"Here's What I Learned When I Gave Up Drinking For Nine Months" | Men's Health Magazine Australia

“Here’s What I Learned When I Gave Up Drinking For Nine Months”

It must have been in the throes of a particularly fierce hangover—with my head wedged between couch cushions, probably wearing one sock and surrounded by half-empty Gatorade bottles and pizza crusts—that I realised I hadn’t gone a weekend without drinking since college. Even more obvious was the fact that I no longer possessed the same resiliency that once allowed me to drink like a pirate by night and be a fully functioning human being the next morning.

No, now on the cusp of 30, one too many happy hour cocktails would invariably result in three days of physical, mental, and emotional misery. True zombie status. Dragging myself up from the depths of this prolonged hangover, I’d ponder why the hell I’d just done this to myself. I didn’t have a problem per se, but then again, could I stop drinking if I wanted to? It wasn’t so much giving up the alcohol that made me unsure, but rather the social implications swirling around sobriety. So I put myself to the test. Here’s what I learned after nine months on the wagon.


When you tell someone that you’re not drinking in your late twenties, they tend to look at you like you’re one step away from the Betty Ford Clinic. Sobriety is unfairly stigmatised. So come up with a reason for your temperance. “I’m training for a triathlon.” “I’m allergic.” “I gave blood today.” Giving a pre-planned excuse will thwart the awkwardness of having to explain your intentions. Or better yet, commit yourself to a goal that’s connected with your sobriety. For me it was writing a book. Going sober allowed me to wake up at 5am every morning to work on my book before heading into my day job. I banged it out in nine months; the book will be out this August.


The single greatest fear many single men have when it comes to going off the sauce is that the dry spell will spread from the barroom to the bedroom. Sobriety doesn’t have to translate into celibacy though. Rather, consider your clear-mindedness as a tactical advantage. Instead of sending that regrettable, blurry-eyed, Hail Mary text message when stumbling home from the bar at 2am— “Hey…you still up? “— why not work a decisive and dignified ground game that might actually land you someone you want to wake up with in the morning? Which reminds me, the only thing worse than a hangover is topping it off with a walk of shame.

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Dropping the calories associated with drinking didn’t magically transform my midsection from a keg into a six pack, but the physical changes were striking to say the least. Exhibit A (above): The selfie I took on day one of my sobriety looks like a mugshot after losing a bar brawl in a beehive. Drinking causes inflammation that sneaks beneath skin undetectably. Only when comparing it to a selfie I took a clean month later did I realise how puffy my face was previously. Documenting these changes in my body became a source of encouragement and a reason to stay committed.


Enjoying a sober night at a bar or dinner party calls for having a good decoy drink in hand. I consumed world-record amounts of soda water during my dry streak, occasionally with a splash of cran, if I was really feeling squirrely. Depending on what watering hole you belly up to, mixologists have started creating tastier N/A options beyond virgin Bloody Marys and Shirley Temples. 


When I first gave up drinking, a friend of mine who had been on the wagon for close to two years told me that sobriety was a superpower. Free of hangovers, the brain fires on all cylinders. Your memory improves. You’re sharper, faster, and more level-headed. Of course, there’s plenty of medical research backing this up, but for me the immediate proof was in my emotional wellbeing. I’d been battling frequent bouts of low-level depression since my freshman year of college, around the same time I graduated to recreational drinking. (Coincidence?!) Within two weeks of going dry, I found my overall happiness noticeably buoyed. In the months that followed, while I didn’t completely avoid stepping into a steaming pile of anxiety, my low periods were far shorter and not nearly as diabolical.


God bless the people who just want to dance. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I’d rather shave a month-old beard with a rusty razor than jump into one of the inevitable dance circles that form at a wedding. Being sober did nothing to conquer this paralysing social anxiety. I attended three weddings during my dry streak, and I begrudgingly report that they were the greatest tests of my sobriety. That being said, they were the first weddings after which I actually enjoyed the next-day brunch.


Prior to going dry, one of my favorite daily rituals was cooking dinner at home with a glass of wine in hand. I enjoyed chopping veggies and stirring sauces while sipping Cab. It signaled to my brain that the day was done and now I could relax. But as I waited for the food to cook, that one glass of wine turned to two. Then three when dinner hit the table. At that point, there was only a glass left in the bottle. Might as well polish it off, am I right? When I gave up drinking, the ritual of cooking became tedious and unfulfilling. To overcome this, I reworked my schedule to incorporate exercise right before dinner. After a shower and with endorphins flowing, I took renewed interest in preparing my meal.


Okay, there were still plenty of problems when I wasn’t drinking, but my bank account was much healthier. Before giving up booze, I never thought twice about the $50 bar tabs that I regularly threw my credit card at like a ninja star, or the $20 bottles of wine I’d scoop up on my way home from work. Cutting out alcohol from my expenses didn’t necessarily make me any richer, but it allowed me to splurge on other things without a shred of buyer’s remorse. Three months after I had my last drink, I bought a house and a new car. Of course, I wasn’t paying my mortgage with the money that I was saving from not drinking, but having this newly available spending cash lessened the sacrifices I needed to make as I took on this new financial burden.

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The question that began bubbling in my mind when I surpassed the six-month sobriety mark was, Am I ever going to drink again? The normal 5 o’clock urge to crack a beer was long gone, but left in its wake was the philosophical quandary of whether I should do this for the rest of my life. The benefits were obvious and entirely fulfilling, but there was still a lingering fear that I was on fringes of the party. I was also curious to know if this experiment would lead me to being more moderate in my consumption. So I picked out an expensive bottle of wine and put an open date on it. Having this deadline eliminated this restlessness and doubled-down my commitment. Truth be told, when I took my first sip nine months later, it was a complete letdown.

So would I do it again? Absolutely. For me, the physical and emotional benefits far exceeded the buzz, and sobriety did indeed feel like a super power. But that’s not to say the same will be true for you. If for nothing else, taking a break from drinking serves as an opportunity for you to better understand your own relationship with alcohol. After that, you can decide whether or not it’s time for last call.

This article originally appeared on Men’s Health US

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