Of all the one week without challenges I’ve done thus far, one week without alcohol was by far the hardest. Though I had a small idea of the degree to which drinking was embedded in my social life, I hadn’t realized how little of a social life I had without it. In truth, my social life is embedded in a drinking culture, not the other way around.
Even so, this week has been a revelation. I haven’t felt as good as I do right now in a very long time. I think it took five or six days before I had flushed everything out of my system and could start to feel the benefits of the cleanse. Though I had expected to really want a drink once this challenge was over, I don’t really want one at the moment; I’d rather keep feeling the way I do.
This challenge was hard work but I would recommend it to anyone who drinks regularly. There’s a power in knowing that life without drinking is still life in all of its fullness.
Going even just this one week without alcohol provided an excellent lens for observing my life, and it presented a number of important realizations. Here’s the six that stood out the most to me:
1. Mindfulness is key
When I went out to my first concert during my week without alcohol I was overwhelmed by the mass of people, and found myself feeling nervous and easily distracted. Two songs into the first band’s set, however, I decided to try practicing mindfulness–investing all of my attention into the band and their set while eliminating distractions.
I often use this kind of focus when I’m meditating or reading, but I had never tried it out in public before. I was blown away by how immersed I was in the show once I learned how to tune my mind and focus on the action. Later, I tried this same technique while at a bar with friends, honing in as closely on the conversation as possible, and it worked just as well. While alcohol tends to calm my nerves and narrow my focus, making it easier to jump into the world of the evening, a sober but mindful approach to the same activities can be illuminating.
2. There’s really no need to stay out that late
Since my college days, I’ve observed a general schedule where people eat dinner around 6 or 7, do absolutely nothing until it’s time to go out at 10 or 11, and then stay out until 2 or 3am. I just don’t get it. Even if I wanted to continue to live that lifestyle, why not just start the festivities right after dinner, and be done by midnight or one? Maybe I’m just getting old?
At any rate, though I still had fun going out with friends, around eleven or midnight I would get tired and wouldn’t see much point in staying out. And you know what? I didn’t miss anything. In fact, I bet the people I was with couldn’t even recall what happened during that timeframe. I, on the other hand, was in the very nicest place I know of on this planet Earth: my bed.
Furthermore, I realized that when I was drinking a good deal, the morning and daytime were terrible, and I lived for the nighttime. Now, everything’s flipped. I love the beauty of the daytime, and especially the morning, while the nighttime has lost a bit of its luster. Frankly, I prefer being able to enjoy the day, especially now that its warmer outside, and I don’t intend to give this up.
3. Bars will give you free soda or juice when you’re not drinking
Whenever I went out with friends I would get a soda with lime or cranberry from the bar so that I could sip on something while everyone had their drinks. I had thought they might charge me a dollar or two, but they wouldn’t take any money and were extremely friendly (I did tip them anyway). My girlfriend noted that they probably figured I was either the designated driver (which I was), or I was an alcoholic out with my drinking friends. At any rate, they were all extremely kind and I drank an obscene amount of soda and juice.
As a side-note, all of these free beverages do not come without their consequences. I ran to the restroom probably three or four times at the bar alone and a number of times during that night’s sleep. So maybe I was using the soft drinks as a replacement habit for the alcohol… This brings me to my next point:
4. Having a replacement habit is huge
I didn’t really know what I was getting into in terms of replacement habits, and I failed to plan out any healthy alternatives to drinking which I could employ in its stead. As a result, I fell into a few bad habits, including eating sweets (which I almost never do) and watching TV late at night (the new Cosmos series is just great). I don’t think it’s the end of the world, but I do think I missed an opportunity to create another good habit, just because I didn’t plan ahead.
If you do a week without any true vice yourself, trust me that you’re going to need something to do instead, preferably something that can be practiced at the hours of the day you would otherwise be indulging yourself. Use this as an opportunity to pick up running, reading, or another form of enrichment, because if you don’t control it, your body will be sure to replace one bad habit with another.
5. Alcohol costs money, and it’s the easiest money to spend
At my restaurant job, I make almost all of my money on the weekend, probably close to 80% of the week’s haul. Every night after work, I catch up with some friends and spend a small chunk of what I made that night at the bar. Whatever I come home with I just consider as my net takeaway on the day. But after this weekend, I feel richer than King Solomon.
Thing is, there’s no easier money to spend in the world than what you spend when you’re out and have already had a few drinks. I’ve seen people buy rounds of shots for people they don’t even know, or buy drinks they have no intention of finishing. It can be far too easy to lose track. In the future, I think I’ll only bring a small amount of cash with me if I go to a bar and be sure I don’t spend any more than that.
On a positive note, look how much food I was able to get from the grocery within the same budget I’ve always had, without buying meat or beer:
6. Changing habits without changing your friends is hard work
I have really great friends. They’re great people who are all very intelligent and they inspire me on a daily basis. That said, we have known each other for a long time and we have group habits as well, many of which revolve around alcohol. The toughest part of this week without challenge was doing the same things with friends, but being sober all night. Some things we’ve always done, going out to bars for one, were exceptionally boring while sober. That said, I don’t want to just stay at home alone either.
I’m still putting some thought into this and will probably write a standalone article once I have a better sense of where I stand with it. In the meantime, please share any thoughts or experience you have with changing habits while trying to keep the same friends in the comments section, or if you’d prefer you can email me here.
may we all get better together.
Start your own One Week With/out challenge! Begin here.