Lessons Learned from a Six-Week Alcohol Hiatus

For the past two years, I’ve taken a voluntary break from booze (wine, mainly). To my admiration, I’ve managed to do this twice now for around 45 days, and each experience was remarkably different. The main difference: my mindset.

The First Try

After reviewing my blood test results, the dietitian suggested a series of ambitious (and unsustainable) adjustments to my nutritional plan, which would undoubtedly improve my lipid profile. And although everything seemed doable for a specific period of time, one non-negotiable item turned on the loud siren with red flashing lights in my mind. The challenge: no alcohol for a minimum of four weeks.

If you’ve been sober for four months, four years, or more, you might be either rooting for me or vigorously rolling your eyes at the screen.

Either way, let’s agree to continue under the premise that everyone is free to follow the path that best suits them, and that I’m not lobbying for sobriety, nor for alcohol consumption. I do believe, however, that drinking has been normalized to an alarming extent and sobriety has been slightly condemned (by the ones with a drink in their hand). After facing an amusing variety of well-intended, albeit unsolicited opinions during these brief periods of abstinence, I have a theory as to why. And I’ll expand on this later.

Back to the challenge.

I was on a mission; In a competition with myself. Like Monica from FRIENDS, after being challenged by Phoebe on The One With The Late Thanksgiving.

My dietitian told me to get it all out of my system and start the following week. Was he expecting me to chug a bottle a day and start fresh on Monday? The whole getting-it-out-of-your-system argument seems absurd to me. For both, diets and long-term commitments (to others and to yourself).

Clearly, I started that day. I was determined to prove to myself that I could abstain for four weeks, and more. The key to my success that first time, was the short-termed lens through which I was looking at the situation. I wanted to win the sprint, not train for the marathon.

A Tradition in the Making

Seconds after closing the door, the host turned back to me and asked: “Wine right?” Although he assumed correctly, I could tell by his confused stare after I said: “That’s right! But I brought my own non-alcoholic wine. And no, I’m not pregnant,” that he was not expecting this reply. And to my relief, he did not engage further.

The aforementioned phrase became my automated out-of-drinking reply to anyone playing the role of unofficial bartender at a social gathering. It's uncommon (at least in my circle of family and friends) not to drink at a reunion. And being a woman, pregnancy tends to be the first assumption. So, I led with that.

This was my second year cutting alcohol. And everything felt different, yet the only thing that had actually changed between one year and the next, was my mentality.

The first time I stopped drinking, I wanted to win. I wanted to get results and get it over with. I also fell deep into the quicksand of over-explanation. I used my dietitian’s words as a shield against the standard judgement that might trigger embarrassment or even shame. As if having a medical purpose acquitted me of any responsibility over this ‘nonsense’ of not drinking.

The second time, my perspective shifted dramatically. I felt like Peter Parker in No Way Home, when Dr. Strange separates him from his physical form (or, knocks him out of his body) and he sees himself, his reality, through another lens.

After spending time being more present with others and with myself, and embracing all emotions (versus pouring a glass of wine to mitigate the discomfort) there was no short-term goal anymore. What started as a competition with myself had turned into a commitment to myself. To my overall well-being. My aim was (is) to find a version of balance that works for me and to restore it as needed.

Overcoming The Cocktail Connection

In my experience, the only way to create a long-lasting habit change is through intrinsic motivation. So, I asked myself the tough questions, took the unpopular decisions and wore an invisible cloak of tolerance and compassion.

When using the medical excuse to justify my temporary break-up with booze, I’d get comments like: “One drink won’t ruin it for you,” or, “I’d rather take a pill for that than quit drinking.” Or, the assumption that I’m missing out on the fun, as I overheard when leaving a dinner party: “Of course she’s leaving early. What else is she gonna do if she’s not drinking?”

Considering what I’ve shared above, and remembering that people can only understand you from their perspective, which comes with its own set of expectations and biases, I stopped over-explaining myself. I leaned into tolerance and turned to answers like: “Because I feel like it,” or “Because I want to,” which surprisingly halted further inquiries of why I wasn’t drinking.

Eventually I understood why people would get disappointed if I didn’t accept a drink, or even facetiously offended if I didn't toast with alcohol for what they deemed a special occasion. And I think the answer is connection. Many meaningful, memorable moments happen over a meal, over laughter and conversation, and they happen over a glass of wine (or, drinks with friends and family).

An alternative: long conversations over coffee. Great for bonding and building that sense of camaraderie, minus the hangxiety. A complete win if you ask me.

What about you? Does a glass of wine (or preferred boozy beverage) represent connection and comfort for you on any level? If you were looking for your next journal prompt, you’re welcome.

Five Learnings From Saying Bye to the Booze

Now that I’m reflecting back on these, I think of them more as realizations than learnings. You decide:

  1. Determination and Intrinsic Motivation. This pair has the potential to change any behavior and create long-lasting change. When we leverage these, we are capable of anything.

  2. Consistent Energy Boosts. Drinking can trigger a series of unhealthy, physiological chain reactions that mess with my digestion, my sleep and ultimately my habits. I found that during these periods of abstinence my healthy-ish lifestyle prevailed, which in turn fed and elevated my energy levels.

  3. Setting Boundaries. With the right motivation, I’m able to quickly mark limits. I’ll gladly leave my comfort zone to engage in polite confrontation and uncomfortable conversations to protect them. And I did.

  4. Mindful Presence. Avoiding the delightful, desensitizing elixir forced me to feel everything. To deal with difficult situations without resorting to anything but my own inner wisdom, my breath, and other stress-reducing techniques rooted in my yoga practice. I learned to be more present with myself, and with the ones that matter the most.

  5. Tolerance and Compassion. Since I quickly realized I wasn’t too tolerant of inebriated folks when I was in a state of sobriety, I turned to compassion—for others, and for myself. I focused on appreciating the good in people and remembering that many of us can act idiotically when intoxicated, which doesn’t make us less worthy. If anything, it makes us more human.

The Last Round

Only you can define your relationship with alcohol. My two cents: If it’s hurting you more than it’s helping you, if it’s risking your relationships with others, then it might be time to re-evaluate priorities. I believe in living a life guided by balance for as long as I can keep it, and restore it when I’ve lost it. However, if the moment comes where I feel excess is taking over and balance is nowhere to be seen—it’s likely I’ll take a longer pause, if not a permanent one.


This piece was written and contributed by:

Jit Garcia

Health Coach

Jit is a PR & marketing person trained in journalism, health coaching and yoga—writing about most things wellness. She helps entrepreneurs PR the ef out of their superpowers, specializing in content strategy, copy makeovers and spotting PR-able angles.

She finds joy in a cup of coffee, in a nourishing read or an inspiring podcast, and in rediscovering paradise in her native Panama—where she lives with her husband, his son and their Shih Tzu, Valentina.

@haztelfavor | www.prforwellness.com


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