As I write this post, I have lived an alcohol-free life for more than 280 days.
If you would have told me this one year ago, I would be absolutely shocked, but also proud, because one year ago I made the sudden decision to participate in Dry July—a.k.a. not drinking any alcohol for the entire month of July.
I didn’t think I would last the entire month, let alone longer than that. It has been quite the journey of reflection and self-discovery.
Alcohol was always there
When I was little, I remember sitting down at the table for family events—giant plate of pasta in front of me—sipping on my Sprite with the teeniest splash of wine mixed in. I held my head high, acting like the adult I aspired to be, as I peeked across the room and watched my parents, aunts, and uncles sip on their wine while they ate dinner.
As I grew up, alcohol touched more and more points of my life. I was barely a teenager, attending family parties when I noticed what “drunk” looked like before I even really knew what it meant to be drunk.
To me, drunk was people acting silly—sometimes stupid—and often slurring their words together. It didn’t seem appealing to me, and I didn’t understand why people did it. I would sit there and silently question their actions as I sipped my pop.
The first time I actually got drunk was in high school in the basement of a friend’s house. I was two Mike’s Hard Lemonades deep when the alcohol started to take hold of my 5-foot-4-100-pound frame.
I transformed into a new person. I was no longer the quiet girl that sat back and let everyone else lead the conversation. I was silly. And fun. And embarrassing. And I felt like people liked me more.
Alcohol made the self-limiting thoughts in my head disappear. It allowed me to simply be, and I really liked that feeling.
I don’t have a problem, right?
Thinking back, I would say throughout high school and the majority of college I probably drank less than your typical student. It would happen on occasion, and I never really got to the point where I would get sick or black out. Just enough to let outgoing Julia shine.
That changed after I turned 21. At that point, I caught up to my peers in terms of drinking frequency.
Slowly, each weekend began to involve some sort of drinking—at a bar, at a friend’s house, at a sporting event, you name it. And I discovered something about myself: I was a puker. I would drink and drink and drink until I hit a wall. And that wall often had a toilet in front of it.
I actually found pride in this (I’m literally shaking my head at my past self right now) because my hangovers weren’t as bad. I would tell people, “Just puke it out! Then you don’t have to worry about the hangover!”
It was gross.
Eventually, I started to realize that the frequent nights out weren’t doing me any favors. I had no energy during the week and felt like a bloated balloon more often than not. As I started to go out less on the weekends, something else happened. I began casually drinking 1 or 2 drinks a few days per week.
Wine with dinner. A beer after work. You know, standard things that most people in their mid-20s did.
It never occurred to me that I could potentially have a drinking problem. I always justified my drinking by telling myself things like:
I mean, it’s not like I wake up and immediately start drinking. And even though I drink during the week, I never get drunk. That’s saved for the weekend. And I can stop whenever I want.
But could I? Could I actually completely stop drinking for no reason but simply because I wanted to? That was a question that I started to ask myself after seeing my friend post her sobriety journey on Instagram.
She shared a variety of informational posts, and the one that really got me was in reference to gray area drinking, which is basically the space between casually drinking and having a diagnosed alcohol use disorder.
You might be a gray area drinker if you:
- Are a woman who has more than 7 drinks per week or a man who has more than 14 drinks per week.
- Can stop drinking and you have stopped drinking for periods of time—even weeks or months—but it’s hard to stay stopped because your drinking doesn’t look problematic to those around you.
- Go back and forth between ignoring that little voice inside your head that tells you to stop drinking and deciding that you’re overthinking and just need to “live a little.”
- Silently and quietly worry and question your drinking.
Prior to seeing these posts, I had never heard of gray area drinking, and it raised some red flags in my head. It’s what made me quickly decide to participate in Dry July just a few days before July 1st.
Sobriety: Take I
I marked my commitment to Dry July the best way I knew possible—announcing it on social media. I knew that if I shared my intentions with the world, then I would be more likely to follow through with them.
My first big hurdle came at me fast—Fourth of July. In 2020, I was downing the strongest Jell-O shots I have ever made. In 2021, I was drinking La Croix, pretending that it was a White Claw.
It was uncomfortable for about one minute, then I realized that no one actually cared whether or not I was drinking, and as long as I had a tasty alcohol-free substitute, I didn’t care either.
