I’m 9 months into an alcohol-free year and I wanted to take some time out to share why I started, how it’s going and my thoughts for the coming months.
I’ve always had would I think would be considered a fairly healthy relationship with alcohol. As a young adult and for the first 7 or so years of my marriage, I drank socially. In terms of what I drank, I enjoyed a beer or a scotch but have never managed to take to wine and the drinks typically marketed to women gave me headaches. I’m not a fan of milk-based alcohol either, so when your alcoholic tastes are limited to two very distinct choices, it makes for a simple drinking experience.
After my 5thbaby arrived 6 years ago, however, I started to drink more regularly. My husband and I would sit on the couch, watch an episode of Arrow and enjoy a drink. This became an almost nightly occurrence and very quickly became our go-to wind-down at the end of busy days with a brood of young children.
In terms of winding down, watching your favourite show and drinking your favourite beverage is easy, relatively cheap and highly effective. What’s not to love?
This is definitely when daily – or almost daily – drinking became a habit. Over the following 5 years, it was normal for me to have a drink most nights of the week.
I would never have considered myself a heavy drinker, by Australian drinking standards, but definitely would have been considered a “regular” drinker. When I discussed my goal with people, many would say stuff like, “But you’re not even a heavy drinker!” as though one can’t stop drinking if you only drink in moderation.
But then, what’s moderation? When we say “moderation”, do we mean moderation in one particular drinking session (ie, one evening)? Or moderation in overall consumption (what you drink over the course of, let’s say, a month)?
I struggled to create the distinction and had an inkling that having a drink “most days” was just too frequent and so, at the start of 2018, I decided to stop drinking but I didn’t have a solid why or a plan for how and it lasted about two weeks. #awkward
Fast forward 12 months and in early December of 2018, I decided I’d have another shot come January 1st.
Why I started
I decided to give up alcohol in 2019 for a number of reasons, the three main ones being money, health and example. But also because I’m stubborn and wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate, Aussies spend just over $30 a week on alcohol. This is not an insignificant amount of money and when you consider that a beer from a carton costs $2.30 and if you’re drinking one of those a night, you’re more than half way to the estimate.
I would say that between my husband and I, we were definitely hitting that national average and with a family holiday to New Zealand planned for the end of the year, I wanted to try and push the savings along by ditching the drink.
In addition to that, alcohol is a 14.9 billion dollar a year industry in Australia and I just don’t want to be a part of it right now. I want to do something radical and start spending a little more wisely.
So we’ve saved around $100 a month because I, personally, am not drinking, but also because my husband is drinking less. Like me, he would have a beer most nights of the week, but that’s more than halved since I started this journey.
I wanted to give up alcohol for a year to see how it might affect my health, weight, fitness and overall wellbeing.
While I never drank to excess, I drank regularly, consuming a beer – sometimes two – most nights of the week.
I was keen to see what would happen to my body (and let’s be honest, my brain!) if I wasn’t consuming at all.
I’m thrilled to say that I sleep better and have noticed a distinct improvement in my morning focus. Not drinking has also encouraged other areas of wellness, such as a more concerted effort to increase my fitness levels.
Having had 6 babies in 10 years, I know my body can handle a fair bit, but I also know that alcohol doesn’t assist the process of regaining that core I left behind on a maternity ward some time ago!
Drinking is considered socially acceptable in Australian society and certainly in our own family. Of the 30 or so adults in our immediate family, only 2 don’t drink at all, compared with only 3 (out of those 30) who smoke. While I certainly don’t think that drinking alcohol is “wrong” in and of itself and certainly not as damaging as smoking, I know it’s not an objectively “good” choice, particularly when done regularly or heavily.
With all the negative health, financial and social impacts of alcohol, I don’t want my children growing up in a home where (almost) daily alcohol intake – even if relatively moderate – is considered normal and healthy.
What really made the decision easy for me was when my kids would ask, “Is alcohol good for you?” and I replied, “No,” they then asked, “Then why do your drink it?”
We’re trying to raise our kids to make decisions that are good for them and they saw me making distinctly less-than-good decisions every day. It was a no-brainer that I had to stop.
My kids have been really proud of me for not drinking this year, and to be honest: that’s been the key motivator on occasions when I’ve been tempted.
Keeping on track
I read a great story last year about how Jerry Seinfeld used to keep a giant calendar on his wall and he used this to keep himself on tracking with writing content. His goal was to write something every day and for every day that he wrote, he would mark that day on the calendar with a big red X. He said that after a few weeks, he felt very strongly that he didn’t want the chain to be broken and so it became something of a game to ensure he could put that red X on the calendar each day.
