What I Learned from 32 Days Without Drinking
Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create. — Jana Kingsford
I knew it was time to take a break from alcohol when I seriously questioned whether I could.
Being something of a rule follower, I thought I could cut back by instituting new rules to govern my drinking. First I tried to outlaw drinking on Mondays and Tuesdays, but that didn’t stick.
Thinking that maybe I hadn’t gotten the rule just right, I modified it to focus on the number of days in a week without alcohol. This new rule allowed me to pick which two days would be alcohol-free. But that usually only worked if I fit those two days in before Wednesday, because once it was Thursday night, I was in weekend mode. To mitigate that risk, I tried setting a limit on the number of drinks in a week, but that proved to be too cumbersome.
The problem with these rules was not in their particular design, but that they were arbitrary and there was no enforcement mechanism. They also drew focus to the very thing I was trying to lessen in my life.
If there was a happy hour I wanted to go to or if I had a rough day, I might heavily debate whether I should have a drink, but in most cases, I would have that glass of wine or two because there were no meaningful consequences. I might not feel great the next morning, but I would still get up and go to work like I always did. So what did it really matter if gave in to my craving?
“Destressifying” with wine
Let me be clear — it’s not like I was getting wasted every night or even most nights. But a glass or two of wine became my standard response to a stressful and/or long day at work, which was the new norm as I advanced in my career.
As the wine molecules hit my brain, I could feel it let out a big sigh. It was my release. Sitting on the couch with a glass of wine in my hand and watching TV was my reward for working so hard. It made for a very pleasant night, particularly on those many work nights away from home.
One Tuesday, as I reluctantly uncorked a bottle of wine, I realized that it had been a long time since I had gone a full week, let alone a month, without drinking any alcohol. It had been so long that I couldn’t remember when it was. I did recall a January following some ambitious New Year’s resolutions when I vowed not to drink for a month, to lose five pounds, and save a bunch of money. I succeeded then through the sheer force of my will, but that was 2012. And as soon as that month was over, I resumed my old drinking habits.
With this realization haunting me, I decided to cut back. For real this time. But, unsurprisingly, like all the other times I’d tried this, I started strong, but it didn’t take long for me to start to slip. The most common scenario was opening a nice bottle of wine with the intention of having one glass, but falling victim to the sirens of the open bottle who guilted me about letting a good bottle of wine go bad or go to waste.
Faced with continued slips, I knew I had to completely stop — I had to go cold turkey. The thought of actually going through with it made me anxious, as deep down I was afraid to confront what it would mean if I failed, which I saw as a real possibility.
Sinking to the bottom
I’d had periods in my life, namely my late teens and very early twenties, when my drinking was out of control. At its worst, I was drinking every day starting from when I woke up to when I passed out or the booze ran out.
I was dating an alcoholic, who fit all the stereotypes of an alcoholic like you’d see in an after school special and obviously provided no check on my growing problem. Pretty much everything we did, from a walk in the park to sitting and reading a book, involved alcohol. And we surrounded ourselves with friends with similar predispositions.
What pulled me back from the abyss at that time in my life was essentially hitting rock bottom and then watching him hit a bottom even lower than mine. I decided to not worry about what happened to him, but I never wanted to be one of those people who flashed across the sky and faded away.
It was like I had negotiated with my soul how low I would let myself sink in this lifetime. One day, it became painfully obvious to me that I had reached that point. It was time to rise. I left him, went back to college, and got my life generally back on track, content to just get drunk on the weekends.
Finding myself at my farthest point
I was hoping to quit drinking this time without hitting rock bottom. But coming from a place of relative stability, it was hard to identify a tangible, compelling reason to stop — something that instilled some urgency, consequence, and accountability. I wanted to curb my drinking in order to show myself that I could, but that just wasn’t enough to override ingrained habits.
What finally moved me from my casual cutting back to a clean break was the realization that there actually were consequences. They might look different from when I was at my worst, but they were just as dire.
While I was nowhere near my lowest point from two decades ago, I was perhaps at my farthest point from my dreams of what I wanted to do with my life and from my spiritual path.
Despite entering my 30’s with a lot of hard-won self-awareness, I lost my spiritual way. I turned my attention to external pursuits, namely my career, and channeled my curiosity and drive into professional success, at the expense of my spiritual growth. I sacrificed my nights and weekends to get my MBA, which decimated my yoga practice, and steadily took on new jobs that demanded more of me, whether that was more travel, greater responsibility, longer hours, higher stress or some combination of them all. The pressures crowded out my spiritual pursuits and the alcohol helped keep me asleep to that part of my being.
Feeling the pull of my higher self
As I approached my 40th birthday, a number of events and circumstances conspired to reel me back in. It was like the universe said, “Ok, that’s enough of that. You’ve learned what you’ll need going forward. Time to get back to your real work.”
