My Year Alcohol-Free

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I have been procrastinating writing this post for a few days when I wake up in the morning it’s on my to-do list, but yet somehow SOMETHING or NOTHING always gets in the way of me writing it. So today, I am sitting here after procrastinating yet again for at least an hour or so, and I am finally putting some words to the proverbial paper. And yet all I can think about it going and checking my laundry. You know… maybe it’s done and needs to go into the dryer. You know, that’s SO much more important than this… hmmmm.

So what is so important and yet so hard to write, you ask?!? Well, a very personal topic to me. Drinking. No. Not soda or water. But Alcohol. It’s been a love/hate (mostly hate, if I am being honest with you) relationship. For those few people that follow my somewhat inconsistent blog, I assume that’s mostly friends and family, you probably are aware of this, whether we have discussed it together or not. And to those of you that don’t know me, here is a small glimpse into my decision to give up alcohol for a year.

A year ago on June 12, 2015, I decided to stop drinking. It was one of those moments where I woke up with a hangover that I thought I might Actually die from. You know those, right? Well, I hope some of you don’t. But I know some of you do. And there there will be a few of you that think you do, but still haven’t actually felt this way yet. To me I think it’s the closest thing to a “rock bottom” that I have ever felt. Aside from my feelings of headache and nausea, there was a heaviness in my heart. Followed very closely by that sinking feeling in your gut of “oh shit what did I do last night” moment. That moment of let me check my phone to make sure I didn’t call/text/email someone in that drunken blackout state. Follow by the sadness and anger of thinking “seriously, how did I let myself drink this much again?!”

After a cup of coffee and a little breakfast. I sat there with one of my best friends going through my excuses, it was a party, celebration, there was open bar, I wasn’t driving anywhere, etc. Followed by a realization that I was 32, married to a wonderful man and WAY too old to still be acting this way. Not that there really is ever an excuse for this type of behavior no matter what age. But I should know better. So my wonderful friend suggested that maybe it was a bigger issue. Maybe I should try eliminating alcohol from my life? Maybe I should try AA? I knew she wasn’t judging me but rather deeply caring for me. The more I thought about it the more I was truly excited to take on this challenge. The more I reminisced the more I could tie alcohol (and excess) to all the bad events in my life: losing friends, breaking and losing things and much more I won’t delve into right now. Needless to say, my relationship to alcohol had never been a good one. And no one should ever stay in a bad relationship.

Coincidently, I had just moved to Colorado from California a few months prior to this. I had few friends in this new town, and the more I thought about it, most of those I did know here didn’t drink or rarely drank. Ironically, I also had just started nutrition school. I use the words “coincidently” and “ironically” but really the more I thought about it the more I realized these events and people were in my life for a reason and I needed to listen. It was the PERFECT time to stop drinking. I had a world of support in my life.

I DID go to AA for a few meetings, I found wonderful people there. But yet something still didn’t feel right when I went. I ended up not going anymore and for a while felt very guilty about it. I knew the people that didn’t see me there anymore would think they lost another one that just wasn’t committed to the cause. But in reality I just needed to find my own way. I know some say there is no other “way” to sobriety. But I even had a hard time with the word “sobriety”. To me, I wasn’t sober. I was just not drinking. I know there are some out there that will say it’s semantics at that point, but to someone that is in a fragile state semantics can be everything.

Also, AA is just one wonderful way for people to finding what they need in their life. Know that there are so many other options, so know if that’s didn’t work for you seek other ways. Do some research on your own or email me, I am happy to share some of what I have learned along my journey.

My struggle was real. But if everything was easy, everyone would be doing it. There was lots of guilt, shame, and feelings of worthlessness swirling in my head. Thankfully, I have a very supportive husband, who has never struggled with this type of issue with alcohol, in fact, upon hearing about my new vow to not drink he kindly decided to go on this journey with me.

I did a lot of work on my own. I read numerous books on alcohol, addiction and of course nutrition in relation to addiction and mental health (because in my opinion drinking in most forms is a way of covering up depression, other mental health issues and these are tied directly to nutrition and our physical body). I journaled through a lot of emotional times. I worked out a lot, it’s such a great way to immediately lift your spirit. I found yoga and meditation were great stress relievers. I also did a lot of work with my therapist. And throughout this year of no alcohol, the big question constantly swirling around in my head was: am I an alcoholic, an addict, or was it a bad habit, abuse and a possible nutritional imbalance?

