Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why I Quit Drinking for 60 Days

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...technically, it's been 64 ...And counting.

Full disclosure: Besides mixing pretty cocktails and then taking their picture, I've never been that interested in actually drinking alcohol. I didn't touch the stuff until I was 22 (yes, I was straight edge in high school...) and, over the past few years, have gone fairly long stretches without it, abstaining for a month or so, maybe a few weeks. I like wine. And whiskey... sort of. But for the most part don't care for any of it in large amounts -- I like the room better when it's not spinning and, on my constant quest (crusade?) for better sleep, avoiding the sulfites and sugars that rob me of my rest is worthy of being cast as a potential social pariah.

But still, there were moments of over-indulgence...

On New Year's Day, I woke as I imagine many did: roused from a fitful hour's worth of sleep to the harsh light of a new year. Whoops. "That's it for me," I said to my sorry self in the mirror, before crawling back under the covers to hide from my own puffy reflection. The 1st meant the holidays were finally over (I think I'm beginning to hate the holidays?), that insurmountable peak of good cheer and emotion and overindulgence and work, and my body needed rest. And care. And vegetables. And so that's what I gave it. Taking January to reset and recharge and rediscover the habits that make me feel most connected to myself, after a season of feeling completely disconnected, depressed and frenetic. Leaving behind the habits I knew to be damaging, habits that contributed to my overall feeling of malaise.

But still, I didn't go into this intending to avoid the stuff for two months, but that's what happened. And I feel fucking fantastic.

Throughout the month of January -- a month when many, like myself, choose to go "dry" for a time -- I read accounts of others giving up alcohol and the various effects their abstinence had. Some lost friends. Some rediscovered themselves. Some saw improvement in their jobs and declining numbers on the scale. Each experience valid and very specific to the person. I had no expectations for myself... all I wanted was to feel better... and I did. The fog in my head cleared, and my skin did, too. As days went by my complexion acted less and less like that of a moody teenager and my eyes ditched the baggage they'd been carrying for far too long. And that's what kept me going, not only the fact that I felt better internally, but that I'd begun to recognize my face again in the mirror. When the opportunity arose to go out, I didn't shrink away; instead, I joined my friends and ordered seltzer with a lime or lemon. And the world didn't end. I carried no embarrassment for not partaking, and passed no judgement on those who did. This was a quiet choice (until now, of course), one that accompanied a shift in mindset and mood. When January 31st rolled around, I didn't find myself reaching desperately for a glass of Malbec, so instead of picking up where I left off 30 days earlier, I decided I'd do a Whole30.

Go big or go home, right?

If you're unfamiliar, in the simplest of terms the Whole 30 requires you give up not only alcohol, but also grains, legumes, sugar and dairy. For 30 days. I encourage you to read up on it, but essentially it's a reset for your body, a chance to break habits (hi sugar) and discover the foods you may be sensitive to. In a word, it's strict Paleo and it's done wonders for me over the years, helping me to break bad habits and transition to a diet that makes me feel my best. While this wasn't my first rodeo, it was my first time entering into the ring having already given up a major category. And I was apprehensive simply because I expected to feel deprived of the social norm of drinking at some point. There are only so many times you can go out for a seltzer, right? Turns out, not really. Instead, forgoing alcohol brought awareness to why I enjoy going out in the first place: drinking isn't the thing, the connection with another person is the thing. Giving up alcohol invited me to explore other options, rediscovering my love for long afternoon coffee dates and Sunday afternoon walks. As February rolled along, so too did I, rather than picking up a bottle of wine and holing up on the couch after a particularly rough day, I made it a point to shake off my mood and do something productive. Even if it was just the dishes or putting away the heap of clothes on my side of the room. As I brought thought and awareness to my habits surrounding food and drinking, I began feel the same awareness creeping in to other areas of my life. Thoughts, feelings, actions... I found I was better able to process everything and bounce back quicker with a clear head and heart. And there was one other thing I'd begun to notice... I was sleeping better than ever and actually dreaming again, after years of never remembering my dreams or having none at all.

And now suddenly, it's March. And my 30 days will be over, well... two days ago. And so the question of "what now?" has inevitably arisen. It's been 64 days and, while the experience has absolutely been profound, I'm not one for absolutes. I'm not out to break any personal records, but I'm not exactly in a hurry to go back to my old ways, either. I'll likely have a glass of wine eventually but, like gluten and sugar and dairy and all the other things I've eschewed over the past month, I'll partake in a much more mindful manner, without fear or obligation, knowing now how incredible I feel without it. Even though my consumption was light before (save for that unfortunate New Year's), to me, the interrupted sleep, acne and tired eyes just isn't worth it. These 64 days have been a breeze and a gauntlet but, ultimately, I was brought closer to myself by bringing distance between me and my habits. Perspective can only be gained by stepping back, and I'm glad I did.

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Images by Jana Kirn, a version of this post appeared here as part of my work with Free People


Nora Gouma said...

Absolutely interesting blog, I love to read it, thanks for sharing!!!


Monika Wlodarczyk said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. So interesting!


Anonymous said...

I'm on day 18 of my 4th round of Whole 30. I loved what you had to say and can relate in may ways; better mood, better sleep, more focus, glowing skin and getting shit done!

Heather Patton said...

Isn't it strange how even occasional drinking can wreak havoc on your system? While I enjoy a good glass of wine now and then, as I get older I've noticed it disrupts my sleep and almost always gives me a headache the next day - even just one glass does that to me!

I appreciate your honesty about all this, and I'm glad you've found ways to be more mindful about how food/alcohol affects you! Keep up the great work!

Jenny Lee, The Dictioncanary said...

This was so refreshing to read! I was the same way - straight edge through high school and most of college/didn't drink until I was 22-23/didn't actually enjoy it for a long time after I did start. And lately I've been thinking of rewinding and doing the exact same thing. Trying to get back into that more ambitious and creative mentality. Less wine, more energy/productivity. The inspiration is much appreciated!

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