When I announced to the interwoobles on a whim that I was quitting drinking for Lent, I expected a little good-natured ribbing and I got it. Friends expressed concern that I’d been replaced by a podperson, asked how the tremors were going, sent me photos of cocktails overlaid with “wish you were here,” like a postcard from Boozeville.
possible likely obvious in retrospect that I was drinking too much. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I know I’m not the only mom who’s found that nighttime glass of wine slowly morphing into a nighttime bottle over the years. So I am actually relieved that it’s been a bit of a non-event for me to stop what had become unhealthy levels of habitual drinking.
I know not all of my readers – some of whom have joined along privately with me on this experiment – have had the same experience. Some folks who tried to stop drinking found it more difficult than was comfortable. And any time you can’t stop a behavior you’d rather not engage in, it’s difficult. It’s a wake-up call.
I don’t want to make it seem like this has been absolutely no big deal – I’ve had a few moments over the past 6 weeks. My husband and I recently booked a trip to Scotland to celebrate our 15th Anniversary, and I did have a celebratory sip of single malt scotch. It’s not every year the grandparents come through with an offer of 2 weeks of childcare, after all.
Nick has continued to drink (though without a partner in crime, his consumption is down, too) and there have been quite a few evenings when his Boulevardier looked so freaking delicious. But generally, it’s been alright.
Lent Ends Tonight
In the Catholic Church, Lent officially ends at sundown tonight – a day called Maundy Thursday. Tomorrow is the more well-known Good Friday, followed by Holy Saturday and finally, Easter Sunday. That means technically, at 7:28 PM tonight, I could tie one on and still have achieved my goals.
But the larger point of this booze fast was to help me pause, break mindless habits, and approach my relationship with alcohol afresh. So, to that end, here are the biggest things I’ve noticed:
I think it’s time to just admit I’ve reached that certain age. You know the one (if you don’t yet, just wait). It’s when drinking more than 1 or 2 glasses of whatever totally screws with you physically.
Regular readers may recall that I basically didn’t sleep for the 2 years after my son was born, and to this day, getting 8 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep is like finding a unicorn. After this 6-week alcohol free stretch, I can say with absolute certainty that I sleep, on average, better without alcohol in my system.
Booze is expensive. Because I’m kinda a snob about cocktails, the stuff I drink is definitely expensive. My not-drinking for 6 weeks made a noticeable difference in our out-of-pocket, “fun” expenditures. Savings are getting re-routed to alternate fun things, like this upcoming Scotland trip where we will go and drink exciting foreign booze.
I never actually did this, but it occurred to me that if I paid myself $5 for every drink I didn’t have over 6 weeks, I’d have a nice little wad of cash at the end of the booze fast. $5 is a bit more than ingredient cost for most of the cocktails we enjoy, but easily half to a third of what we’d expect to pay for those same cocktails in a bar.
Diet and Weight
When I first stopped drinking I noticed I was eating way more than I normally do, and was craving sugar like a mofo. I have quite a sweet tooth, but it’s unusual for me to crave candy and starch and bread and cookies and pasta to the degree that I did.
Here’s my theory: alcohol acts a lot like sugar in your system, and somewhere in my brain chemistry or my gut microbe or something, a substitution effort was being made.
Will power is a bit like any other muscle, and honestly, I did not have the strength to say no to both booze and chocolate at the same time. Result? I gained several pounds over those first couple weeks of Lent. Then, about a month ago, those sugar cravings faded back to their normal level – a periodic shout of “hey, remember how donuts are delicious?!” instead of a continual roar of “eat all the carbs!” and my weight started drifting back down to my baseline.
Now, after 6 weeks without alcohol, I actually find my food cravings are a bit different. Not sure if this is from the booze-fast, the change of seasons or what, but right now I can’t go a day without a huge bowl of plain yogurt, and I’m eating a ton of fermented vegetables. It’s like I became accidentally healthy. I’m one chia-seed and kale smoothie bowl away from being completely insufferable.
I have well-managed major depression. I’m totally fine, but I take drugs to help me stay that way. (Your lack of snarky comments on this is appreciated.) When one has a mood disorder like depression, alcohol is often used as a self-medicating coping strategy. When my depression was active, I absolutely used alcohol to numb the numbness.
