About three years ago I decided to take a 30 day break from drinking. It was like dry January right after the holidays, but instead it was August, starting while at Burning Man.
My reasons were pretty specific. I was starting the scary process of separation — ultimately divorce — and knew I needed to be as crystal clear as possible. I couldn’t afford a fuzzy moment and didn’t want to look back on a single regrettable signature, text, conversation, or kiss.
I was scared and disoriented. My life was being turned upside down. In a way, a commitment to be clear for a month was a single constant I felt I could cling to while everything else changed beneath my feet. Sound familiar?
I made the decision and stopped on the same day. No planning. No AA. No rehab. I was scared of what was next in life but somehow felt I might be better off if I went through the next month or so sober. It was “just a break” while I sorted things out. Further, I appreciated having something certain (sober) and helpful (healthy) to focus on while everything else was in flux. The black and white decision gave me a much-needed burst of energy and motivation to keep moving forward through endless days of difficult uncertainty.
Looking back on the months and years leading up to that day, I am not terribly proud of the patterns I had gradually eased into. Drinking had become so standard that it was odd to do anything social or fun without a boozy beverage. I had a cocktail before the guests came over for dinner. I had a glass of wine on the sink edge while giving the kids a bath. I drank beers on the beach and champagne at brunch. I was passively and habitually drinking enough to soften so many edges, some of which were trying to speak to me.
For years I had privately wondered if my patterns were ok. I noticed how it was increasingly important to make sure alcohol was around at social events and gatherings. I was high functioning, but attempts to drink less (only on weekends, only one glass a night) never lasted. Like many of you, I googled “alcoholic” only to quickly conclude I was in the clear (my life wasn’t compromised, I was fine!). I was haunted by memories of my late mother who gradually deteriorated and ultimately died too young due to her alcohol dependency. Was I on that path? At least a break would show me I didn’t need to drink, right?
I had two major surprises in that first 30 days: (1) how easy it was to just stop, and (2) how much better my life was almost immediately after pressing pause.
On #1, this can be tricky. The Big Alcohol industry tells us to drink responsibly (and enjoy yourself!), unless you can’t in which case you are an alcoholic and should get help. Turns out there is a big middle ground full of people who aren’t alcoholics but just might be better off if they opt out. I’ve seen countless people decide to just stop. If you are in the use/abuse category of drinker and not quite into the addict end of the progressive spectrum, a decision to stop is available and might be easier than you think.
On #2, so many positive changes stemmed from that first 30 days that it turned to 60, then 90. I dabbled a bit during that 2017 holiday season, but then promptly decided I wouldn’t be going back. Life without booze was just too good. I was transforming my career, my body, my perspective, and most importantly my relationships. Of those, a refreshed level of attention on my role as mother was the most impactful of all. I didn’t really grok the beauty and privilege of being a parent until I was clear and showing up in this new way.
I’ve been sharing some of these awakenings on an Instagram account (@clearlife108), a Medium post (story here), a Facebook group (Zero Proof) and a book I’ve been writing for over a year. My message is simple: a life navigated from a clear place with conscious priorities might be a better life. I invite you to join me in a reset.
While it took a massive life disruption for me to realize I needed to (and could) make these changes, it shouldn’t have to. I wish I had done so earlier. For many it takes a crisis to change and that was the case for me. Maybe people need a tipping point to make a huge habitual shift, hence the “rock bottom” trigger for most to stop.
Well, guess what? We are all in a crisis of some shape or form due to the Covid-19 pandemic right now, and if we’re not, we’re probably helping someone who is. There is no time like the present to take a break from drinking and get clear. If you need a few specific reasons, here goes:
- Most people sleep better without alcohol in their systems. This means easier down, easier up, and less 3am thinking sessions.
- You’ll likely exercise more. With extra energy and motivation, you’ll be more inclined to invest in your fitness and health.
- You’ll save money.
- You won’t have any hangovers or “slow mornings.” Waking up every single day clear, calm, and ready is a true game changer.
- Most people note that anxiety levels go down. Little known fact: alcohol increases anxiety, despite its allure to “take the edge off.”
- Chances are you will look and feel less “puffy” as your body sheds water and related toxicity weight. This can take up to ten days to kick in but once it does, it will be visible.
- You’ll probably be less triggered. Most daily drinkers have a time of day when irritability prevails, typically the early hours or as we approach the standard drink-o’clock. This will end (eventually).
- If you have kids they’ll likely love the results (particularly how you show up differently at bed time and in the morning).
- You’ll make better decisions. About everything. With health and economic crises defining our species right now, this is more important on a micro and macro level than ever.
- You’ll be less forgetful.
- You’ll look better on all of those zoom calls (less bags, brighter eyes, clearer complexion).
- If you are working, your performance will go up. If you are not working, you’ll be more efficient, effective, and well-guided in figuring out what’s next.
- Early mornings might become your favorite time of day and if so, you’ll be stunned by how much you can do or enjoy before everyone else is up.
- You just might feel and look like a superhero after 30 days.
- It is likely much easier to do this now when you’re home and can’t go to all of the fun places to drink (bars, restaurants, sports/entertainment events, dinner parties, etc.).
- Finally, the World Health Organization says alcohol may put people at increased risk for the coronavirus and strongly recommends not drinking to stay healthy.
Now all of this said, some things will be tough:
- If you live with other adults who drink and they don’t join you in this break, things will get awkward and this will be much harder. Consider inviting them to join you.
- Zoom happy hours are still fun, but maybe a little less fun.
- You might not like what you see in yourself, your life, your relationships, your work, your home, whatever it is, when the fuzzy lenses come off. You’ll have options then, including a drink or two to not see so damned clearly. Or, you might mobilize things to change what’s not right. Don’t be afraid of therapy or online support communities (virtually, of course), if this gets to be too much.
Finally, some tips:
- Find a buddy. This can be a relationship partner, a good friend, a roommate, a relative — it doesn’t really matter. It can be tough to stop cold turkey and having someone along for the ride for support helps. I don’t think I would have made it this far without mine.
- Try to not replace alcohol with sugar. Its a thing and could seriously interfere with many/most of the advantages listed above.
- If you are far enough along in your journey with alcohol that you are physically or emotionally addicted and a cold turkey pause isn’t an option, don’t be hard on yourself. It took years to get to this place and you may not get out overnight. If you are ready, get help. There are countless resources and beautiful humans and organizations ready to support you through this.
- Be kind to yourself no matter what. If this isn’t for you right now, that is fine. We are all doing our damned best through this and it looks different for everybody. Hang in there. Be well.
That’s it. Starting May 1st I’ll be posting a daily note on my @clearlife108 IG account to encourage and inspire those on (or flirting with) the wagon. Let’s do this.