Everyone has a different and deeply personal relationship with alcohol. Some drink casually, some drink only for the purposes of getting drunk, and some can’t – or shouldn’t – drink at all. I would like to preface this by saying that I do not, nor have I ever, had a drinking problem, but my family history has caused me to be predisposed to alcoholism. Over the years, I’ve learned that my relationship with alcohol is ever-changing and it has evolved tremendously since I took my first timid sips as an intrigued but hesitant high-schooler. I’ve gone through my “good girl” phase and my “party girl” phase, and as I move into my late twenties, I’m just trying to find balance.
Last month, after one superfluous night on the town left me with a hangover so bad I couldn’t move all day – and caused me to break a promise to a friend – I was feeling pretty unimpressed with myself. Combined with a draining bank account and a growing muffin top, I decided it was time to back off the booze for a bit. On September 13, I took my last drink of red wine and declared I wasn’t having another drop until my trip home to Alberta on October 9 – a few days shy of 30.
Here is everything I learned from not drinking for a month.
1. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is. First of all, I love wine. No, I really, really love wine. To me, a big glass of red wine is like a warm bath on a cold day, a long hug on the worst day, and the perfect complement to Netflix and chill on every other day. Wine had become my weeknight wind down and my weekend wind up, the perfect addition to every and all occasion – and it was rarely just one glass. To give up drinking wine initially felt like giving up a part of my daily routine that was as natural as brushing my teeth or making coffee in the morning.
This led me to realize that my life had gotten so routine that red wine was becoming a staple in my day-to-day life. With a big 1.5L bottle permanently parked on my kitchen counter, it had gotten to the point where I was drinking wine every day – whether I was going out or not. I know “science” – and the French – say a glass of wine a day is good for the heart, but I’d have to argue it’s not so good for the waistline. When I finally decided it was time to cut back, I began to wonder, why is this even a challenge? Have I gotten so dependent on alcohol to have a good time or to unwind on my own, that I have to publicly declare a personal challenge to hold me accountable to not consuming alcohol for a mere 24 days? Is that where I’m at?
2. I developed a better understanding of my own relationship with alcohol.
For me, at first, drinking was more for having fun. My parents always drank at home, whether it was casually with dinner, or at holiday parties with friends and family. I was always allowed to try it out, but never felt especially inclined. As I got a little bit older, it felt bold and daring to drink with my friends, even though I’d rarely handle more than two vodka coolers before calling it quits. But as I moved on to university, drinking was more than just an accessory to dinner: it was a hobby, an activity, a way of life. In those early uni years, I’d binge equally on vodka as I did on school work and somehow managed to graduate with honours, despite being drunk 3 days a week. In my last year of university, on top of classes and my internship, I was working two jobs to stay afloat. This lent little time for partying, but also meant that I’d compensate by drinking twice as much on my rare nights off.
As I have moved into my late 20s, I’ve toned down my drinking substantially, functioning as a light, social drinker who occasionally, accidentally overdoes it. Normal right? But during this month of sobriety, I was also led to reflect on a darker period of my life earlier just this year, when I felt lost and depressed and took solace in the company of friends at a bar I worked at. It wasn’t that I wanted to get drunk or that I even wanted to stay there – I just didn’t want to go home. And the only thing worse than the numbers of drinks I was counting were the hangovers that left me so depressed I couldn’t leave my bed all day. After three months on the slippery slope of a bad routine, a new job in a new city quickly shook me from that nasty habit, but I still wince when I think back on those nights.
3. Alcohol is like dog biscuits for humans.
I’ve never been the type of friend that needed booze to have fun. In fact, I’m usually described as the “life of the party” friend, sober or not, and I’ve been known to tear up a dance floor without a drop of alcohol. But I can’t deny that the motivation to go out to bars and clubs gets lesser and lesser with every passing year, and without alcohol to reward me, what is even the point? Alcohol is like your treat for #adulting and actually leaving the house, your reason to suffer through that company Christmas party or awkward family reunion, and the sweet, sweet light at the end of every unwelcome social interaction. So without booze to motivate me, why go?
4. My social life was different – and I was the buzz kill.
With the aforementioned lack of motivation to go out, I started spending a lot more time at home on the weekends, or heading to bed around 11, because apparently people who don’t drink get tired much earlier. Furthermore, my friends seemed to feel uncomfortable to offer me drinks, or not offer me drinks, or invite me out, or not invite me out, because they didn’t really understand why I wasn’t drinking or if they were going to offend me.
On one rare night that I decided to go to a bar with a friend, I stayed sober while he got drunk, but I danced with him the whole time and I thought we had a blast. He later told me he didn’t want to go out with me again unless more people were coming who’d be drinking. I realized my sobriety was killing his buzz. And I’m not even mad at him for it; no one likes to drink alone. Certainly not me.
5. But physically, I feel amazing.
After a month of not drinking, my body feels incredible. I have so much more energy, I feel lighter all around, and incredibly happy. Without late nights binge drinking, I’m in bed by midnight every night, sleeping soundly and waking up early. I’m more motivated to work out than to go out so my body looks and feels better, and my early morning routine is that much easier. I’m more focused on taking care of my health so I’m eating less junk and more vegetables, and my often-upset stomach has been resting easy too.
6. I’ve been inspired to be better in all areas of my life.
Not only was I inspired to better focus on what I was putting in my body, like drinking lemon water and eating clean, but I was inspired in all other areas. I suddenly felt so motivated to work on my blog more, work harder at my job, dress better, read more, and even wash my face before I go to sleep. Maybe I was just running off the false sense of superiority that public declarations can provide, but for those 24 days, I felt on top of the world.
It’s now been over a month and a half since I finished the challenge. In that time, I have drank ’til I was drunk only three times, enjoyed several casual glasses of wine, and nursed only one – albeit an extremely painful – hangover. I’ll admit that my motivation to excel at everything has tempered out (leading me to believe my superiority theory may have been on point, though I’d also like to blame the weather), but I still feel an internal monologue reminding me to focus on what’s important. I continue to work on buying more groceries and cooking healthy dinners at home, exercising three times a week, and writing at least once a week.
Incorporating these healthy habits into your routine allows less room for bad habits, and when you see the positive effects they bring, you remember that hangovers are awful and will kill your natural buzz, so maybe it’s not worth it to go out every night. I’m not trying to say that drinking is bad – I’m having a glass of wine right now – but the key things I learned are that everything should be managed in moderation, everyone should evaluate their own relationship with alcohol, and that small goals and challenges are a great way to push you to better yourself – even if it’s just for the Facebook humblebrag.