A Year Without Alcohol
When this post goes up, I’ll have gone 109 days without alcohol. Most noticeably, without red wine. In this time I have gone on a bachelorette weekend in Mexico, a trip to London and Paris, been in a wedding, gone on dates, been to brunches and showers and holiday dinners, spent time with family, strangers, and myself, all while being sober. While it may seem like I’m trying to pat myself on the back a bit, the truth is, it hasn’t been all that hard most of the time. I am pretty proud of myself though, especially in the moments where it has been on the more difficult side. But more than the pride, I am grateful for the good, and the introspective step back that has come from this decision. And I wanted to share that part of it. But first let me back up a bit.
I am not an alcoholic. At least I’m fairly certain I’m not. I would however, describe my relationship with alcohol as complicated. I was never a drinker or partier growing up. I didn’t drink in high school and college, and never really had the desire to either. It wasn’t until my later 20’s when alcohol started playing a bigger role in my life. The inescapable presence of it at every event, friends who liked to go out a lot, personally falling in love with wine (in an adoration way, not a co-dependent way), etc. I am not someone who feels the need to have alcohol to enjoy myself or to feel more comfortable in social settings or to numb the pain of a rough day, though I don’t deny it’s ability to help in all these situations. I often take breaks here and there to make sure it’s not something that has too strong of a hold on me, and mostly my conclusion is that I truly don’t feel dependent on it, I just enjoy its presence at certain points or events in my week.
But now for the complicated part of our relationship: the moments I have too much and the, let’s just call it “off-brand,” behavior that subsequently follows. I have been able to drink more than desired and walk away with nothing more than a horrible hangover (which honestly should be reason enough to never drink again because I LOATHE hangovers), but lately there have been more regrets than non-issues when it came to having too much to drink. The worst and scariest part being the fact that I would do or say things that Sober Sara most definitely would not have. Specifically in the relationship department. So more than once it’s made me stop and question if this indulgence was something worth keeping in my life.
One night, after a particularly rough weekend, I was lying in bed and literally wrestling with my own thoughts – and maybe God? – around the topic of alcohol.
“Maybe I need to give it up.”
“No, you’re fine, you’re not dependent on it, it’s not a problem.”
“But doing things I regret is a problem.”
“You can just limit yourself moving forward.”
“How has that worked out for you in the past?”
“Maybe you just need some healing around the things that seem to want to come out when you drink.”
“Is it worth it to risk doing more things you might seriously regret just to keep a beverage in your life?”
“What if you tried an experiment and just gave it up for an extended period of time, then you could re-evaluate from there?”
“Better than saying you’ll give it up completely.”
“Ok well how long?”
“One year. Enough time to take you through all the seasons, events, and life situations you can pack into one period of time.”
“One year?! Without wine??”
“K, how bout you sleep on it?”
The crux of the argument circling around the fact that it didn’t feel “fair” to have to give up something I enjoy, that isn’t a problem for me 95% of the time, for the 5% of the time that it is. I just wanted to believe I could not make bad choices when I drink, but deep down, I don’t think I could trust myself enough to say that I knew that could be true.
So I did end up going to sleep after that tiring conversation with myself, and awoke still not knowing what I would decide to do. As I was getting ready that morning, I turned on the podcast I was in the middle of and within 1 minute of pressing play, I heard this sentence from the person being interviewed on that particular episode (having nothing to do with alcohol whatsoever): “I had decided to give up alcohol for all of 2017 as an experiment, because I was inspired to do it, and I wanted to see how my life would change.”
A wave of awe rushed over me, realizing the non-accidental timing of hearing that exact time frame given to me just the night before, now being spoken into existence right before me. The awe quickly turned to sadness, and I burst into tears in my bathroom, coming to terms with the fact that this indeed confirmed the bleak reality that I would be taking a year off from drinking (wine).
The tears lasted only a moment, as I made some last minute bargaining pleas with my brain (“But what about that one last bottle of wine you have?? You can’t just give it away, can you??”), and as I mentally tabulated the upcoming events that were now about to be alcohol-free. But the podcast quote actually sparked another [surprising] feeling in me too: excitement. I liked the word ‘experiment,’ and the thought of this being an intentional choice for my well-being and for deepening my joy, rather than a punishment for bad behavior.
