From July 2015 to December 2015, my most spoken phrase was, “I’m sober as an ox, let me drive.” Giving up all alcohol for six months was a fascinating experiment. Years of mindless drinking inspired me to try a period of mindful abstinence. I love doing things to the extreme. Challenge me to buy no new shirts for ten days and I’ll go home and think about it. Challenge me to buy no new clothes for one year and I’ll commit on the spot! For me, it was easier to cut out all alcohol versus reduce consumption to say, 80%. Ordering a drink had become a sort of knee-jerk reaction. Menus were placed on the table at a restaurant and like clockwork, a round of drinks were ordered. A first date meant several glasses of something to shake off the nerves and serve as a sort of Slip n’ Slide to intimacy. I’m grateful that I don’t have a destructive relationship with alcohol, but like most people my age, I engaged in enough weekend nights of binge drinking to have my decisions make for a rough Monday morning. I had developed a drinking habit, and habits have consequences.
During the summer of 2015, I was hanging out with a man who worked at a bar. He made good drinks and I drank them. I spent more time in the bar scene and drank more as a result. While drinking, I felt sexy, confident and funny. My emotions were inflated. I was loud and hyper-social. When I woke up the morning after a night of drinking, I felt foggy, regretful and depressed. In reflecting on my actions the night before, I wished I could have been more present with my friends and less obnoxious. When I say obnoxious, I don’t mean to imply that I was dancing on the bar, Coyote Ugly Style. While drinking I tend to be more outwardly focused. I want you to like me and think I’m funny. I saddle up to strangers and swap secrets. I want you to want me (I need you to need me). In sober moments, this need isn’t so great. I also noticed that drinking changed how I felt emotionally. If my emotions were on a pendulum, they were swinging big swoops from left to right. I was very up and down. Was it the alcohol or was there something else going on? The only way to find out was to clear the slate and run an old fashioned experiment. My hypothesis was this: my quality of life would improve without booze.
My friends were supportive and asked questions about my decision not to drink. They welcomed me to dinners out and didn’t roll their eyes when I ordered soda water at the bar. This support and understanding from my friends was huge. I didn’t want to miss out on social events because I wasn’t drinking. I got used to bringing fizzy water and lime to house parties (which easily looks like a Gin & Tonic, if you care about appearances) and found a quick way of explaining my decision for those who asked. I worried about sounding preachy and described my decision as an experiment, which is what it was. During this time of abstinence, I enjoyed more restful sleep, less emotional lability and improved focus. As crazy as it might sound, I found it took roughly three days for me to recover from one night of drinking. Alcohol (which is a sugar) is a depressant and I found it really caused me to feel dumpy, less resilient and more disconnected from my natural optimistic and positive way of engaging with the world. It was like a dark cloud was following me around, even after a few glasses of wine. Perhaps the most motivating outcome was that I saved A LOT of money. Cocktails are expensive and money practically swims out of your wallet the more uninhibited you feel.
Most importantly, I more thoroughly enjoyed my time with people. I was able to connect more authentically and actually remembered details of my conversation with others. Booze can make us feel more bold and confident but sometimes what we’re really feeling inside is scared, or lonely. True intimacy is showing up as we really are. Alcohol can get in the way of this. From my experience, even though I was running my mouth and connecting with everyone at the bar, I closed out the night feeling lonely because I had been hiding behind a boozy facade. This left me feeling empty inside.
I am more discerning about my drinking now. I am more aware of how it affects me both mentally and physically- and fiscally! For anyone contemplating a period of abstinence, I say, go for it! Treat it as an experiment. No Petri dishes needed.
Yours from the North,
Images by Bernadette Pollard Photography