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One Small Change

Last Call: Lessons from a Month Without Alcohol

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Giving up alcohol for a month was one small change I dreaded. In fact, I was so unsure I’d be able to pull it off that I qualified it—I’d give up booze during the week, from 5 p.m. Sunday to 5 p.m. Friday. It was a face-saving loophole I was embarrassed giving myself. But the experiment played out much differently than I expected. Here’s the verdict:

It goes down easier than you think.

Unlike when I gave up caffeine, I didn’t suffer any headaches, fatigue or other withdrawal symptoms. Nor did my body grumble like it did during a month of clean (high-fiber) eating. All in all, this was one of the easiest small changes I’ve made this year. There was one 14-day stretch when I didn’t even touch the stuff. And what’s more, after a while I didn’t miss it. If you worry that you’re drinking too much, try taking a periodic break like this. One reader suggested Sober October, an annual 31-day alcohol fast. That’s a great idea, but you don’t have to go cold turkey on the Wild Turkey for an entire month. An occasional week or even a weekend can be enough to reassert control and feel better about yourself.

The sober sleep better.

Researchers are finding that even moderate drinking disrupts sleep, especially the REM cycle. Without my usual nightcap(s), I had my best month of sleeping in ages. I didn’t awaken as often (either to pee or fuss), and I started dreaming more. The latter is evidence of quality, deep-stage, restorative sleep. Since a good night’s rest has so many health and performance benefits, this was a major unexpected bonus.

The cobwebs disappear.

Maybe it was a result of sleeping better or just not being chronically dehydrated, but I felt cleaner and clearer—like someone had come into my head with a Shop-Vac and sucked out the fuzz. For the first time in a long time, I felt fresh. And I also felt a little sharper when working out, as if my body was more awake and responsive. It was nothing dramatic, mind you, but it was notable.

Extra money suddenly materializes.

On average, I blow about $200 per month on booze, either for the house or when dining out. That’s $2,400 a year for something that delivers no lasting pleasure. Compound it annually as if it was a 401K, and that turns into a gigantic waste of money. Need a raise or an iPhone? You’re capable of instantly giving yourself one.

Love handles lose their grip.

The only thing emptier than Lindsay Lohan’s head is the calories in an alcoholic beverage. They do nothing but make us fat. So without changing my eating habits one cracker, I started saving thousands of calories per week, which resulted in my jeans feeling like low-riders again. But there is a caveat. Some readers who made this small change with me reported a heightened craving for sweets. This makes sense since alcohol is essentially sugar, and an addiction to one usually involves the other. (I experienced some of this, hitting the leftover Halloween candy hard until my wife hid it.) So if losing weight is one of your reasons for abandoning alcohol, then be prepared to fight on two fronts.

Love loses its grip.

Being a guy, I normally find it challenging to express my feelings outside of Microsoft Word. But after a few drinks I can get every bit as emotional as Oprah. Over the years, my wife and I have had some our deepest, most meaningful conversations over gin martinis. But this month we didn’t mix as well. Maybe it was a coincidence, but we weren’t as connected. With our happy hour discontinued, we lost the only time in our busy days to sit and sip and share. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and fosters friendship. I missed that. In fact, not drinking with friends was the toughest part of this, which may, come to think of it, be indicative of a bigger problem I need to work at.

The mindless becomes mindful.

When you can’t have something whenever you want, you appreciate it more. My drinking had become a habit. At times, I didn’t even enjoy it. I just popped a beer because it was 5 o’clock, the game was coming on, or my buddy had bought another round. But this month when I settled back with the occasional glass, one drink was suddenly more than enough. I felt like a wine snob, holding the amber liquid aloft, smelling its bouquet, and washing it around in my mouth. Almost overnight, drinking became a mindful experience. And moving forward, I’d like to keep it that way. My plan is to take half of that $200 I’ve been squandering every month and spend it only on top-shelf stuff that I’ll be more inclined to taste, appreciate and savor. I figure I’ll be saving money and my liver. Like most vices in life, there’s nothing inherently wrong with alcohol; the evil is in us, not the bottle. But as this month’s small change taught me, if you have the discipline to train, you also have the discipline to refrain. As the son of an alcoholic, it’s reassuring to know that.

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Calories, Goals, Beverages