I decided to do this as a way to keep me accountable and it worked amazingly well! I just printed one month at a time (so it wasn’t too overwhelming) to an A4 sheet and kept it on my closet door. The visual markers were a strong motivator as I definitely didn’t want to look back on the month and see a blank square or two… or more.
About half way through April, I realised I wasn’t marking the days individually each night, but instead “catching up” a week later. This is when I decided I didn’t need the calendar system anymore, but it was immensely helpful for those first few months.
Telling lots of people about my goal also helped to keep me on track as it meant I was accountable to more than just myself.
Society romanticises alcohol, so I had to make a conscious effort to romanticise the alternative. At the start of the year, I created a vision board with images of New Zealand and had a goal to drink lots more water, but I’ve also allowed myself to enjoy more good coffee than in previous years when I was drinking alcohol. This helped a lot as I essentially switched out the pleasure of an evening alcoholic beverage for an amazing morning coffee.
Finding other ways to wind down
Finding alternative ways to wind down has honestly been hard.
I was trying to watch a movie one night earlier in the year, and after pausing it for the 12thtime to tend to a child who should have been in bed, it occurred to me that this is exactly why parents drink. The relaxation that comes with it is easy and it’s instant!
Now, instead of opening a beer at 5:30, I need to find a different way to stay calm during peak hour, and some of the things that have worked have been:
- Music: favourites playlist on Spotify for the win!
- Slowing down: literally just stopping to read a book to the over-tired toddler, or going outside to water plants (read: procrastinate) instead of facing the mess inside. Yes, the mess is still there when I come back, but my head’s in a better place to deal with it.
- Being organised: getting the meal prep done earlier in the day so that I have more capacity to deal with meltdowns and last minute emergencies.
- In social settings: having a “special drink” (such as sparkling apple juice, non-alcoholic beer or a punch) made it easier not to desire alcohol when everyone else had one in hand.
Learning to live without it
Socially, I’m an introvert and to say I dislike small talk would be an understatement, so finding a way to socialise in settings where I don’t know anyone and with people I’ll never see again (like my husband’s work functions) without the social lubrication of a beer in hand, has been one of the hardest things I’ve done. Alcohol really took the edge off in these situations.
So now I make an effort to ask people questions that (usually) lead to interesting conversation. Stuff about their hobbies, their past travels, their kids or their political views. I love hearing about this type of thing and as long as I don’t have to do the small talk, I’m more than happy to listen.
We’ve had some big family events this year and I didn’t drink at any of them. Literally, I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage ALL. YEAR. And guess what? I still had a great time!
On occasion, when I’ve been upset with a certain person or situation, I’ve had well-meaning friends or family members tell me that what I really need is just to “have a drink” as a way to deal with the stress of it, and while that was also very tempting, I’ve managed to steer clear and find other ways to deal with it. Of all the developments of this journey, I’m most proud of this one, because if I’d given in and had that drink, it would have been admitting that that person or situation had enough power over me to make me go back on a commitment I’d made to myself, my family, my kids, my bank account.
One of the unexpected occurrences has been the desire for more sugar in my life! I love chocolate, but could quite easily live without it… until this year. Suddenly, not consuming alcohol made me desire sugar in other forms and so my sweets consumption has gone up substantially.
Will I take it up again?
I’ve been asked if I’ll take up alcohol again come January 1st2020, and do you know what: I don’t know the answer. I think I’ll only really know once I get there. I strongly suspect I won’t because I don’t want to go back to the “most days” habit and because I’ve created other ways to wind down, socialise with people I don’t know and attend functions where everyone else has a drink in hand without feeling the need to also take one up.
It feels like I’ve done lots of inner work to get to this point and I don’t think I want to go back to the way it was… when alcohol was something I used to wind down at the end of a busy day, or to help break the ice in awkward social settings.
I’m happy the way things currently stand and have proven to myself that I can live very well without imbibing, so I definitely think it’s something I’d like to keep up.
In my mind, January 1st2020 is the day I’m “let off the hook” of my commitment, but I’m starting to see this commitment less and less like a “hook” that I’m stuck to and more like a road to freedom.
Freedom from feeling the need or having the desire to drink regularly.
Freedom to save money for things that matter more.
Freedom to wake with a clearer mind and stronger motivation.
Freedom to find other ways to be sociable, have fun, wind down.
Freedom from dependence on alcohol in any form, in any capacity and in any situation.
Freedom to feel and experience everything in its entirety – the good, the bad, the ugly.
Freedom to enjoy or struggle through daily human existence – raw and real.