Summer is my favorite season. I love being able to wear shorts all the time. I love the feeling of a cold beer on the back of your neck on a scorching day. I love how those hot days turn in to cool summer nights that seem to go on forever. This was one of the most fun summers I’ve ever had, but towards the end I began to realize the impact of my lifestyle. Between all that “fun”, regularly traveling for work and taking a night class, I had gotten into some bad habits that started taking a toll on my wallet and my well-being. I found myself drinking more often than not, even on weekday nights, which led to lower quality sleep and over-caffination the next day. In an attempt to regain some control over my daily habits, I underwent a September experiment: I wouldn’t drink for a whole month.
Now this might sound crazy for a 23 year old single guy living in one of the best cities in the country, but really though, how long is a month in the grand scheme of things?
It turns out a month is a very, verrrryyy long time. In the end, I made it 19 days before succumbing to a delicious IPA, but I learned quite a bit along the way. One thing I found incredibly interesting was that numerous friends who I told about my decision were considering similar stints of cutting back for a while or banishing booze altogether. If you’re interested, here’s a taste of what to expect:
People won’t understand. From a purely scientific perspective, alcohol is horrible. It’s full of empty calories, it inhibits your decision-making, and too much will make you feel horrible the next day. But alcohol has become ingrained in our culture, and it’s a staple of being a young person in a city. Instead of having to justify yourself every time someone asks if you want a drink in a bar, just nurse a seltzer and lime. Be prepared to have fun in different ways. At first, I simply had a lot less “fun.” I didn’t go to parties with my friends, I removed myself from social situations once the booze started flowing, and I generally relegated myself to being the party pooper in the corner. But as the month progressed and I realized these decisions weren’t sustainable, I realized how important it was to find sober ways to let off steam on the weekend. It’s harder to make new friends. How many times have you walked up to an attractive guy/girl or someone you don’t know, and asked if they wanted a drink to get the conversation started? Alcohol is an incredible social lubricant, and one must be creative to make new friends while not drinking.
Sleep cycle. The biggest positive impact was being able to fall asleep at the same time every night. Staying up until 3AM on the weekends had two huge negative consequences on my energy. First, I would often still wake up at 7AM on the weekends and be unable to fall back asleep, leaving me in a zombie-like state for the rest of the day. Second, it totally threw off my biological clock on a weekly basis, and it would usually take until Wednesday of the following week to finally be fully rested from a long weekend.
$$$$$$$$$. Alcohol costs a lot of money in Washington, D.C. A six pack runs upwards of $10, a drink at a bar probably averages about $5. Alcohol was a huge drain on my monthly income and it was AWESOME to remove it entirely for a few weeks.
Productive Weekends. Do you ever turn around on Sunday afternoon and wonder where the weekend went? You had some nagging tasks on your to-do list that needed to get done, but somehow the list ended up getting longer even though you had a few days off from work? Not drinking completely solved this problem for me. Waking up after 8 hours of sober sleep on a weekend morning is an invigorating feeling, and I was consistently able to seize the day.
Once I broke the streak, the good news was I didn’t immediately return to my old ways, but in total I did end up having about 10 alcoholic drinks in the month. Looking back though, I feel more clear-headed, significantly healthier, and in more control of my daily lifestyle than I did a month ago, but I’m also looking forward to having a nice glass of red wine without making myself feel guilty.
Abstaining from alcohol isn’t for everyone. It takes a committed mind that is focused on the positive impacts in the future instead of the attitude of instant gratification that has become pervasive in today’s world. But if you arm yourself with the right mindset and learn from some of my mistakes, maybe you can cultivate the positive impacts you’re looking for.
TL;DNR - I didn’t drink for a while.