I began a lifestyle experiment 45 days ago, cutting out alcohol from my life to see what happened. It’s been much more enjoyable than I thought it would be and here’s a few things I’ve realised:
- Higher education runs on booze. It’s remarkable how many events involve free alcohol and how much socialising after other events involves alcohol. It’s much easier than I thought it would be to opt out but it’s hard not to feel left out sometimes.
- Alcohol dims my awareness of my own energy levels. I’ve been struck when travelling during this time how physically and mentally tired I am by the evening. It was a jarring experience to go to bed in Prague at 10pm and wake up refreshed the next day without an alarm clock, as opposed to waking up with a hangover and feeling awful.
- I’m newly acquainted with my own introversion, particularly how my energy depletes if I don’t get time to myself (preferably at home) during a day. This is particularly a problem when I travel, with this occasionally making up as much as half of my time. I find it exhausting to socialise with people after doing stuff with them all day and I’m starting to feel ok with that because if I’m still like this at 32, it’s probably not going to change.
- I was aware going to the pub could function as stress-relief for me. I’d spend an evening drinking with friends and feel better about everything the next day. But I hadn’t realised how this stopped me dwelling on the nature of the stress, providing an outlet without addressing the underlying problem. It’s not so much that I think I over work, as much that I’ve failed to organise my working life in a way that’s kind to myself and that’s something I’m in the process of changing.
- I often drink out of habit. I’ve found it remarkable how rarely I’ve actually wanted to drink in the last 45 days. Once was while stuck in an airport, once was with a friend who was visiting and once after doing a successful workshop on a sunny day. The rest of the time I’ve simply wanted to do something nice and refraining from alcohol has helped me disentangle how it can have a self-care component but when it’s habitual it probably won’t.
- My energy levels as a whole have increased remarkably, probably because I sleep much better than I did previously. I want to live a full life and whatever absence refraining from alcohol entails (though it’s much less than I imagined) is counterbalanced by everything else in my slightly crammed life working much better than it did previously.
I’m not going to refrain from drinking forever. I like craft beer far too much for that to be feasible. But I can easily imagine myself doing this for a long time and only occasionally drinking, focusing on really special beer in a way that fully appreciates it. For the time being, I’m going to persist and see what happens. The very fact of committing to refraining from something that had been such a habitual part of my life has created a new orientation within me, shedding light on other things that were habitual and opaque beyond alcohol itself.