At the beginning of this year (2018), from January to the end of March I didn’t consume any alcohol. My girlfriend Marie and I wanted to challenge ourselves to not have any drinks for three months and so in perfect resolution timing we started the first of January.
This was an interesting experiment for me and it was probably the first time I had gone this long without having a drink since I started drinking. We had done a month before without drinking and felt really good and so we decided to challenge ourselves to go three months. I learned a lot about myself and the affects of alcohol from this experiment.
(1) It gets harder before it gets easier: I used to drink quite often, most weekends and a drink or two after work sometimes. It becomes such a natural part of your social life that you don't even really think about it. We would casually have drinks almost every weekend and so when we started it was a habit to be out with friends and want to have a beer or glass of wine, but after the first two weeks I didn’t feel the need for a drink anymore. Alcohol like sugar and other addictive substances stays in your system and your body will crave it until it’s completely flushed from your system.
(2) I slept better: After the alcohol was out of my system I started having the most restful sleep. I didn’t have trouble sleeping before and I didn’t even notice I wasn't sleeping as good when I was having a few drinks, but about two weeks after not drinking I noticed my sleep improve. I also noticed the opposite after reintroducing alcohol back into my system after the 3 months. I would have two glasses of wine and wake up feeling groggy.
(3) You save a lot of money: Drinking is expensive, and by not drinking you can save a lot of money over the course of a few months, especially if drinking is a regular social outing for you and your friends. For example if you're out for supper with your partner and you each have two drinks. Most places a drink is around 6-7 dollars on average so lets say 4 drinks total between you both at $7 a pop thats $28 saved on one night out. I suggest tracking how much you spend on alcohol in a month to paint a clear picture of how much you actually spend over the course of a month.
(4) Weekends become super productive: When you wake up Saturday morning and you went to bed at a reasonable time and don't have a hangover its amazing what you can get done with your weekend.
(5) People will want you to have a drink: If you're out and you're not drinking, people will ask why you're not drinking. It’s an odd thing, but when we’re drinking we want people to drink with us, there’s a certain mood that comes from sharing a drink with friends. I found that by telling people I was challenging myself for 3 months not to drink, friends would become encouraging of my challenge instead of continuing to rouse me.
(6) You want to try other habits that are good for you: When you aren't having drinks for fun on the weekend it makes you try other things to fill your time and energy. I often found it much easier to follow through with my workout plan because I wasn't skipping days feeling lethargic due to staying out late the night before. For me alcohol was a key habit, that by removing alcohol from my system there was a domino effect towards my overall health. Gone were the late night fast food runs after the bar, and skipping workouts due to a hangover. My overall health and fitness had greatly improved and it was easier than ever to maintain.
(7) I realized I could live without alcohol in my life: You might be thinking, but you said you reintroduced alcohol after the three months why would you do that if you realized you could go without it. Before we took a three month break from drinking I couldn't really picture my life not drinking, It was just one of those things that I had enjoyed for so long it was what my friends and I did when we got together, it was what happened at family gathering, it was just there. At the end of the three months, part of me didn’t really want to have a drink, because I felt so good mentally and physically and could now see myself living without alcohol in my life. I did end up having a few drinks and I do to this day still have drinks on occasion, but this experiment completely changed the way I look at alcohol in my life.
(8) You don't stay out as late when your not drinking: Even though we didn’t drink for three months we didn’t do it by avoiding situations where there would be drinking. We went to birthday parties and events and had a lot of fun at different social outings. When you're not drinking it’s easier to listen to your body and at midnight when your bodies tired you say good bye to your friends and go home to sleep. You eventually find out that between the hours of 12 and 3 in the morning you're not missing much. I would see all my friends get in a good catch up and then go home as they were heading off to the bar or starting the next round of a drinking game. I’ve had some great times drinking and staying up all night and I wouldn't trade those, but most nights that you go home early you don't end up missing too much, other than a hangover the next day.
(9) There is clarity that comes from not drinking: When you make a change to your daily life it forces you to look at things differently. I didn’t rely on alcohol to get through the day, but there were situations where I definitely had a drink to take the edge off. Alcohol is a social lubricant, it makes talking to strangers easier and more fun. However if we lean on a substance to help us out in certain situations eventually that muscle weakens and you forget how to engage people in conversation without feeling anxious. Most of us have something we lean on, or distract ourselves with to avoid dealing with the hard things in our lives. When we remove these buffers we’re forced to look at the things that are bothering us and work through them. Consuming drugs or alcohol has a negative connotation and so its easier to point out when someone is avoiding there problems through substance, but there are other ways that we avoid our issues that can be viewed in a positive light. Eating, overworking, even excessive exercise can be used to avoid dealing with the challenges in our lives. By temporarily depriving ourselves of our crutches it forces us to stare our fears and issues in the face and re-evaluate why we do the things we do.
I learned a lot about myself over the course of those three months and Marie and I have talked about doing something similar each year. Even though I enjoy having drinks out with friends or sharing a bottle of wine with Marie, it’s easy to slip back into old behaviours and use alcohol as a way of rounding the edges of life. I would recommend trying this experiment if alcohol is a part of your life. Even if you drink sparingly and don't think it plays that big a part in your life; the perspective change can be enlightening.
By trying things that interrupt our daily or weekly patterns we can throw off old habits that are no longer serving us and break through the limiting beliefs that hold us in place.