Just last week, I hit my one-year mark of abstaining from alcohol—the longest I’ve ever gone since I started drinking in my late teens. To spare you the reiterations, I’m not going to rehash much of the same information as I did in my 6-month alcohol free challenge post back in July (specifically how it impacts training and body comp goals). Instead, this post will be timely in its content; taking a look back at the previous year and reflecting on how going alcohol-free has been a game changer for me.
Throughout my 20s’, alcohol was part of my weekly routine. I would consume a smattering of drinks during the week (going out with colleagues for after work drinks, happy hour, etc.) and on weekends, many of the activities I planned centered around drinking. Alcohol was a mechanism I used to let loose, “relax” and dabble into my social side with friends and family. The side effects, however, were terrible…as many of us drinkers may know too well. But, I would just force myself to workout the next day; sweating out the booze was a way to purge myself of the excess calories consumed and hang-xiety I experienced. I had this distorted perception that I was still being “healthy” regardless of the significant damage I was doing to my body on the weekly. I also thought to myself: is drinking really all that bad? Everyone I knew drank so could it really be that harmful?
However, as I got older, my hangovers got worse and I started to see the real deleterious effects from alcohol manifesting in my mood, energy, and overall mental health. I was still consistent with my workouts, but I didn’t see many palpable changes to my body. I just stayed the same; my efforts felt moot, which was kind of deflating. My training oftentimes felt forced; I didn’t enjoy my workouts as much as I used to. The real turning point for me, however, was when I started experimenting with longer periods of sobriety back in early 2019—taking more than just a month off for sober January.
In early 2019, a long term relationship of mine came to a close and I decided to give into the post-breakup mantra of just “having fun,” which for me included dating and lots of drinking. Upon reflection, and to be brutally honest with myself, I was a bit of a shitshow during those few months post-break-up. I made some poor life choices and entered into a relationship that was very toxic for me—one that I moved into much too quickly. While drinking distracted me at the time and provided a facade of a fun time, the undertones were much darker. Drinking alcohol left me with a gaping hole—it did not suppress my anxiety and hurt, but rather, expanded it.
In late spring of that year, I decided to put a halt on drinking for an indefinite period of time. I signed up for my first 100-mile event in September which gave me motivation to keep a clear, sober mind as I trained for this seemingly crazy endurance event. When I was in my 20s’ I embarked on the aforementioned 30-day sobriety challenges—something that resurfaces for most people at the beginning of January. While the first few weeks were relatively easy for me, the latter two were difficult. I felt as if I was exerting so much self-discipline. I genuinely believed at the time that I was missing out; that alcohol was a key catalyst in having fun. I think what changed for me—what made it easy for me to stop for long periods of time—was the realization that alcohol wasn’t doing me any favours…in any department of my life. It was affecting me physiologically, financially, tampering with my relationships, and hurting my mental health. Quite simply, the change was the realization that from not drinking, I wasn’t missing out at all. I was only positively impacting all areas of my life.
Societal conditioning towards drinking here in North America and in many parts of Europe is very prevalent. Drinking is part of our culture. From not taking a drug (which is what alcohol is: a drug), you’re looked upon as an outsider; going against the grain. We condemn those who decide not to drink—unless of course, they admit they’re an alcoholic or have a drinking problem. But with that admission, comes the scornful eyes of judgment and stigmatization. So either way, if you choose not to drink, you’re going to get some type of negative response from society at large. Herd mentality is pernicious when it comes to alcohol—many people feel coaxed into drinking (when they don’t want to) because they don’t want to deal with answering all the probing questions as to why they chose to take the path of sobriety.
Honestly, for me, the hardest part about giving up the booze was the social aspect. I used to get so anxious going to parties, social gatherings, ‘drinks’ with friends or dates sans alcohol. I premeditated a script of what I would say if someone asked me why I wasn’t drinking; which, by the way, is absolutely absurd. Certain friends stopped inviting me out to events like live music or concerts—believing that I wouldn’t have fun; that I would rather just stay in all the time and do nothing. During my stints with sobriety, I’ve been called “boring,” “no fun,” and many other derivatives of being a lame human. To which I reply, do you know what’s really lame and boring? Laying around in bed all day and feeling like complete garbage like I used to. You know what’s fun? Remembering the conversations and genuine laughs I had, getting up in the morning feeling refreshed—working on an important creative projects and feeling energetic while working out. Feeling anxious with a throbbing headache all day and cancelling plans to lounge around doesn’t seem all that fun now does it. I’m facetious with these types of inquiries or judgements because they are just silly.
