5 Amazing Lessons I Learned by Giving up Alcohol for One Month

Self on 01.21.13
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I decided early in December 2012 to give up drinking for a period of one year. I wasn’t a huge drinker (by my own standards), but I drank frequently: about a glass or two of wine per night on a semi-consistent basis, plus the occasional unflinching punch to the liver at a party or when having dinner with friends.

I really enjoy wine, but I had accumulated enough reasons to choose to take a break from it. Topping the list of motives are a desire to lose weight and get in shape, a wish for better sleep and more energy, and the motivation and focus to help my business thrive.

Although I’m sure I will learn much more as my wine-free year progresses, I was very surprised to learn these five truths in only the first month:

1. I hadn’t allowed myself to enjoy drinking.

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Christmastime is one of my favorite times of year to get totally hammered. I enjoy sitting in front of a fire with loved ones while I enthusiastically swill my wine. This year I thought it would be difficult to go without wine, but it was actually a relief. While I was tempted to have a glass of wine while celebrating with family, the impulse was fleeting and easily defeated – which was a huge surprise in itself.

Even better than that though, I was grateful that I didn’t have to endure the dance: enjoying my wine but wondering at what point I had too much and if anyone would notice and judge me for it -- wanting to be drunk while hoping that I didn’t seem drunk. And then dealing with the disrupted sleep and the potential hangover the next day…just, ugh. No thank you.

I didn’t even realize that I had been thinking that way while drinking until I was celebrating without wine, and the memory of being inside that “have-more-no-don’t” thought-process came back to me. What a lot of wasted energy and worry. When I do go back to drinking alcohol again, I plan to approach it with more decisiveness – “Yes I will have more,” or “No this is my final glass of the evening” – with much less guilt and ambiguity.

2. Giving up a tough habit gave me a template for tackling other behaviors.

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My first step to give up drinking wine was to decide that I was going to put all my chips in. I had considered it before, but I think what was holding me back was the fear that I would try to give it up – like really try, all in try – but fail and that this failure could reveal to me that I have a problem with a capital ‘P.’ So the first step was just to get over all of that wishy-washiness and to both decide to do it and to wholeheartedly believe in myself, all in one motion.

The next step was to detach myself from my excuses. So anytime I saw an excuse bubble up in my mind – “This was a rough day,” or “I feel completely overwhelmed,” or “I just need to take the edge off” – I would see that excuse for what it was. Once I thought to myself, “Oh I’m totally going to have a glass right now.” And then I realized that just because I mentally declared it doesn’t make it so. I can detach myself from my thoughts. They aren’t direct orders. Thoughts don’t mean anything unless I decide to allow them to mean something.

There are other steps, many of which I made into a free (for a limited time) eBook called 10 Steps to a Blissful Life. I was able to take my "10 Steps" process and direct it towards losing weight, something that had felt completely impossible to me after I’d gained weight for the past two and a half years. Now I’m losing weight steadily in a way that feels really easy and fun, thanks to the 10 Steps.

3. You can achieve anything, if you choose to embrace sacrifice.

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There are things that I thought I really wanted, like weight loss for example. But unbeknownst to me, I didn’t really want it before now. If I’d wanted it, I would have taken the steps to make it happen. I would have done whatever it takes. I would have devoted the resources – the time, the energy, the money – to getting it figured out. I would have made the sacrifices. I know now that I was only dabbling before. Once I began to really want it with every fiber of my being, I was capable of making the sacrifices. I became able to do what it takes to get it done.

If I’m not willing to make the sacrifices in order to achieve something, then I don’t really want it. I might think I do, but I simply don’t want it badly enough to make it happen. I can engage in magical thinking all I want and assume that someday I’ll get there (something I did for a long time about weight loss), but until I started wholeheartedly accepting all of the downsides to getting there—all of the hard work and forsaking other things I thought I loved, like wine – I was getting nowhere.

Sticking to my “no wine” goal is a big one for me, and it’s very empowering, satisfying, and affirming to know that I can achieve this. I had to keep my head in the game and do the work early on, and now it’s a no-brainer.

4. Giving up drinking didn’t immediately solve everything.

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I had this idea that once I stopped drinking, I would wake up refreshed each morning. My fantasy involved hopping out of bed and feeling light on my feet and invigorated. I would bounce down the steps and eagerly perform my morning calisthenics or yoga or whatever, and I would lovingly and obsessively arrange everything in the apartment in perfect, symmetrical order before sitting down to pound out hours of work.

That’s kind of funny. Let’s just say it didn’t quite happen for me on day one. I think maybe I blamed too much on wine. It’s not like I drank so much that the wheels were falling off the bus around here. Perhaps I tend to be tired because I’m an older mom (38) of a toddler. My life wasn’t magically reformed in the absence of alcohol.

Yet, in some ways, my life is entirely reformed and looks worlds different from just a month ago. Now that I couldn’t blame a lack of energy on wine, I was finally able to pinpoint the energy problem. So now my life actually does resemble my fantasy – but it wasn’t giving up wine that did it. It was the introduction of the supplement Garcinia Cambogia, which I never would have discovered had I not given up drinking because I would have just continued to think my lack of energy was the wine’s fault (or motherhood’s fault). Now my energy levels are back to pre-child levels, and let me tell you, I forgot how freaking amazing that feels. My home is neater, I’m getting more work done, and I’m exercising more. Life is better because I’m happier, healthier, and more hopeful.

5.  I enjoyed staying stuck.

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Now that there is nothing standing in my way, it’s time to play bigger in my life. It’s time to achieve some difficult goals in growing my business and helping more women. That’s scary. Any time I put myself out there to do something that I’ve never done before and I don’t quite know how to do, I’m risking criticism and failure.

I have to battle my inner voice, which is very much mired in insecurity. I have trouble owning my power, because I tend to let fear get in my way. When I was enjoying my nightly glass or two of wine, it was pretty easy to drown out those voices, but it was also pretty easy to avoid doing Big Scary Things that will propel me into exciting new territory.

Wine definitely served its purpose. It helped me to stay in my self-protective bubble for quite some time. But now that I’ve had a rebirth of sorts, I’m beginning to feel more comfortable in the new world that I’m creating for myself. I have many more moments of happy excitement when I think of the possibilities that are opening up for me. I was afraid that I would never be able to top the giddy highs I found in wine, but it turns out that I feel giddier on a daily basis without it. In the words of Aidan Donnelley Rowley, clarity can be its own drug. These days I feel in control and responsible for my destiny.

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