On Non Alcoholic Beverages

20 months and counting. This is just my point of view and may not be suitable for all.

10/9/22

Today is 20 months without alcohol for me.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last 20 months, particularly about drinking. 

I love to drink. Not just alcohol. Beverages. All kinds. Coffee, tea, sparkling water, soda (diet ONLY), Crystal Lite… and now non alcoholic (NA) beer.

I’ve always loved the taste of beer. I think my first experience of beer was when I was around 7 or so. My family and I were coming back from a Sunday afternoon of fishing off the piers of Brooklyn NY.  We didn’t plan to stay out that long and we had nothing to drink. I was soooo thirsty. 

On the way home we stopped for a family favorite- pizza at Spumoni Gardens. My dad stood on the pizza line with my brothers and my mom and I on the drink line. The beer for my father came out first. I had been complaining for hours about being thirsty. The soda was taking entirely too much time. My mom handed me the beer and said “just a sip”. I took the flimsy wax coated cup off the tray and intended to take one gulp, but promptly downed the entire thing. My mom looked at me with horror. 

“You liked that?” she asked?

“Yes, I was thirsty” I replied.

The workers behind the counter handed us the sodas and the pressure of the line moved us out to the general courtyard where we sat with my dad and brothers.

My mom was still shocked when she said “I need to go back online to get the beer, Esterina drank it all”.

The rest of my family stared at me in awe. Everyone asking how I could have liked the taste. 

Geez, I was just thirsty and it quenched my thirst is all. I didn’t understand the big deal.

I had also danced for 10 years. 2-3 times a week for most of the school year I would put on a pink leotard for ballet lessons and the black one for tap and jazz. I was always concious of how that leotard fit. As I got older and started filling out more, I started to think about calories and the things I liked. I always loved soda and when I realized that diet soda tasted almost exactly the same I decided to never have non diet soda again.

I may have had non diet soda once or twice since then (I honestly can’t say), but it’s diet soda for me now. At least for the past 35 years it has been. 

As a young adult I never chose alcohol as a beverage of choice unless it was some fruity elaborate cocktail on a beach somewhere. Even then I’d only have one – completely aware of the sheer number of calories the drink had.

But sometime in my early 30s there was nothing but non diet soda and beer as an option with pizza somewhere after helping some friends move. I was hot, hungry and thirsty. I wouldn’t drink the soda but had the lite beer instead. Less calories.

And oh my gosh was it good! Beer and pizza together was amazing. It was Miller lite that our friends bought. So the next Friday for pizza night I picked up a six pack of Miller lite. Light beer became a part of my life. 

Well, fast forward a few years. I met my now husband who introduced me to enjoying the subtleties of wine. That was a new area for me. Wine isn’t so easy to just have 1 when there is a whole bottle involved. The addiction took hold from there. Light beer went to all kinds and a little wine too way too much. 

Now I’m 20 months from my last drink and am as happy as I’ve ever been. I don’t miss anything about it. But I do have to give a giant plug to NA beer. I love it! I love it like I love diet soda. All of my life since I switched to diet soda I just don’t even like the taste of regular soda. It’s so sweet my teeth hurt. When it’s the only option I’ve often taken a sip to be polite but let the cup sit full. 

When I first got sober, one day after gardening I craved beer. It has long been a go to after a very hot day or long hours of work. I remembered we had NA beer in the fridge. But I opted for the diet soda instead. It was just as refreshing. 

The next day I started telling this same story to one of the Aware Recovery companions that came to my house as part of the year long program I admitted myself to. When I got to the part where I remembered there was NA beer in the fridge she stopped me with some kind of urgency and almost yelled “You didn’t have any did you?!”. 

No I replied- taken aback that she perceived I nearly avoided a relapse. What did I know? Was NA beer a gateway to drinking again? It seemed to be!

A few days later I told another companion who was at the house about this treacherous near miss. This one told me that despite being in recovery, she is a bartender and has NA beer and mocktails all of the time. She treated the episode as no big deal. 

I didn’t comment. I needed to mull this over. Maybe it was one of these things where there is no hard and fast rule. To each their own. 

No one talked about NA drinks in AA. My husband ended up buying a few varieties to try himself and they were always around the house. But it wasn’t until about a year ago this month that I dared try one. 

