Why I Decided to Take a Break From Alcohol
Six months ago, just before the New Year, I made a resolution to give up alcohol for a year. I kept pretty quiet about it, only mentioning it to a few close friends or when out having drinks and felt the need to explain why I was only drinking soda water and lemon.
It became clear to me at the end of last year that alcohol was not helping and was probably inhibiting me from reaching personal goals (e.g. releasing a new album, starting a new music project). I wasn’t drinking a lot. I’m a social drinker. I don’t buy beer or wine to drink at home. I drink when I’m out with friends and, at times, too much. Getting drunk felt good. It was freeing: free from self-consciousness, insecurities, negative self-talk, free from feeling overwhelmed, from past mistakes, and potential future ones. I was trying to escape, trying to let go of control.
I was a late bloomer with alcohol. I waited until my 21st birthday to have my first adult beverage, (a piña colada…). I didn’t really start drinking until my mid-20s. The Cleveland Indians were one game away from winning the ALCS (which, of course, they did not win). I was at a bar with some friends, sort of watching the game but mostly feeling heartbroken over a girl who had recently chosen another guy over me. I made a conscious choice to get drunk and “drown my sorrows.” It made sense. It was only going to be temporary while I dealt with the heartache.
Soon after, I started performing regularly at Cleveland’s Howl at the Moon, a raucous dueling-piano bar known for its drunken sing-a-longs — a perfect environment to get more familiar with alcohol. Being on stage in front of hundreds of people was a bit nerve-wracking, especially since I was new to it. Alcohol helped me calm down and join in the party. I’d have my share of alcoholic beverages on stage at the piano, which was quite paltry compared to my seasoned partner. And if a song request was accompanied by a drink, well, that one was getting played next.
I continued to make a living as a musician/pianist playing gigs, moved to New York, played more gigs, and usually accepted the bar’s offer of alcohol as partial compensation. I wasn’t drinking every day, but I was drinking consistently and fairly regularly for eight years.
Before I started drinking, I had accomplished several things I was quite proud of — I released my first album with a promising band, gave the first solo performance of Piano Phase (a piece originally written for two pianists), and wrote a 120-page thesis to complete my bachelor’s degree in music. When I look back at the past eight years and what I achieved, I haven’t accomplished as much as I would have liked. I mostly just worked. I played gigs. I did jobs. There are only a few things that I can look back on and say, “I helped create that, and I’m proud of it.” But mostly, I stalled. With that realization, it was time to make a change.
Noticeable Changes from Not Drinking for 6 Months
It’s been six months and I’m proud to say I haven’t had a drop of alcohol. I’m not saying my lack of productivity was solely caused by my moderate drinking, but alcohol certainly wasn’t helping. Giving it up for an entire year will give me enough time to accomplish what I’ve been working on. Plus, the end of the year is distant enough that thoughts like, “I can’t wait to drink again,” aren’t there. Drinking just isn’t an option.
After six months of being alcohol-free, I’ve noticed several positive changes:
• More Energy — After two months of no alcohol, it struck me while chatting with a friend at a Starbucks that I feel different. I have energy! All day! The latter half of last year, I was feeling pretty low-energy. Alcohol’s effect may have been lasting longer than I realized. (I do have an MTHFR gene mutation which makes it harder for the body to detoxify and process alcohol.)
• Increased Productivity — I’m not waking up hungover anymore on a Saturday or Sunday, feeling unable and unmotivated to get anything done. I’ve made major progress both with my next album and with a new music project.
• Conscious Decisions — I’m not embarrassing myself (as much) or making poor choices, like driving when too inebriated to realize that I shouldn’t be. This is a big one. I admit I’ve driven home when I shouldn’t have, endangering not only my life but others’ lives. I have been lucky but am ashamed that I even put myself and others at such an unnecessary and preventable risk.
• Improved Relationships — I’m more present when I’m with someone. I’m less combative, less critical, less irritable, more compassionate, and more considerate of how I may be affecting someone else. I’m more of the person I want to be.
• Personal Growth — This is has been a year of self-discovery, including learning about the history of alcohol in my own family. Understanding this has strengthened my resolve to stay away from alcohol, as I am more at risk of becoming an alcoholic myself. It’s also helped me understand where much of my own depression has come from, why I’ve been attracted to instability, and why I felt the need to escape.
• Increased Happiness — With all the previous points combined, I’m in a much happier place. I’m moving towards my goals, feeling healthy, experiencing healthier relationships, and enjoying the ride.
Reflecting on Alcohol’s Role in Your Own Life
Part of my reason for writing this is to raise the stakes and add pressure and accountability for myself to make sure I make it to the end. I’ve got six more months to go, at which point I will decide what role, if any, alcohol will have in my life. I’m grateful for my friends who’ve supported me on this journey so far.
The other reason for writing is to share and inspire others who are looking to make a change in their lives. If reading this strikes a chord with you, and you think alcohol might be hampering you in your own life, even if you only drink socially or not very often, take a moment to reflect and see if removing alcohol for a period of time — a month, or a week, or just a day — is right for you. If you’re not sure if alcohol might be a problem, take this short quiz. And, if you decide that you do want to give alcohol a break, consider reaching out to a friend, joining a support group like AA or hiring an accountability coach.
Thank you for reading and for your support as I make my way towards an entire year without alcohol. I would love to hear your thoughts and stories about this topic. Please feel free to share in the comments.
This story was originally posted on Medium.com on Aug. 9, 2016 for the Better Humans Blog.