Benefits of a Year Without Alcohol

Benefits of a Year Without Alcohol

Benefits of a Year Without Alcohol

I’ve been playing with “clean” living for at least fifteen years, around the time when I quit smoking. Once my body had recovered from the over 4000 chemical toxins I fed it daily for a decade and a half, I began exploring “clean” eating to alleviate a lifelong stomach issue. I also wanted to lose the ten pounds I gained eating Brookside chocolate-covered almonds like they were going out of style. Years later, I swapped all my cosmetics and skincare for clean beauty products, eliminated anything containing perfumes, bought only soy candles, and replaced all harsh chemical cleaning products. I waged war against all endocrine-disrupting pollutants. There was only one thing left that I knew was counterintuitive to all my efforts to live a healthy, vibrant, life…alcohol. 

Holly Whitaker, author of Quit Like a Woman writes,

We read labels. We shun gluten, dairy, processed food and refined sugars. We buy organic. We use natural sunscreens and beauty products. We worry about fluoride in our water, smog in our air, hydrogenated oils in our food, and we debate whether plastic bottles are safe to drink from. We replace toxic cleaning products with Mr. Mayer's and homemade vinegar concoctions. We do yoga, we run, we SoulCycle and Fitbit, we go paleo and keto, we juice, we cleanse. We do coffee enemas and steam our yonis and drink clay and charcoal and shoot up vitamins and sit in infrared foil boxes and hire naturopaths and shaman and functional doctors and we take nootropics, and we stress about our telomeres. We are hypervigilant about everything we put into our body, everything we do to our body and we are proud of this. We Instagram how proud we are of this and follow Goop and Well +Good and drop forty bucks on an exercise class because there are healing crystals in the floor. The global wellness economy is estimated to be worth four trillion dollars. We are on an endless and expensive quest for wellness and vitality and youth. And we drink fucking rocket fuel.

When I read this I laughed out loud and then cried. She was right. I was spending so much money on healing my body only to poison it with ethanol, also known as alcohol and the oldest recreational drug. Surely, Holly was mistaken. This refined, ruby red bouquet of berry fruit and cedar could not possibly be the same as jet fuel, could it? Upon further investigation, it pretty much is, and some spiritus certainly don’t try to hide it. But it didn’t even matter. I couldn’t find a single positive attribute alcohol had in my life, past or present.

It seemed radical to give it up completely. After all, I had been training to “hold my liquor” since I was sixteen. It was always there for me when I needed to fit in with the girls, the boys, the boss, the clients. It tamed my social anxiety and loosened my otherwise serious demeanor considerably. But over the last ten years, my reliance on it to get me through an evening, a Sunday afternoon in my parent’s backyard, or an invitation to a neighbourhood BBQ was undeniable. I couldn’t ignore the debilitating and increasing side effects it had on me or my relationships any longer. It was slowly killing me from the inside out. Robbing me of enjoying the moment and leaving me spinning my wheels, never fully present to my life, thoughts, or body. Starting each day tired and ending it early with happy hour was also chewing into valuable time I needed to get some of my projects off the ground. 

One morning in the spring of 2021, my husband away on a motorcycle trip with his friends, I decided that if I ever wanted to see my book written, I had to become clean. I wanted to see what would be possible if I didn’t consume alcohol for one year. This wasn’t my first time attempting to get sober, but there was a new conviction. 

Whether it was the accumulation of tools I had from all previous failed attempts or whether it was a stronger why, I knew with humble certainty that this time would be different. 

Benefits of a Year Without Alcohol

The hardest part about choosing an alcohol-free life was choosing myself over being liked or accepted by others. I loved how Catherine Gray said it in her fantastic memoir The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober,

Alcohol is the only drug where the second you stop taking it, you're seen as being too weak to handle it. When we give up alcohol, it's like we've chosen to leave the party.

I had been warned that I may lose some friendships over it. But it still hurts when you discover that you’re no longer considered fun and the invitations to parties and events stop, especially when it involved my husband. He had been very supportive of my decision but he didn’t quit drinking. I saw the disappointment on his face when he thumbed through Facebook pictures of good times had by all, and we didn’t even know they were happening. 

When I decided to remove alcohol from my life, the gift I never imagined was freedom. Freedom from worry. “Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Is anyone noticing that I’m pouring my third glass while they’re still on their first?” Then there were the incessant thoughts about it. “Will there be enough wine? What if we run out of wine?” I had no idea how much I spent thinking about drinking until I quit. 

My favorite remains to be the amount of time I gained back. Drinking stole a lot of hours from my life. There was the obvious…hangover time, during which the most productive thing I could manage was to drive to a pub and order a burger. But while I was pouring drinks, I wasn’t very prolific either. I wasn’t present to anyone in my company. I certainly couldn’t do anything that required motor skills or thought, and whatever I learned, well, I had forgotten by the end of the evening.

Perhaps the most significant liberation came in the form of free-thinking. I wanted to break free from all doubts, restrictions and governance and nurturing a clear head and reconnecting with my senses was the ticket. I couldn’t imagine ever attending a party, concert, vacation, or other festivals without a drink in my hand. Gaslighting and manipulation were far easier when I was numbed out. Today I can’t image a life without the freedom and confidence I reclaimed just by saying “no” to alcohol. 

The advice I would give to myself a year ago is this,

Don’t worry about what falls away. The life that becomes possible because you chose yourself will satiate your thirst and warm your soul more than a bottle of Pinot Noir ever could. Recognize the milestones! Every day you go to bed clean is a gift of freedom.

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