After going an entire year without drinking you realize you can do anything you put your mind to. I know that sounds corny, but honestly, I wasn’t sure that I could go an entire year without my glass of wine. I mean even someone that is pregnant only really goes 8-9 months without alcohol. And I have heard even that seems like a long time. The longest I had ever gone was that one month break in January where everyone and your sister is taking a break or “detoxing” from the overindulgent holidays. But if I am being honest with myself and you, if it was just that one glass of wine, I wouldn’t have needed to take a break from drinking. And here I am before you today. With an entire year of no alcohol. And in the end what is a year of our life but a blip in time. A year is so inconsequential, I have had 33 of them so far. What was one in that span? Nothing. But it was by far one of the most important years of my life so far.

If you’ve ever woke up with a hangover one to many times or wondered about your relationship with alcohol, I would highly suggest giving it up for a year and reevaluating your relationship with alcohol. I am not saying it’s all roses through the journey. Of course it will be an adjustment. But nothing but great things have resulted as a consequence in my life.

In my honest opinion, and without judgement (none of us are perfect), our society has accepted this drug with open arms, we use it to cope with stress and other aspects of life. But daily drinking and binge drinking should not be so openly accepted. The more and how often you drink the likely it is that you will develop alcohol-related issues. Seems obvious I know, but really sit with that and think about it. In this Newsweek article “A new study shows that 32 million Americans, nearly one in seven adults, have struggled with a serious alcohol problem in the last year alone. It gets worse if you look at numbers across people’s entire lives: In that case, nearly one-third have suffered an ‘alcohol-use disorder.’”

From a nutrition and health standpoint, alcohol is listed as a carcinogen in the same category as asbestos and tobacco. Yuck! It also means putting yourself at higher risk for stroke, heart and liver disease and all sorts of cancers. In 2015, the Center for Disease Control says “Because of the astounding 80,000 deaths that are related to alcohol abuse every year, alcohol abuse is the third highest cause of death in the U.S. More great facts on alcohol can be found in this article.

In conclusion here are the top 10 things I learned from my year off of alcohol:

  1. I eat healthier and make better choices when it comes to food. Also, I am more mindful about what I eat and how great it tastes.
  2. I listening to my body’s natural rhythm. For me that means going to bed earlier and waking up earlier, getting a full 7-9 hours of sleep every night and not needing an alarm or coffee to get out of bed. I sleep better and I love mornings! I love waking up feeling good every single day for an entire year (minus the one week I was sick)! And my face isn’t puffy in the mornings! What a perk!
  3. I learned how to really relax and destress. I have always loved working out but since giving up alcohol I have really gotten into my yoga practice in a deeper level, meditation and love taking Epson salt baths in the evening.
  4. I can read more books and spend real quality time with family and friends.
  5. Replacing the glass of wine or cocktail with a mocktail, tea or sparking water is great for hydration and most likely tastes WAY better than that alcoholic drink.
  6. I learned how to get though social situations without drinking. Having a ”mocktail” in hand no one even knows you aren’t drinking and it’s great to easy my social anxiety. It really builds confidence in social situations, since I wasn’t drinking I could more easily see how others struggle with social anxiety as well.
  7. You can have fun without alcohol. If you’ve never tried it, sure, it will be an adjustment. But it gets easier and you remember the fun you had the next day as well! In fact, I have learned how to laugh from my belly and it’s amazingly enjoyable. I don’t care what my face looks like!
  8. Learn to come up with responses for when you are out and people offer you a drink. I started with a simple “no thanks, not tonight” response. But as I saw the same people over and over out or at dinners, I started to be honest with those closer to me. I would simply say “I am not drinking right now.” Or sometimes I would go so far as to tie it into my nutritional program or simple tell them it had become a bad habit in my life and I needed a break. It’s amazing how responsive people are to that. Most people will sympathize or congratulate you with sincerity. Then move on to the next conversation. It’s not nearly as big of a deal as I anticipated it would be.
  9. You learn who your real friends are. These are the ones that are proud of you and don’t judge you. They support you and make your life better.
  10. You learn quickly what people in your life have a healthy relationship with alcohol and who doesn’t just by the mere act of pushing on you or not. It’s really is amazing how society encourages drinking heavily at events, in celebration and every day. This is not normal and we shouldn’t accept it as so. If we are drinking every night (I know, I’ve been there) then we need to step back and reevaluate why and find other ways of decompressing, relaxing and communicating.

As a nutritionist and also as someone who has struggled with these issues, alcohol can contribute not only to depression, sleep issues and weight gain, to more serious things like cancer, stroke, diabetes, and even death.

Take the challenge! Start with committing to 30 days alcohol-free! I dare you not to feel better! How do you feel about your relationship with alcohol? Do you drink and how often? Have you ever desired to stop?

(Image: Judith Collins /Alamy)

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