6 Weeks of Sobriety: A Cautionary Tale
This Summer was a whirlwind to me. From the outside, it looked and felt like all good things. It was my Birthday, the weather was amazing, friends were constantly visiting from out of town, and I felt like I was swinging from one party to the next. Staying out late, always on the town, always having the one drink too many.
It was fun, but it was exhausting. By the end of August I was feeling frayed and severely depleted, and that I wasn’t paying attention to some deeper parts of myself and ignoring the little voices cropping up, telling me that I was wasting my time. I felt this intense need to withdraw. “But I’m having so much fun, why all of a sudden am I unhappy?” This need for seclusion really threw me for a loop. Needing alone time is not unknown to me, but I was craving it so intensely and so consistently that it got to the point where I was annoyed when I had ANYTHING on the calendar keeping me from my time at home with myself and to myself. Despite feeling really badly about saying no to plans (only further fueling my frustrated and conflicted mind), I knew I had to listen.
I started to examine the root cause of what I was feeling. I was tired, yes. I had spent more money than I would have liked to, sure. But, the bigger picture was that I wasn’t making myself and my future goals a priority. I had so many things that I wanted to do, so many things that I wanted to accomplish, so many fields of study I wanted to explore and I was spending all of my time, money and energy actively staying in one place. I was being a people pleaser, and I was numbing all of the little pushes I was getting from the Universe to think bigger and to spend time in engaging in things that would help me grow and build and evolve. I felt sad, I felt mad but the worst of all is that I felt lost and off-track.
Not knowing where to start and how to get back on track, I decided to eliminate a variable and give up alcohol and partying for a little. So, in mid-September, I embarked to give it a shot for, what I told myself was “at least a month”.
As of today (Day 47), here are a few things I’ve learned:
The Importance of Boundaries and Not Being a People Pleaser:
I've talked about this a lot over the last few months but boundaries are so important to your mental well being. Its important to be clear about your own limits, and to operate within those limits. If you are constantly saying “yes” when you’d rather say “no” you’re doing yourself a serious disservice. We all have obligations, sure. But make sure your obligations are truly obligations and not just something you’ve added to your self-imposed list of things you have to do to be liked. Be an obligation to yourself first and all of your other obligations second. Not only will you experience a deeper connection to yourself and cultivate an inner sense of calm and well-being, but you’ll carry that newfound inner calm with you to your interactions with others throughout your day. Showing up from a place of joy and desire will always be more magnetic and powerful than showing up from a place of duty.
Drinking is EXPENSIVE:
Okay, maybe this is one I already knew. Some of my credit card bills over the summer shocked me. Thanks to the spending analytics function on my account (or no thanks to it actually), I noted that I was spending between $1,200.00 to $1,500.00 on “entertainment”, which let’s be honest is just going out to restaurants and bars. I knew that wasn’t in line with my long-term goals, but it’s SUCH a hard habit to break when it’s something that you’re used to. The money that I’ve saved over the last month or so on drinking and eating out alone has been enough to fully pay for our upcoming trip to Australia. Not to mention that I’ve really enjoyed spending more time in the kitchen.
Not Drinking Is Not That Weird:
At the beginning of this little experiment I thought I would just avoid going out altogether, but I also didn’t want to be a total shut in and I still wanted to spend time with my friends, just in a way that was more conducive to my mental well being. Clutching a wine glass (or more likely a champagne glass) while being out with friends and socializing had become a second-nature response. Admittedly, going out the first few times was not easy. Sitting down at a bar and ordering a club soda, made me feel boring and only half present. But as a friend pointed out to me after I apologized for being boring for the 5th time, when you’re out with you friends and they’re drinking, they’re still having the same time with you that they’re used to, you’re just experiencing it through a different lens because you’re sober. They see it exactly the same. As the weeks have gone by, I’ve kind of enjoyed having a coffee or a kombucha while being out. I feel like my conversations have been deeper, more substantive and BONUS, I'm actually retaining the entirety of the conversations I’ve been having! Also, if you have to be drinking to be around your friends, are you even really friends?