At my first sip I was convinced I had beer. I had to go to the fridge and read the can. It wasn’t one of these 0.0% things. I did claim it was <0.5%. Again I was scared about this little amount. I looked it up and read there is no way anyone can get drunk from that amount. You need to drink 40 for any kind of buzz. Your body processes this tiny amount so quickly that even if you could injest 480 oz in any short period of time, you still can’t get inerbriared.

Inebriation-proof and tastes this good? It seemed as too good to be true as the Diet Coke I still love. 

I started drinking them and trying different kinds. They are so good. To me as good as the real thing, but no buzz. No risk of slurring or not being able to drive. 

Nothing came up on my very frequent urine tests with Aware, the breathalyzer or at the addiction treatment center I went to for Vivitrol shots. 

It took me weeks to even think about telling the third companion that I was drinking NA beer. She was the youngest of the group and seemed to be the most receptive to such an alternative thought. As soon as I told her she piped up that she still goes to bars with friends and drinks soda or whatever non alcoholic cocktail might be advertised on the menu. She has been doing that for years and never felt tempted.

Not long after another companion was added to my dwindling # of visits (because I was nearing the end of the program) and this one had a whole list of NA cocktails up her sleeve. Additionally she didn’t get the AA word that drinking any of these out of a wine glass was the road to ruin, so my guilt about even entertaining such a thought went out the window. 

Now I am not saying this is ok for everyone- to have NA drinks, beers or mocktails. Or to have them in traditional drinking cups. Perhaps if I didn’t take that pause when that first companion sort of scared me. Perhaps that may have quickly put me somewhere bad. I’ll never know. 

It’s often not possible to know when you made the right choice. Usually you know when you made the wrong one.

But I’m still not saying it’s a great idea or alternative for everyone. It might not be. I am not an expert and the only experience I’ve had is my own short lived one. 

Not long ago I opened the question about yes/no to NA beverages to the local town Facebook recovery group I am in… and if one could get their proverbial head bitten off I would have. Glad I only asked and didn’t tell them I did!! Not one person (not 1) thought it a good idea. 

The two biggest comments were

1- when did we ever drink for the taste?

2- mimicking the real thing will lead back to the real thing.

And I think that might be true for some people. But not all. 

Everyone thinks they are different or immune to whatever the warning is. I took pause here and evaluated. 

I’ve always had good discipline when it came to food/drinks/calories. I do realize that drugs and alcohol are a different story and their addictive qualities make that nearly impossible to control. 

But I am not having the real thing and there is nothing addictive to it. 

I’ve always been ok with knock off food versions. My Diet Coke as an example, but so much more. I switched to skim milk in high school when I had money from a job and a car to buy the milk. We only had whole milk at home. Did it taste as good?? No of course not. But it was better for me and good enough. Now I prefer it. But I don’t even drink milk anymore- only almond milk. Another switch that wasn’t as good at first but my now preference.

Same with sugar substitutes. I never minded snackwells or those fake types of sweets. I prefer making them myself. Yes, like the beer they taste a little different- but not much. These kind of things satisfy me without the guilt and over time I don’t even like the original anymore. The same has been true for me all my life from the milk down to tofu over meat. 

So in answer to the responses to my question in the Facebook recovery page, I did drink for the taste and never has the fake version led me back to the real thing. When I switched I switched for good.

It’s been a full year now since I dipped my toe into NA beverages. So far I don’t feel any closer to a road to ruin.  Do I miss wine? Not really. There are zero good subs for it and in the face of that reality and I am not even interested.

I haven’t really gotten very into mocktails – for the same reasons I never did before on hard cocktails or hard alcohol. The calories don’t seem worth it. 

The growth of NA beer is pretty astounding. It is available everywhere. The only place I haven’t come across it is in the Bahamas. But everywhere else I have been since in the world, it’s readily available.

What makes it even more fun is the lack of too many options. There are 1-3 available choices TOPS. So I get to try the one or three varieties and never feel like I’m missing out on the dozen more I could have tried like I often felt with the real wine or beer I drank too much of.

The truth is I love to drink. I like lots of drinks. I love the taste of beer and I can have that taste without the consequences. It’s a chance I was willing to take and knock on wood it’s been a gift!

Not for a second in the 20 months and counting now did I feel like I was missing out on a things. I feel great and I love my life. I love my life without alcohol.

Yeah

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