I stopped drinking alcohol for one year. Today is day 366 of not touching alcohol (or any other substance other than caffeine). Here's what I learned.
1. Alcohol is forgettable
Firstly, I learned that even though today is day 366 and it means I'm not going to be 100% tee-total anymore, it doesn't mean I will have a drink. I don't know the next time I will drink alcohol, because I genuinely don't want it anymore.
When I first began this dry year, I had already begun cutting down on my alcohol consumption, but I still felt certain that when this day came I'd celebrate with a bottle of wine.
But in fact, just a few short months into it, I had already discovered that once alcohol wasn't a part of my life, I forgot about it. I didn't just not desire it, not miss it, not crave it. I didn't even THINK about it.
This is because I learned that alcohol is much more than a substance found in drinks. It's a culture.
2. Alcohol comes with company
I decided to stop drinking because I finally had one too many nights that left me thinking "if only I hadn't gotten so drunk!". Full of regret for stupid decisions made while under the influence. This particular night, March 24th 2017, I got so drunk that I didn't notice I'd left my brand new iphone 7 on the table, and by the time I remembered, somebody had stolen it. I need my phone for my work. Replacing an iphone 7 in Nicaragua was next to impossible. It took getting a flight to Florida and making a trip to the Apple store there to replace it, and flying back to Nicaragua for work. It cost me thousands of dollars, just because I said, "I'll have some rum with my coconut!" at a beach party, and it went downhill from there.
I had gone to the beach party and I had started drinking because I was trying to fit in. I wanted to make friends in this new place I was in, and they were hard partyers. So I decided to drink too.
After quitting the drink, I tried to keep hanging out with the same people. But it was hard. I have so much respect for people who go out to bars and clubs and stay sober and actually deal with drunk people. What I found is that drunk people are fun if you're also drunk. When you're the only sober one, it's exhausting and sometimes flat out soul destroying. (NB: I still very much enjoyed the company of these people during the day when alcohol wasn't involved.)
So I stopped going out. Instead I would call my mom, read a book, listen to a podcast, or just have a super early night. I would wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and energetic and ready to get on my mat or tackle some emails.
Slowly I left the culture of alcohol behind and found myself in a new culture where alcohol doesn't exist. I hung out with other people who didn't drink, or friends would choose not to drink when with me. I actually largely forgot about alcohol and the fact that it had for so long been a supplement to my life. An aide for having fun.
3. Alcohol is fattening. Like...really
Suddenly belly fat came off and I didn't even have to try. It was like my organs were functioning the way they're meant to again. I mean, we all KNOW alcohol is full of empty calories, (or, if you didn't know that, you know it now) but we don't tend to consider the things we know. It's when we FEEL something for ourselves that we say, "ooooooh!"
4. Alcohol is not the devil
There's nothing wrong with having a bit of alcohol. (Just to remind you at this point: this is my story and my opinion I'm sharing here.)
There were three occasions in the last 12 months that I would have had a drink if I hadn't made myself this promise to go a full year without it. A friend's wedding, when we were toasting the new couple, at a Michelin star restaurant in Prague when the wine sommelier offered to let me try their finest red, and on New Years Eve at midnight. Sometimes a bit of alcohol just brings you fully into an occasion.
But, on those three occasions, I was fine. Which leads me to my 5th lesson:
5. Alcohol isn't necessary for having fun
There were definitely times in my life when my mentality was "I want to have fun, therefore I must get drunk." Alcohol was my crutch for getting through uncomfortable or nerve-wracking social situations, for enjoying company I didn't find easy, and for passing the time. Once I gave up alcohol, I realised I could still do these things, sometimes more efficiently than with alcohol!