Drinking Makes Depression and Anxiety Worse:
This is not a topic that's easy for a lot of us to talk about, but if i'm being honest, depression and anxiety played a huge part in my choice to experiment with cutting out the party juice.
As research has shown, depression and anxiety go hand in hand. We feel anxious, we retreat into ourselves and close ourselves off and then become depressed at our isolated situation and our inability to connect meaningfully, which in turn makes us anxious when we venture out into the world and put ourselves in social situations. Its a vicious cycle and a tough one to break. And many of the times we lean on alcohol as a means to numb the anxiety and that little voice in our heads that tells us how awful we are.
Drinking alleviates that internal voice that tells you you're not good enough, you're not interesting enough, or that you don't have what it takes, but its a false sense of security and only helps momentarily while you're actively drinking. When you sober up, and have to battle that mean internal voice while you're also battling the physical effects of a hangover, its nearly impossible to turn off. Perpetually using this as a coping mechanism will dull your ability to navigate that nasty voice all together. Not to mention that part of why you have a negative view of yourself in the first place, can partly be attributed to the bad decisions you make while intoxicated.
And while were talking about hangovers lets talk about hangover-anxiety. How many bad Sunday nights have you had that can be attributed to a hangover from Saturday night? The anxiety we experience while hungover is a collective of feeling physically ill, and a serious depletion of all that serotonin we blew through the night before. It makes us feel shaky (which can induce an actual panic attack - been there) , clouds our judgement and kills any productive energy making us feel stuck, scared and at times, ashamed.
Cutting out drinking has drastically lowered any episodes of anxiety and helped to dial down that mean inner voice reminding me of all my short-comings. It also has made me much more comfortable socializing sober.
My Body Feels Better:
While i've been on this little hiatus, i've been so much more active. My runs have increased by a couple of miles at a time and i've cut my minutes per mile down by about a full minute.
Digestion is not a topic that is very sexy to talk about, but lets just keep it simple by saying that everything feels much more on track. Without all the internal inflammation of being hungover, my stomach has been much more calm and my body has been much more predictable, digestively.
Also, my SKIN! DAMN! My skin is usually very prone to breakouts and oily areas throughout the day. Cutting out the sugar and dehydration associated with drinking and the coinciding hangover made my skin glow! My skin has much less oil at the end of the day, my pores have shrunk dramatically and i've noticed much fewer breakouts. Not to mention that with all this extra time and energy I can actually stick to my weekly mask routine.
Overall, I just feel lighter, more buoyant and clear and my energy levels are through the roof.
Productivity Level: Expert
Since giving up drinking, I feel like my free time has doubled. Not only am I not wasting my time sitting at a bar or recovering from a nasty hangover, but I'm also energized and feel more capable of taking on more throughout my day and putting myself out there and really being a part of the world.
My ultimate take-away is that I am a better version of me, when I’m not constantly recovering from a hangover and fretting about all the money and time I’ve thrown out the window after having a night out. I feel lighter, more focused, less depressed and anxious and more wholesome within my body and in my own skin. It feels like leveling up and getting more in touch with who I actually am, rather than who the world would like me to be and changing the role i've chosen to play within that.
Its not all rainbows and butterflies, though. When you’ve spent years prioritizing partying and associating your social life and fun with drinking, cutting it out abruptly can give you a bit of an identity crisis. Not to mention that some of the relationships built on a foundation of partying may crumble or become distant.
While you're going through it all and feeling what you feel, make sure you allow room for the more shadowy aspects of your personality to come through. You've been ignoring them and dulling them down with alcohol for years and they need attention. You're going to feel a little strange and probably pretty irritable for the first couple of weeks. Its part of the journey. To help combat that write down your goals, meditate, visualize do what you need to do to empower that person inside of you that you’ve been numbing and those dreams and goals that you haven't been making any steps towards.
I'm not giving up wild nights out with friends, or casual wine while making dinner any time soon, but this dry spell has been very helpful to assist to highlight some areas that I have been ignoring and to help to re-align and with a higher version of myself and become more comfortable in my own skin.