Anyone who’s struggled with a mood disorder – anxiety, depression, whatever – has been told by every doctor ever that alcohol is a depressant and those prone to being depressed should stay away. Of course, if everyone did what their doctor told them, we’d need a lot less doctors.
So I say this with absolutely no judgement to my fellow depressives – not drinking has really helped my mood stability and if that’s an issue for you, I highly recommend taking a break from drinking just to see. It’s not that I’m in a great mood all the time, but it’s just way easier to get back to that calm middle ground. It’s easier to feel sympathy instead of irritation when my munchkins are extra needy. It’s easier to be calm about last minute changes of plans. It’s easier to see the joy in everyday things. It’s just easier to kinda go with the flow.
Despite all the advantages of teetotaling, I don’t have any plans to give up booze completely and forever. Wine and beer have too much of a place in cuisine for me to say goodbye forever. And honestly, I still really, really enjoy everything about the cocktail process – from the creation to the mixing to the garnish to the sipping.
So what I am looking forward to is putting drinking back into it’s proper context of joyful celebrations, not daily survival. I’m so pleased with how this Lenten observance has gone that I would not hesitate to do another booze-free reset.
Expect cocktail recipes to still pop up on this site, but maybe less frequently. A life in better balance is something to which I’ll always raise a glass.353
None of thus surprises me, especially the sleep thing. I can drink a glass of wine or something at, say, 6 or 7 and sleep fine if I go to bed at 11… but I can’t do a nightcap of Scotch or whatever at 9 and do that.
I’ve shifted my default ‘of course I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner’ to not drinking anything with dinner during the week (Sun or Mon though Thursday) as the norm and deciding to have a glass as an exception. I can sleep in on the weekend, so if my sleep on those nights isn’t as regular it’s OK. But like you, my sleep without alcohol is MUCH better.
That is wonderful, Erica. I’m glad the experiment provided positive feedback for you!
I Wilkerson says
Yes, your experience rings true. I recently learned that I am higher risk for breast cancer, so my alcohol consumption has gone down to generally a single drink only (sometimes) when I am out. I have bought lots of varieties of good tea and a soda stream so I can mix fizzy water with fruit concentrate or lemon. I refill my beer bottle with water at parties (actually love that since I’m never dehydrated after a party anymore). Packed up the home brewing equipment for the new hobby I was going to start (though I am wondering if you can do a good lite home beer…) So some good… and some (lingering) cocktail envy…
Everything in moderation – except finding joy! Lots of days I have to look for joy. You did great, girl!
Thank you for posting this. I really appreciate your candor. About four years ago I witnessed my father tumble down the end stages of a lifelong alcohol addiction: a diagnosis of advanced cirrhosis and inoperable liver cancer. I tell anyone and everyone I can that it’s not worth it. I think it is important for each of us to check that ability to step away from time to time. I have found similar health benefits with managing my mood disorder and health in general (sleeeeeeeeeeeep) when I take a break, though I do very much enjoy the fruits of my own homebrew husband’s labors. I totally concur 🙂
I’ve done shorter alcohol-fasts, and not had a problem, but there was a period in my like when I was seriously drinking two glasses of wine or more every night. I freaked out when I forgot to get more, and that was the 2X4 upside the head I needed.
Now, my limit is one, and I make sure I skip a night regularly.
I’m glad this was a positive experience for you, Erika, on so many levels.
I think you are right, that this will resonate with a lot of moms, and dads for that matter. We do ubrew so we always have boxes and boxes of wine in the basement. So easy to run down and get another bottle if you want another glass. It’s like having a big, open bag of Miss Vicky’s salt and vinegar chips in the house, what’s one more handful?
I grew up with parents that didn’t drink, or if they did I never saw it. My kids are growing up with a mom who pours a glass of wine when she gets home. It’s only 1/2 a glass but it gets refilled a few times during the evening, so that I’ve ended up going to bed on a work night feeling buzzed and then, yes, feeling like crap the next morning with puffy eyes. My youngest son made a comment the other day that “i’m always drinking wine at dinner”. It got to me in a way his comment years back that “all I do is work” got to me. That triggered a change in my work habits and I think it’s time for a change in my drinking habits.