My Year of Sobriety
2021 has been the best, most transformative year of my life; and guess what? I’ve been stone cold sober. The start of the year was rocky for me. A relationship of mine ended in January and I moved from Calgary back to Ontario to live with my parents. I went through a lot of emotional turmoil and intense emotions as I went through the break-up and came to terms with the fact that I was now 31 and living with my parents again. It felt like I took a huge step backwards. I didn’t have the usual distractions since I was stuck at home due to COVID lockdowns. I was forced to spend a lot of time with myself and my thoughts; dealing with my own sadness, anxiety, and fear of the future and the uncertainty that came with it. I was so lucky to be surrounded by my loving and supportive family as I went through this particularly tough time, but I made a firm decision that I wanted to really feel my feelings and process them in the healthiest way possible. In the past, alcohol made it easy to numb my thoughts or distract myself through desensitizing my emotions, but from years of experience, I knew that it only made things exponentially worse. Even though it would be the tougher road, I knew deep down that in time, my mental health would be much better off. I resolved to take a minimum of 6-months off drinking and focus on activities that brought me real joy and fulfillment.
So I sat with those uncomfortable feelings. I let myself cry and really felt what I needed to feel. It was uncomfortable as hell, but I forced myself to really feel it. I ran, I lifted, I reconnected with my best friends who all supported me. I drank peppermint tea, I journaled, I went for long walks by myself. I read a lot. I signed up for a course on creative productivity and I started writing more consistently—on social media, my blog, and my book (which, as of today, will be published in a few month’s time). Slowly, I started to feel better. I still felt sadness and anxiety, but rather than taking a front seat in my day, it slowly receded to the back. I had more clarity in my thinking and after chatting with a friend who was staying in a short term lease in Vancouver, I decided to make my way out there as well. I booked a one way, thinking I would stay for a few weeks, but ensuring I had the flexibility to stay out longer if I wanted to. Within the first week, I knew I didn’t want to leave. All anxiety and doubt subsided and I hopped around a few short term leases throughout the summer and decided to sign a longer term lease this on September 1st.
Over the course of the summer and into the fall, I met an entirely new group of friends—people that I was able to connect with in a deep and meaningful way. People that I didn’t need to leverage alcohol around to pull me out of my natural, shy state, but that I could really be myself with. In social settings with these friends, I didn’t feel anxious for not drinking—they’ve all been entirely supportive of my decision and don’t ask probing, intrusive questions. I realized the company of these people gave me everything I needed to have a good time.
The longer I go without drinking, the less I want to drink. From first hand experience, I’ve learned to have fun and engage in activities that I naturally enjoy. I realized what activities I don’t like, but only supposedly ‘enjoyed’ because they fed into a culture of alcohol (ie. baseball games).
The biggest positive side effects that came from my year of sobriety are threefold:
- I’ve become more self assured and more confident with who I am—I’ve been able to set boundaries with work and people in my life who aren’t adding anything positive.
- I’ve had so much consistent motivation and energy to devote to skills I want to develop: writing, active reading, and this year, public speaking.
- I have consistent and stable energy; no more extreme swings of feeling high (and euphoric) then followed by subsequent lows (anxiety, shame, fear). I’m better able to deal with my negative emotions by really feeling them then letting go.
I started with 6-months, extended it to a year, and as I write this, I have no intentions to go back to drinking. At this point, there is nothing that is drawing me to it. While at times, I miss the euphoric buzz or the crisp taste of an IPA at a microbrewery, the negative effects far outweigh the positives for me. It just simply isn’t worth it. I’ll finish by stating that quitting drinking was probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life—a bold, but true statement that I stand strongly behind. If you’re sober curious and interested in trying out this lifestyle, I encourage you to read This Naked Mind by Annie Grace; a paradigm-shifting book that completely changed my perspective on alcohol and altered my subconscious mind to no longer desire it at all.