Reflecting On 365 Days Without Alcohol: Why? And Was It Worth It?

It’s hot. And it’s humid. Typical January day in Sydney. The consequences of my earlier decision to stand in front of the blazing hot barbeque, to grill an assortment of vegetables, is dawning on me. All the while my mind keeps playing the yes/no/yes/no tug of war with the thought of popping open an ice cold bottle of pale ale.

Breaking well-ingrained habits is hard. But changing bad habits you struggle with right now is not about the hacks, or the newest trick someone else is selling. When you convince yourself of something, you can then use the newly found reasoning as a fuel to make things happen.

The first six weeks of 2018 were challenging. Not a single sunny summer’s day passed without an urge of having a drink. During hot days it was the thought of a beer. Then it was few fingers’ worth of Scotch while playing the guitar. Or a glass of Pinot while watching a movie. As challenging as it was I knew these thoughts are the exact reason I am doing this. The reason I am denying myself the joys of alcohol for the next 52 weeks.

Somewhat remarkable perhaps then is that, except for a handful or two of special occasions, I haven’t been much of a drinker since my late 20s. In my thirties there hasn’t been many occasions where I have had over five drinks on any one day. So yeah, not much of a binge drinker.

Instead, what I had become, like so many of us as we get older, was a habitual-alcohol-connoisseur. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a drink or two 3-4 nights a week. Again, not much by most standards, but it made me uneasy. I also paid attention how the anticipation of each holiday or any special occasion was wrapped around how nice it will be to have a drink or two when we get to the airport, destination, party, and so on. Too many things had become about “it’ll be nice to have a drink when…”. It felt as if I was judging the success of each situation with how good the moment of the first sip would be. And I became increasingly uncomfortable with this.

I felt like I needed to break a habit.

Ah, the anxiety rising

The more I thought of not drinking for a year the more uncomfortable I felt. I thought of all the occasions I’d have to go through without having a drink: upcoming holiday, celebrating the birth of our son, going to see a band, and any of the social minglings where I now couldn’t lube up my awkward sociability with the world’s most potent relaxation-oil, alcohol.

However, this cycle of thoughts twisted my mind into positive knots. This perception became a weird self-enforcing reason I absolutely had to go through 52 dry weeks.

Feeling these strong emotions about just the thought of not drinking scared me to think I am not in control of my behaviour. That not going ahead with this now means I am too weak to do it. It all became this fucked up conquest where I needed to show myself who runs the kingdom of my cerebral arteries.

Nothing better than peer-pressure

To further explore the dry year I talked to my wife and friends about my plans. I shared the idea because I knew by making it public I would force myself to follow through with the actions. Like my best mate told me over the phone around Christmas 2017 when I was telling him about maybe doing a dry year: “you might think you are deciding whether to go ahead with it, but you’ve already decided”.

It was those same thoughts that kept me from not drinking the first six weeks when breaking the habit was the hardest. I had convinced myself that by having a drink I will admit a defeat. That I am not in full control of my choices in life. So it wasn’t about avoiding situations where the temptations of drinking (although that could help those with real issues of alcoholism) could arise, but about having a strong enough reasons to say no.

Was there any benefits for not drinking for a year?

On a hindsight, I wish I would’ve taken blood tests late 2017 so I could now compare before and after figures. But I didn’t until I went in for my annual health check in February (always around my birthday so it’s easy to remember). And by that time I’d already been drink-free for five or six weeks. So I have none of the hard evidence to give and can only go by what I feel like.

I wake up fresher

Even a single drink makes a difference to how I feel in the morning. Not a great deal of a difference, but there is some. I felt like it is just a little easier to get out of bed. Then on few times when I had multiple non-alcoholic beers I had as good of a time I would’ve had with normal beer, but felt incredible going to bed and getting up in the morning. I am risking sounding obvious, the difference between getting up after five drinks vs none is huge.

It’s not really about the alcohol

I’ve noticed that a big part of having a drink is about the habit of just lifting some sort of liquid to my lips, and less so about the effects of alcohol. When others would have a drink I would often have sparkling water, or even just plain H20. And on few special occasions I had multiple non-alcoholic beers, a habit I can see myself keeping just to avoid the hangover the next day.

Occasionally throughout the year, when walking past a pub, I’d see folks sitting with a drink and think how nice it would be to down one. But when I examined my thoughts a bit further, I learned that it was the desire for the feeling of sitting in a pub, not really for the drink itself.

I stopped associating everything with a drink

I don’t look forward to holidays or special occasions with the forefront thought of having a beer, wine or a Scotch. Not wanting to sound like an enlightened dickhead, but I have a altered picture of what having fun, or enjoying life means. It sounds wanky, but it is how I feel.

My diet has a lot more flexibility

Let’s be clear, due to my body type and lifestyle my diet can tolerate a fair bit of high calorie eating habits, even with a moderate amount of booze in the mix. But without the frequent calories from drinking I have had so much room in my eating that I can eat quite freely and still stay healthy. Both in the way I look and how my body works and how my training feels. Not that I gorge myself on Maccas or anything, but things like heavy coconut cream has been a frequent visitor in my bowels lately.

I don’t feel like I need to explain to people why I don’t drink

It is what it is: I am not having a drink today.

Also, from now on I can just point anyone to this blog post. Bingo.

Does this now mean that my drinking days are in the past?

As of writing this, I don’t think so. I still think that having a drink, when done in moderation, can be a life-enriching experience. It can act as a gate to a different culture, the same way as food does, especially when travelling. And it can be a starter for a great conversation. But I can also see myself choosing a non-alcoholic beer (that tastes like beer) when there is the option to do so.

I don’t enjoy the feeling of being drunk, or even the lightheadedness I get after few drinks, but I love exploring. I love trying different beers, choosing the wine for a dinner and being a snob about the complexities of different whiskeys. I find the history surrounding various fancy alcoholic beverages an endlessly fascinating topic. And don’t even get me started on matching food and drink. What can I say, once a bartender, always a bartender.

Yet, I have thought about stopping drinking altogether. I had thought of that on multiple occasions even before going the year without. But if you’ve been following my stuff for a while now you’d know that except for hating Nazis, Kardashians and weak coffee, I repel absolutes. Whether it’s food, training, or alcohol. But I believe everyone should do a year without a drink, just to see what it might reveal, both about you and those around you.

Ok, where did I leave my (non-alcoholic) beer?

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