About one week into Dry July, I decided to start reading a book my friend recommended to me: Alcohol Explained. It details how alcohol affects your body and mind. The book taught me things like:
- How one glass of wine can have a negative impact on your quality of sleep, which causes issues in various aspects of your life.
- How alcohol actually fuels anxiety, despite the short-term feeling that it relieves it.
- How your brain is impacted by alcohol use (both short-term and long-term).
- How alcohol impacts muscle strength and development.
- And so much more.
This book is what fueled me to stick to my self-proclaimed promise to not drink for an entire month. But as the month came to a close, I struggled with how to maintain an alcohol-free life.
Post-Dry July blues
In the last few days of July, I looked at Tyler, and felt panic surge through my body. Although I felt great—physically and mentally—I was struck with complete and utter fear at the thought of never drinking again. I looked at him and said:
Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?
He was confused, and I couldn’t blame him. We weren’t even really in the middle of a conversation when I just unleashed that question on him. I immediately followed it up with, “… you know, about not drinking.”
I went into a full-blown panic at the thought of never drinking again. What about bachelorette parties? And weddings? And what if my friends want to go out? What about wineries? Ugh, I would miss wineries too much.
So, I decided that after July, it would be okay if I drank on the weekends. Especially considering my sister’s bachelorette party was coming up in August.
Throughout August, I had some drinks on the weekends, had a lot of drinks at the bachelorette party, and got a few drinks at the bar or out to eat. It wasn’t anything crazy, and I didn’t revert back to my puking days, but there was one huge change in my life.
I was an anxious mess.
And I’m not talking, “Ugh, I’m feeling a little anxious and uneasy today.” I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that sends you into a full-blown panic attack for no apparent reason.
I couldn’t help but think that alcohol was the catalyst of this. Especially because I hardly felt anxious the entire month of July.
Sobriety: Take II
On August 30, I posted a poll on Twitter asking people if I should try doing a Sober September to see if it would make my anxiety better. (What can I say, I guess I like making these decisions last minute.)
With a resounding yes from a small fraction of my followers, my future was sealed, and I was actually excited to test the theory that not drinking would help my anxiety.
I went to the store, stocked up on my favorite alcohol-free drinks—La Croix, San Pellegrino (The blood orange flavor is actually amazing.), Fre alcohol-free wine, and Sprite—and prepared for the month ahead.
The first two weeks went off without a hitch, but there was a big party coming up on the calendar. I knew it would be stocked with White Claws, beer, and almost any liquor you could imagine, but I told myself that I wouldn’t give in.
I was wrong.
I caved a few hours in and filled my 20 oz Yeti with my beverage of choice—Captain & Coke. I told myself that it wasn’t a big deal. That it was just one drink. That I can still go the rest of the month without another drink and everything would be fine.
But I felt something as I took the last few sips of my drink. Regret.
Why did I feel the need to have a drink? I was doing fine. Was it just to be more outgoing? Why am I like this? Why do I always feel like I need a drink when I’m surrounded by people? Am I incapable of being myself without a little liquid courage?
I rinsed out my Yeti, filled it with water, and stuck to that for the rest of the evening.
I lived up to my sober promise for the rest of the month, and I felt minimal anxiety, which made me completely uninterested in alcohol. I even downloaded an app to track how long I’ve been sober, which required me to think about why I wanted to stop drinking.
I narrowed it down to two reasons:
- I am a better person without alcohol.
- Alcohol provides zero benefit to my life.
Sober beyond a monthly challenge
Toward the end of September, I decided to read another book about quitting alcohol in the hope that it would fuel me to continue my non-drinking trend beyond one month. (Spoiler: It actually worked.)
The book was Quit Like a Woman. Although it took me nearly two months to read it entirely, every time I picked it up, I experienced a new “aha” moment.
I realized that:
- Alcohol is everywhere. From TV to movies to parties to work. There is not a single area of my life where alcohol is not present.
- Alcohol is shoved down our throats from such a young age that we don’t even make the conscious decision to start drinking. It’s just something that everyone does. The author compared this to smoking cigarettes. Imagine if once you turned 18, cigarettes were shoved in your face and you were actually encouraged to smoke.
- Alcohol increases your chances of seven different types of cancer. Seven. I’ll leave it at that.
- One drunken night can lead to a decision that can change your entire life.
I also realized something about myself. When I incorporate alcohol in my life, I shy away from other things I do that typically make me feel good. As I read the book, it dawned on me how many workouts I skipped (or didn’t give my best effort) because I was hungover. How much time I wasted laying in bed with a headache instead of going outside and experiencing the world. Was drinking really worth it?
