This year I decided to (mostly) take a break from alcohol. I say mostly because I have some pre-designated events (Weddings! Bachelorettes! 40ths!) where I am giving myself permission to cut loose if I want, but for the majority of the time I am not drinking booze.
Why you may ask?
I’m doing a lot of things this year that are incompatible with drinking and/or having a hangover.
I am getting my private pilot’s license, and while the official rules say you can’t have had anything to drink 8 hours before flying, I cannot fathom jumping in the cockpit while hungover.
I am doing the New York Marathon, and training will require a lot of time, mental grit, and commitment whereas drinking and hangovers steal my time and wear away willpower.
I wanted to get better at snowboarding, and getting up at 5:30am is tough when you went to bed at 3.
I wanted to focus on my health a lot more and get strong, and the desire to turn up to a 6am kettlebell class erodes after the second glass of wine.
Basically, this year I realised that I needed more time and willpower, and alcohol was the easiest thing to change to get more of both.
Given the role that booze plays in our society, here are some of the things I’ve learned after three months without it:
- It’s been so much easier than I anticipated. There was only one occasion when I really, really, wanted a glass of wine and that was when I was with friends eating delicious steak at an Argentinian restaurant and I could smell the Malbec they were drinking. God it smelled awesome.
- I’m still fun when I’m sober. I think that underneath it all, I was worried that I wasn’t that fun or interesting or compelling without booze. That it had become such a part of my personality that without it I would just be a boring blank slate. Turns out that this was an unnecessary concern, and I’ve been told I’m just as fun as always. AND now I can be Designated Driver and make sure everyone gets home safely.
- Live music is so much better. I didn’t realise how much mental energy went into calculating the ‘bar queue-good crowd position-bathroom’ equation. “Should I have another beer? Will I be able to bring it back to this spot? Will I get a spot this good again? Will I just need to pee in 30 minutes and lose the spot anyway? Does that mean I should just do it because why not?” Taking the option away means I’m more actively present at shows. I had never even realised the mental load this was creating and how it was taking me away from one of the activities that brings me the most joy.
- Turns out I can have a flat(ish) stomach. Granted, I have been working out a lot and eating super well, so this is not only booze-related, but I’ve never had much sugar in my diet outside of wine and beer. I always said that regardless of how much work I do it would always have a slight spare tire. Turns out this was a load of crap and in three months I’ve lost a significant amount of fat from around my belly.
- There are some people I don’t enjoy spending time with anymore. This was a harsh realisation. I have no issue going out with people who are drinking – even drinking heavily. My friends are delightful and I enjoy them just as much as always, But there are a few people who were at the edges of my life that I used to hang out with occasionally – surprise, surprise over beers – and in the absence of alcohol I’ve found I not longer enjoy their company. I think there were two things at play here 1) our relationship was based around spending time at the pub and there probably wasn’t a lot more to it 2) booze smoothed the edges of our differences, and without it being there to obscure or mask or distract, I’ve realized that we have very little in common.
- I have SO much more time. I mean, did you know how long weekends are? Did you know how much you can achieve when you wake up at 8am and feel great? We should inform the people, because this is magic!
- My moods are much more stable. Hungover Suz can be Cranky Suz. I feel like my moods are in much more control and I’m much more patient. Not always, mind you – the things that frustrate me are still the same and I can be very impatient when I perceive a lack of commonsense. But my general ability to stay calm has increased.
- Dating still sucks but isn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. To be fair, you’re sober at the start of a date anyway so I don’t know why I thought this would be so different – it’s rare that anyone made it past a second drink anyway. But being sober dating is like a secret weapon because I am picking up on a lot more cues that the mask of booze would obscure.
- I sleep so much better. This one is undeniable. I sleep like a log now. I find this interesting because I started thinking I was having trouble with sleep towards the end of last year, and was taking Melatonin to try to help me nod off. Turns out it was the couple of glasses of wine that was messing with me instead. The more you know.
- I just feel a lot better. I feel better about myself, I feel healthier, my skin looks better, my eyes are brighter. I’m basically seeing the effects of not low-level poisoning myself regularly.
There is no lesson in this for anyone else. For people who already don’t drink, it will probably seem insane that someone would consider drinking when there are so many downsides. People who love drinking as much as me would probably view taking a whole year (mostly) off as insanity.
At the end of the day, everyone needs to make decisions about alcohol (and drugs, and exercise, and food) that fit into their lives and worldview. This is just what is working for me right now, and will continue through the rest of 2018. Cheers!