One year sober in my 20’s and 10 things I learnt, is a blog about my personal journey without alcohol. If you are struggling with alcohol use there are links to Alcoholics Anonymous and Lifeline at the end of this blog.
Note: I should mention I was never an alcoholic nor did I have a ‘problem’ with drinking. Regardless, I realised my relationship with alcohol was one built on escapism and I soon understood I had not yet fully come to respect alcohol for what it truly is.
My initial plan was to do to 2 months without alcohol, but I loved the process so much that I just let the clock keep ticking over without the intention of going back. That was 470 days ago.
Our 20’s are formative years. Most of us study, get jobs, move towns, travel, try to save for a house, fall in love or maybe get married. We expand our comfort zones and establish boundaries. We explore our thoughts and feelings. We form our opinions and base our lives and lifestyles off those choices.
So, if you had to look at your thoughts and feelings towards alcohol, what would they be?
What I learnt being one year sober in my 20’s
1. People come and go
Fortunately for me I don’t have friends that are heavy drinkers and our social interactions usually take place outdoors or while doing activities like playing sport. So, I didn’t lose any friends or lose contact with friends by not drinking.
However, if you are someone that drinks a lot with your friends, it may be time to question how you could perhaps alter the ways in which you interact.
I don’t believe good friends are replaceable, for no two people have the same lessons to impart on us and everyone enters our life for a reason. But it is ok to understand that some social relations and friendships will dwindle over time. This happens instinctively if you remove yourself from social settings over and over again.
Do not fear this feeling of solitude, as you need to grow in a direction of your choosing.
“We learn from our contemporaries” is a quote by Washington Emerson which refers to acting as those you surround yourself with.
2. Self-discipline, self-respect, self-confidence, self-love
When I stopped drinking I began to build more self-discipline. I would wake up earlier consistently. I would go to the gym more regularly. I would save my money more rigorously. This self-discipline then transpired into self-respect. The more discipline I exhibited the more I got tasks done that brought me satisfaction and the more self-respect I gained for myself. When my self respect improved, so did my confidence. I felt confident to say ‘I’m not drinking’ or ‘no thanks’ whenever I pleased. I felt more confident in myself to make my own decisions and not follow the crowd. Confidence that anytime something encroaches on my life that I find unhealthy, I now have the willpower to stop it. Thus, finally self-love arrived. Yes, as corny as it sounds, after about 6 months without alcohol I started to get this feeling that I was proud of myself and less resentful towards myself.
I had removed a portion of negative self-talk and this meant I had grown to love myself a little more. This feeling cannot be bought and is invaluable.
3. Improved emotional control
When I quit drinking I completely removed the rare moments I would have where I felt regret after drinking. Those moments no longer existed. I no longer woke-up hungover, or having spent more than I should have. When you regret-less, you have a greater feeling of self-worth and your emotions stabilise as a result. Chemically, alcohol can have an initial increase in dopamine and serotonin, which when it wears off, can leave us feeling low; or worse, chasing a feeling of elevation, or drinking more to feel better. I don’t like the idea that alcohol is ‘pulling the levers’ to my emotional state and as I spent more and more time sober I realised that older parts of my personality which had been suppressed came alive again. I had less desires and cravings or feelings of resent and rather felt more focused and rested than I had in years.
4. Learning to say NO
Saying No is actually saying Yes. When you say ‘no’ to going out on Friday night, you are actually saying ‘yes’ to waking up early on Saturday without a hangover. When you say ‘no’ to drinking at an event you are actually saying ‘yes’ to keeping that money in your wallet. See how it works? When I learnt to say no to alcohol I realised that saying no was completely ok in other aspects of my life. If someone invites me out and I don’t feel like going, I feel no guilt what so ever by saying ‘no’ because I know I have said ‘yes’ to something else that is more important to me.
5. Financial savings
You-will save money if you quit drinking alcohol and don’t substitute it with another unhealthy hobby, simple as that. Even if you quit drinking and joined the gym you-will still save money. A night-out once a week costs $100 but a week at the gym is $30. Going sober in your 20’s is not only a tool for health but a tool for your finances.
6. Fitness improvement
My fitness improved noticeably within weeks of going sober. Alcohol atrophies muscles and suppresses muscle gain. It also negatively impacts the cardio vascular and respiratory systems and excess alcohol can lead to hypertension. Alcohol also stresses the Liver and Kidneys and degrades your gut micro-biome (when done in excess). Alcohol can also impact cognitive function, co-ordination and body thermal regulation. The list goes on.
7. You can be sober and social
You can still go to social events where others are drinking and have a good time sober. The notion that it would be ‘weird’ or ‘awkward’ is simply untrue and not realistic. If you enter a social setting with the right frame of mind you will be fine. When you are sober you can also help others, who are intoxicated by calling them taxi’s or looking after them which is a leadership role. It’s better to be sober and helping; than drunk and needing help.
8. Time and energy
Drinking alcohol eats a surprising amount of time up. Getting ready, going out, having dinner or dancing and clubbing. These are some of the joys of life, sure. But when alcohol is involved nights sometimes drag out longer and you eat into time the next morning. If you only get 3 nights off a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) before being back at work, do you want to dedicate 1 or even 2 of those just to drinking? Choose wisely.
9. My weekends are better
This goes with the point above. When I quit drinking I already KNEW I was going to wake up fresh on a Saturday and Sunday, which meant I would plan my weekends to go hiking or camping in advance. Rather than wait for Friday to role around and say ‘well we haven’t organised anything want to grab a drink’ my weekends would be driving for 3 hours into the countryside on a Friday evening and camping out somewhere before hiking on the Saturday morning. Going sober will increase your quality of life by increasing the quality of your time.
10. Alcohol messes up your sleep
Alcohol stops the body from being able to reach deeper sleep stages like REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Although some people find alcohol helps them sleep initially, personally I never felt ‘rested’ the next day after waking up from sleeping after a night of drinking. Sleep is essential to body repair, cognitive function, stress and hormonal regulation, muscle growth and development, immune system regeneration and many more physiological responses. So take your sleep seriously.
I hope this blog helps just one person in one small way. What surprised me most about quitting was when I told people they would say “No way, I could never do that!”. So don’t be one of those people. Don’t convince yourself ‘you could never give up alcohol’ because you can! With the right discipline, frame of mind and tools at your disposal, I believe in you.
Alcohol can be an amazing substance when used with respect and in the right way. It can bring people together and is even used culturally in some festivals and traditions, and that’s ok. It’s a problem when alcohol takes a bigger portion of our lives or has a negative impact that we should stop and take a breather and establish new boundaries with alcohol.
So, if you had to look at your thoughts and feelings towards alcohol, what would they be?
If you need help with drinking you can reach out to Alcoholics Anonymous here:
Or, if you are an Australian struggling with mental health, you can free call or contact Lifeline here:
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