GRETCHEN TRIES STUFF EPISODE 8: The One Without Alcohol
100 Days Sober
I challenged myself to go 100 days without drinking and learned a lot in the process.
So far this year I've done a month without sugar, a month with no trash, and I'm currently in a month-long challenge of not shopping (for the exception of groceries). But by far the longest project I've decided to take on has been 100 Days Sober. Starting on August 1, I gave up drinking alcoholic beverages (I would have also given up substances like pot, which is legal in Oregon, but I already don't consume any recreational drugs. I'm not morally against others smoking pot, but I get really sick to my stomach if I have any.) So why did I decided to go sober for 100 days? Am I am alcoholic? Secretly pregnant? Nope and definitely not. It's nothing scandalous like that. I decided to take on the 100 days sober project for two main reasons:
- I wanted to experience the social struggles someone faces when going sober in an alcohol dominated society/social group. I live in a city with a rather robust alcohol scene. There are some 84 micro breweries in the Portland Metro area, an entire craft distillers scene down the road from my home, and we're just a hope, skip, and jump away from some amazing wineries. Sometimes it feels like you're hard pressed in Portland to find a weekend without some sort of beer or whiskey festival. Not drinking while maintaining a social life can be a challenge anywhere, and it was probably the most difficult aspect of the past 100 days for me.
- I wanted to draw attention to the very black and white way we view alcoholism in our culture. I am not an alcoholic by any traditional definition: Drinking wasn't negatively impacting my career or my relationships with my friends and family. I also didn't experience self control issues around alcohol. I'm usually good at being able to cut myself off or stick to just one drink while out. Nevertheless, I still kind of felt like alcohol wasn't always a positive thing in my life. You don't have to be an alcoholic to be using alcohol as a crutch or an escape, or have it exasperate other issues in your life (like depression and stress).
So why not just go sober for one month? I asked myself that question a lot, particularly around 3 weeks into it. I wanted to be sober for the full 100 days because I felt one month would be too easy, it wouldn't be a long enough period of time to really grasp the experience, and I had a few personal goals that I wanted to achieve while sober and one month just didn't seem long enough (30 days to create a habit, 90 to create a lifestyle, etc). I'm really glad I went for a longer time period because the experience of being sober days 1-30 was definitely different than my experience days 60-100. If you want to compare my thoughts on being sober after 100 days to my thoughts when I hit the halfway mark, you can check out a blog post I wrote on being half-way there.
The Social Evolution of Being Sober
Being sober change my social life pretty much instantly. While my good friends were all very supportive, others in my social group felt uncomfortable hanging out with a sober person. The number of invites I got for parties or to hang out on the weekend started to dwindle. I also sometimes opted out of some of my usual social activities: For example, I attend a group run where we usually go out to a bar afterwards. Since I wasn't drinking (nor would I be ordering food, due to personal dietary restrictions) I often skipped going out after to avoid being the person who only orders water. The social difficulty of being sober (for me) can be divided into three different stages:
- Stage 1: The beginning. Being sober in a group felt easy at the start. My motivation was high. The experience was new. I was all about explaining to people why I was going sober and my views on alcohol consumption.
- Stage 2: The middle. This was the toughest part. I was use to being sober and the new-ness of it all had worn off. I started to get more bummed out when I would miss stuff, like a beer festival or even just a seasonal brew. I started to feel less enthusiastic about going out and being the sober person in the group, and I was fulling feeling the hit to my social life.
- Stage 3: The end. By the last few weeks, maybe the last full month, being sober became such a standard in my life it didn't feel odd or like I was missing out. It's become my normal and it wasn't bothersome. I've started to forget what it feels like to drink. I started really enjoying just how productive I became (being single and sober = a lot more nights at home getting everything else I wanted to do done).
To the people in my life who were incredibly supportive and overall awesome about hanging out with sober Gretchen, thank you! You're the rock stars that helped me discover that if I were to ever have to give up drinking forever, life really wouldn't be that bad.
