As election night approaches, tensions are running higher than third wave COVID infection rates and social media feeds are inundated with jokes and memes about drinking to survive all the drama. “I won’t hear anything on November 4th because, either way, I’ll be hungover,” proclaimed Stephen Colbert in his Late Show monologue on October 26. “Election Night Drinking Game: Drink. Then keep drinking,” suggests a meme on Instagram.
How else can we be expected to endure the night (week?) (MONTH?!) that will be a climactic moment in the dumpster fire of 2020 other than with a bottomless wine glass in hand? Why would we want to? Election night is either a celebration or a pity party, depending on the outcome and how we voted. Either way, we drink, right?
This November 3, I won’t be heading to my wine fridge – and I challenge you to think about going alcohol-free as well. Here are five reasons why I won’t be drinking on election night:
- Alcohol increases anxiety.
During my drinking days, I fully subscribed to the notion that alcohol is the ultimate stress-reliever. I drank to soothe my anxiety. I waited all day to pour my first glass of sauvignon blanc, and relished the feeling of warmth and calm that washed over me as I took my first few crisp sips. But even at the peak of my drinking I could admit that the more I drank, the farther out of reach that initial zen feeling became. As Annie Grace puts it in her book The Alcohol Experiment, “[A]s the alcohol is metabolized, we actually feel more stress than we did when we started. Alcohol leaving the body makes us feel worse. So what do we do? Have another!
“It’s ironic that we drink to relax, because drinking actually adds stress to our lives.” Further, numbing ourselves to the source of our stress and anxiety – such as a high stakes presidential election during a pandemic – does not make the stressor go away; it will just make us feel worse when we get around to dealing with it. Facing the outcome of the election with a clear head in the moment is a proactive way to deal directly with the source of anxiety and ultimately better for our mental health.
- Alcohol numbs the bad stuff – but also the good stuff.
At the risk of jinxing things, imagine for a moment that the election goes the way you want it to go. Visualize the numbers coming in for your candidate, the electoral map turning the color you long to see. Imagine the victory speech, the balloon drop, the pure elation and sweet relief washing over you.
Of course, it could go the other way. And instead of elation and relief, you could be inundated with fear, dread, and disgust. You may want to don your alcohol armor to protect you from the risk of the night going awry (or, almost as bad, the night being too close to call). But if you numb out with alcohol to not feel these bad feelings, you won’t be able to feel the good feelings either. Alcohol does not allow your brain to discriminate between the happy feelings you want to experience and the crappy feelings you don’t. After the year we’ve had, I am ready for some good vibes, and I am willing to risk feeling horrible if that same risk will allow me to feel elation and hope for the future.
- Mocktails are a treat without the trick.
When I first stopped drinking, fearing FOMO, I steered clear of any zero-alcohol wines, beers, or spirits. What’s the point, I wondered, of drinking some calorie-laden concoction without the benefit of the buzz? But as the alcohol-free (AF) days added up, I missed the buzz less and less because I missed the after-effects of drinking not at all. I did, however, miss having something more special than seltzer in my glass to commemorate a special occasion. So I have started exploring the world of AF spirits and mocktails. Seedlip is a current favorite. And if I’m in the mood to toast the outcome of election night you better believe I’ll be sipping a Seedlip Grove and ginger ale. Mocktails are a great way to embrace a celebratory vibe without enduring a hangover the next morning.
- Alcohol ruins sleep.
I wish I could count on one hand the number of nights I woke at 3am, having sweat through my pajamas, my mouth dry and sour, my heart racing, and my shame visceral. Alas, during my drinking days those nights were all too common. Improved sleep is one of the immediate benefits of not drinking, and the impact of solid sleep is profound.
Many of us will probably not sleep well on election night, whether drunk or sober, Democrat or Republican or Independent. The evening promises to be charged with emotion no matter how it goes. So since it’s going to be a short, and likely fitful, night of sleep, I don’t want booze ruining my few precious hours to snooze.
- There is no parental low quite like hiding a hangover from the kids.
Right up there with sour, sweat-soaked 3am wakings among the things I don’t miss about drinking: hiding hangovers from my kids. “Mama’s tummy is just a little upset.” “Mama has a headache.” More like: “Mama feels like absolute crap and wants to hide in my closet until this shame storm passes, but instead I have to look you in the eye and pretend my malaise is not the result of my dysfunctional relationship with an addictive toxin.”
On November 4, many of us will wake up exhausted, and – if the night provides any sort of conclusion – about half of us will wake up depressed while the other half will wake up ecstatic. However I feel that morning, I will not have anything to hide. I will be able to talk to my kids about election night because I will remember election night. I want to be ready to discuss the election with my kids honestly and openly, no matter its outcome.
I vote for a booze-free election night. Of course, it’s easy for me to say all this with over two alcohol-free years under my belt. But there was a time when I could not imagine celebrating – or commiserating – without booze. Nary a momentous occasion went by without alcohol. And that is why I have almost no memory of the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, even though I am a diehard fan who watched Game 7 live in my living room. That is why most New Year’s Eves are forever a blur in my brain.
I decided to take a year-long break from drinking because I was tired of hangovers, fuzzy memories, guilt, and shame. My 365th day has long since passed, as has any desire to go back to the bottle. Showing up fully present in life is not always easy (especially this year), but it’s always worth it.
This will hopefully be the only presidential election during a pandemic we will witness in our lifetimes. It is also, in my opinion, a make-or-break moment for American democracy. I simply don’t want to miss it. Even if it feels terrible (EEK) to go through it, I want to go through it – not circumvent the discomfort with a booze buzz. I want to remember the tension, the anxiety, and, I hope, the excitement and relief. However this election pans out, I want to emerge as a more resilient and compassionate human for having witnessed it.