I Didn’t Drink For A Month. Here’s What Happened.
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Well, I did it. I officially survived Sober October without a drink. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, and it was definitely the most eye-opening of times. Thank you for all of the moral support, virtually and otherwise, and especially to those of you who joined me in this new kind of sisterhood! Here’s what happened and what I learned when I got sober:
The first week was the worst.
As with so many other detoxes, the initial shock to my system and my routine were the hardest. I was feeling rather proud of myself making it to Thursday (Five whole days. Wow.) but after an especially hard day, thought I was going to D-I-E if I didn’t have a drink. I think I distracted myself with Grey’s Anatomy and went to bed early. I also broke out into the cold sweats that first week, which scared the hell out of me. It turned out to just be allergies but still. It was clear that I used alcohol to take the edge off and was a little lost without it. But once I got over that initial 30 minutes when I walk through the door and straight to the bottle of wine, I discovered that the pain passes.
Kombucha isn’t beer.
And sparkling water isn’t champagne. But they’re something, and they helped get me through. Our normally stocked wine fridge looked like the beverage cooler at Whole Foods. Seeing its contents reminded me how much we used to drink, and how much healthier I felt reaching for coconut water. I knew I was doing something good for my body.
I replaced one vice with another.
At first I didn’t think anything of the bowl of ice cream I was putting away every night. I don’t get enough dairy in my diet anyway! When it became a bowl of jelly beans, I knew something was up. Turns out that eliminating alcohol can physiologically cause sugar cravings. Insatiable cravings. Like having PMS all the time. But I also think that sometimes I kept eating because I wasn’t emotionally satiated. Sugar became just another way to numb whatever I was feeling.
Drinking is a hobby.
I spent the first weekend wondering if it’s still a weekend when you don’t drink. Will it be as fun or relaxing? What will we DO? It was clear that drinking is a major past time for me that goes hand in hand with so many other activities. Thankfully I had a very supportive partner. We still went out, once I even tortured myself at a bar, but our outings revolved more around the conversation or the new experience than it did around the drinking. In the end what I missed most was the ritual of drinking—a good IPA on the deck while we listen to a favorite band, pairing wine with Sunday Supper, a glass of bubbly with oysters—not getting buzzed.
But not everyone drinks.
I was blown away by the personal chord that this struck with many of you, and pleasantly surprised to learn how many fun, functioning members of society don’t drink (I know, I know, forgive me!)—not because they have a problem, but because they don’t need it or feel better without it. I was also pleased as nonalcoholic punch when a few of my more celebratory friends joined me and had similar, positive experiences.
I suddenly had more time.
Without alcohol, it felt like I had more hours in the day. And they were higher quality hours because I was so clear, so present. Even one drink, which I always thought was relaxing, was in fact making me fuzzier, more tired. Without the ability to consume, I chose different activities. We went for long walks. I read more books and meditated regularly. We didn’t stay out as late but talked for hours. And went to bed when I was tired, not because I was groggy. Speaking of . . .
I slept better. And felt better.
Like really deep sleep, the kind I used to have as a teenager. I woke feeling truly rested. And energized. I underestimated how drinking was affecting my rest—and the next day. It doesn’t take a full-blown hangover for alcohol to slow you down the next day. And I don’t miss those days one bit.
My skin changed.
It only took a week before my skin was glowing, and it has never looked better. I skip out of the house without makeup. WHAT. I had been irrationally resisting the notion that drinking wreaks havoc on skin, despite all of my other health beliefs to the contrary, but there’s no denying it now. J.Lo was right!
My body changed.
Okay, I didn’t step on a scale because that scares me, but I can tell. My stomach is flatter, my jeans fit better, and my face is less puffy. And I still ate all of those jelly beans. The good news: I’m going to lose even more weight if I keep this up. The bad news: I’ll never again be able to tell myself that alcohol calories don’t count.
My anxiety improved.
Somehow, despite 20 years of drinking, I missed the part about alcohol being a depressant. How could something that made me feel so good, make me feel so bad, too? But this little experiment has taught me that drinking was oftentimes doing more harm than good to my mood. As someone who is predisposed to depression and anxiety, alcohol might make me happier after one drink but after three can make me sadder. And the next day? Forget it. My friend Katie calls this the booze blues: the morning after when you feel anxious and paranoid for every possible reason and no reason at all. Life is hard enough, I don’t need to make it harder.
I faced my fears.
This is the biggie. It’s the reason I will never drink the same. When I stopped drinking I had to face whatever I was feeling. I couldn’t put off the tough decisions or difficult conversations by drinking. I had to be in my body and in my mind, not floating above it. This meant I got through the breakdowns faster, no matter how small, and got to move on to the breakthrough faster. Drinking only prolonged my pain, it never made it better in the end. In the end, I didn’t find relief in a bottle, but in honoring my inner voice and my heart.
Until October, I couldn’t have comprehended a life without alcohol. I would and have thrown my head back in mocking laughter at the thought. Now, I have no intention of going back to drinking on school nights or reaching for a drink before I’ve assessed what’s really bothering me and if there’s a healthier way of addressing it. I still look forward to celebratory glasses of bubbly, to beer on a sunny day, to raising a glass of rose with the girls, and yes, to those special nights when more really is more, but never again at the expense of being present. I don’t want to miss a thing.