I Quit Drinking Alcohol For 12 Months - What I Learned
Note: I didn’t have an alcohol dependency. This article is about behaviour change.
I learned alot about myself during 2021, and the challenges that people face as they change a habit.
I put my coaching skills and knowledge into practice and discovered what works for me.
My body went through a change for sure, giving me more energy, but most noticeable was my improvement in clarity, memory recall, positivity and emotional stability.
Table of Contents
My Winning Strategy - Identity Change
To be clear, I’m referring to a change in identity from being “a drinker” to a “non-drinker”. I explore this in more detail below.
So no, I haven’t had a sex change or identify as non-binary or anything like that. That is not what I am talking about here.
Related Resource: Master Your Identity
My Experience of Not Drinking for a Year...
In December 2020, I decided to take a year off drinking alcohol.
I decided enough was enough. Upon reflection these were my driving reasons why:
- I was feeling fatigued.
- I felt blurry and dull.
- I was unenthusiastic.
- Feeling crap was not what I wanted.
- I had no boundaries.
- I had no set standards or guidelines.
- I didn’t really know why I was drinking.
- Drinking was not fun or rewarding anymore.
- Beer / Wine, it all just started to taste ‘blagh’.
- Mindset misalignment causing frustration.
- Beginning to worry about potential health problems later on.
- I want to feel better.
- I want to have more time for things I want to do.
- I want to wake up feeling great with energy.
- I want to be better – be the person I am striving to be.
- I want to challenge and test myself.
- I want to regain control.
- I want to change habits.
- I want to see what it takes.
- I want to learn what others go through.
- I want to help others / understand their experience.
- I want to see what changes I experience.
- I want to be healthy.
- I want to challenge my ‘reasons for drinking’ head on.
- I want to live in alignment with my values.
- I want to be happy and successful.
The First Set of Benefits I Noticed
As I got started on my year of
not drinking… ahem ‘health and happiness’ (positive re-frame) I was quickly surprised by the following benefits. They weren’t driving forces for change, but welcome ‘side effect benefits’
Welcome Side Effect Benefits
- Saving money.
- Less chance of conflict / accidents.
- Being more alert and active.
- Being able to drive everywhere / anytime.
- Enjoying the challenge of new activities / habit replacing techniques.
- Being a better partner.
- Encouraging / Supporting / Positively influencing Jacqui.
- Weight loss / improved fitness / looking healthy / feeling good – physically matching my self-image.
The Why is Set
As you can see, I started with a strong set of reasons why I was changing.
I made a strong decision with conviction.
It was my decision. I was responsible. I didn’t care about anyone’s help. I wasn’t part of anyone’s program. I wasn’t doing it for likes, charity or any other reason but my own.
It was a decision based on my intrinsic values.
The desire was strong. The commitment was strong.
My mindset felt resilient and ready.
The Thought Process
I think I initially said to myself – “no drinking for 30 day’s… – then I was like…
“Let’s make it interesting and 10x it”
“Ok sure. Make it a whole year then”.
Having this long timeline, made it real. There was no cheating or ‘holding out’ for 30 days and avoiding the real change. You had to embrace it – for real.
The first few days were pretty easy. I was on holidays, and was able to keep busy with my hobbies and activities. I was in a good frame of mind and had a lot of life coaching knowledge to keep me resilient, on track and strong.
The biggest challenge initially was visually seeing a bottle of beer or wine in the fridge. The immediate thoughts were soothing and calming as I imagined the taste, and relaxation and ‘reward’ that comes with drinking a nice cold beer or wine.
Removing the drinks from the fridge and out of view, was a great first step and helped remove the visual stimulus.
It’s important to recognize this as a trigger – it really tests your resolve in the moment.
If you are having a bad day, or feeling stressed, a visual stimulus could derail your journey.
The next element is about self-awareness and being aware of your weaknesses and emotional state of mind. You need to know where and when you are weak, in order to be strong.
You need to know when you are tired and be kind to yourself to relax and choose differently.
We’ll talk about self awareness later. But know for now, it’s key.
Enjoy the Rewards Right Away
Starting to enjoy the benefits and rewards early is worthwhile noting.
I knew replacing bad habits with other activities is a good strategy based on books I’ve read on habits. “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck.
Feeling healthy and energetic allowed me to get more done and go for more rides, walks and e-skates.
I feel good during the day and was mindful of my health and being at peace, and not being hungover and wasting the day.
Related Resource: Daily Habit Building
Introducing Mindfulness and Gratitude
After a while it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be hungover. The low energy and feeling like crap.
It’s important to be grateful, enjoying waking up, feeling good, and having time to the things you want to do. I mindfully appreciated my choices and embraced the lifestyle.
Unexpected & Surprising Observations
What I didn’t expect was how much drinking is normalised and part of ‘everything’.
What I didn’t comprehend was the volume of how much people drink and how constant it is.
