break a bone or spill a drop of her drink. My uncle would tell this story with a drink in his hand and laugh so hard he needed to wipe his eyes. I heard this and understood that alcohol brings happiness and is worth sacrificing your body to protect.

We inherit the experiences of at least three generations of our ancestors in our DNA, and all three of mine are Irish Catholic and drank too much. Alcohol isn’t a small thing to my body. It feels like the scaffolding of my nervous system has a lot of Budweiser, red wine, and Beefeater dry gin in it.

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I don’t remember my first drink, but I was probably five. I’m told they found me ‘asleep’ in the coat closet after I sneaked around my parents’ holiday party sampling adult refreshments. I was fourteen the first time I got drunk on purpose.

My parents had a big party, and I took two beers every hour and hid them behind the furnace (it took me a few years to figure out that I could take all ten at once and no one would notice). The next weekend, after my parents had gone to bed, my best friend and I sat on the floor in the triangle between the couch, the coffee table, and the lazy boy and drank five beers each. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember that we both cried and when I tried to stand up I fell over the lazy boy and threw up on the carpet.

I continued drinking heavily until my early 30s when I started teaching yoga. I was living in Afghanistan and a friend asked me to fill in teaching her evening class on the UN compound. It wasn’t at a yoga studio and no one paid. It was just a group of people wanting some yoga. That’s how I justified drinking a gin and tonic before class. I almost fell over demonstrating a triangle pose and I laughed about that with my friends, but the hypocrisy I felt about myself was so excruciating that I started to drink less.

Me and my grandmother

By the time I stopped drinking I was 42 and a lot like my great-grandmother, a dedicated one drink-a-day kind of gal. And what I can see looking back, is that whether I had one drink or five, the pattern was the same. I would spend a lot of time looking forward to it and a lot of energy trying to be cool about that. And then the glorious delight of it finally being time and my body softening at the first sip; my chest lighter and more open, and for a brief moment everything was going to be okay.

With a few more sips a daydreamy, floaty mind would creep in and eventually linger into a sleepy, lonely, and slightly checked-out feeling. As that wore off, there was only the worry that wouldn’t leave me alone — the part of me that knew my drinking was a problem. And the sad little pit in my stomach.

The background hum of shame and melancholy was like the wallpaper in my parent’s bathroom. I didn’t like it, but I also didn’t think about it that much and it never occurred to me that I could change it. And then I got off that tragic little rollercoaster that every cell of my being knew so well; and dropped a substance that had been organizing my emotions since long before I was even born.

I have experienced every benefit purported in the quit lit: better sleep, better sex, more self-confidence, improved well-being. What I didn’t expect, was no longer needing a vibrator to have an orgasm during sex. My body only ever knew the predictable up and down of life disrupted and controlled by alcohol — and I was sort of free falling without it. And that is what changed my orgasm, the ability to release into the free fall of a life not controlled by a substance.

The slow steady build-up of orgasm without a vibrator is terrifying — or it was because that build-up requires me to stay present with something I can’t control and don’t know where it’s going. I was probably thirteen the first time I used a vibrator. My mom was a math teacher and came home one day with a vibrating pen. I remember sneaking into her office with a tingle of excitement and shamefully putting it back exactly as I had found it not too long later.

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I never questioned the ‘sure-thing’ climax a vibrator provided me. Until all of a sudden, about six months after my last drink, I didn’t want to reach for the predictable outcome of the vibrator. I didn’t plan it or set out to do it. The vibrator just started to feel in the way. And I started being able to stay in my body, to feel my body, to feel safe enough to stay at the pace of my body — with my husband, and his body, and we started having orgasms at the same time. I had never done that before and always wanted to.

The unconscious story playing out, “If I can’t control it then I’m not safe” — is true in an alcohol-addicted home. The story that, “I can’t trust myself” is also true with substance use. There is a good reason we shouldn’t use heavy machinery or send important work emails when drinking — we can’t be trusted.

I didn’t even know these stories were there, or what they were holding me back from until I stopped using the substance that made them true. Pema Chodron describes addiction as anything we reach for to avoid a feeling we can’t tolerate. The intensity, even when it was exciting and felt good, scared me. And I only needed one drink to keep myself tethered to that deep groove in my nervous system.

I grew up believing that hitting rock bottom, face first, was the only reason to stop drinking. That being forced to give up alcohol would be a tragic loss. That I would be bored and alone, white-knuckling my way through a sad little thirsty life. I believed there are alcoholics, who want to drink but can’t because there is something wrong with them; and normal people, who can drink as much as they want and never have a problem. Years ago, a family friend actually said, “I can drink as much as I want because I’m not an alcoholic.”

Of course, that isn’t true. Alcohol is an addictive substance, and addiction is progressive. Just because we find ways to make our lives work around our drinking, doesn’t mean our drinking isn’t a problem or that it’s making us happy. For me, it took losing someone I love to an overdose to finally see alcohol for what it is, an imposter. A toxic and addictive depressant cleverly disguised as happiness.

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Alcohol wasn’t ruining my life, but it was diminishing it, and I was addicted. And every aspect of my life — including my orgasm — is more wild and free without it.

Addiction is progressive and so is sobriety. Slowly, over time, and with repeated experiences we can and do re-pattern our nervous system. I stopped drinking a year ago, but I’ve been working on getting sober for at least a decade, and true sobriety means so much more than the absence of alcohol. It means coming closer to the nature of reality. It means I don’t need things to be more predictable than they are to feel safe. It means I can bake cookies with my kids and not lose my shit.

When my four-year-old drops an egg and it feels like things are spiraling out of control and my one-year-old puts his hand in it, and that familiar rush of fear and anxiety is so strong, and I feel panicked to make it stop — I can stay a few breaths longer. And sometimes, one year into being free from alcohol, I don’t lose my shit at all. Sometimes it’s genuinely fun. And that is the experience I want to share with three generations — the grounded freedom of true sobriety.

If you have that voice that won’t let you alone, wondering if you’re drinking is a problem, I really want you to hear that sobriety is not the prison of boredom mainstream culture would have you believe. Freedom from alcohol means endless nights of deep dream-filled sleep, waking up bright-eyed, sturdy, without a hangover — and if you have them, ready to be more patient and enjoy your kids.

You don’t need to be in a ditch bleeding out to decide it’s a good time to stop drinking. And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can just drink a little less and see how it goes. And you don’t have to be addicted or have a family history of addiction for it to be a good idea. My husband stopped drinking before I did because he was training for a 150mile trail run. For him, he just feels better, and that’s enough.

Like anything else, you will learn a lot about your relationship with alcohol when you leave it. So why not try and find out? You never know, you might just surprise yourself with a great orgasm.

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Meghann McNiff is a professional coach and co-founder of the Seattle Coaching Collective.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.