January 16, 2020
A nice glass of red with dinner. A refreshing cocktail when you reach the beach on holiday. A cold beer after work to catch up with an old friend. A shot to celebrate a friend’s birthday. A toast with bubbly for your colleague’s promotion.
I don’t know about you, but to me it feels like alcohol has become the necessary ingredient to every occasion in our lives. If you’ve ever tried not drinking on a normal night out and faced a lengthy interrogation from your friends, then you know what I mean.
Imagine if you had just given up smoking and made it past your first month, and then you ran into an old friend who insisted, nay demanded, that you share a smoke. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Yet somehow drinking has become such a part of our lives that friends, family, and coworkers feel it’s their responsibility to make sure you drink alongside them.
It wasn’t until I experimented with teetotaling (and googled what that meant) that I really started to realize how implanted alcohol had become in my routine, and all the hidden costs I was paying to keep up with this habit. Now that I’ve done the accounting and seen life from the other side, my mind has changed.
On Christmas Eve, I finished my first year sans-alcohol. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and honestly, I don’t think I’ll go back to drinking.
Here are just a few things I’ve accomplished since I stopped:
This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have done these things if I didn’t stop drinking, but I definitely feel that it helped in many ways, both directly and indirectly.
This post isn’t meant to persuade you to quit drinking, or to rail on alcohol, but rather to share my own experience in the hope that it might inspire others to rethink their relationship with alcohol and perhaps help to shift the conversation we have with each other around drinking.
Back in 2014, I joined the Dry January fad. It was difficult, but it didn’t change my attitude towards drinking. Honestly, cutting out booze for a month was more an exercise in willpower than a real change in mindset. I basically stayed in every weekend and suffered through the four weeks waiting to join my friends back on the wagon come February 1st.
For the next few years, I tried Dry January on and off, but with little success in terms of changing my drinking in the other 11 months of the year. Yet each year, as January approached and I began to think about goals and resolutions for the coming year, I was faced with a nagging sense that drinking was holding me back in some way, but I couldn’t put a finger on it.
Yet something surprised me after completing the yearly ritualistic cleanse in 2018: I woke up on February 1st without the feeling of excitement and anticipation of breaking the fast with a cold beer. I actually didn’t want to drink, and so I didn’t, for about four months.
That’s when something changed in me. I started to really feel different, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Put simply, I felt fucking great.
I noticed I had a lot more time on my hands, especially on the weekends where I no longer woke up late and hungover. Instead, my Saturdays and Sundays were filled with exercise, reading, cooking, and relaxing.
It suddenly felt like I was able to do so much more of what I wanted to do. Which led me to realize something important: abstaining from drinking is not really about giving something up, it’s just a choice.
Beforehand, I was choosing to drink and sometimes suffer the consequences. Now, I was simply choosing other things, like waking up early and energized on a Saturday.
For some people, drinking is a choice they want to prioritize, and there is nothing wrong with that. For me, I want to prioritize other things in my life, simple as that.
Stopping drinking taught me a lot of lessons about myself, and also about the world around me. Here are a few of the things I’ve observed in the past year:
Ultimately, the most important shift that happened for me was a change in thinking that I was “not drinking” and “abstaining” from something, to a realization that I was actually choosing better alternatives for my life. I am choosing to spend my time, money, and energy in other places.
Thinking about this always brings to mind the quote from Annie Dillard:
“How we spend our days is of course, how we spend our lives.”
This idea reminds me to remember all the other things I choose to do instead of drink:
Choosing more peaceful early mornings.
Choosing to spend my weekends at a museum or reading a book.
Choosing to spend my money on travel, or invest for my future.
Choosing to be more accountable for my actions and live life with less regret.
I don’t know if this will be a forever thing for me. Mostly I think it will be. The more of my life I live clean, the less I feel that alcohol adds anything worthwhile. But I can’t deny that I miss certain elements of drinking, whether it’s a beer after a day of skiing or having a glass of wine at a nice dinner.
The only thing I’m certain of is that change is constant. I’m happy with this change in attitude, behavior, and lifestyle. But who knows where I’ll be in a year or ten.
I hope that if you’ve ever felt like giving drinking a break, for a little or a long while, that you feel empowered to do so, and that your friends and family will support you.
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