For the month of May, I abstained from alcohol. This meant no spicy margaritas with a salted rim, no sparkling glasses of pink rose on Manhattan rooftops, no frosted mugs of beer, and no whiskey gingers at 2am on a Saturday. As you can tell, I might romanticize alcohol a little —it is a huge part of the professional and personal culture in New York City and certainly our culture overall. It’s strange how so much is held in a liquid that is technically a poison.
I had been meaning to undergo this social experiment for quite some time, and May seemed like it would be painfully sunny but quiet. No weddings, no birthdays, no real holidays. “But what about Cinco de Mayo?” I was asked, in genuine horror. I rolled my eyes…this was happening. Before the start of this experiment, I was pretty tired a lot of the time, and rarely not hungover on a Sunday…and sometimes Saturday. I was broke a lot, was spending way too much on late night pizza, shots, and cab rides, and had a long list of creative projects I kept meaning to start but never found time or energy to. It was time to make a change.
Like a very sober scientist, I took note of every aspect of my life and how the lack of alcohol affected my mindset, my relationships, my bod, and my wallet. Here is what I found.
Not a surprise, but drinking is hardly a low-cal activity. Even if you’re drinking the “healthiest” of drinks, like a tequila seltzer with lime, that is still upping your daily caloric intake by the gulp. Then, who says no to chips and guac after a few drinks, and then a late night slice, or ice cream? Not to mention the next day takeout food. I was clearly cutting down my weekly calories by a lot, yet I found myself craving more sugar than usual. My daily Diet Dr. Pepper wasn’t cutting it, and I found myself eating copious amounts of popsicles. At the end of the month I didn’t actually lose any weight, but weirdly people thought I did. My stomach was flatter than it has been in years, and my waist felt smaller and my clothes felt a little…loose?
Without a doubt, I noticed a significant upswing in my energy after even the first dry weekend. I bound out of bed each morning, ready to get moving. I normally work out three times a week (a combo of spin and yoga), but I found myself upping that to at least five. One night I even went to an hour-long spin class, then walked the almost four miles home. It might have been me being proud of myself in general, but I felt…vibrant. I realized I didn’t want to let go of that energy – I wanted to see where it would take me.
I feel like I am constantly paying $30 for things – it’s a strange number that follows me around and no matter what I’m buying, it’s $30. Cabs are $30, split checks are $30, everything that I want at Sephora is $30, and I feel like a night our drinking is usually around $30 not counting food or transportation. I guess Target is an exception, where I am always paying $130. Anyway, guys…I saved. So. Much. Money. Enough for a designer bag, enough to color my hair, enough for a credit card payment. I am putting the extra money towards a tattoo because…well, I was responsible enough this month. Also, sidenote – when you’re out but not drinking, people will always offer to pay for you. A $2 ginger ale or two is nothing and I think people felt bad that I was dealing with their shenanigans.
Every Sunday for at least a month, I had been putting off writing the pilot to a web series I want to do with a few friends. Every Sunday, I woke up, told myself I would do it, then didn’t. It was stressing me out so much, that sense of failing. During my sober month, not only did I start the web series, but also I wrote four freelance pieces for various sites, started working on a novel again (hadn’t touched it since December), and literally started a business with my boyfriend. All this on top of my fulltime job as a copywriter for a major magazine, while working out almost every day. BOOM.
Again, I don’t know how much of this is a placebo effect. I really only ever drank on the weekends, and was never an “I need a glass of wine after a hard day” kind of girl. But when I did drink with friends, I would be known for getting home when some people wake up, for reference. I have a special place in my heart for casual recklessness. After about a week of not drinking, I felt…happier. I felt more in control of everything I did and said, fully responsible for every single decision, and my head was definitely clearer. I obviously knew that alcohol is a depressant, but I guess it never occurred to me that maybe it was causing me to feel depressed.
I have always been an introvert, which I am realizing isn’t a negative thing – it doesn’t mean that you don’t like people; it just means that you don’t draw energy from them. I draw energy from being by myself – sometimes when I am around too many people for too long, I allow myself little breaks. I realized that when in a forced awkward social situation, I used that first drink to get me over the hump of discomfort. Alcohol dulled those questions of self doubt – “do they think I’m dumb,” “why did they even invite me?” It was physically painful. Without alcohol I definitely secluded myself a little more, but when I did go out, I realized that the awkwardness goes away on its own. I truly had the epiphany that I can sit in a bar or around people drinking, not drink, and still be funny and have things to say.
The end result
Honestly, the magic of alcohol has dissipated quite a bit for me. I realized that before, I was drinking even before really asking myself if it was a thing I wanted. Now that I am on the other side of May, I have had a small handful of drinks – a glass of rose, some sangria, a tequila and soda. They all seemed lackluster, expensive, and paled in comparison to the people around me, my experiences, and what I could be doing with that money and energy and time. Maybe, just maybe, I was finally growing up a bit.