I tried quitting for “Just a Month” in the past. My current streak is a continuation on those experiments. I started “Sober October” in 2010 as an experiment in mental and physical health, after reading an article about a Food Writer who needed a break from her constant imbibing.
I can’t find the original column, but the writer went on to praise the health and monetary benefits of her month of sobriety. She saved money, lost weight, and her first glass of wine in November was the best shed ever had. It sounded amazing, so I decided to take the plunge and it worked!
I didnt do the entire 31 days to be honest, I went to a Halloween party on the 30th, but I had successfully abstained from alcohol for 4.5 weekends. It doesnt seem like a lot now, but at the time it was a feat to be applauded. I dont think I had gone ONE weekend without drinking that year, much less 4 in a row.
I saved money, I lost some weight, I felt great! The party I went to for Halloween was better for it, although some of the money I saved through the month was spent on that last weekend. Like that, I powered through a month without alcohol and arrived in November with the same attitude as I had in September.
Although I had essentially only put my drinking on pause, I felt like Sober October was a great exercise for me. I knew there was alcoholism in my family, so to prove to myself that I could quit whenever I wanted felt good. For most people out there, one month without booze is enough to prove that you dont have an addiction. The next year, I realized this wasnt the case.
I brought this up in the first post, but Ill stress the point further here: I am not a doctor or scientist or anything of importance when it comes to mental or physical health. All I can really do is express my experience for you to learn from, and the account of Sober October 2011 is just that.
Im not sure what it was about 2011 that made Sober October that much different, but I think it had something to do with my living arrangements and who I was taking as friends. I just moved to the big city with an old friend and we were hitting the town quite a bit, and I was having the time of my life!
Theres always a chance that my abstaining in October of 2010 pushed me to drink more in 2011, but regardless I drank harder that year and Sober October 2011 proved a lot harder than I had expected. I wasnt exactly shaking with withdrawal tremors, but about 2 weeks in I felt worse than I have ever felt before.
The pains were a combination of depression (if you know, you know, if you dont imagine getting dumped and watching the last 15 minutes of Forest Gump everyday) and the sick feeling of being hungry, but going past the initial grumblings and hunger pangs to a deep aching pain in my stomach.
Still, after an uncomfortable month of not drinking I went to a Halloween party and got trashed! The party was a lot of fun, but as a result of all the fun I ended up with a cold. The booze had trashed my immune system, and walking around in October in just a Hobo costume and kissing a bunch of girls didnt help much either.
I had one more drink on November 1st and I remember being halfway through a Strongbow and wondering what I was doing. I was at a bar on a Wednesday night, and everything was normal, but I didnt really want to finish my drink. I thought a Strongbow would be taking it easy but between my cold and some new insights I now had I decided not to finish that drink and call off drinking until I was well.
Taking November off was great, and it helped me recover much faster than normal. Cold medication doesnt really do its job when youre going to the bar and staying out late 3 nights a week. I decided that I would continue my abstaining from alcohol straight on through until Valentines day of the next year. I would be going to Cuba with my family and that seemed like a good goal to have.
After 2.5 months without a drink I was getting into the mindset of a sober person. I was doing less Partying Sans-Booze and more Living My Actual Life it was great, and I was able to save up some money for my upcoming vacation. I was also eating pretty well and exercising which has almost 0 drawbacks, I felt like the king of the castle!
Cuba was a shit show. I’ll say it right now, I don’t think I was beyond the antics of the usual 20-something who goes to an All-Inclusive tropical resort, but my alcohol intake was quite high compared to normal. I remember feeling really weird taking the first few sips of the Cuban beer with my family, but before I knew it I was in the disco the next night doing shots of the worst rum I had ever tasted.
I was a maniac, literally I was in a complete state of mania. It was amazing to let go of myself in a way I had never done before, but it was kind of scary to think about how much I was drinking. I never really drank dangerously but I think that I would’ve suffered physically if I had stayed an extra week.
After Cuba I felt good, but almost immediately I was drinking again. I didnt take any time off to let my liver recover. If anything I wanted to drink more because of all the fun I had in Cuba. The dancing, the women, the techno music until 3am was everything drinking was supposed to be and I wanted my real life drinking to be more like that.
I thought I’d be fine, but in reality my drinking got worse. I didn’t notice at first, but during a music festival that summer I made a few dumb decisions. They weren’t even funny or exciting stories to tell, they were just sad moments of a person who had an alcohol problem. I was getting as drunk as I did in Cuba, but I wasn’t having any of the fun.
This realization hit me pretty hard as the next Sober October was coming up. At a point I was sitting in front of my computer at my desk and I realized I was depressed. I also realized I was 3 going on 4 beers on a weeknight (gross beer because I was too cheap). I was drunk, alone and wondering why my life sucked and then it finally clicked.
I actually said to myself “I wish I could stop drinking”. I didn’t think it would change my life immeasurably, I didn’t actually think it would be the magic ticket to help me live up to my potential (more on that in future posts), but it was just the realization I needed to decide that the coming Sober October would be different. I needed Sober October to become Sober Forever.
Take-away: Trying to quit for a month is great, but don’t be surprised if your alcohol problem just gets worse. You might not drink more, or become a maniacal party animal like I did, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it creates more problems than it solves. If nothing else it will give you a pretty clear picture of your problem as you spend 30 days analyzing what kind of person you are when you’re not drinking.
All that being said, if you think that you really have a problem with alcohol and you want to fix your life; cutting back or taking a month off isn’t going to fix it for you. There is a difference between abstaining and recovering.
If you think alcohol has become unmanageable in your life please contact a physician, mental health professional or someone else you can trust.