What surprised me was how much bullshit some people talk after drinking. Much of it pointless, or surface level stuff. It’s boring.
I was saving money, not that I calculated it at the time. But basic maths shows you would save 20 to 50 dollars by not drinking with your evening meal.
Just on the Financials
Not drinking during the week or at an event on the weekend would save you anywhere from $100 to $250 a week based on a mix of store-bought drinks and bar priced drinks.
Depending on how much you drink and spend the savings could add up to 10’s of thousands a year. Scary.
The financial incentive alone, is enticing, but on it’s own it didn’t carry any weight for me.
So I thought it’s wise to add some meaning to it. I didn’t have a particular financial goal. But I made the choice that I was happy to spend money on nice meals out and anything I needed related to my hobbies or passions.
The multiplication effect. Because I wasn’t drinking, it became clear to me that I could use this clear head and energy and get fit and start eating better
I started by eating healthy food and cutting down on junk. This helped to my overall energy levels. However, I didn’t set any specific fitness goals and remained at an ordinary level of fitness. This year I am setting goals and working on my routine to get physically fitter.
So not drinking is not a magic bullet to health and happiness. You still have to put in the work.
The Most Difficult Times
Being around people drinking is difficult. Like a dinner out with friends, or having “drinks out”.
In this case you must be mentally strong and bring your ‘A game’.
First with the visual stimulus, as you will be surrounded by beer, wine and cocktails.
Then you will have other sensory stimulus and ‘memory’ kicking in as well. This will be the smell of the beer or wine, even the smell of the venue and people.
You will have memories of good times at these places, and an urge to have a good time – and to have a drink. Recognise this as learned behaviour – the desire to drink, join in, fit in, belong, participate, and make everything easier.
It’s important to be mindful at this stage and understand that – “You can fit in, and have a great time while being sober”.
Friends Can Make it Hard at First
If you have friends that are ‘on board’ with what you are doing this will make things a lot easier. It will be great if they are supporting you and are not phased about your ‘non-drinking’ lifestyle.
At a gathering, you might have a friend that ‘speaks up’ about you not drinking. Even in a comical way they may make a thing of it and try and get you to drink. The good thing is, they will probably give up and quieten down quickly. Or the conversation will move on. Saying a straightforward answer like,
“Yes, I don’t drink anymore.”
and then not saying anything is a good way for everyone to move on to a more interesting topic.
Real Reasons Behind Peoples Drinking
If someone is making a big deal of it, begging you to drink , saying… “c’mon c’mon”
It’s probably because they are feeling insecure. It could be for a many possible reasons.
It’s helpful to know these potential reasons, so you can understand what might be going on for them. Then you can see this ‘peer pressure’ based on what it really is… – Their vulnerability, perhaps their own shortcomings?
Real reasons friends / other’s want you to drink may Include:
- They don’t want to be the odd one out – and feel awkward / drunk / or make a fool of themselves in front of you.
- They are covering up a pain, darkness and don’t want to feel vulnerable or show a weakness.
- They are afraid of feeling alone, embarrassed, or unsupported.
- They are reliving old times.
- They want to have a good time – and blow off steam – together, which may not be a ‘bad’ thing, but could be an insight into avoiding problems, or resolving stress in an unhealthy way. Especially if drinking sessions are a regular escape for your friends / group.
- They don’t want to see you ‘getting ahead / being better’ – because that makes them feel ‘less’ by default. (comparing)
Growth Opportunity: Why not ask your friend why they drink? Perhaps when you are 1:1 and not in a group setting…
A Cultural Shift is Underway
As I am writing this, last night Shanna Whan was awarded with an Australian of the year award in the ‘Local Hero’ category. Her speech and the story that accompanied her award resonated with me on multiple levels. It was an emotional speech and her points really hit home on how widespread the drinking culture in Australia is, and other parts of the world.
Shanna spoke of walking a fine line between “condemning drinking and those that drink” and “personal choice and acceptance” Her message was that it’s “okay to say no to a beer”.
I commend her work, and this acceptance of personal choice is an important part of the conversation and changing culture.
I sense that “Saying no to a beer” is only part of the solution though.
Learn More on the website https://www.soberinthecountry.org/
The Power of Personal Inner Change.
At the core must be the desire for personal inner change.
You must want to change.
You need to take responsibility for yourself. Take responsibility for your decisions. Own the change. Become the person you aspire to be with courage.
While it’s helpful to have supportive friends that commend and accept your choices, you can’t rely on them to always be there.
Empowerment by Personal Responsibility
At the next wedding you attend there will be people you don’t know there, having a great time and offering you a drink. It’s nefarious to place responsibility on them, to influence your choices.
Imagine waking up the next morning with a hangover and blaming others and making excuses.
“Uncle Jeff was having a great time at our table, and I just had to join in”.
“The groomsmen were all drinking and celebrating, and I didn’t want them to think less of me”.