I think when you open the door to casual, but regular drinking it is easy to start drinking too much. I’ve thought about this a number of times over the last 1/2 year and know that I need to cut back. Enjoy my wine, but not every night. Save it for the weekend or a really nice dinner. But not all the time. I replaced herbal tea with wine, now I think it’s time to switch back….at least most of the time.
WHAT A GREAT POST!!!!! I enjoy most all your posts (that’s not to say there are some I don’t enjoy, just some that I don’t take the time to read). But this one…wonderful openness and authenticity. Keep on with the great insights and information!
“I’m one chia-seed and kale smoothie bowl away from being completely insufferable.” You are killing me. Love your post and reader comments. There are so many things that I think we all need to consider a “reset” on once in a while. Alcohol, coffee, work…. It’s hard to step back, reset, and analyze how we got where we were and how to avoid it in the future. Glad this was so positive for you and hope you can find that comfortable balance.
I agree with all of this! We are on week 3 of a however long fast from alcohol and coffee. Our goal is strictly financial, hoping to pay down some debt with the dollars saved. But I am noticing the same things- especially sleeping better! Also, my skin looks better too!
I read your previous post on depression when it came out, your description was one of the few sources that pushed me to finally go see a Doctor. If this helps anyone the only way I could convince myself to try it was to start it on my birthday. The reasoning behind this was that trying medication had to be a gift to myself. I was so caught up in every other persons advice on what I was doing wrong in my life (not enough sun, exercise, vitamin D, crystals) that I kept putting the blame onto myself which only made things worse.
Trying to take anti-anxiety medication while having anxiety about taking medication is not a whole lot of fun getting started https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2005/09/07/the-problem-within-the-problem. The irony was not lost on me.
A little over a year later and I feel like a person again! My doctor was great, he listened that I only wanted to try a very small dosage and just needed enough to ‘take the edge off’ so that I had the ability to do the naturally healthy things again. Today I drink less, exercise more, eat healthier, have better relationships, am better at my job, and have a whole lot more joy in my life without feeling like a drugged up zombie or an anxiety riddled catastrophe.
Thank you all for being a part of this, it is a great little community 🙂
Thank you for this post and the update on your booze-free Lent.
We also make beer and wine at home and that accessibility has made me far more likely to drink, and drink, and drink.
As silly as this sounds, I have a calendar hanging in our home office that I use to track drinking vs. non-drinking days. I aim for three gold stars a week. (I read somewhere that three non-drinking days per week allow the liver to do its magic. ) In the past I have taken month-long mini-breaks from drinking, just to make sure I can. I find that is getting harder and harder- hence the three stars per week goal.
My system may not be great. It also may not reduce my risk for the nasty future possibilities that come with drinking, but it does help me stay accountable.
Congratulations for sticking to this and for sharing your story.
I love this and thanks for sharing. My only child is now 26 years old but of course I can recall almost all of the wild days of daily parenting. I was on my own because of an exceedingly unpleasant marriage but that’s another story.
I had to stop drinking a few years before she was born because it was obvious that I had a problem. (I also have that constant and no fun companion known as depression so I can relate.)
After 30+ years of sobriety, including no meds or recreational pharmaceuticals, I decided to try a sip of wine and it turns out that I’ve lost my desire and fondness of alcohol. It’s been great for my niece and nephew, who get to keep all the stuff I try and don’t like. I like the fact that there’s no danger of my developing a dependency like I had with cigarettes, THAT was the most difficult thing I’ve done and my heart goes out to those that struggle to give up smoking.
So, 27 years nicotine free and now 3 months of daily exercise and calorie counting have me forty pounds lighter than I was in December! Yay, me!
Keeping one’s emotions steady gets easier as you get older, I promise; I’m 61.
The only thing young parents need is to brace themselves for is the teen years. Now THAT’s extreme!
Yay you, indeed! Congratulations for all you’ve accomplished.
I am eternally grateful for the fact that I do not like the taste of alcohol.
