I made the decision to stop drinking, even socially, at the beginning of last summer. The decline in my alcohol consumption started years before, right after I graduated from college. Instead of ordering mixed drink after mixed drink at the bar postgrad, I would order a beer and nurse it throughout the entire night. While learning how to drink the beer slower, I noticed a gradual decline in my overall alcohol consumption. Through pacing my drinking intake while out with friends, I learned my body wanted less and less to drink anyway. This eventually led me to make the conscious decision to stop drinking any form of alcohol this past August.
If you’re wondering how to stop drinking, I’ll share how I made the decision and how I implemented it. I came up with a plan and chose a date for my last rendezvous with alcohol for the next few months. A friend of mine was celebrating her wedding in France in mid-August, and I knew I would want to enjoy a glass of red wine in the French countryside. I made an official note in my calendar, listing that day in August as my final day to imbibe before quitting alcohol. It would be the first day of the rest of her life with her favorite romantic partner and the last day of the rest of my life with my favorite social partner. I drank the French wine, kissed a Spanish musician, and relished in my last night of drunkenness. And then the next morning I woke up and made a promise to myself to stick to my plan.
Why I Quit Drinking
Towards the end of college, after a night of heavy drinking, I never felt great the following morning. I dealt with bouts of acid reflux, always made worse by beer. My stomach bore the brunt of the pain. Eventually, the only thing I could drink was a Moscow Mule because the ginger beer and addition of fresh mint leaves simultaneously soothed my stomach while also getting me to feel some kind of way.
Despite the temporary soothing qualities of the ingredients of a Moscow Mule, my stomach still did not like me the morning after a night out—and more often than not, I woke up hungover, and a bit sad. So I tried only drinking during the day—at weekend brunches and Dolores Park picnics in San Francisco with friends. This way my body, namely my liver, did most of the processing it needed during the day, so if I hydrated well enough I felt decent the next morning. I may have noticed feeling slightly better in the mornings, but I still felt a bit lethargic and emotional the next day; sometimes I felt the effects for days afterward.
These shortcuts and maneuvers of trying to continue drinking without feeling terrible the next morning and the following days lasted for months. Soon after, I learned that gut health is linked to our mental health by way of the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is the result of bidirectional communication between our central nervous system (responsible for regulating our emotions through hormones and neurotransmitters) and our gut health. Our gut health is even linked to our skin health due to the gut-skin axis, and disruptions in this balance can lead to acne, psoriasis, and dermatitis.
Alcohol was negatively affecting my gut, and as a result, I could feel these effects in my mental health (I tended to be more prone to depressive and anxious thoughts the days after drinking) and I could see the effects on my skin (nobody likes breakouts). I later learned alcohol led to gut-derived inflammation, so my experience was not uncommon. In many ways the gut inflammation alcohol caused naturally triggered breakouts and depression; after all, alcohol is a depressant.
How Sobriety Feels
I’ve been entirely sober for almost seven months now; this sobriety was preceded by about a year and a half of only drinking socially 2-3 times a month. To put it simply, I just feel healthier.
At the end of the day, alcohol is toxic and essentially acts as a poison to our bodies. We all know any misuse of any substance can be detrimental to our health. So if you’re feeling increased levels of depression or your stomach or skin are not thriving in ways you would hope, try limiting your drinking, or even detoxing for a month or two.
I originally made the decision to stop drinking for six months, and now I don’t plan on going back to drinking again given the benefits I’ve felt firsthand in my body.
Challenges to Being Sober
Living in New York City, it seems everyone wants to meet for a drink or during happy hour. I’ll gently suggest a spot to grab a cup of tea or coffee instead, or dessert—because who doesn’t love dessert?
I still go out with friends at bars and initially I felt awkward not ordering a drink, but now I’ll order soda water with lime or sometimes a virgin version of whatever cocktail looks tasty. The discomfort of not ordering an alcoholic beverage has faded, mostly because I’ve become more comfortable in my own decision to stop drinking. Whenever I’m on a dinner date with a friend I encourage them to order a drink if they want but warn them early on I won’t be partaking. Some try and convince me through unintentional guilt, “But I don’t want to drink alone!” they say. Sometimes it’s “Just have a sip,” or a more aggressive “Come on, you’re not going to drink at all?”
At first, it was hard saying no to all these variations of “drink with me,” but my body has spoken and I’ve decided to listen because I believe not drinking is a form of self-love for my body, specifically because that’s what my body has told me in the past months.
And every once in a while, when I’m out with friends, one will inevitably say “I didn’t want to order a drink either, thanks for saying that,” or with new friends, I often hear, “oh, I don’t drink either.” Apparently, not drinking isn’t as uncommon as I thought these days. Maybe it’s even a new wellness trend lurking around the corner.
Important note to readers: I never felt addicted to alcohol or drank every day, but if you feel that you are unable to quit, or like alcohol is a daily necessity, try reaching out to a therapist or doctor to discuss your relationship with alcohol.
Featured image by Cora