I mothertruckin' love Halloween. So much, in fact, that I always plan on getting a special kind of muff'd up every time All Hallows' Eve dawns.
But this year, as I planned out the many ways I would gladly destroy my body in celebration of my favourite holiday, and the recovery time I'd need afterwards, I realized something:
I hadn't gone an extended period of time without any alcohol since I was sixteen.
By "extended period of time" I wasn't thinking a week or two, as I had (probably) gone without the hooch for that long by sheer accident at some point. Rather, my memory had come up completely empty on any time I'd taken a full-on alcoholic break, a stretch of time that heads into a month or more.
That got me thinking. Would I even be able to go without a drink for that long? Why did I already think it would be next to impossible? Is it even worth it?
As I continued to ponder on the topic, I looked ahead in time a bit to the winter that would soon dominate Montreal. Like many of you, winter tends to be a time of hibernation, where you sit around and drink in warm apartments, rarely heading out to bars and clubs save for special occasions.
And so then I thought to myself "am I just going to spend winter sitting in my apartment, getting drunk with friends, but ultimately not really doing anything?" I mean, what's the point of drinking if you're not going out anywhere? I could easily just hang out with friends while being sober, right?
I honestly didn't know the answer to that question. Having a bottle of wine, a case of beer, or a few cocktails had become so automatic, such a conditioned behaviour that I couldn't really even imagine what it would be like to go without at least a few drinks for more than a few weekends.
Around the same time this line of thought had taken over my brain I had also developed a new alcohol-related habit, namely drinking while writing.
After a day at work of writing blog posts and lists, it's a little hard to get into the writing flow, and so I'd have some wine or liquor to facilitate the process. Many people do the same, but it's also a fast-track to an addictive association, with "writing time" growing synonymous with "drinking time."
That's when I made a decision. Not wanting to spend a winter getting drunk for the sake of it, hoping to nip a bad habit in the bud, and to simply test my willpower, I decided I would stop drinking any form of alcohol for three full months.
And I did. Beginning on November 1st, this past Saturday, March 5th marked the end of my forced sobriety. Both a trying and enriching experience, going without alcohol for three months taught me some things about myself, my friends, and society at-large. Here's what I learned.
The Basic Setup And "Cheat" Days
Okay, before we get into things-learned, I have to address all of the people who are no doubt saying "but Michael, November 1st to March 5th is four months, not three!" Very true, and bravo for being able to count, but let me explain myself.
See, during the course of my alcohol-free lifestyle, some fairly special circumstances came up that kind of required me to imbibe a bit. A friend visited from Senegal (who I hadn't seen in years), the holidays creeped by, a few birthdays were in the mix. In total, it was maybe like 5 nights of actual drinking.
Before you call me a liar and a cheat, note that during almost all of said "cheat" days, the amount of drinks I consumed never went above four. With that, I never got truly "drunk." A mild buzz at best, but never wasted in the slightest.
Anyways, that's why I say three months of no alcohol, even though the number is closer to four. Now unto the actual experience.
People Definitely Thought It Was Ridiculous
Seriously, anytime I told a friend I was taking a break from alcohol, their response would be a variation on "why the hell would you do that?" Not having a medical reason, nor any reason beyond "because I want to" most people thought I was fairly daft, and the whole endeavour was deemed pointless.
Some even said I wouldn't be able to do it. Others tried to pressure me to have "just one drink" at multiple moments. Of course, this only strengthened my resolve, but it also showcased how intertwined our lives are to alcohol.
The notion that someone like myself (who is known to enjoy his drink) would give up alcohol for any amount of time seemed unfathomable to many of my friends and acquaintances. Which brings me to...
The Prominent Role Alcohol Plays In Our Lives
Granted, I had already realized the intrinsic link between the many social interactions of adulthood and alcohol, but not being able to participate in the act of drinking only demonstrated this fact further.
Think about it for a second. When have you gone out to eat, headed to a friends house, attended a festival, even went to an office bonding event, and alcohol hasn't been involved in some way?
From a casual beer to a glass of wine, you may not be getting drunk, but you are drinking in all of those instances. And when you're actively not drinking like I was, you can feel fairly alienated, even when alcohol isn't at the core of whatever you're doing.
Then, of course, there were the weird looks I would get whenever I had to explain myself for not drinking or why I wasn't heading out to the bar for X or Y event. It's kind of ridiculous to think that you need to drink to fit in, and I wouldn't necessarily say that, but it definitely helps.
My Sleeping Schedule Become Much More Regular
Wake up early all week, then go out late on Friday and Saturday, only to have a late-night bedtime worked into my brain by Sunday night, thus making Monday a sleep-deprived day of awful. Catch up on sleep the rest of the week, repeat.
That was (and is, again) my screwed up sleeping schedule when drinking and going out. But during my alcohol-break, that wasn't the case. I was going to bed around the same time every night.
Even when I did stay up a bit later on the weekend, my sleep wasn't destroyed by the influence of alcohol, and I almost always got a solid night's rest. After a while, my natural insomnia (something I've been struggling with for years) started to disintegrate. I was able to climb into bed when I knew I should hit the hay, and I was actually able to, not just lying there for hours like an idiot.
So if you ever want to seriously catch up on sleep, try laying off the hooch for a while. It sure worked for me.
Saturdays & Sundays Were Times To Be Productive
In line with the above, it was pretty strange for a while to wake up at 9am on a Saturday, completely rested, hangover free and ready to tackle the world.
Instead of being days where I got up super-late, just laid about relishing in doing nothing, and not really wanting to do anything anyway because I was probably nursing a mild hangover, the weekend became days devoted to being productive.
