No alcohol was my September challenge and it went pretty well.
I haven’t touched a drop throughout September. In fact, I started a few days early so today is day 35 without alcohol.
It was definitely hard to start with, I wasn’t expecting that. It’s not that I had withdrawal symptoms or anything. I just under-estimated how alcohol was a habit in several of my routines.
For example, eating out at a restaurant, cooking, winding down in the evening, catching up with friends etc. It actually felt quite awkward to not drink alcohol in these situations.
There were a number of times in the first week where I came close to giving up. I would have a lot of self-talk. Thoughts would run through my head like ‘perhaps alcohol wasn’t the right thing to give up’ or ‘if you slip up, you will have still reduced your alcohol intake, which is still fantastic right?’ etc.
I knew if I gave up though, the day would come where I would be typing this post, telling you that I didn’t make it. I didn’t want to be in that position.
Week two was quite a bit easier. I still had some of the awkwardness and self talk, but less often and it was quicker to disappear.
The rest of September was pretty easy. I was only noticing it from time to time and there was no urge to actually drink.
So, what did I learn from giving up alcohol during September?
First of all, I really liked giving something big up for a period of time. I often feel overwhelmed by all of the options the world has to offer and how easy it is to over-indulge in things. Giving up something big was a bit of a shock to the system at first, but it helped me prove to myself that I am in control.
The Acceleration of Addictiveness article (5 min read) by Paul Graham really hit a nerve with me. It explains brilliantly how I feel. I couldn’t agree more that with all of the choice we now have, we’ll increasingly be defined by what we say no to.
Going without for a while gave me a new perspective too. There were situations in which I nearly always had a drink. Eating out at a restaurant for example. It was very hard and awkward the first time I opted for a soft drink. But after a while, it started to feel just fine and I actually grew to prefer not drinking alcohol at a restaurant. Now, I’m not saying I will never drink at a restaurant again, but I am pretty sure it will be about fifty / fifty in the future vs. 100% of the time previously.
I was also reminded how easily habits can form and how hard they can be to break. I guess it’s only when you try and do something different that you notice how well established your own habits are.
There were several times when I would go to order a drink or pick up a bottle of wine for the evening. I would have to catch myself in the moment and not do it. It was obvious that drinking was a habit for me in certain situations.
The timeframes for breaking a habit seemed to ring true for me as they always do. Typically they say it takes about thirty days of consistency to break a habit. I found the first seven days hard and was thinking about it a lot. They next seven days were quite hard and I was thinking about it quite a lot. The last fourteen days, whilst still thinking about it sometimes, I found much easier. Thirty-five days in and I honestly think I could never drink again if I chose to.
I was reminded how I use alcohol in social situations. I’m can be shy and get a bit of social anxiety at times. Drinking softens that for sure. After a few drinks, the anxiety usually drifts away and I find myself chatting away, feeling fine.
I always knew this and to be honest, it may always be the case. However, not drinking in a few social situations was, and is probably good practice for me to work on this.
I also drink more than I thought. It was only when I gave up, that I was far more conscious about how often I drink. It’s not a lot, but probably 8 to 10 glasses of red wine per week. That, plus some beer and spirits if I have something social on. I’d prefer it be closer to 4 to 5 glasses a week and I know I can do that pretty easily now.
Lastly, the public accountability that comes with writing about it here helped a lot. I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have made it without that. Knowing I was going to be writing a post on October 1st was a strong incentive for me to keep going. That actually surprised me. I’ve always felt comfortable just doing what feels right and not worrying about what others think. But, I cared about what people would think about me if I didn’t have the willpower and commitment to see it through.
So, all in all a worthwhile experiment. So much so, I am going to do this every month from now on.
I am going to give up sweet things in October. Chocolate, sweets and desserts. I have a massive sweet tooth and whilst I tend to eat fairly clean on the whole, the exception to that is sweet treats.
When I do indulge in something sweet, I tend to overindulge and it allow it to spiral into eating a bunch of other crap too. So, I think it will be good for me to good without sweet treats for a while.
Wish me luck. I think this one might be harder than no alcohol.