I started to feel the pull back to my path and my higher self. To better hear all of the messages that were bubbling up and recognize all of the signs, I started meditating. I explored different healing modalities, like Reiki, and working with channels and intuitives to draw insights I couldn’t yet see. I was open to just about anything that would enhance my intuition and support my spiritual growth.
This exploration and expansion revealed to me what alcohol was doing to me and why it mattered. Specifically, it was my Reiki lessons that sparked the awareness. As I prepared for my attunement (where Reiki energies are channeled into the student through the Reiki Master), the teacher advised not to drink for at least 48–72 hours before the ceremony and ideally the three weeks following, as I released old energy and the process took its course.
Intuitively, it made sense that drinking would interfere with the flow of energy and muddy the waters, so to speak. I wanted to give myself every chance of becoming a clear channel for the Reiki energy and releasing any and everything that might stand in my way. So I didn’t drink.
While the Reiki attunement was the catalyst I initially needed to stop drinking, it became clear to me that clarity and alcohol can’t coexist. My desire was for the messages from the universe and my heart to get sharper, clearer, and louder, yet drinking was like putting the speaker under a pillow.
Similarly, part of creating a fertile environment for personal growth meant having lots of energy for all the things I wanted to do. Putting alcohol, a known depressant, in my system would be like greasing my glide path with glue.
In short, drinking alcohol just didn’t make sense for what I was trying to do. It wasn’t aligned with my healing, my meditation, and my transformation. I needed to fully understand that in order for my cravings to fall away. I suspect this is very similar to what most women experience upon learning they are pregnant. The desire for a healthy baby easily outweighs the desire to drink.
This newfound motivation and understanding made it much easier to stop drinking, but I still had my moments of really wanting a glass of wine. But each time I reached for a sparkling water or made a cup of tea instead, I weakened the association between alcohol and pleasure in my brain and reinforced that the cravings will pass.
It also helped me change my perspective on how I spend my time and have fun. I went to a couple of concerts recently and didn’t drink (practically unheard of for me in previous years) and found that when something is legitimately fun, it will be just as fun sober. On the flip side, if I need alcohol for something to be fun, then it probably isn’t worth my time. And if I need alcohol to feel comfortable in a certain situation, it’s probably a sign that I have an opportunity to stretch myself and grow or that it isn’t the right fit.
Similarly, if people only want to hang out with me if I drink or if that is all we really have in common, then they aren’t my true friends and they aren’t worth my time and energy. Fortunately, I don’t think that is the case with my current circle of friends, but it certainly has been in the past.
Two reasons I started drinking again
So, if my life sans alcohol was going so well, you might be wondering why I ended my streak at 32 days. It’s a fair question.
There are two reasons. The first is just that I messed up. It was the end of a challenging week. I had published my new website on Sunday and experienced a lot of highs and lows, as some people enthusiastically supported me and others were nowhere to be found. I was sitting in an uncomfortable and vulnerable place.
I tried to drown it out. And smother it with vegan pizza. That night I had told myself that it was all a reward for making my website happen and a celebration of my new endeavor, but I realized the next morning, as I awoke dehydrated with a headache, that wasn’t true. I was escaping.
For me, that is the true cost of drinking. I am escaping the experiences and emotions I need for growth. I am turning down the volume on the teachings from the universe. I am forgetting what I am here to do.
Let me circle back to the second reason I stopped at day 32. It was never really my goal to stop drinking completely. I genuinely like the taste of wine and the ritual of sipping wine with my girlfriends and talking about our lives. Do I need alcohol to do that? No, but it’s pretty darn fun.
What I really needed was to change my relationship with alcohol and find a sustainable balance. After realizing that I was still using alcohol as an escape, I quit drinking again for two weeks. That reprieve rekindled my confidence that I am in control of what I put into my body and that indulging in a couple of glasses of wine every now and again would not send me off the deep end or do lasting damage to my spiritual practice.
Cheers to finding balance
Would it be better if I didn’t drink at all? Probably. But I like where I’ve landed for now. I made the decision to drink consciously to avoid falling into the trap of escaping or hiding from emotions that need to be felt.
If I am clear cut and honest with myself about why I am choosing to drink and am diligent in practicing moderation, having a couple of glasses of wine once or twice a month will be a nice treat. I set some basic rules for myself as extra insurance, like drinking a maximum of two times a month with no more than two drinks in any one sitting, but I trust the universe to keep me on track.
The stillness and calm that come with my burgeoning meditation help reduce the stress and anxiety that led to my compulsive drinking. Staying open helps me process my emotions instead of running away.
Over time, these positive behaviors become self-reinforcing. The clearer and more at peace I become and the stronger my intuition and connection to the universe grows, the less alcohol has to offer me and the less I crave it. I’ll cheers to that.
Originally published on Medium.com