I Tried to Stop Drinking for 30 Days, but Here's What Really Happened...
It’s Saturday night, and I’m sitting by a crackling fire, savoring each sip of red wine as I lose a battle of charades with two of my girlfriends. I’m somewhere around my fourth glass of wine.
It’s girls night, and while we aren’t celebrating anything in particular, I can’t help but feel as though I’m throwing a going away party for the bottle of Pinot perched on the coffee table. As of tomorrow, I’ll be starting a 30 day challenge of no drinking — something that I haven’t done since turning 21 six years ago.
I wake up the next morning with a headache and therefore an eagerness to embark on this little experiment that I plan to document and share with all of you. Despite all the social events I see scattered across my calendar, I decide that I can totally handle the challenge. After all, this is FOR THE SAKE OF MY ART.
My Current Drinking Habits
I would typically describe myself as someone who drinks often but not a lot. I love a good happy hour and I definitely embrace the whole "wine is good for your heart!" idea with a glass (sometimes two) during dinner on weeknights, and, well, a little more than that come Friday, with my husband or girlfriends. Generally speaking though, I left tequila shots in the dust with my early twenties.
Still... it’s rare that I go a full week without at least one or two cocktails, so I’m just as curious as my dubious coworkers to see how I bode with this lifestyle change.
The week started off easy enough. I’m pretty accustomed to coming home and unwinding with a glass of wine while I finish up with work, read magazines, or catch up on Netflix, but in week one I actually found that a cup of tea in the evenings did the trick just fine. The downside: I definitely convinced myself that I was saving all kinds of calories by giving up this indulgence in the evening, and overcompensated with a few too many donuts in the mornings.
I kept up my nightly tea routine through the week, but by Thursday, I was jonesing for a cocktail, and couldn't help but feel disappointed that my weekend wouldn't come with the satisfaction of that first sip of freedom at 5:00 on Friday. I did, however, decide to take myself on a little date downtown to kick off the weekend. I went to my favorite Italian place and ordered dinner at the bar, which felt a little strange since I didn't get a glass of vino to accompany the meal like I usually do, but the bartender didn't seem to mind. I stopped off for a cup of coffee and a rainy walk around my favorite area of downtown, and decided this challenge had some upsides (like a significantly less expensive check).
Saturday night rolls around, and by this point, I’m experiencing major FOMO as I see my friends out and about on Snapchat. “See you in 30 days!” they tell me.
They’re obviously joking, but the idea of going to a bar and sipping club soda doesn’t sound thrilling, so instead I walk around my neighborhood and wind up spending my evening at the local used bookstore — a first! I purchase a couple of travel books to take home, and the thought of crawling into bed with a cup of coffee (the most potent thing I’ll drink all week) sounds rather enticing. “At least I don’t have to worry about being hungover tomorrow!” I think to myself.
By Monday, it’s Day 8. Feels like Day 43. The Bachelor is coming on and I really want my Corrine/Nick drama with a side of cabernet. I’m beginning to wonder how in the hell I’m going to make it through the rest of the month.
I purchase more flavors of hot tea in an attempt to cheer myself up.
Later that week my coworker Kelly and I get invited to a complimentary dinner at an amazing local restaurant. One round of drinks is included in the meal, and I am not about to turn down a free glass of wine (normally $14!). I decide that this is a necessary breach of my contract. It would just be rude not to partake!
The wine tastes amazing. I leave the restaurant happy as a clam and I don’t even feel the least bit guilty. “Free doesn’t count!” I decide.
On Saturday I get invited to Thalia Hall, an incredible concert venue in Chicago. My friend Kristen gets us in with VIP seats, and I have one of the coolest experiences of my life — everyone is full of energy and excitement, clapping along to the music with their drink of choice in hand. Kristen orders a Manhattan while I sip on a club soda, and after ordering my third in an hour, I was thankful that I left my ID at home so that I wouldn’t even be tempted to break the challenge. To be honest though, I was definitely aware that this is a situation I would normally be drinking in, and I felt like I was somehow missing out on the full experience by not getting to try out one of the awesome bars and cocktails inside of the venue.
Then again, I had one of the best nights out that I’ve had in a long time, and not a drop of alcohol could take the credit.
Week Three... and why it was my last.
Day 16. We have a photo shoot involving wine this week at work, and when Alaina shows up with the leftover rosé and macaroons for the team after we wrap up, I nearly forget about my challenge and jump up with excitement for some good old-fashioned team bonding.
And then I remembered.
To be honest, I was really bummed. We had just wrapped this big, exciting shoot that had been in the works for months, and we were due for some celebrating. Though I felt I learned a lot on this journey, I was beginning to question what made me decide to sign up for this in the first place.
And this is where I made the decision to sit down with my coworkers and have a glass of wine.
I know, I know. I was only halfway through my anticipated challenge at this point. But hear me out, because I have my reasons, and these 16 days actually taught me a lot.
What I learned.
I’m a creature of habit. I thought that giving up a glass of wine with dinner would be more difficult, but I’ve realized that I’m more attached to the ritual of unwinding with wine and Netflix than I am to the drink itself. It’s the same way that I’m just as happy to drink decaf coffee as I am regular — it’s not about the caffeine for me, but about the routine. These days, a cup of tea and a book before bed is my signal that it’s time to decompress. I typically keep any harder drinks reserved for the weekends unless there’s a special occasion (and no, Thirsty Thursday doesn’t count).
With social drinking, I’ve gotten a lot better at asking myself if I really want another drink, or if I’m pouring out of habit. That’s not to say that there aren’t times that I still overindulge… unfortunately that pinot headache that I started out with on my challenge wasn’t the last. But 90% of the time, I’m mindful instead of habitual.
And that’s really what this challenge taught me the most. I don’t need to miss out on toasting with my coworkers to a job well done, or drinking Super Bowl beers with my husband, and I don’t want to. But I also like knowing that I’m drinking intentionally instead of mindlessly. Not every celebration needs champagne and not every bad day needs a glass of wine, but sometimes they do, and in my book, there’s nothing wrong with that.