I didn't drink from June 1st of 2017 until June 21st of 2018 where I had a beer at a baseball game in Anaheim watching my Toronto Blue Jays lose to the Angels. This post has been written in my mind a few times over the past year originally dwelling on alcohol and health, then on alcohol and dependance than finally a realization that eliminating drinking from your life isn't really the momentous experience I thought it would be.
Here is what happened in a year of not drinking:
1: My Motivation was higher in the morning: One of the two reasons I originally quit drinking during my marathon training was that I found it difficult to convince myself to get out of bed for early morning runs even if I had a single glass of beer. This notion stuck with me over the years. I do find that I wake earlier, feeling rested and ready to go most mornings after avoiding drinking the night before.
2. I Didn't Drink My Calories: Back when I first started running I was attempting to lose weight (and eventually lost 55 pounds). A piece of advice that resonated with me early was to not drink your calories, meaning avoiding sugary drinks and alcohol. I've been at the same weight now for 5 years and I attribute some of that to not being a regular drinker even when I'm not actively training.
3. I Had Fewer Regrets: I've ever been a problem drinker, though I certainly had binges in my teens and twenties. When I stopped drinking I avoided all those next day cringes at my late night booze induced behaviour. I'll admit that spending time with drunk people now while sober can be occasionally amusing, but for the most part I prefer to avoid it. Drunk jokes aren't nearly as funny when you're sober.
4. It Clamped Down on my Social Life (at first): When you show up to a pub with friends and order sparkling water it can be funny and a source of ribbing one or two times. You'll get some insistence from some people that you indulge. After a time you'll get invited out less often. I found the same when I stopped eating animals, I received fewer dinner invitations. Generally what I've learned is that people enjoy spending time with like-minded people and you have to be OK with that. After some time your true friends and family will get used to you as you are and the invites will return. The key is to assure them your choices have nothing to do with them, to never judge and to be relaxed about comments made to you about your non-conforming choices.
5. I Became More Genuinely Social: For me, drinking greased the wheels of social interaction. I'm one of those people that enjoys being around others, but tends to be shy at the same time. It's an odd mix of extroversion and introversion. Alcohol often helped bring out what I felt was the true me, a chatty outgoing happy person. What I found in sobriety was that while I wasn't as outgoing, the interactions I had were much more genuine, interesting and meaningful. I also learned to listen. It turns out that "drunk me" talks a lot and "sober me" listens more. While sober, I found people and their opinions much more interesting and was better able to ascertain whether I enjoyed being around particular people.
6. I Did Frequently Get Asked If I Was an Alcoholic: This was a big source of internal anxiety for me around the halfway point of this experiment when I was attending Christmas parties. I was worried about the perception by others that I'd be an alcoholic. Eventually I sat with a friend of mine that is an addictions counsellor and asked his advice on how to avoid the stigma. His answer surprised me. "Why does it matter? So what if people think you're an alcoholic." That gave me pause. I realized I'd had this misguided notion that a drinking problem was some sort of fault or cause for shame. His simple answer helped me to let it go. If asked directly I simply answered that no I didn't have a drinking problem but I became completely at ease with others assuming I had.
7. I Didn't Miss It (usually): I had my first weak moment around 10 months in. I can't remember the exact event but it was a craving for a cold beer I think on a hot day. I expected to have frequent moments of temptation but they just didn't occur. I do like a nice glass of whiskey at times and hot summer days do seem like a nice time for a beer, but it was never difficult for me to resist temptation.
8. Sobriety Became Important to Me: The past six years have been an important awakening for me. Not only have I had a health journey, become athletic and changed my diet but I've also in many senses woken up for the first time in my life. I've become observant of my surroundings which might sound odd, but I lament that I spent the first 39 years of my life on autopilot. I've become aware of the world around me, I listen to and learn from people much more deeply and I'm constantly curious. Sobriety lends itself to that and suits me at this time in my life. It allows me to seek genuine connections. As Canada (and much of the world it seems) moves toward legalizing marijuana and increasing access to escapist substances I'm finding myself attracted to mindfulness, awareness and presence.
9. It Changed my Perception of Why I Drink: I'll admit that drinking for me was often just participating in a social ritual. I mindlessly took part without considering if I even wanted to. I decided to break my alcohol fast at a baseball game along with a veggie dog as a beer and hotdog always seemed to suit me for that kind of activity. Even though the beer was a light one and a hotdog isn't something I generally eat (lets face it, they are gross) it tasted mighty delicious while watching the game. I ended up attending four games while on holiday and only had that one beer. No sudden rush of alcoholic desire came to me. Reflecting on being a drinker again I feel like my choices will be more centred on whether I want to drink, not whether I feel I should. Meaning that social expectation is meaningless to me now. I don't feel the need to drink to fit in, nor to grease the social wheels. It also occurs to me that should I drink I should enjoy it. No low grade choices. If I'm drinking whiskey it's a good one. I don't really care for wine so why bother? And beer? Well if I'm at another ballgame..... As for my morning motivation, it never gets hampered by last nights hangover. Did I mention I really don't miss hangovers?
Some resources for you: