Last year I took on a challenge. I decided I'd go 30 days with no social media and it actually went surprisingly well (if you'd like to read about it check out the blog and for a more in-depth breakdown, listen to the podcast).
I decided that my next experiment should be one I was more fearful of, giving up booze for a month.
As a quick overview, I like to drink alcohol. My friends would consider me the heaviest drinker of the group, although it is worth noting that this is a group who collectively consume less than a pint a week. Even so this made me the ideal candidate for this period of abstinence.
On the average week, I’ll have some wine during in the evenings, and drink every Friday and Saturday (and sometimes Sunday depending on the hangovers). I know that no amount of alcohol is good for my body and while I don’t drink dangerous levels, my consumption is definitely above the weekly suggested intake.
Put it this way, everyone I’ve told about this endeavour has either laughed or assumed I’ll fail...
However, after a very wet Christmas and birthday, I was strangely looking forward to going the longest I’d gone without a drink in about nine years, and only as I type that out do I realise that this is probably needed.
So here we go. Will 30 days of no alcohol improve my mental health?
I’ve always hated New Year’s Eve. It might be because it follows Christmas and my birthday and so by the 31st I’m exhausted. It might also be because it’s always busier than normal, more expensive than normal, and there’s way more pressure to not have a shit time. In fact, it’s all of those reasons.
Because of this, I went to the pub with my parents and a couple of friends and had a few drinks before plodding myself on the sofa at 12:40am.
Why am I saying this? Because I woke up hangover-free on the first day of 2020, unlike many others, and was already mentally committed to these 30 days. This helped.
During the past week I discovered that I sleep far better than when I drink (surprise, surprise), but this has been a blessing and a curse.
Where I would usually fall asleep, a little tipsy, by 1am on a Friday night and then wake up at 9am desperate for drink and a wee, I was wide awake until gone 3am. Subsequently, in my new found ‘deep sleep’, I slept through my alarm and woke up at almost midday on Saturday. Nightmare.
On Saturday evening, the only other friend who drinks as much as I do came over, and instead of splitting four bottles of wine, throwing up a curry and pissing off the neighbours, I sipped Shloer out of a wine glass and he left at 11pm after a few rounds of Mario Kart. We had a lovely evening, but it was a weird change of pace.
One week in, I definitely feel different. Just before Christmas I started seeing a therapist for the first time in my life, and doing the homework he set has made me realise how balanced I feel after only 7 days off the stuff. However, I can already see that an alcohol-free life isn’t for me, but more moderation will make a hugely positive difference.
Going to the pub sucks. Coffee is expensive and underwhelming, soft drinks are expensive and make my teeth hurt and non-alcoholic beer is expensive and reminds me of what I can’t have.
I seem to go between two contrasting views on this spell without booze; either ‘I feel so level-headed and love that I am giving my body a rest’, or ‘oh my God pour tequila from the bottle directly into my mouth until I can’t see.’
On a positive note, my weekly shopping bill is significantly less than normal, like under half of what it usually is.
I think a key part of this struggle is down to the habits I’ve developed over the best part of a decade. I can confidently say that it does make some things better. I struggle with self-confidence and self-esteem issues, and despite being an excellent chameleon and managing to hide this well, I couldn’t do it all without alcohol.
Having a beer or two makes me more confident talking to people I wouldn’t normally enjoy chatting with. Having a few glasses of wine means I don’t have to worry about driving or parking or ensuring others get home on time so I can relax a little more than I would otherwise.
Before I go out I sometimes look at myself in the mirror and don’t want to go out. But after a few drinks I forget that I hated how my t-shirt makes my chest look, and I’m happy.
Obviously alcohol isn’t a solution to my existing mental health issues and I am definitely not saying that if you feel any of these things you should just drink, but I battle them on a daily basis using alcohol-free techniques and my God is it nice to sometimes let the alcohol do the work.
On a lighter note, I think I’ve lost some weight.
As I write this, my final day is coming to an end. I have the day off tomorrow to see a friend who now lives in China, and we intend on drinking all day. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to have a beer, but if I’m honest I think I mostly missed the ability to do what I want.
I’m 26, I have an adult job, live with my other half, pay bills and make adult decisions every day. The idea of not being allowed to do something is alien and unsettling, after so long of making my own decisions.
There were times during this period where I felt a lot better, and could confidently attribute that to the absence of alcohol in my life. But there were also times where I felt less comfortable and more restricted because I wasn’t allowed to just drink this completely legal kind of beverage in my own home for fear of failure.
This won’t come as a surprise to many, but moderation is clearly the answer for me. I realise that I can have a fun night with friends without drinking and that nine hours of uninterrupted sleep after a tough week at work can be as great as a bottle of wine. But I need to make that decision myself.