I had already been on a transformative journey of self-growth, and so I saw this as an opportunity to deepen that growth, allowing myself to be that much more present in my everyday life and with my thoughts and feelings. I also have felt like I’m getting closer to meeting the partner I’m supposed to be with, and in a season of dating and making choices around such an important and beautiful part of my life, I really didn’t want to mess that up with harmful actions or an altered version of myself created by the presence of alcohol. On a related note, I was painfully aware of alcohol’s assistance in keeping me tied to a particular person, and if I was serious about cutting that tie, I needed to do all the things to set me up for success in moving beyond that chapter. Add onto all these reasons the thought of a hangover-free year, feeling great, saving money, and being able to say that I went a whole year choosing myself over alcohol, and I actually started viewing this experiment as a really exciting challenge and a radical expression of self-love.
So here I am, almost 4 months in, and I’m happy to say I’m surviving just fine. “Experiment” continues to be such an appropriate word for this decision. It’s a true social experiment in the way of navigating so much of life and social situations with alcohol completely removed from the equation. It also feels experimental because I’m not exactly sure what the outcome will be or what the future will hold in this area. I chose (or was given, rather) the time frame of a year because I knew I needed a more dramatic step back than my normal month off from alcohol, but a time period is also just that. It’s not a guarantee that in exactly 365 days I’ll have gotten to the bottom of why certain behaviors seem to surface so noticeably when I have a bit too much to drink. It’s not a given that at the end of a year I’ll feel ready to trust myself again with alcohol in certain situations or around certain people. So there’s room for grace and re-evaluation. I just knew I wasn’t ready to give up alcohol forever, nor did I feel that was necessary or supposed to be my story, but I am willing to keep looking and seeking inward before being ok with choosing to re-introduce alcohol into my life.
Again, I’ve been surprised at times by how much more do-able this whole thing has been than I had imagined. But the truth is that life is also just a little bit less fun at times. I’m someone who loves going out, drinking wine with my friends, dancing around and rallying everyone to head to my favorite bar, and stubbornly I’ve refused to give most of these pleasures up (minus the wine drinking obvs) because I didn’t want to accept that I needed alcohol to still do these things. And I don’t. But there’s no denying the fact that the vibe is different without the pleasurable warm buzz of alcohol flowing through you. And of its ability to blur the reality that the people around you are becoming increasingly louder, wobblier, and more apt to stay out past 12am all while you’re still acutely alert. I miss being able to include, “let’s go grab a drink” as a fun and valid reason for meeting up with someone. As a non-coffee drinker (this has changed a bit as of late), I miss having my glass of red wine as my “treat” and the thing I could look forward to at the end of a day, a comforting ritual to lean into. I miss wine in general.
As anticipated, I feel pretty darn great physically. My sleep has improved and waking up without a painful headache and an achy body after a night out (or even two glasses of wine) is borderline euphoric. I don’t lose a Saturday or Sunday to laying around in recovery and am hence a more productive human and contributing member of society. I miss nothing about the experience of a hangover.
The lack of regret is arguably the best part. I’ll get home, sometimes emotionally bummed that my night didn’t reflect the more fun, lively version I was accustomed to just a few months back, and get into bed feeling pure and peaceful and at ease. Not pure in a morally superior kinda way (remember that I am not declaring all alcohol consumption as “bad” or as something I’m permanently doing away with – this is just a personal choice for me and this season of my life), but pure in an experiential kind of way. I had spent my night in pure presence and I had full control over every word spoken and action taken. Not to say they’re all perfect or in my best interest still, but there has absolutely been a massive improvement. And so for that simplification I’ve introduced to my life, I am immensely grateful.
I chose to share this whole experience – and plan to continue to share more around it – as an example of self-love and self-care in one’s life. I have found much comfort and strength around recognizing this experiment as one that best serves me and leads to greater good for my life and for those close to me. The question I ultimately answered in coming to this decision was, “Is your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being worth the sacrifice?” And the answer was 100% yes, hands down. Along with the decision to remove alcohol during this year, I planned to do some inner work and healing because I believe the issues I was experiencing had more to do with heart things than it did with the substance itself. So this season has actually been one of intentional addition, rather than just restrictive subtraction. And that’s what I hope to share more of in the months to come (along with some of my go-to non-alcoholic substitutions since I refused to become “boring sparkling water girl”).
Overall, there are still a lot of unknowns as to what the rest of this year and beyond will bring. But I am less worried about the absolutes and the numbers than I am about the protection of my heart and the goodness I am intentionally choosing for myself. Healing and health and knowing ourselves will always be a journey. I hope this post does less to convince people they might need to temporarily give up alcohol, and more to empower you to listen for the voice that’s looking out for your greater good, for the most full and free and joyful life you could imagine, and reminds you that you’re worth pursuing that, and you’re strong enough to do anything it takes to run after that life. Love you friends, sending you peace and love wherever you’re at today.