30 Days Hath January, and so on

Photo by Stella de Smit on Unsplash

As I write this, I’m officially on my 54th day of being alcohol free. But who’s counting? ME. I made it through Dry January, which was a daily meditation on abstinence. February has become more routine, and the more consecutive days I rack up as alcohol free, the more I have at stake if I slip. But February has also produced some uphill battles, such as my first Superbowl Sunday fun-drink free, and a rapidly approaching friends’ ski weekend. Here’s how my experience has looked thus far:

DRY JANUARY:

Week 1: I take it day by day and congratulate myself every single morning, and exceedingly so after a full 7 AF days. It’s been at least 2 years since I haven’t had a drink on a Friday or Saturday. Every day when five o’clock rolls around, I pour myself a NA beer in a fancy glass. This gets me through the doldrums of early evening, and through cooking which usually means a glass of wine.

Week 2: After 10 days, the books say alcohol is pretty much out of my body. But I can’t really appreciate my newly detoxed body because I catch Covid. But on the bright side, I no longer fall asleep during movies with the kids. On day 10, I realize I haven’t abstained for 10 consecutive days since my daughter was born almost a decade before. Also, the books say my skin will look better and I might lose weight, but neither of those are necessarily happening.

Week 3: Covid is over, and I start sleeping better. I’m not missing the morning grogginess that came with moderate, nightly drinking. I go out to dinner with two girlfriends and find myself in a very cool Silverlake restaurant with lots of delicious drinks on every table. I order a fancy virgin cocktail, focus on the conversation, and drive home sober.

Week 4: Go to the beach with the kids for two nights. A hotel has always meant cold drinks by the pool, and creative cocktails at lunch and dinner. Instead I order NA beer at the restaurant and a cold Coke poolside. Feel clear headed the whole weekend, but admittedly I miss relaxing with a drink.

Learnings:

Before I decided to stop drinking, it took about 6 months to work up to the decision. I spent those months carefully recording my intake, which over the summer months tallied as high as 80 drinks/month, and the more I recorded painstakingly week over week, the less I drank. By October, I was drinking about half of my summer pace, depending on what was happening in those string of days. Simultaneously, I was getting educated by the likes of This Naked Mind, Quit Like A Woman, Alan Carr, and many memoirs. Although I didn’t join any sober or alcohol free communities, I found tons out there for every level of comfort. I also leaned heavily on my friend K., who has a plethora of materials and sites in her toolkit, as well as delicious non-alcoholic suggestions.

Instead of meticulously tracking the past, I gazed nervously into the future… future occasions to drink that is. As I planned for upcoming events, I also worked through my reactions to being offered a drink, and what I would drink instead. I guess you could say I rehearsed being alcohol free.

On a whim, over ruebens and chicken soup at a diner, I told my kids I quit drinking. It felt good to bring them into the fold, albeit a little scary to be so vulnerable. I told them I had been relying on alcohol too much, and wanted to stop drinking every night. My ninth grader alarmingly asked: were you drunk every night? No, I answered, but I didn’t like how it was making me feel or the habit of it. Later, when I announced I hit 30 days alcohol free, there was no song and dance or confetti. But I have a feeling it was tucked away in the subconscious of my two teenagers and rising pre-teen.

Photo by Kym Ellis on Unsplash

I realized so much of my life has been and continues to be associated with alcohol. Events and activities that have brought me joy always came with a drink in hand. The photos I picked for this post made me thirsty. Manhattans are for the holidays. Martinis are for a night out with a good girlfriend at a fancy bar (Miranda!). Cold beers are for the beach, barbecues, pool parties, birthday parties, Superbowl Sunday. And wine, let’s not forget my steadfast and loyal friend, wine. Wine on the couch with Netflix, while cooking, alone on the patio. I lived in San Francisco for 16 years, and because of its proximity to wine country, I always had unique access to a variety of locally grown and delicious wines.

When I was considering abstaining, I worried about potential cravings. So far they’ve been manageable, which I attribute largely to Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind. The concept of training my mind away from its cognitive dissonance, and aligning my subconscious and conscious brain — worked. It also took willpower out of the equation, which I had relied on heavily before and had always failed me. Now instead of “oh I’ll have just one (which really means three)” it’s “I’ll have a tonic and lime.”

Movement, meditation and journaling have been essential. I’m not challenging myself with tough-ass workouts and weight lifting, but I’m moving my body almost daily. I also do at least 10 minutes of yoga, and a 10 min meditation. And tea. I have tea coming out my ears.

Now, in week 8, I know I can keep going. I’ve decided to push for 90 days. There’s that rule, right? The 21/90 rule: 21 days to make a habit and 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change. I still can’t see NEVER drinking again, but this is it for now. I’m looking ahead at these next 36 days and I see the rising challenging events: a Tahoe ski weekend with five girlfriends (and oh boy how I love to apres ski), and a spring break trip to Costa Rica with the family. I’m incredibly lucky to have the financial means and the time to go on both adventures, and instead of coloring the experiences with a hazy fog of memories, and lost time recovering from angry hangovers, I’m excited to be one hundred percent present.

(Sidebar: I hope I’m not coming across as “look how easy it was!” because it wasn’t. I devoted an incredible amount of time and brain power to this decision and all that came with it (case in point, the length of this post). I have been moody, bored, and longed for the excitement and fun that my brain has been convinced lives inside that filled glass/bottle/tumbler. I wrote this post of the first 50ish days so that I can go back and remember what I did and remind myself that I can stick with it. I encourage anyone who is putting any thought into wondering if they drink too much to lean in. You don’t have to be labeled an alcoholic; you can just want to make a change.)

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Tess Williamson

Tess Williamson

Morning job: writing, meditating, yoga. Day job: teaching kids how to collaborate and write stories. Night job: reading + watching stories. Always job: mama.