Here’s a funny/not funny quagmire I found myself in recently. I quit drinking for 30 days. That’s not the dilemma. No, the dilemma was, how do I celebrate the milestone once I get there? Initially, during week one of not drinking, I had it planned that on Day 30 I would uncork a nice Ripasso and celebrate: by getting totally inebriated. My train of thought was that I’d drag my ass through 30 miserable days of teetotaling, hating every moment I had to deny myself a nice glass of wine to unwind in the evening, and when I was done, I’d raise a glass and say “See you next year Dry January, good riddance.”
As you might suspect my views on that have shifted as I now sit on Day 29 of not drinking. So how then do you celebrate 30 days of not drinking?
Like many people in quarantine, alcohol, red wine specifically, became my evening companion, and then gradually my afternoon companion. If I’m to be truly honest with myself (and you) though, I was drinking more than I should long before coronavirus. Drinking has been a part of my DNA since before I was legally allowed to drink. Envisioning a life without alcohol seemed like I would be punishing myself.
Indeed, through the last couple of very trying years navigating three of life’s major stressors (divorce, moving, employment changes, and a bonus one with the pandemic), I would joke that wine was the only thing getting me through. That narrative though belittles my journey and undercuts my determination. I am where I am in spite of drinking, not because of it.
Now at almost 30 days without pouring a glass of mommy’s little helper, my relationship with alcohol has forever changed. At a minimum, I know that I can no longer participate in the societal lie that alcohol makes life more fun, and at most, I know that drinking alone will never be a part of my life again. Where I’ll ultimately fall on the drinking spectrum is still unknown but it is forever changed.
Last week one of my best friends messaged me to ask how it was going. “Tell me it’s terrible”, she said joking, “that you are not benefitting at all from this. Please?” I couldn’t even pretend. Life is just infinitely better without having to answer to wine o’clock. There have been some predicted changes but one benefit in particular is what will keep me from returning to the status quo.
Benefits of Not Drinking for 30 Days
Sleep has been an elusive part of my life for years now. I had always attributed the 3am stressfest to well, stress. The reality is that the third glass of wine at 9, helped me sleep in the short term but came to collect at 3am. The effects on my sleep were not immediate and I have to admit this was the biggest hurdle for me. It took about five nights of restlessness before my body started to respond to this new reality, and about two weeks before it really got it’s groove back. After a month though, I’m now a sleeping machine. Creating new routines is crucial, and I highly recommend that you do the same if you’re thinking of leaping off the party bandwagon. I immediately established a new evening routine – Golden milk, preparation for next day, screens off at 8pm, and reading.
Reduced Stress Levels
Back to that 3am stressfest for a minute. My brain runs fairly smoothly for most of the day, but the second I’m in a prone position, my amygdala likes to take the wheel. If my body can’t get to sleep then we are off on a joyride through the land of “what-will-never-happen-but-let’s-imagine-it-in-technicolour-anyway”. Impairing that journey with alcohol adds in a special layer of overthinking that I don’t need.
There is no disputing the science that alcohol disrupts sleep, so when the alcohol wore off in the middle of the night, my brain was immediately hijacked. Sans alcohol that 3am wake-up call doesn’t come anymore which has had a positive cascading effect on my stress levels throughout my day. Waking up rested and without the lying awake nightmares, means I enter each day more positively, which means I’m less stressed tackling life, which means less stress is created, which means I fall asleep easier each night and so on.
I Look Better
I haven’t turned into a supermodel, nor are the effects so drastic that others would notice, but I certainly do. Alcohol dehydrates, and prior to this 30 days, my skin was incredibly dry and the bags under my eyes came with handles. Thirty days in, my skin is noticeably more hydrated, and the bags are smaller. I’ve not turned the clock back when it comes to my looks, but at least I’ve shut off the fast forward. Of course, the added benefit of good sleep is also helping.
I know a lot of people quit drinking to lose weight but that was never a motivator for me. I’m actually quite comfortable with my weight, so for me the goal was to hold the line. I have. More significant though is that what I fuel my body with has improved. Wine encouraged a devil-may-care attitude that encouraged evening rendezvous with chips and dip, and morning dates with carb heavy, grease laden breakfasts occasionally. Now I’m eating quinoa in the morning; I barely recognize this person.
If you search the internet for what happens after 30 days no drinking you’ll find a host of articles that address the benefits to your heart and liver. I’ve addressed a couple of the more common ones here with sleep and looks, but there is one that I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere, and for me it’s been the most life-changing; the expansion of time.
For me, the second the cork popped, time stopped. I moved no further ahead in my life. Pouring a glass, meant nothing else was going to happen from that point on—no work, no studying, no exercise, no growth. When I think about the hours, days, and months lost through the years to drinking I cringe. I squandered time, the one currency more valuable than money, and I won’t go down that path again.
I have done dry spells before with alcohol but never with the level of cognition that I did this time and always with the sense that I was depriving myself. When I mentioned I was going to stop drinking for a bit, a friend told me about The 30 Day Alcohol Experiment with Annie Grace. I can’t overstate this enough, if you’re thinking of going dry, do it with Annie. This completely free program has a Facebook group that allows people to seek support and ask questions, plus it comes with a daily email that addresses the cognitive dissonance we hold with alcohol. Breaking through the psychological barrier, and all the associated hang-ups we have with alcohol is freeing.
Over the years, red wine had become a part of my life and my persona. I used to pour a glass of wine, and then another, under the umbrella of “I deserve this”. Life was hard? I deserve this. Life was good? I deserve this. Life was boring and predictable? I deserve this. The reality of course, is that I didn’t deserve to lose hours, jeopardize my health, and undercut my mental health.
Thirty days in I’ve decided I still have some more exploring to do with not drinking, and the psychology student in me is hungry to learn more. So how do you celebrate 30 days not drinking then? How about with 30 more? I deserve this.