Something big happened in October, too. I went to a wedding. My sister’s wedding. I didn’t drink. And I had the best time. Stone. Cold. Sober.
I danced without a care in the world, and I talked to people I didn’t know all that well. I became the outgoing version of myself that I thought was only possible with the help of alcohol.
It was the most freeing moment of my life. The next day Tyler even said, “I’ve never seen you happier than you were last night.”
That’s all I needed to continue on.
The most difficult hurdles I’ve faced since October surround two things: gatherings and stress.
The holidays were tough. Not because I felt like I wanted to drink, but because I felt like others expected me to drink. So much so that a good number of people really thought I was pregnant. (I cannot tell you how many times someone said, “Oh you’re not drinking?!” with a little smirk.)
To be completely straightforward, it was annoying, but it was something that quickly subsided once people realized I simply didn’t drink anymore.
Despite the annoyance I felt during the holidays, it was refreshing to see how people responded when I told them I don’t drink anymore. I thought that people would judge me and try to persuade me to have just one drink, but neither happened.
I was actually met with questions. They were curious questions without casting judgment, and that was a huge relief for me.
Once I overcame the social pressures of drinking, I was faced with the internal pressure to drink. For me, this was triggered by stress.
In early 2022, I went through about a month where I was incredibly stressed at work, and I quickly realized that the stress I felt gave me the serious urge to drink. I can’t even put into words how badly I wanted just a single glass of wine.
I almost gave in a few times, but every time I came close, I reminded myself that it wasn’t worth it.
Sure, drinking may make me feel less stressed for a moment, but it would only lead to problems down the road. So, instead I turned to other ways to deal with my stress—meditating, getting some fresh air, snuggling my dog, reading a good book, and working out.
They were much more effective and didn’t result in anxiety or a hangover.
Pros and cons to an alcohol-free life
I’m not going to lie, there are a few downfalls to cutting alcohol out of my life completely:
- I feel left out at times—mainly when I’m surrounded by people who are drinking. I mean, you can only do so many imaginary shots with people before it just gets old.
- Hanging out at the bar at 2 AM is actually unbearable when you’re sober. You’re tired, surrounded by people who are drunk and not listening to you, and you are hopelessly trying to corral them into the car so you can leave.
- I’ve lost some friends. Even though I don’t mind being around people if they’re drinking, sometimes people mind being around me if I’m not drinking. And that’s okay. If someone’s presence makes you feel uncomfortable or unsure of yourself, then you shouldn’t be around them.
- I’m forever a DD. (This can be both good and bad.)
But things have mostly improved:
- I never lose a day to suffer through a hangover in my bed.
- My workouts have improved and I’ve grown muscles that I didn’t even know I could grow.
- I always order a pineapple juice and soda water if I go out to a bar, and I don’t get charged for it 9 times out of 10.
- I feel a deeper understanding of who I am, what I like, what I dislike, and what direction my life is heading.
- I have great relationships with the people who remain in my life.
- I always have a safe ride home from a bar, and I no longer have to pray my Uber driver isn’t a creep.
- I don’t get nearly as many stomach aches (except when I succumb to my dairy cravings).
- I sleep better.
- I eat better (for the most part).
- I don’t give a shit what other people think of me.
I’d say the pros far outweigh the cons.
What does the future hold?
I have absolutely no plans to divert from the route I’m currently on. Sure, I may face obstacles along the way, but I know deep down that being alcohol-free is what is right for me.
I’m forever grateful that I took a moment to evaluate my relationship with alcohol, and I would encourage every single person to do the same. I’m not saying that everyone needs to stop drinking—or even cut back their drinking—I’m just saying we should all be aware of why we are drinking.
Then, we can use that knowledge to guide our future actions and decisions, whatever those may be.
If you’re on a similar path as me and you’re trying to not drink at all or trying to cut back your drinking, just know that you’re not alone. Remember why you’re doing this and use that as the fuel you need to carry on.
(Also, if you have any book recommendations or tasty alcohol-free drinks, please share 🙂 )
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2 thoughts on “Living alcohol-free in an alcohol-obsessed world”
I enjoyed your story/ experience. I have a similar story to share. You made my day
Thank you for sharing your experience Julia! Definitely something to think about.