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Giving Up Booze Didn't Change My Life, But This Is Why I'm Still Sober

Like any good celebrator of the New Year, on January 1, 2016, I woke up with a giant headache and feelings of regret over the number of brownies I had eaten between the hours of 1 and 2 am. By my eighth episode of “Making A Murderer” that day, my headache hadn't subsided, and the junk food I had consumed wasn't making it better.

It was already my plan to take some time off drinking because winter is usually a mentally tough time for me, and alcohol doesn't help. A New Year's hangover was enough motivation to start right then and there.

Newfound sobriety is currently a cool thing. At the turn of the year, there are dozens of articles urging you to take a break from drinking. Several authors boasted it was the best decision they'd ever made, and that they would never go back.

“You should try it,” they urged. “You will lose weight,” they said.

“You will save so much money,” they said. “You will sleep better,” they said.

“You will have more clarity and be more creative,” they said. “Your life will drastically improve,” they said.

As I'm in my 30s, I'm a social drinker. I go to happy hours with friends and buy six-packs that last several days. There are occasional nights of excess, but those three-nights-a-week drinking binges from college are long gone.

I enjoy beer and wine in moderation. Still, I wonder if I drink too much.

“It would be easy to get addicted,” I often tell myself. If I wanted, I could have a bottle of wine a night.

I don't, though. I make myself stop at a glass. Maybe two.

I don't make the best decisions when I drink, and they usually relate to food consumption or climbing onto things I could easily fall off of. I say stupid things.

I don't always remember my entire night. My most shameful sides come out under a beer veil.

I like to give up things: dairy, sugar, wheat, coffee and meat. I thrive off limiting myself and withholding from things. It's a test of my will.

Sometimes, I go into these month-long experiments to prove my own control. I applauded my commitment to the arbitrary goal, mostly to myself. I want to feel proud, like I am contributing to my greater good.

I've taken breaks from alcohol before, usually when I've been training for a marathon. But this didn't feel like abstaining.

This was not just another challenge. It was a choice.

Giving up booze was like taking a different road. It was one I didn't know as well, but I expected it would lead to something quite incredible. I imagined I would find a much better version of myself instantly.

After a month of no alcohol, though, nothing happened.

I didn't save any money. I didn't lose weight.

As it turns out, most non-alcoholic beverages at bars are about the same price as cheap beer, and giving up booze always seems worthy of froyo or a giant cookie reward. My sleep is still restless. I haven't written that novel that's been in my head for years.

I am constantly having to reiterate that I didn't give up drinking because I am pregnant. I am not pregnant.

Mostly, my life didn't magically fix itself when I eliminated alcohol. I didn't all of sudden become a nicer, more generous person. All of my faults didn't magically disappear. Nor did my anxieties or insecurities. The only difference is now, I have turned to other coping mechanisms. (Did I love cookies this much when I was drinking?)

I expected to feel new and improved when I quit alcohol. I treated it like any other New Year's resolution, like going on a diet or taking up a new hobby. We're all looking for a quick fix to mold our lives into the versions we want them to be, and I had that hope when I cut out alcohol.

I want to abandon sobriety after not seeing big, drastic results in a short period of time. But it's only been a month.

Sobriety isn't the same for everyone, and I understand that this is a lifestyle choice I made freely. I don't pretend my experiment with sobriety is anywhere close to the challenge someone with addiction experiences. No one is telling me I can't drink but me.

So, why can't I? Would it be harmful to join my friends for a drink every now and then? Couldn't I still gain some of those benefits if I trimmed down my alcohol consumption?

It's possible. I could probably go back to my regular social drinking, and nothing will change. I know that path.

I am already familiar with it. I do miss that glass of red wine after a long day at work and mimosas with friends at brunch, but I'm not quite ready to go back to the bottle. Maybe I will next week, month or year.

Each day of sobriety is like binge-watching a TV series. I want just one more before I call it a night.

Sobriety for me is no longer about saving money or having all this free time. It's about something bigger.

It's about understanding what my relationship with alcohol is really like. It's about seeing for myself what booze is adding or taking away from my life. With that perspective, I can then decide if this is permanent, or just another temporary break.

If all those benefits of giving up alcohol had come rushing to me in the first 30 days, maybe I wouldn't have felt the need to continue. I would see sobriety only for its surface benefits, rather than something much deeper.

I continue on this path not because I know what is ahead of me. I continue because I don't.

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Heather Mangan

Contributor

Heather is a writer and do-gooder living in Chicago. She goes into every social situation armed with a story, and she will convince you that her home state of South Dakota should be your next travel destination.
Heather is a writer and do-gooder living in Chicago. She goes into every social situation armed with a story, and she will convince you that her home state of South Dakota should be your next travel destination.

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