In late September (what seems like months ago now but is just over a month) I decided I was going to give up alcohol for the month of October.
I’m far from the first person to start such a challenge, or to write about it (check out links to similar articles at the bottom of this post). Nor is it the first time I’ve done it – I ditched the sauce for about a month and a half last year leading up to my birthday.
But as September drew to a close I felt the itch to do it again. And something about October felt like the perfect time to give it another shot. It’s not quite hibernation season, the only really big holiday is Halloween, and there’s even a cool name for it – “Ocsober” – that is popular in Australia as a fundraiser, similar to Movember.
So why did I do it?
I’m not a recovering alcoholic; although I used to be quite the drinker throughout my 20s, I’ve slowed down quite a bit since then. Mostly it just felt like something to do. But there were a few goals I had as I embarked on my 31-day challenge:
- Challenge: I like a challenge and to test myself. I think that challenging ourselves is a good way to remind ourselves of our strength and avoid falling into complacency.
- Freedom: Being able to give up something you’re used to – be it alcohol, certain foods, physical possessions – is an expression of freedom. If you remind yourself that you are not a slave to these external factors, you’re also expressing your freedom from them.
- Sacrifice: Similar to Challenge and Freedom, I believe it’s important to exercise our Sacrifice muscles sometimes to prove we can give up stuff if we need to, and to prime us to sacrifice when it really matters in the future. I’ll explore this concept more in an upcoming article.
- Health: The last time I gave up alcohol there were some definite health benefits. I was excited to reap these again.
- Money: Even with a lower appetite for alcohol, I have some expensive tastes and I was looking forward to the financial benefit giving up alcohol would bring, especially as I worked to build up my financial safety net.
My original plan was to write a week-by-week summary of how I felt, but I soon realized that this would be boring and unnecessary. So here’s the long-story-short: I did it. I’m glad I did it. It wasn’t too difficult, but there were some cravings. And I did learn a few lessons.
What I learned
Here’s what I experienced (and learned) during my month of sobriety.
It’s much easier if you make it part of your identity.
Just like when defining your [personal pillars], I find much more success when you make your goals part of your identity. I just said “I don’t drink in October”. Not “I’m trying to stop drinking” or “This is a challenge I’m doing”. To me, it was just a fact. It wasn’t a thing I brought up, it just was. Making it that matter-of-fact made it surprisingly easy to not drink – it’s just something I didn’t do.
Doing cool stuff together is cool!
Before I started Ocsober I posted my plan on Facebook and a few friends actually decided to join me. So I set up a Facebook event and we shared our stories, successes, and observations. Even though I didn’t see too many of these friends over the course of the month, the online conversation and support made it feel like we were in it together.
Putting your intent toward a healthy habit feeds into other healthy habits.
One thing I learned from my friends is that many of them also decided to adopt some other healthy habits for the month. Some of them gave up caffeine. Some of them cut down on sugar or adjusted their diet. Even I put more focus on eating better. I think it’s because keeping one healthy habit top-of-mind makes you think about other healthy choices as well. One choice (healthy or unhealthy) can start a snowball effect of other similar choices However…
It doesn’t fix everything.
Even though my friends found success in other healthy habits in addition to alcohol, I found myself falling into some bad habits, the most prominent of which was massive sleep deprivation. This had to do with unrelated factors (starting a new job, change in schedule, a busy month in general) but it still dulled the mental edge I hoped would be sharpened through sobriety. It’s not like I expected giving up alcohol to solve all my problems, but some of my other struggles during the month reminded me that it;s important to view health holistically.
Alcohol is expensive.
The biggest area of improvement was in my finances. Without making any other major efforts, I found more money in my checking account the days before my paycheck than I had seen in the months prior. And I wasn’t a monk during October; I still went out with friends, I still drove a lot, and due to my schedule issues I ordered much more take-out than I usually would. But I still found myself with a little extra dough just by cutting out the booze.
I’m a celebratory drinker, not a coping one.
I kind of knew this about myself already, but my biggest cravings to drink come at times of celebration. I had some rough days and weeks this October and never felt like I “needed” a drink. In fact, my only slight cravings came at times of celebration – my last day at my old job, celebrating my new job with my girlfriend, and checking out my favorite monthly party in Boston. But none of the cravings were strong enough to break me – and I took the celebratory nature of those instances as a good sign that although I enjoy sharing a drink among friends, I’m not dependent on it.
So where does that leave me? I’m not sure. But I found the exercise to be enlightening and beneficial. It feel good to prove to myself that I am not a slave to the sauce, and knowing I can sacrifice will strengthen my resolve the next time I need to.
I love 30-day challenges. Have you tried one that was particularly useful to you? If so, leave a comment – and maybe we’ll give it a try!
Other examples of 30-day alcohol challenges:
Article photo courtesy of Jason Williams.