These two statements are plausible excuses. They are excuses you can easily make and justify. You are solely responsible for making these excuses or choosing differently.
It’s irresponsible to place ‘acceptance & understanding’ on Uncle Jeff. It’s irresponsible and dis-empowering to let the groomsmen influence your choices.
You are an adult. You are responsible. Own it.
If we accept that:
“There will always be someone offering you a drink and wanting you to join in”
Even if their intentions are good, It’s up to you to take personal responsibility and make your own decisions, based on what you want.
Master Your Identity
I achieved my success by ownership of responsibility and “Mastering my Identity”.
I’ll talk more about this below, but the basic premise is to know yourself deeply, and be strong in your values, character, purpose (your why) and vision.
With a strong identity in place. Personal change happens almost automatically with low resistance.
Shape Who You Are
To support my year of not drinking I “changed my identity” from “a drinker” to “I don’t drink” – and going one step further, you can say…
“I don’t need to drink, I’m a naturally confident, happy, fun and interesting person”.
Embracing this key message at the core of my identity – allowed me to change my identity immediately.
Your Ideal Vision of Your Self
This identity sharpening process purposely crafted who I want to be. Who I desire to become. Who I am right now.
I’m always growing to be the person I desire to be.
Drinking alcohol, just didn’t fit with my new self-image and identity.
It’s values driven.
Embracing this ideal identity is empowering. It’s authentic. You are taking responsibility. You are charged with making your decisions. As you do so, you become even more confident as you break down old barriers and really step into your new identity.
Friends and family will notice this change. Real friends will stand by you and ultimately support you. The best part is, you will actually be a better friend and you will start being more authentic as your ideal self.
Understand the Benefits of Being Your Authentic Self
There are so many benefits to being your authentic self. Starting with feeling comfortable in your own skin. Having less social anxiety around new people and letting go of the belief you need to ‘be liked’ or ‘have to fit in’.
This leads to confidence in just being who you are. At a casual social gathering for example, you can just be yourself. And as you are comfortable, you can be who you want to be. Funny, chatty, helpful, energetic, a great listener, chilled out, whatever.
Related Resource: Emotional Self Awareness Exercise
How do You Master Your Identity?
All this change happened for me by strengthening my ideal identity.
To be fair, I’ve spent hundreds of hours studying in this area and even running workshops and creating resources to help others strengthen their identity.
It’s an area I’m passionate about because it’s so powerful and I sense that many people are ‘blind’ to their identity. They simply don’t know who to be, or have an internal conflict going on.
Intentionally putting my new identity into practice was enlightening and exciting. I really enjoyed the experience and slight discomfort.
End of the Year – Now What?
Yes, I had a drink. I finished my 12 months with a nice red wine overlooking a vineyard in the Mornington Peninsula. I enjoyed the taste.
Did it make my day? No.
Did it change my identity? No.
Did I undo all my hard work? No.
The Next Challenge
The end of the 12 months presented me with another challenge. What now? Who do I become now?
I embodied the lessons of my 12 months into my current identity.
Upon reflection I decide to continue being responsible. I can embrace the message of…
“I take responsibility and make wise decisions. I am guided by my standards and boundaries”.
I’m yet to finalise these standards and boundaries on paper. But I know them in my heart and gut.
Therefore, I can choose to responsibly have a drink when I want to.
To date, I generally leave having one or two drinks as a celebration for something significant.
I’ve set boundaries mentally and now in my new template. My protocol states – Only one bottle of wine gets opened between the two of us, on any given occasion.
Wrapping Up – What Benefits did I Appreciate the Most?
- I noticed having a lot more quality time in the mornings and especially on weekends.
- The drive and ability to set higher standards, for myself and in general.
- Feeling sharper, better memory and faster recall.
- Feeling faster, I feel I can process information quicker.
- Feeling closer and supported in my relationship with Jacqui.
These ones are harder to pin down, but I can confidently say I was more…
- Emotionally stable and generally in a good mood.
- Hopeful and positive for the future.
- Interested in more things, topics and people.
- More accepting of others / grateful.
- More concerned at the depth of the ingrained drinking culture.
Overhearing Two Ladies Talking - Side Story
I hope this ‘journal entry’ is helpful for you if you are considering reducing or eliminating alcohol from your life. My main message would be “Start with your identity”.
I know drinking is a huge part of our lifestyle and making the change might seem impossible and alienating. But its not. And you’ll realise there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Over the recent Christmas break I was sitting on a park bench waiting for our coffee order at Wilsons Prom, and I overheard two ladies talking. One of them says to the other…
“If only he would stop drinking… I think everything would be all right”…
I smiled to myself and understood the real cost this is having on families. I could just imagine in an instant everything this guy had to gain, and what was on the line.
I understood the challenge that lay before him if he ever decides to change. I hope he does.
And if you need to, I hope you do too.