Abstaining from Alcohol

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed that my tendencies around alcohol steadily became more and more dysfunctional. I never drank often, but when I did drink, I would drink more than was healthy. One autumn morning, after an evening of drinking which left me wondering, not for the first time, what the hell I was doing drinking as much as I had, I thought it was time for a change. My stepfather, whose birthday we had celebrated on the evening in question, had just quit drinking for two years, before slowly reintroducing alcohol, mostly a glass of wine or two during a nice meal. He had told me that during his time being sober, had reset his relationship with alcohol, and now simply could not drink to the excess that he could before. I decided that I wanted to try doing what he had.

After some thought about the length of time I would give up drinking, I settled on a year, with a minimum of six months. I knew it was unlikely that I would give up drinking altogether, but what I was looking for was the same that my stepfather had found; that the baseline frequency, amounts, excess, would be reset to a healthier level. Over time, a hangover went from a rare, once a year mistake, to a regular, once a month routine, which left me wonder where it would lead if I let it run its course. Extrapolating that escalation of behaviour over another decade did not look pretty.

So I started. The first few weeks, predictably, went quite easily. And then I noticed that the only hard part was finding something else to drink when going out for dinner, and what to tell people who offered you a drink. Both got easier over time. I found that sparkling water, or ginger beer, were a great substitute, and that most people applauded and encouraged the decision not to drink.

I was quite pleased to find that I did not have a physical addiction to alcohol, but rather that the challenge was one of habit. As the weeks turned to months, I found that all of the benefits of not drinking (clear skin, weight loss, etc.) were all a pretty big lie. The one thing I could confirm for myself was that I would get better sleep. I already knew that my sleep was worse on the days that I drank alcohol, but it became more and more profound the longer I did not drink, which showed me that I was also paying a compounding price in quality of sleep.

After a few months, things got boring. There were no new discoveries, no new improvements, and no new insights. After talking it through with Joasia, I decided to plan my return. I briefly wondered whether I was giving up before it was getting really hard, but I decided I felt I had learned what I was going to learn and my insights would not profoundly change whether I would stop drinking for six months or six years. What I was interested in was whether my return to drinking alcohol would reveal something. Would I achieve the reset I desired? Would my behaviour bounce back to what it was before? Would I find the effects of alcohol still worth the price you pay?

Seven months after that one autumn morning, I had a drink again. And it was okay. Since then, I’ve returned to having a glass of wine at a nice dinner and making some cocktails, which is still my favourite way to drink. The big revelation is that after about two drinks, I really feel the effects of it. I know that there is no physiologically change in my tolerance and that what I’m simply no longer treating the effect is normal, but it still feels like my tolerance has shrunk. It makes me less eager to have a drink, and it makes me realise that I’ve started pushing my boundaries more and more over the years. Hopefully that revelation will help me going forward. But let’s see what more I can learn.

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