When I started my blog I knew I wanted to do a “30 Day Challenge” series, of which I am kicking off with 30 days without alcohol! Many people begin the new year with ‘Dry January’, so I thought it would be the perfect time to start the series. And guess what? I started writing this blog on what was my 31st day without alcohol which means… I MADE IT! Dry January was a SUCCESS! I haven’t gone this long without alcohol for a few years and it feels amazing. It also made for an interesting 30 days full of observations and lessons learned.
Before diving in, here’s a little backstory on my drinking “history” to provide context around why I observed and felt some of the things I did: I grew up in a city where drinking came into the picture at a young age. I had my first beer when I was in 8th grade, in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Stereotypical, I know. I recall not enjoying the taste as me and my two best friends shared one whole can of beer, and from there on drinking was part of the picture.
During high school, I was definitely in the party scene. House parties and field parties were the norm during weekends and, I have to say, I felt like everyone was drinking. Looking back, I know that’s not true, but I when you’re young and you feel like everyone is doing something, it’s easier for you to want to do the same thing.
Fast forward to college, where I attended the #1 party school in the nation (go Hawks!), the drinking only sped up from there. Drinking on weeknights and practically all weekend was normal. Blacking out and getting wasted was normal. In fact, it was almost bragged about! “Oh man I was so wasted the other night I don’t remember anything!” How cool were we, right?
After I graduated from college, my drinking slowed down, but not by much. I’ve never been one to drink on my own, so it was usually “limited” to weekends – and sometimes, all weekend long, because Sunday Funday never really goes away.
My drinking habits have definitely declined over recent years and I now typically only drink 1-2 nights per week. Unfortunately, I’ve never been great with moderation, so even though I don’t drink as often, I still tend to drink one too many on a usual night out. Now, when I say one too many, I mean it’s not a rare occurrence for me to blackout. I feel like I’ve got to be honest about that. I have a super low tolerance because I don’t drink often, so I’m usually trying to “keep up” with those around me. Because I have a low tolerance, it really doesn’t take much for me to cross that line. And when I’m having a great time, I’m not usually concerned with keeping track of how many drinks I’m having.
So there you have it. I wanted to be totally forthcoming with my drinking history because as I read through my observations, I realized that they all might make sense to me, but not everyone has had the same experiences with alcohol. Some of you reading this may not be able to relate, but I have a feeling a large majority of you can. Now that I’ve given you some context, I’m hoping it might make more sense as to why I made some of the observations I did or why I felt the way I did during the process. Let’s dive in!
Drinking and our society
I’ve always known that drinking is embedded in our society and culture, but it wasn’t until I stopped drinking that I realized just how much. Going to brunch? Bottomless mimosas are a must! Watching football on a Sunday? Beer and pizza it is! Having a movie night with your girlfriends? The question isn’t what movie are we watching, but who’s bringing the wine?!
One night I went bowling with some friends who were also doing dry January. When we got to the bowling alley, there was a 30-minute wait and the worker said we could grab a drink at the bar while we wait. I made two observations here: 1) it’s assumed that everyone drinks and 2) we only had a 30-minute wait and literally didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Normally, we would go to the bar to have a drink and pass the time. But why did it feel so weird to wait and NOT be having a drink? This was the first time I was really able to see how intwined drinking is in our day-to-day lives.
This was also the first time I realized that a lot of us assume that we’re all drinkers. After doing some research, it looks as though there are more drinkers vs. non-drinkers in our society, which is why it’s often a surprise when someone says they don’t drink. This would also explain why it can feel so weird NOT to be drinking, especially in situations where you might normally drink or where others around you are drinking.
Drinking and “relaxation”
“I could really use a drink after the day I’ve had!” This is something we hear and say often. Had a stressful day? A glass of wine is just what you need. Going on a first date with someone you’ve never met? A cocktail (or possibly a shot?) is what you need to calm your nerves before heading out. We use alcohol as a means to relax, but have you ever thought about the fact that maybe it really doesn’t help at all?
Alcohol is a depressant, so it does help you feel more relaxed in the short-term. But because it’s a depressant it can also give you more anxiety in the long-term. As someone who struggles with anxiety on a daily basis, I know that drinking makes my anxiety 10x worse. After a night of drinking, I usually wake up super early the next morning, unable to go back to sleep because my anxiety has skyrocketed.
I think a glass of wine after a long day helps to reduce my stress IF I’m around people who help to distract me from whatever it is that’s on my mind. However, I don’t think drinking by myself after a long day helps me relax because drinking tends to make me think even more about whatever it is that’s on my mind. I understand that this is a ‘to each their own’ situation, but an important question to ask yourself: does drinking really help you de-stress? Is it the only thing you can do to help you unwind?
Maybe instead of that glass of wine, you go for a walk or read a book. I think there are certainly healthier alternatives to drinking that would have a more relaxing effect. It’s interesting that there’s such a strong correlation between drinking and relaxing – perhaps it’s one big habit our society has developed? I’m not sure – just thinking “out loud” 😊
Drinking and mental/physical health
I noticed slight physical and mental effects during the 30 days without alcohol. A lot of people have asked if I slept better. The initial response was no, but after thinking about it, I technically did sleep better because after a night of drinking I barely sleep at all. The sleep you get after a night of drinking isn’t great, which is why you feel so tired the next day. So while on a night-by-night basis, I slept the same as I normally do, overall I slept better because I wasn’t having those awful, restless nights of drunken sleep in between.
