By Carolyn Swaisland
I decided to take a month off drinking.
This had been something I had always wanted to do, but never felt strong enough to be able to follow through with (as concerning as that feels to type). There was always an excuse – someone’s birthday, someone’s leaving drinks, a big party, a big event, anything. Looking back, they were more than just excuses – I was scared I couldn’t follow through, and I was afraid to prove to myself (as I have in many areas of my life over and over again) that I just didn’t have the willpower to do something that was going to challenge me this much.
So with a global relocation staring me in the face, and knowing that there would be many new challenges for me in my brand new city, I decided that a new environment was actually the perfect setting to try out the new me. The non-drinking me. No familiar pressures to give in to, no expectation of who I was or how I behaved, and fewer friends to twist my very flexible arm into having “just one glass of wine” after work.
So with the biggest new adventure of my life staring me down, I hopped on a plane to Sydney, said goodbye to London…and said goodbye to the bottle for the next month of my life.
I was not sure how this month was going to go. The first thing I actually noticed was that I was worried I was going to miss that very familiar and oh-so-friendly glass of wine or icy cold beer. Yes – you read correctly. I thought I was going to miss alcohol. That in and of itself as my first thought had me worried about my ongoing relationship with alcohol over the last decade or so.
As I mentioned at the start, I had always wanted to take some time off drinking. Part of that was motivated by my desire to be more healthy (I like to run, and it’s very hard to find the motivation to do that on a hangover), I was concerned that I was drinking too much, too often (London has a way of convincing you that binge drinking is a perfectly acceptable way of life), I was finding it harder and harder to like the person I became when I drank too much (and as such the “hangover guilt” was getting to the point where it was almost unbearable), and lastly I was finding the posts on Dry Space to be very encouraging – providing me with a sense of relate-ability as I too had recognised serious differences between the way I felt about myself when I was drinking versus when I wasn’t.
And it really was a combination of these thoughts that motivated me to start and continue my dry month – whirring away in the back of my mind each and every time I was put in the situation where I would very naturally have picked up a glass of my favourite tipple.
And with these thoughts constantly churning in the background, I was incredibly surprised at just how easy I found a month without drinking to be. In fact, not drinking didn’t phase me in the slightest. I spent a lot of time around people who were drinking and there wasn’t a single moment where I felt myself caving into social pressure to join in the beveraging (and trust me there was plenty of it). What I was also incredibly surprised at, was what I learnt about myself, my thoughts and behaviour patterns when it came to alcohol.
The most important things I learnt:
- Not drinking made me realise that I have spent a large portion of my life feeling incredibly self-conscious about who I am and what I can bring to a conversation. Because of this, I have spent a large portion of my time drinking in social situations to make up for these perceived flaws. And I say perceived, because I am slowly realising that is all they are.
- Without the crutch of alcohol by my side, it became glaringly obvious to me that I struggle with low self-esteem and that booze has for so many years filled that gap when I needed it – yet only serving its purpose for those fleeting hours, leaving me feeling even lower and more self-conscious the morning after. Following this recognition, I have since found alternatives to turn to when I recognise the feelings of inadequacy rising within me – I have turned to healthier and more creative pastimes such as running, barre classes, journalling, illustration classes (which I have recently started), getting outside to explore nature, and most importantly – talking to someone, anyone, I feel comfortable with, about the way I am feeling.
- Not drinking led me to realise I have more will power and self restraint than I ever imagined I did or could have. And that has blown me away. Sometimes it really is just mind over matter. Really. And you might be surprised at the sheer strength of your mind.
- Not drinking has highlighted to me that my relationship with alcohol will always be one of ups and downs, should I choose to continue to drink. Like my relationship with myself, alcohol and I will have good days and bad days. It comes down to me realising when it’s a bad day, and potentially opting out of drinking and electing for one of the healthier alternatives mentioned earlier.
So I keep referring to my month off drinking, and you must be asking yourself – a month, that’s all she did and she’s written this entire blog post based on that? And yeah, as bizarre as it sounds, it was only a month off drinking, but in a mere month I figured out so much more about myself than I have in the 29 years preceding it. It’s amazing what you can learn when you rip away the Band-aid.
I wanted the time off to be a social experiment for myself, a chance to see what I was made of (or what I wasn’t), and to see what I could learn about myself just by taking a step back for once and exploring my thoughts and actions from a new angle. So while taking a month off drinking didn’t lead me to stopping altogether, it has definitely altered my relationship with alcohol and left me feeling a sense of enjoyment from that first sip rather than a sense of relief.
And I’ve been asked a series of questions when I bring up this experience.
Was it easy to not drink?
Yes, it was.
Was it easy to be honest with myself about my reasons for drinking?
Not at all. It was frightening and uncomfortable and pushed me to admit things to myself that I had spent years trying to push down inside of me, hoping they would drown in the Long Island Ice Teas I was dousing them with. There’s a reason I am only writing this 2.5 months after I did it.
Has my relationship with alcohol really changed since this experiment?
Absolutely. There’s a little voice in the back of my mind that questions my reasons for picking up a glass at the end of a day. If I feel like there’s a nagging problem that I’m just trying to drown in alcohol, I do something else instead.
But more importantly than my relationship with alcohol – my relationship with myself has changed. I have really looked in the metaphorical mirror and questioned the reflection that is staring back. By acknowledging and owning my self-consciousness and low self-esteem, I have finally set myself on a path of self-empowerment and self-fulfilment – a path that was never going to be found at the bottom of the bottle.