I had my first taste of alcohol as a 13 year old. I recall the moment vividly: I was home alone with my older brother, who motioned me to his room and whispered to me in hushed, conspiring tones: “do you want to try some of this?”
I eagerly accepted (I guess the signs were there early). As I felt the sharp, burning liquid go down my throat, causing hot tears to prick at the corner of my eyes, I knew I the transition to adulthood had begun.
Fast-forward to my early and mid-twenties, which were marked by excessive binge drinking, often four nights a week, often followed by full days spent in bed, often violently ill.
As I entered my late twenties, I became acutely aware that perhaps my drinking habits weren’t exactly normal. Nor was the reckless disregard for my health on weekends, which commonly featured me downing tequila shots, waking up covered in bruises and with a gnawing feeling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.
I became conscious of the fact that I relied on alcohol not only as a social companion, but a personal one. A reliable friend, one who listened to my problems after a shitty day at work, celebrated with me when I was happy and commiserated with me when I was sad. I was drinking almost every day, whether at home or out, alone or with friends. I wasn’t drunk every day, but a glass of wine or two with dinner was more common than not.
And so, increasingly bothered by the nagging fear that I might actually be at least a casual alcoholic, I decided to go cold turkey for a month. I needed to prove to myself I could actually do it, that I wasn’t really an addict (was I?!) I needed to see what life was like without the support of my loyal companion of the past 15 years.
And so I embarked on a 28-day, self-imposed sobriety experiment. It wasn’t without its social and personal challenges, but I’m happy to say that I did it. And I even learned a few things…
1. The actual physical dependency of my body on alcohol both shocked and dismayed me. By the third day of going ‘cold turkey’, I was suffering the physical effects of withdrawal. I’m not talking cold sweats, nausea, Trainspotting-esque hallucinations or anything like that, but fatigue, sleep deprivation and all-over body aches and pains. When drinking alcohol is a daily occurrence, you may not notice any adverse effects on your body or physical condition. But trust me, these will become apparent, especially the older you get. And anything that creates such an adverse effect on your body can’t be good.
2. As it turns out, I do actually have personality and can actually engage with people on a social level without a glass of vino in my hand. I bet you do too!
3. It’s so refreshing waking up with a few extra brain cells and not in that fuzzy, vaguely-off kilter-but-not-hungover state that is induced by consuming half a bottle of wine with dinner every night. I was far more mentally sharp and motivated at work when not drinking.
4. Not drinking allowed me to get back into exercising regularly and developed healthy habits quickly. Replacing the highs and lows of drinking alcohol with regular sweat sessions at the gym has done wonders for my physical and mental state. I am pleased to report I have kept this up having reintroduced alcohol into my lifestyle.
5. My diet is better (no binging on Domino’s Pizza on a Sunday, followed up by a healthy serving of shame and regret). By being more conscious of not poisoning my body with alcohol, it’s been a natural consequence that I should be more conscious of cutting back on unhealthy foods.
6. All of these things mean I now have a healthier relationship with alcohol. I no longer feel compelled to drink every day out of habit. I used to crave a glass of wine the moment I walked through the door, but now, I actually enjoy my alcohol free days.
7. I’m still going to binge drink now and again. 28 days isn’t enough time for a miracle.
So, salute! To your health, and mine.