I stopped drinking eleven months ago. Inexplicably, at the time, it never occurred to me that I’d need to replace my vice of alcohol with something just as effective for release and relaxation… but entirely healthier and more sustainable for my body and my bank account. I mistakenly assumed walking away from a drug I was becoming dependent on was the equivalent of sauntering right into my best life. 

It took mere days for me to realize that I’d hit a major hitch in my giddy-up but months to work it out. Eight months after I quit drinking, I discovered a simple practice that helps replace alcohol use for me; a small action step that my entire being registers as nearly identical to taking those first few sips of wine during the witching hour that presents nightly. 

Wondrously, what helps me fully exhale when evening sets in, and feel like I can indeed prepare yet another dinner for my family, is to flick on two 20watt light bulbs. I’ll explain.

Was I an alcoholic when I stopped drinking? I don’t think so and I don’t find any comfort or good purpose in the label, anyway. But my relationship with alcohol had become untenable — for me. 

I was using booze in ever-increasing quantities and frequency to numb myself to the serrated edges of life. To the deep gashes of recovering from infidelity in my marriage, my husband’s subsequent job loss — along with our financial peril resulting from his transgression, and raising teenagers in the heyday of their heightened levels of anxiety and malcontent. When I realized I’d actually induced depression in myself as a direct result of drinking, I called it quits on my exhausting efforts to moderate my use of the highly addictive drug that is alcohol in favor of quitting it altogether. 

Moderation isn’t my strong suit. It’s not my any kind of suit. It’s not even a pair of socks I sometimes wear. I’m all or nothing more than I’m not, thus no longer drinking at all was easier for me than constantly entering negotiations with myself over how much I’d allow myself to drink, how often, and during which occasions — only to break every agreement I made with me.

Instead of the daily decisions involved in eschewing alcohol, I made one overarching decision to stop drinking. For a year. The freedom I found in trading daily determinations for one that’ll last 365 days in a row was liberating beyond anything else I’ve experienced in life. The empowerment I gained from being “one and done” with my singular decision propelled me forward, filling me with hope for ending my deepening dependence on alcohol.

When I realized I’d actually induced depression in myself as a direct result of drinking, I called it quits on my exhausting efforts to moderate my use of the highly addictive drug that is alcohol in favor of quitting it altogether. 

But still, I faltered. For I mistakenly thought I’d feel better the minute I stopped drinking. I thought I’d feel healthier the moment alcohol left my system. I assumed I’d sleep better, eat better, look better, and for damn sure I’d live better once I quit the drug. But I didn’t. I felt worse — both physically and mentally. 

I met a level of exhaustion I’d never before encountered in the early months after I set down the crutch of alcohol. Lethargy and listlessness ruled my days. I barely had the strength to mutter, “WTF?” when I’d schlep to the mirror each day and take in my pasty countenance; replete with epic eye bags and crumpled torso.

I told a friend about my inexplicable lack of get-up-and-go at a time when I thought I’d feel more of it than ever and she responded with research and articles about how this is actually a thing. Extreme lethargy while detoxing from alcohol is quite common, lasting anywhere from several weeks to upwards of a year. Well, shit. Who knew? Not me, but coming to know it put me more at ease.

The ten pounds I gained over the first few months after I quit booze mitigated my newfound ease. I’d traded the bottle in for a pie slicer and all the cookies in the land. Come to find out, consuming sugar in mass quantities, as a replacement for drinking, is also often a thing. 

I assumed I’d sleep better, eat better, look better, and for damn sure I’d live better once I quit the drug. But I didn’t. I felt worse — both physically and mentally. 

Why I thought I could toss my liquid crutches and start running like the wind at that same moment, I don’t know. But it probably had something to do with experiencing a drug dependency for the first time in my life and then ending my relationship with the substance without any consideration for what I’d need to learn to depend on in its place. 

No longer using a drug to cope with life didn’t immediately provide for a better quality of life like I assumed it would. Instead, my days felt fraught with all manner of unease; I needed new ways to cope.

Then I traveled to Austin for a conference, where I stayed in the beautifully appointed home of a friend of a friend and promptly fell in love with a candlestick lamp — specifically, with how my hostess had placed one in a corner on the counter in her kitchen. The moment I touched down back home, I went to my favorite local thrift store and bought my own shabby chic candlestick lamp and placed it in a corner on my own kitchen counter. 

I went about switching on said lamp every night for weeks, until one evening when my abandoned habit of pouring a glass of wine beckoned particularly forcefully and I realized that thanks to the subtle, warm glow in my kitchen at night, my shoulders relaxed and I felt calmness prevail. With the flick of a switch, I’m overcome with ease and a sense of hope that floods me with good feelings in the same way the first few sips of wine used to, making me feel fortified and capable.

I know now that many struggle with what to replace alcohol with after they choose to give it up. I learned this firsthand, out of naivety. 

The first time I noticed the sameness, I felt awash in astonished relief. I’d done it! I’d replaced my nightly yearning for alcohol — what I thought it did for me along with the sense of partnership I felt with it — with something gorgeous and pure. Something healthy and holy. Light! 

And in true form of my all-or-nothing personality, I thought if one little luminary emitting the soft glow of peace is good, then two is better. So I placed a second small lamp on a baker’s rack I keep between my kitchen and dining area. If I had the space, you better believe my two lamps would be three.

I know now that many struggle with what to replace alcohol with after they choose to give it up. I learned this firsthand, out of naivety. And further through trial and error.

What encouraged me so completely about discovering the power of two 20watt light bulbs to shine hope and relief on my psyche, to offer release and relaxation to my too-taught muscles and overly weary bones was how unexpected and surprisingly effective their warmth was at mimicking the effects of a drug I’d become dependent upon. That and the notion that if the glow of two little lamps can do that for me, there must be untold numbers of other things that can do the very same.

I started paying closer attention to my actions after my light bulb realization, taking note of other practices and habits that mimicked liquid courage and a drug-induced sense of well-being. The most peculiar things work to replace alcohol use for me. 

The power of a good story transports me; right out of my life and its worries and into someone else’s and theirs. 

Each time I find one, it feels like happening upon an Easter egg — whether hiding in plain sight or tucked away in the unlikeliest of nooks and crannies. One such egg was a new Garth Brooks biography I just watched on A&E. Somehow, his life experience and the way he conveys it blanket me with a sense of calm. Music from the 1950s does me this way, too.

Another egg was a book I just finished, The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. The power of a good story transports me; right out of my life and its worries and into someone else’s and theirs. When that happens, it feels like a vacation from my own dramas commingled with the soothing notion that my trials are no different than those of my peers. We’re all working through something — that reminder feels like home. A home alit with gorgeous mood lighting.

I hope you’ll move forward from my story with expanded hope for finding your own Easter eggs in recovery. Your own version of soft, sumptuous, to-die-for ambient lighting that’s so worth living for. I hope you’re encouraged by how possible it is to replace behaviors we come to recognize as toxic with new ones that both give us life and improve it.  

Coming across these surprising little gems in life is the gift of giving up alcohol that keeps on giving. They’re gems I overlooked when I continually viewed life through the hazy lenses of drug use.

Though it may take you some time to learn how to replace alcohol use with healthier practices that’ll accomplish the results you’re yearning for, I’ve every confidence your own light bulb moments will eventually illuminate your way forward, too.