I Quit Drinking for 3 Months After Drinking Almost Daily For Years. The Results…
In a word: Enlightening
January 22, 2020
I did not consider myself an alcoholic, even though I drank wine most nights. Wine with dinner is totally normal. No cause for alarm.
I’d pour my first glass when I got home from work or while cooking, and when it was empty, I’d refill it. Some nights it would be a couple glasses, some nights it would be the whole bottle. I wasn’t getting wasted, just relaxing and unwinding. I still went to work, went to the gym, walked the dog, paid the bills, and was a generally responsible and self-aware adult. No problem.
A teensy, weensy part of me thought I kind of drank a lot, but having a drink or three in the evenings was the norm in my social (and professional) circle. I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years — our reputation for imbibing is well-earned. My job was stressful and wine was an instant antidote. (Bong hits, too, but that’s another story.)
When I left my full-time post to freelance, I kept up my drinking pace. Even without the stress of constant deadlines, a little wine in the evening (sometimes more than a little) was still part of the routine.
While I spent more than a decade writing about Hollywood, my real interest has long been in health and human behavior. In my free time, I devoured books and podcasts on these topics.
One day, I came across an interview with a woman named Annie Grace, who had created something she called The Alcohol Experiment. She invited people to “experiment” with giving up alcohol for 30 days to see what it was like, and offered a free online support program.
I signed up and decided to start the very next day, even though the timing was inconvenient. I knew that if I waited for a “convenient” time, when there were no birthdays or family gatherings or assignments or potential stressors on the horizon, it would never happen. And it was only 30 days, so why not? It’s not like I was agreeing to quit drinking forever.
Each day, I got an email that included a little bit to read and a short video. I slurped these up every morning after writing in my journal. Grace talked about alcohol marketing and its place in our culture, the physical science of how it affects the brain and body and the neuroscience of behavior change.
Every night, when it was time for my glass(es) of wine, I poured sparkling water into a wine glass and counted down the days. “Thirty days of this,” I told myself.
I was afraid to go out to dinner. I am the gal who always, ALWAYS orders wine at a restaurant. I have three glasses while everyone else has two. Wine is part of going out to dinner. I wouldn’t even choose a place that didn’t serve it.
But this was an experiment, right? So when I went out with one of my closest friends, I asked the server to please bring me sparkling water in a wine glass. I toasted with my friend as she drank wine and I cheers-ed myself for honoring my 30-day commitment. It’s only 30 days. One-twelfth of one year. Not forever.
I started drinking when I was 14 years old, in high school. My drink of choice then was peppermint schnapps (gross). I was a typical teenage drinker: lots of drama and crying, frequent barfing and overall immature ridiculousness. By the time I got to college, I was over alcohol. That’s when I discovered pot, and I used that instead of booze at parties for all four (OK, five) years.
When I entered the grown-up working and dating world, I started having the occasional adult beverage — a pina colada if I was on vacation, a glass of wine at a party. I can’t pinpoint when it became a regular, near-daily thing, but as I got older, I drank more, in both quantity and frequency.
Still, I didn’t feel out of control, and judging by my peers, my drinking wasn’t excessive. We all loved events with open bars. Wine-tasting weekends were a great way to celebrate birthdays and special achievements. Yet something must have been up with me, because I instituted a “Dry Mondays” policy. Most weeks, though, I forgot about the policy and ended up with a drink in hand.
So when I heard that interview about the Alcohol Experiment, taking a 30-day break sounded like it would probably be a good idea.
The first couple weeks were the hardest. I was thinking about drinking constantly. I was talking about it ad nauseam and boring everyone, including myself. I was counting the days. Time slowed down and 24 hours took forever.
Then, miraculously, I started to feel kind of OK, if not better than OK, about my new sparkling water routine. My skin looked better. I was reading at night instead of watching TV. I had committed to myself to go 30 days without drinking, so I knew I was really going to do it, but honestly I expected the entire experience to be unpleasant. I told myself to focus on what I was gaining rather than what I was giving up, but I wasn’t fully sold.
But having water instead of wine every day started to make me feel a little bit like a superhero, and a subversive one at that (my favorite kind). Look at me, how I could cook dinner without drinking! Look at how I didn’t have to buy multiple bottles a week at the grocery store! Look at how I was sleeping just fine and waking up with new energy!
I learned through those daily emails about alcohol’s chemical effects in the body, how it stimulates the release of cortisol, which I already knew was the stress hormone. I started to notice newspaper reports debunking the idea of a “healthy” glass of wine, and even claims that alcohol is a carcinogen. Had I been ignoring this stuff? Or was it one of those things where you don’t see it til you see it? (Seems like someone so interested in health and wellness should have been aware of all this.)
As my 30-day goal neared, I found myself unexpectedly nervous. I’d removed this beloved thing from my life, and in the interim learned that it was actually terrible for me. Now I had new things to be afraid of. Would I be able to have a drink once in a while, say on a Saturday night at a restaurant, without returning to a regular habit? Would I be able to have a single glass of wine and stop?
I wasn’t sure, so I extended my personal alcohol experiment for another 30 days. That meant I’d be booze-less on the Fourth of July and during a family-reunion trip to Wisconsin, which ranks as one of the drunkest states in the country.
On that trip, I matched others’ beers with LaCroix. So what if I had six cans in one afternoon? When we first landed in Milwaukee, I considered abandoning my commitment. I mean, there are bars on every corner — literally. But I knew somewhere deep inside that that first drink would taste like a personal letdown and I didn’t want to do that to myself. While in Wisconsin, I extended my alcohol-free commitment for another 30 days.
So I did not have a drink on my birthday. I did not lift a glass at my niece and nephew’s Bar and Bat Mitzvah. I ordered mocktails at open bars and bought expensive bottles of water at concerts.
My 90-day goal passed a couple weeks ago and I am not drinking and not planning to. I told my husband I’d consider having a sip of champagne on our anniversary if he orders a glass, but I know I’ll be just as happy with a virgin mojito.
So what does it feel like to spend a few months living without booze? Surprisingly great. I can always drive myself home from dinners and parties. I always know where I parked my car the night before. I don’t wake up nauseas or bloodshot-eyed. I’m saving more than $150 a month.
And I’m developing a confidence and self-knowing I never had before. I can make a commitment and keep it, even when no one cares but me. I can sit through stress and uncomfortable situations without needing a liquid escape. I can even dance my ass off sober (ask my niece and nephew).
I can have a drink if I want to, but I haven’t wanted to yet.
I’m inspiring myself, which is about the best thing I can imagine and something I didn’t really know was possible. And since I began my “experiment,” I’ve quit other things, too. Like Diet Coke!! I fucking gave up Diet Coke!! I stopped smoking pot. It’s nuts what’s happening over here.
I wanted to write this because as I’ve been traveling this new road, reading about others’ experiences has been so comforting to me. Nobody wants to feel like they have a dependence issue. Nobody wants to be an addict. It’s a super scary thing to consider and/or admit about yourself.
I used to feel bad for people who were sober, like they had abused their right to have fun and now were doomed to being straight-headed all the time. It never occurred to be that it could be liberating, much less better than being intoxicated. I never knew.
I’m not saying I’ll NEVER have a drink or smoke pot again. I would totally do ayahuasca with a shaman. I’d take mushrooms at Burning Man. Or not. I found out I feel pretty good just being me.
About the Writer:
Sandy Cohen is a Los Angeles-based writer, nature lover and fitness enthusiast. She spent more than a dozen years covering Hollywood for The Associated Press before shifting her focus to health and wellness, both in writing and in life.
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