Sobriety: A Financial Savings Plan
Need to save money? Not drinking alcohol will certainly help. From savings on my grocery bill by not grabbing those six-packs or bottles of wine, to cutting my bar bill down by half or more, sticking to nonalcoholic beverages totally saved me money (I used these savings to fund other pursuits instead of actually, like, saving it... so, that kind of negated the savings on my end, but you can learn from the error in my reckless ways). I ate out less and quite often didn't even get charged when ordering soda water at a bar. Now, I don't drink soda pop or anything sugary or chemical. But I do love club soda (particularly with a dash of bitters or drinking vinegar). I love drinking soda water so much that I eventually invested in a SodaStream so I can make it at home instead of buying 2-4 bottles from the store daily. (Yes daily. I drink that much water). I did continue my wine club membership and picked up a couple of bottles of seasonal beers that I wanted to save for when I was drinking again, so I did spend some money on alcohol, but not nearly as much as I would have if I was actually consuming it.
Alcohol and Health
When I first went sober, I read a few article on what to expect when you stop drink. Pretty much everything I read said, "You'll lose weight." When I was about two weeks in and reading this my thought was I don't know... my chocolate consumption has definitely gone up now that I'm not drinking. That was no hyperbole. Chocolate became my emotional replacement to drinking a beer after a bad day. Stressed? Tired? Upset? Have a piece of chocolate. It makes you feel better. (To be clear, while I consumed more chocolate I didn't come anywhere near consuming enough to equate the caloric intake of a night out drinking). Sure enough, it didn't take more than a month for me to notice that I was losing weight. About two months in, I actually had a doctor exam where I confirmed that over the past two months I had lost about 20 pounds. While I haven't done an official weigh in now that I'm on day 100, I'm pretty in-tuned with my body and I can say with confidence that I've continued to lose weight but at a slower rate than the first few months. (I feel like this needs a bit of clarification. I was never super over weight but am usually very fit. I gained what I call my "China fat" because it was just a lot more difficult for me to be as healthy as I normally am while I was living in Chengdu. I basically lost my super fit body type while living abroad. These past few months have got me back to what feels like my normal, healthy weight.)
Bottom line, this is the best I've felt since moving back stateside and not just with my physical health. I feel really good emotionally and physiologically as well. The health aspects tie in a lot to my personal goals with going sober: I've successfully managed to reset my internal clock so I'm naturally going to bed and waking up earlier. I've also taken the time to force myself to mentally deal with some emotional umm... damage—for lack of a better term. It's easy to not face something emotionally difficult when you can just go out drinking with friends and forget about it. But that doesn't mean that shiz isn't weighing you down. Being sober has given me the time and clarity to really wrap my head around how I feel about anything emotionally heavy in my life. I also feel like I've done a much better job of clarifying my life goals and sorting out what decision I'm making that serve my goals and which hinder them. It's like being sober has allowed me to tidy up my mental space (I actually applied a few tidying techniques I use for my physical home for this process.)
How do I feel about drinking post-Day 100
When I was about half through and you asked me how I felt about drinking again, I was totally excited. Now that it's here? I'm honestly really conflicted. I'm both nervous and excited to drink again. (At the time of writing this, I haven't had any alcohol yet). I'm looking forward to drinking some amazing wines and seasonal beers I've been stock piling. I'm also really excited for a girls night out I have planned for Friday (we're going out and staying the night at the Edgefield resort so we can drink without needing arrange a ride home). I'm looking forward to being able to opt in to drinking when I want to. I'm feeling a little nervous because drinking feels more unknown again. Kind of like when I was 21, I have no concept for what my tolerance level will be (I suspect it'll be totally shot so I'm preparing for that). I feel so good not drinking and I want to make sure I retain that feeling and keep the lifestyle I've established while not drinking. My hope is that I can reintroduce alcohol without compromising all the gains I've made in life while being sober. While I feel like that is something totally do-able, I could also see myself deciding my life is better when I'm sober and making this a permeant change in my life. That was not something I expected to come out of my 100 days, but it goes back towards illustrating my point on how gray-zone the concept of alcoholism really is than we traditionally view it.