I could, and truly wanted, to do all the things on the weekend I couldn't do over the course of the week. Saturdays became a new gym-day. Sundays were spent at a cafe doing personal work. Sure, I relinquished late nights for early mornings/days, but when it's the winter and you only have so much daylight, it really made a difference on my sense of accomplishment and productivity levels.
Even as I am now back on the bottle I hope to continue this trend, perhaps giving up Friday or Saturday night to ensure I'm on my A-game the next day. Because carpe diem and all that.
I Made Some Serious Fitness Gains
Around the same time I gave up alcohol I also started seeing a trainer at the gym. The timing wasn't a coincidence, as I knew I'd have extra time to devote to the gym and get back to my previous 4-5 times a week schedule I had been rocking in the summer.
I had expected to head to the gym more and be completely rested all the time to do so, as already mentioned, but what I didn't really expect was the serious gains I'd make in just three months.
I mean, I didn't get washboard abs or anything, but muscle popped up where it was lacking before. My arms and legs got way more toned. In a short amount of time I had seen improvements that took me far longer time than before to attain.
Of course, this could be attributed to the fact that I was following a trainer-led regiment, and it definitely played a role. But not drinking alcohol afforded me more mental and physical energy to devote to the gym, and my body was able to focus on growing muscle instead of working through the toxins of alcohol.
I Got To Eat A Lot More, Guilt-Free
As an ex fat kid, I'm pretty conscious of my diet and eating habits. So when I was drinking on the weekend, I made sure to eat well in order to balance out the influx of calories I'd be taking in via alcohol.
All that went out the window during my alcohol break, as I could now eat more without needing to worry about getting a beer belly.
Combined with all the working out I was doing, I was able to eat pretty much whatever I wanted, guilt-free, as I was eating food with actual nutrients, proteins, and vitamins, rather than the empty calories of alcohol.
I could have probably lost weight if I kept on my healthy diet while not drinking, but there's no fun in that anyway. And if there's a single reason to give up alcohol again, at least for me, it would definitely be to able to eat more.
Alcohol Cravings Are Real
In no way did I consider myself to be "addicted" to alcohol before my break, nor do I now, but there were definitely moments throughout the three-month period where all I wanted in the world was a stiff drink.
Fortunately, I didn't go through the entire thing without some way to take the edge off (I smoke a good amount of weed, big surprise there) but that didn't exempt me from an alcohol craving here and there.
Most of the time, such a desire to imbibe was brought about any time someone was having a drink around me, and all I wanted to do was say "fuck it" and get my pour on too. The only reason I didn't give in was to prove my resolve and truly showcase that alcohol held no sway over me.
In all honesty, I don't think that last point is very true (aren't we all slaves to the bottle?) but it was comforting to know that I could resist the urge. And if you plan on giving up alcohol at any point, expect a serious craving every now and then.
I Saved A Lot Of Money
You knew this was coming, because lets be real, if there's one major downside to drinking it's the amount of money you spend on alcohol. Let me tell you from experience, taking an alcoholic break really benefits your bank account.
Lets do a bit of basic math to showcase the amount of money I saved. Generally, on any given week, I'd probably buy some sort of dep alcohol (a bottle of wine, a six-pack of beer) that would set me back something like $12. Then I'd have a bottle from the SAQ for drinks at home, then a couple of drinks at a bar.
To keep things a bit modest, that places a week's alcohol budget at around $40. You may spend more or less, but that's my general tab. I know I spent way more in university when I was drinking like 5-6 nights out of the week.
But the above figure is for a single weekend. Over the course of three month's I'd be spending close to $500 on alcohol. Now that's in my bank account.
You can do your own calculations, but being able to save almost half a grand just by cutting out drinking for three months definitely made the whole thing worth it.
I Had To Step Outside Of My Comfort Zone
Drinking/being drunk gives you the transitory courage to enter any social situation. From clubs to random parties where you don't know anyone, alcohol provides you with the gumption to jump in head first.
Being sober forced me to do all that without the crutch of alcohol. I was pretty adamant that, despite my self-imposed exile from alcohol, I wouldn't stop going out entirely. Of course, I went out less, but there were still times my friends were doing things and I felt obliged not to be that "boring sober guy."
So I did things I would normally need to be drunk for, sober. In truth, at times I may have dipped into other substances to take the edge off, but most of the time I was completely in my right mind while at a club or party.
It wasn't easy, nor was it always that enjoyable, but at least I did prove to myself that I didn't need to be tipsy to have fun or meet new people. Deep down I knew that, but it's a nice reminder to yourself that you can tackle social situations without needing any liquid courage.
What I'll Miss: Having An Excuse To Not Drink
Even before I began my absence from alcohol, I had nights/days where I was like "you know, I don't really feel like drinking right now" for whatever reason. Then I'd get around a few friends who would be drinking, they'd offer me a beverage, I'd politely decline, and then they would ask: why?
Every time I lacked a solid response, then I'd rethink my previous decision and I would grab whatever drink was offered to me. This isn't a complete lack of willpower thing, but more of a joining in the fun group-think kind of scenario. If I didn't have a reason, why wouldn't I drink?
And that's one thing I'll definitely miss from my period of forced sobriety. Even though a fair amount of people thought my decision to not drink was kinda cray, they would eventually accept that I simply wasn't going to have any alcohol after I firmly stated I was taking a self-enforced break.
I could easily get out of drinking, anytime I wanted. Now I'll just look like some little basic b*tch who doesn't want to have a beer for some stupid reason if I don't feel like it.
All in all, I think my three-month break from alcohol was an entirely positive experience, despite some moments where I really wanted give in. To anyone looking to feel a bit more productive, accomplished, and in need of a liver detox, I would entirely recommend you do the same.