I hadn’t ever thought about any of those things. We don’t drink at all in our house, and this isn’t a ringing endorsement for starting up. Lol
My Father was an only on the weekends alcoholic, but then to excess. He was a big happy drunk till he wasn’t, then he was a stubborn, scary drunk. He went cold turkey when I was 11. His Mom, Dad, and older brother were alcoholics, and other siblings addicts. All that made me cautious (mostly) about drinking. Plus all my meds don’t mix well with alcohol so a drink is a treat. Also it just doesn’t occur to me to drink, because I like cocktails, but not the effort of making them. So if I weren’t lazy, I might have a problem, but lazy saves me. My husband’s father is also an alcoholic, so I need my kid to know she’s got a genetic predisposition to addiction. Because it is a slippery slope. But not an inevitable one.
What a great post, thanks so much for sharing.
Great follow up! I think I mentioned in your opening post that I did something similar last fall with strikingly similar results.
Unless I’m going to cook with it, I’ve been avoiding buying wine unless there are going to be people around to polish off the bottle. More than anything else, I can’t handle the extra evening calories. I might as well be eating a bowl of ice cream or chips every night instead.
I’ve downsized by making what I call the mini-Manhattan, which is exactly what it says it is. Tiny glass. On ice instead of neat. Everything you want in a full-sized Manhattan but without the extra calories and alcohol of a full-sized drink or three.
Erica, I so appreciate that you shared this with so many strangers. I have some of the same issues you face and find your experiences illuminating. Thank you.
Well done. Although I am not Catholic, I attempted the same thing, but I succumbed to peer pressure a few times. The time flew by, and I also feel as though I have reset my relationship with alcohol.
Erica, I am very impressed with your bravery to share this personal information as you have. I know all to well the way depression affects your life. You are really an unexpected inspiration to me personally. Thank you for sharing.
I’m so glad you had a self-awareness and learning experience. My Catholic relatives tell me that’s what Lent is best used for and that’s why it’s a good idea even for non-believers.
I was reading your post and (thought) I was feeling grateful for a Faith that forbids alcohol entirely and saves me from these sorts of concerns…Then my own personal little Angel (Moroni) whispered, “Whoa there, Judgy McChurchsteeple; let’s have a little chat about sugar…shall we?”
Yes. Yes. The whole post. All the things, yes. Your candor is beautiful and fresh as always.
I’m so proud of you, Erica, not just for what you’ve learned and accomplished, but also for the way you’ve communicated and educated others. A couple of years ago I commented on how much I liked one of your grapefruit cocktails. Last year I started having silent reflux symptoms and all acidic food was put on trial for elimination, citrus and alcohol being major issues for me during the healing phase, which coincidentally includes eating all those probiotics you mentioned – and yes they do kill the sweet/carb cravings. It’s hard to make changes, but it’s also awesome to know that we CAN make changes for the better. God grant us wisdom how to love others as we love ourselves, so we need to learn how to do that first. In situations like yours especially, it’s no mistake that this Sunday is called Resurrection Day. Have a wonderful one!
Ieneke van Houten says
I was very happy to see this post. I had indeed been a bit worried about the role of alcohol in your life. Anything beyond plain wine or beer gives me an almost instant hangover, so my reaction to cocktail recipes is, not another one! But I realize that is me. Thank you for your honesty. If an antidepressant gets you through life, praise
DoC *and pass the Prozac. You are doing a great job of inspiring people with wit and wisdom.
*Deity of Choice
Jeannie Bolstridge says
Your post is wonderful! I’ve been reading your blog for a while and recently (finally) subscribed to it and your Facebook page! I respect all that you’ve said and believe you’ve built an excellent blog. I’m looking forward to reading your book.
The wonderful thing about backing away from wine is the restoration of our girlish figures! This practice of moderation would work far more effectively with the youth of my three daughters, the oldest of whom lives somewhat near you in Seattle area since her husband just took a position with Microsoft. Since I’m turning 65 this summer, it takes far more than wine to restore such a figure. However, you gave up wine for the RIGHT reason during Lent so you have many right-right (win-win) reasons behind your sacrifice.
Wonderful post, and I look forward to keeping up with your work!
