I just read the Chicago Tribune article on What I learned by not drinking for 2 years, and a lot of it hit home, having just hit the 1 year mark myself of life (mostly) without alcohol.
A year ago December I had — had too much at a friend’s birthday, and decided to take the rest of the month off from drinking. I thought it would be a huge challenge to make it through the holidays, but once a year I think it’s good to check yourself from anything that has the potential for addiction.
It was slightly socially awkward over the holidays, as I’ve been drinking alcohol since I was a teenager. Everyone was used to seeing me drink, and so peer pressure was high. Early into the new year, I had company in from out of town, and decided to make an exception. I realized the next day, it was without hesitation the worst I’d felt in a month, so decided to try abstinence again. With only 2 exceptions (including to try the Whisky of the year, which is Canadian this year), I didn’t drink alcohol in 2015. I would agree with all of the benefits mentioned in William Lee’s Tribune article, and think it’s worth emphasizing a few things.
Over lunch today, a friend who drinks often told me she’s an insomniac, in that she never sleeps well, even though her partner does. I mentioned that I spent most of my life that way, but over the last year, I now fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. This changed in less than 2 months of no alcohol, after decades of consumption.
As someone in the dating world, there is a plus and minus to life without drinking. The challenge is, you immediately shrink your dating pool, as so many people are dependant on at least drinking socially. I’m not opposed to a partner drinking socially, but I’m not interested in a partner dependant on it, and that dependance becomes obvious when dating. Alcohol seems like the default choice for a first date to many. The amazing benefit though, is the caliber of people you meet who don’t drink. Almost everyone I’ve met who abstains, has their health in check. They’re more active, eat healthier, and are more self-aware than those who even drink socially, in my experience so far.
I can’t emphasize the health benefits enough. I also spent the year eating healthier than I’ve ever eaten, and after an aggressive couple months on personal health, I’m now in the best shape of my life. I weigh less than I have in my adult life. I’m not quite ready for Men’s Fitness magazine, but I only compete against myself, and I’m at yet another personal best. All it took was starting with incremental steps. In this case, a year ago I was taught to do an “oxygenation routine” in the morning, which was basically 100 jumping jacks, something like burpees or other cardio, maybe even a little dance off, to fill the better part of 20-30 minutes. After that, I’d open my doors and take in a deep breath of the crisp Vancouver air. I tried it for a week, then a month, and now I do it more often than not. Just like no drinking, I only tried for a couple weeks, and over time it turns into a habit. A year later, the results are noticeable.
This is not intended as preachy, most of my friends drink. Heck, I used to own a cocktail bar and have judged beer contests around the world. I’m just sharing this experience for me, because I didn’t have many people in my life who would share similar stories with me and as I’ve been sharing these stories with those who have asked, it seems to leave an impact.
Perhaps the biggest benefit, is you begin to be more accountable to yourself. You get to really know yourself. You become comfortable with yourself. You love yourself more. This is likely intimidating for some, but when is a better time?
For those reading this and interested in taking some time away from alcohol, it was easiest for me to consider a “sobuary”; take one month off just to check yourself. In my case I didn’t have any physical withdrawal, thank goodness, but just had to handle the social and habitual nature of it. I found after that first month, it feels like you’ve broken your own personal best record, so it better be a darn good reason to change that.
- You’re not competing against anyone else in life, just yourself. What can you do this week to make yourself better than last week?
- Incremental goals are easier than grand ones, and if they get to the habit stage, they show large improvements over time.
- I will suggest it’s impossible to not notice multiple major benefits from abstaining from alcohol for a year. If you have troubles doing it on your own, there’s AA, Lifering, and Umbrella Society to check out, I’m sure they’d be glad to help. You can also contact me, any time, and I’ll put you in touch with someone.
If you’re fortunate enough to have those close to you supporting you, it is the best thing ever, reach out to them. I have huge gratitude to someone I’m not in a position to give it to anymore, so give it while you can. Showing gratitude early and often is one of my incremental goals this month.