Not drinking had a somewhat positive effect on my anxiety, similarly to how it affected my sleeping. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) quite some time ago, so while I’m typically quite anxious on a daily basis, the days following a night of drinking are usually much worse. After a night out, I usually wake up super early, exhausted from not having slept well and my mind will be racing. If this happens to you, you should definitely read this article to help understand why. So while I didn’t feel a noticeable effect on my day-to-day anxiety, it was nice not having those extra awful days after a night of drinking.
Also, not being hungover left me more motivated which led to some positive things: I worked out regularly and I worked on my blog almost every single day. It is incredibly easy for me to talk myself out of doing something (like working out or writing) if I’m not feeling 100%. But because I felt good every single day, I never had a reason not to get shit done (unless I was choosing to be lazy haha). I cranked out 1 blog per week and worked out several times per week, both things being part of my new year resolutions.
Drinking and social situations
Heading into dry January, I was casually dating and went on two first dates during the month. I was definitely nervous about sober dating because I didn’t know what it would be like. Would I be tense and awkward, since I wouldn’t have alcohol to guide me through my nerves? Would the guy find it weird that I wasn’t drinking?
In the end, both dates were fine, but being sober on a date was definitely a different experience – and overall a good one to have. I know that I don’t need alcohol to date and be confident in myself. Ironically enough, I actually somewhat preferred sober dating. I felt like it gave us a better opportunity to get to know each other and not going to a bar for drinks was a nice change of pace.
It was also interesting having friends ask me to do this or that activity, but because I wasn’t going to drink I wasn’t as interested in attending. Sometimes it was because I knew if I went, I would be the only one not drinking and it can be super annoying being the only sober one in a room full of people who are wasted. This inevitably led me to think that some things just wouldn’t be as fun if I weren’t drinking. Isn’t that sad? Nothing should be less fun solely because you’re not drinking. And if something would be less fun because you’re sober, maybe you should reevaluate the situation.
I also want to mention that I generally don’t have a problem being sober around people who are just having a few drinks, but I do start to feel uncomfortable as I notice people getting wasted. And the truth is, people are just dumb when they’re wasted. It was eye-opening to have conversations with people who didn’t make sense at all. It was annoying being bumped into because people could barely stand straight. If anything, it made me feel embarrassed about some situations I’ve been in that were a complete hot mess because I was drinking. Maybe I said something I shouldn’t have or did something I would never have normally done. This is a fact: people change when they’re drinking. They say things and do things they wouldn’t normally do. It definitely got me thinking about my drinking habits moving forward.
Drinking and money spent/saved
It came as no surprise that I saved money, but what was surprising was just how much! I just finished going over my budget for January and I ended up saving 40% more than I normally do in months where I was drinking. That’s HUGE! I’ve always known that drinking is expensive, which is why I eventually had to include this expense in my budget. But one thing I never thought about, was that if you go out for one drink, you usually end up getting another (and possibly even another haha). So while going out for one drink might not be too expensive, going out for 2+ can definitely break the bank.
Also, I know I make bad spending decisions after a one or four glasses of wine. I tend to order more food if I’m drinking and I’m totally guilty of some late-night Amazon shopping. I’m really bad with impulsive spending situations, and if there’s drinking involved, there’s usually nothing holding me back (#lesigh). It was interesting for me to realize that even one drink can start to effect my judgment. Not drinking saved me money in more ways than one and that was a great feeling.
Drinking and wasted days (no pun intended)
As mentioned before, my hangovers are the worst. I’ll spare you the details but there’s usually a 1-2 day recovery period which consists of me curled up on the couch drinking Pedialyte and watching Harry Potter. It’s not a pretty, or fun, situation. So being sober for 30 days also meant 30 days of no hangovers and I felt GREAT!
I got things done and there wasn’t a single day (unless it was by choice) that I didn’t get something checked off my to-do list. Looking back at how many days I’ve wasted because of drinking and being hungover makes me so sad. Life is too short to waste them on the couch. I guess I want to be in control of whether I have a lazy day, and not be forced to have them because of a night out.
Many wonderful things resulted from being sober for 30 days: I saved money, I got shit done, and I felt better overall. So the question is: why would I go back to old ways if so many positive things resulted from not drinking? This is a question I’m currently asking myself and I don’t yet have the answer. Of course, one possibility is to drink in moderation aka don’t drink so much that you end up getting a hangover. Be in control of your drinking. But as mentioned earlier, I’ve never been great with moderation. Maybe this is something I need to work on.
I have thought about living a sober life for a few years now. I know the benefits that would come from not drinking. So then why is the decision to stop drinking so difficult? I’m not sure. I guess that’s something I’m still trying to figure out. One thing I do know is that 30 days without alcohol has seriously opened my eyes about drinking and about my own drinking habits.
There you have it! I have to admit that writing this blog was not easy. There’s so much more I could say, but I’ll probably break some of my thoughts down into other blog posts. Thank you for reading my novel!
How many of you reading have ever done a dry January challenge? I had a lot of people let me know they were looking forward to this blog, so please feel free to leave any questions or comments – I’d be curious to know your thought!