One word of advice: Cannabis.
janet in woodway says
Erica, you go girl! I’m proud of you!!
Megan - The Creative Vegetable Gardener says
Thanks for sharing your honest insights. My husband and I do a 3 week cleanse each year where we take a break from lots of things we usually eat and drink. Through this yearly ritual I realized how much of what I ate was merely habit. I didn’t miss beer, but I missed the socializing that happened around/with a beer. So, I decided that if that was my favorite part then I’d save my drinks for Friday and Saturday. Now, my end of the week IPA is something I look forward to and savor each time. It’s interesting how we both decided that we like drinking after taking a break! I think it’s important for things like that to be an active choice, not just something we mindlessly do.
Incredible bravery to share your experiences. Thank you for trusting us with them.
Carrie Bews says
I love, love, love this article. Thank you for being open and honest about your journey with giving up alcohol. I see many similarities to my own habits…I have just not been brave enough to give it up yet. I hope you continue to find health, happiness, and balance! Thank you again for your writing, your work, and your inspiration.
We’re not religious at all, nor do we normally drink, but this post really got me thinking. Thank you!
My #1 vice is the internet. Oh, how it is easy to lose myself in YouTube! Does it bring me happiness? Sometimes. Most of the time I’m there because it’s a habit, because I feel like I need to be constantly consuming content. Much like alcohol, this messes with sleep, diet, and mood!
I have been completely sober for 21 years. Taking breaks from alcohol was a test I used to do to prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic. Some people, myself included, cannot just sip a glass of wine. We cannot imagine leaving a glass of wine unfinished. We cannot stop at one glass or even just a taste. I envy those who can make drinking a very small, occasional part of their lives….perhaps one shared bottle to celebrate a special event or a delicious meal. But since it’s not a part of my life, I don’t miss it at all. I’ve tried non-alcohol wines and honestly I hate the taste. I never drank for the taste. I drank for the effect. Huge difference. I much prefer a glass of water with a twist! I sleep like a baby, my moods are quite even and happy, I don’t argue (though I do disagree), and dinner parties and gatherings are about the people I’m with, not whether there is a glass in my hand. You discovered some of the joys of being sober and I am happy for you that you can enjoy drinking on an occasional basis. I remember hearing once, toward the end of my drinking days, that if you think you might be an alcoholic, you are one. I agree completely. I finally got tired of the foggy feeling…not thinking sharply, and the headaches next day. And I realized that my liver was probably not appreciating having to work so hard!
Similar decision, different direction. I had to “give up” drinking last year while I was trying out some new meds. I found that the few times I did drink, I was doing so in excess. Like stress relief binging. My new year’s resolution was to drink more. More, and in moderation. Making a cocktail every now and then for a friend, adding a glass of wine to a nice dinner, and enjoying a glass of home-brew on the weekend has brought more joy into my life. I’m more aware now of the getting older thing; I can recognize that aches in the morning and sleep disruptions from alcohol in the system mean my definition of “moderation” might be moving too high on the “good for me” scale. Mindfulness in deed.
Thank you, thank you, for linking to your post on depression. I read it and am now being treated for PPD. My husband and children thank you too! Keep linking to it periodically… it is well written and descriptive, and you may literally be saving lives.
Every single point is correct. I finally put two and two together on my insomnia being caused by the one beer I’d have at night and now I sleep soooo much better. Also, the kids aren’t as annoying at night. Shocker! The dependency sneaks up on people. They think it’s no big deal to have one or two drinks a night and then suddenly they are stopping for a 12 pack every night after work. Habits turn into issues.
I feel lucky that my body actually just started rejecting alcohol on its own. Hard alcohol after one sip gives me a raging headache. I could maybe make it through a glass of wine before the headache would start but just barely. Yes, I occasionally miss just the ritual of being able to sit down and enjoy a lovely cocktail, but overall, life’s better without alcohol.
My relatives always say that I am killing my time here at web, however I know I am getting know-how every day by reading thes pleasant posts.
Next year for Lent you could make another healthy choice and give up meat. My wife and I tried that right after her father died from a coronary. Result? Her cholesterol dropped way down and we haven’t eaten meat for over 30 years!