Swimming Upstream: A Sober Year in the Crescent City
Updated: May 7, 2019
Re-framing my relationship with alcohol in a city that celebrates everything with a drink opened my eyes to much more than I expected...
As I crept closer and closer to my 30s, I felt a need to make a big change. To be fair, changes had not been few and far between that year: I had moved back home to New Orleans from Texas after finishing 4 years of grad school, got married, and was on the cusp of opening my own business. Dreams were turning into reality after years of preparation and hard work... and it felt great!... but somehow I found myself craving something rebellious and loud, a new goal to work towards.
When I announced to family and friends that I would be giving up booze for the year, I was met with a wide variety of reactions... some more supportive than others. Turns out, alcohol has a deep, dark grip on our society and culture, and I was about to learn that very intimate and chemical level. While I didn't "clinically" fit the bill as someone who needed to quit drinking, I was curious to see how my body, mind, and life felt without it.
Amazingly, the decision to stop drinking for a year produced a ripple effect in my social circles... people decided to try it themselves for a week, a month, a season, a year! This phenomenon was such an inspiring surprise and made the whole, crazy idea worth it.
I'll save the details around the process of cutting alcohol out of my life for a different post (or private conversations always welcome!); today I want to share what has actually changed and why I highly recommend experimenting without alcohol for yourself.
1. My body changed.
The changes I noticed were widespread and ranged from mild to drastic.
My skin cleared up, my voracious appetite was curbed, I became very thirsty for clean, fresh water and tea. Puffiness in my face I never had contributed to drinking was gone. Dandruff was gone. My skin felt soft, supple, and hydrated. Exercising finally felt good!
My sleep was deeper and I woke more well-rested. Body temperature that used to fluctuate at night or with big emotions calmed. Smells diminished. Secretions turned more clear. My mild PMS (cramps, emotional swings) disappeared and my cycle itself changed for the better. I FELT WHOLESOMELY CLEAN from the inside-out!
2. My emotions changed.
I felt much more patient with those around me. I had the energy to make an extra effort, be more open and giving, and less frustrated by people. I found I needed more alone time and space to process these changes and my sleep requirements increased slightly as well. Was I suddenly feeling more feelings? (Is that even possible for me?)
3. My inner fire brightened.
Without alcohol, I had a new found sense of motivation, of purpose, and of vitality. It feels rebellious to "opt out" of what you're normally assumed to take part in. This is a huge hurdle to get over in the beginning, but once your habits have changed, it becomes a source of power. I had no idea how strongly alcohol had held me back from this place, and sure, it takes work to get here, but the benefits speak for themselves.
4. My decision grew with me as I did.
When I gave up alcohol for the year, I technically should say I gave it up for 98% of the year. On very special occasions, I made exceptions to the rule for a few drinks, and surprisingly, the experience only reaffirmed my commitment to living longer without it! The way it made me feel during and after my indulgence was not as positive and happy as I expected it to be and showed me that I truly had changed my relationship with drinking.
I believe my current choice to cut out alcohol benefits not only me, but my patients, my family and friends, and the corners of the world I come in contact with. I will not say that not drinking has made my life easier, but it has softened the rough edges and smoothed over the pockmarks (just as alcohol is supposed to do... right? Hm...)