After an indulgent couple of months of slow travel in the South of France, I set myself the personal challenge of abstaining from alcohol for 10 weeks. Tomorrow is the final day of that challenge, and I’ve been surprised by the experience...
Note -- A few people have asked me if I’m pregnant, and I just want to clarify that I’m not! We'd definitely like to expand our family in the near future, and I'm hoping that will be on the cards next year, but this challenge has been about living a leaner and cleaner lifestyle, and examining the results over a non-pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) period of time.
Some things I learned...
I drink alcohol out of habit.
I think the biggest surprise for me has been how much my drinking is habitual, and how relatively quickly I’ve been able to get out of the habit. Over the past couple of months, I have been drinking a lot of sparkling water and tea! Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of occasions when I have really felt like a cocktail or glass of wine, and I’m looking forward to imbibing again in the near future, but it hasn’t been as hard to abstain as I expected.
Airports and airplanes are my biggest trigger. So weird!
For some strange reason I start feeling like a drink as soon as I arrive at the airport, more so than at bars, concerts, or restaurants. Before anyone suggests that I’m an anxious flyer, let me assure you that I’m not at all. Justin and I actually took flying lessons at one stage, and turning off the engine mid air to learn engine recovery was a total highlight for me. I can only assume that I really associate air travel with excitement and celebrations, and therefore champagne, cocktails, and wine!
The quality of my sleep has improved drastically.
By the second night of this challenge, I was sleeping soundly through the night without any disturbance. This is a big change from my usual broken sleep. I also used to often wake up from dehydration, and this stopped too.
I haven’t lost as much weight as I expected.
I’ve lost around 6 pounds, which isn’t nearly as much as I anticipated (and hoped!) to lose over such a long period of time. Having said that, I did break my foot around 3 weeks into the challenge which prevented me from exercising, and I can only assume that this hasn't helped my weight loss efforts. I also think I wrongly assumed I'd lose weight simply by not drinking alcohol, when I should have also been eating more mindfully.
Demanding projects feel more achievable and less stressful.
Justin and I have had a lot on our plates over the past couple of months, with multiple projects on the go simultaneously. We're making a lot of creative decisions, financial decisions, and lifestyle decisions all at once, and it's been useful to have such uninterrupted clarity. There have been occasions where I have literally conjured up ideas, and solutions to problems, in my dreams - which certainly doesn't happen if I go to bed after an evening drinking wine and cocktails! Reflecting back over the past 10 weeks, it would have been understandable if this period had been stressful, because there has been a lot of challenging decision making, but it hasn't felt that way.
I was expecting to feel healthier.
It's not that I don't feel healthy, it’s just that I don't feel very different from when I started the challenge. I expected to have a lot more energy, to feel more vital and wholesome, but I haven't noticed any real change. I think I might have secretly expected a miraculous and unreasonable transformation, so perhaps the issue here is more about my unrealistic expectations. It’s also possible that I might notice a greater improvement in feelings of overall health and well-being when I get back into the habit of exercising, and make some improvements to my diet.
I drink way too much Diet Coke.
Now that I’m consciously not consuming alcoholic drinks I’ve become more aware of what other beverages I drink, and I have to face up to the reality that I have an unhealthy addiction to Diet Coke. My relationship with coffee feels OK - I love a good latte, and I use espresso as a pick me up from time to time - but I abuse Diet Coke, drinking multiple cans a day. My goal is to substitute Diet Coke with green tea or water, but I sense this is going to be a tough habit to break.
I prefer being around drinkers.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but I much prefer for everyone to keep drinking around me! There have been occasions when people have (sweetly) not had a drink when we’ve been hanging out, in an attempt at solidarity, but it’s had the unintended effect of making me feel self-conscious, and like I’m spoiling other people’s fun. I know this is a delicate issue for some recovering addicts who simply can not be around alcohol, but I personally enjoyed life carrying on as usual around me.
I can’t imagine giving up alcohol completely.
I’ve really surprised myself by how much I’ve enjoyed this experiment. I thought it would be difficult, boring, and long, but it’s actually been very rewarding. However, the thought of not being able to taste a fine wine, or a beautifully crafted cocktail, in the future is almost unimaginable to me. I can definitely foresee myself reducing my overall alcohol consumption, to continue enjoying some of the benefits I’ve noticed on this journey, but I can’t imagine completely giving up the gastronomic pleasure that I derive from drinking wine and cocktails.
I’ve got to know myself better.
This point may sound a little deep and heavy, but I feel as though I've spent a lot more time with myself over the past few months. We all know that having a glass of wine is great way to switch off and relax, but not switching off has been interesting too. Initially I found it a bit boring, but I’ve started to enjoy staying present, and I’m finding this new head-space quite peaceful.
So, where to from here?
I expected to be gagging for a drink by the end of this challenge, but instead I’ve decided to extend it for a few more weeks. We have a trip to New Zealand planned after Christmas, where we will be visiting vineyards and wine tasting, so my experiment will have to come to an end before then! In the meantime, I’m going to focus on leveraging my clear-headedness to focus more on our projects, address my diet, and hopefully shed a few more pounds.