You've probably heard of Dry January, and may have some friends or family members who have participated in it before. Maybe you yourself even gave it a go at one point. While I've never personally participated in Dry January, I did just complete Sober September. Thirty days of intentionally abstaining from alcohol and journaling about my experience every day.
When my husband and I told people that we were doing this experiment we usually received one of three responses. The first, and most common was some variation of "oh that's awesome, I should probably do that too." The second was a little surprising and happened less frequently, but definitely more than once, and was basically inquiring if we felt we had a problem with alcohol use (weird, but ok...). The last response happened at one event only but during that event we experienced it a handful of times and I guess that tells us what kind of people we were hanging around there. It was outright making fun of us. It was mocking our decision to embark on this experiment and was followed up with peer pressure to have a drink, despite only having about a week left in the month.
At this point you may be wondering why we decided to do this in the first place. Prior to this, I really only drank on the weekends and didn't consider myself a big drinker - maybe 2-3 glasses of wine on a Saturday night. In other words, I didn't have a "problem with alcohol use" as some had wondered. What really prompted this was a series of consecutive conversations with my clients who were trying to lose weight but whose alcohol use was very clearly (to me, at least) getting in their own way and sabotaging their efforts. They decided to do a month of no drinking to see what would happen, and I encouraged them to read The Alcohol Experiment and This Naked Mind by Annie Grace, to supplement their journey. I talked about my conversations to my husband and we decided to try it ourselves (ya know, the old "practice what you preach" lesson).
Here's what I learned.
1. I had been drinking, even minimally, without practicing mindfulness.
As a yoga teacher mindfulness is infused into many areas of my life. I teach my students how to practice this every week and yet I had been consuming a toxic substance with little thought. My husband would crack open a cold beer on Saturday night and I just poured myself a glass of wine, without really asking myself why.
2. My energy and sleep improved.
I liked how I felt during those 30 days. I mean... I really liked it. I slept great, I woke up feeling refreshed, my endurance was much higher when I taught my Monday morning yoga class, I didn't have inflammation at all, and I was super hydrated. Enough said.
3. People project their own insecurities, even as adults, and even as parents.
The people who made those comments that poked fun at us drinking mocktails and water were adults, and they were also parents of high school and college aged teenagers. This is concerning for obvious reasons but I knew even at that time that it had nothing to do with me or my choices. Those comments stemmed from a wounded child in an adult body, who was projecting their own insecurities onto me and my husband. Oftentimes when people hear that someone else is doing something healthy for themselves such as a plant-based diet or going alcohol-free, avoiding sweets, etc. they feel guilty about their decision to still do those things themselves. That guilt comes across as an insult or a less than funny joke aimed at the person who is unintentionally making them feel guilty. Similar to how children act out and name call when they feel hurt because they lack the skills to interpret and verbally express their true emotions. While I was the instigator of their emotions, it was actually never about me. Knowing that made it easy to brush their comments off and go about my day.
4. You most likely enjoy the experience, not alcohol itself.
Think about why you drink. Is it to unwind after work? To celebrate small and big events? Do you enjoy the taste of it?
If you think about it, you probably actually enjoy those experiences rather than the alcohol. If you drink to relax after a long day, then you're seeking rest and peace. If you drink when celebrating then I'd be willing to bet the actual event and the people you're with are the real enjoyment in those situations. And while people claim to drink because they enjoy the taste of alcohol, in actuality it's a taste we acquired and taught ourselves to enjoy - we weren't born liking the taste of red wine or hard liquor, right?
5. There are times when I truly enjoy drinking, and that's ok.
I know I just said that it's not really the alcohol we like but I'm not ready to give up my champagne toast on NYE, or the bottle of red wine we've been saving for our 5 year wedding anniversary this month. The truth is, alcohol can be a part of a healthy lifestyle, albeit in moderation and when consumed mindfully.
At this point you may be wondering if I plan on drinking again and I would say yes, but I will be much more mindful, aware, and intentional with alcohol. I believe we all should approach drinking with that perspective because although our society has normalized alcohol use, it is still very much the most abused substance in our culture.
I'm curious to hear from you now. Have you ever done a challenge like that? What was your experience?