A Year Without Drinking

I never planned to go an entire year without drinking. I mean, why would anyone purposefully subject themself to that kind of torture? A year of awkward parties. A year of really noticing the volume of people’s voices. A year of “club sodas with a splash of cranberry.” A year of… well, a year without much fun, right?

No, I never planned to go a full year with zero alcohol consumption…

…It just kind of happened.

Back in January 2018, I was ready for a change. Maybe it was the milestone 40th birthday that lay only a few months in front of me, or maybe it was the snugness of my pants coming off of another holiday season with too many Christmas cookies and more than a few pints of Guinness.

But I was ready for a health streak. And there was something really appealing to me about a “no alcohol” streak. Now, full disclosure, I wasn’t a huge drinker to begin with. Despite having more hazy nights in my early-20s than I’d care to admit to today, it had been more than a decade since I’d had any desire to stay up past midnight, let alone consume more than a few drinks in a sitting.

But still, there was something unsettling to me about alcohol. With a slowing metabolism and an aging body, I didn’t love the idea of consuming a slew of empty calories on Friday and Saturday nights just so I could “have a good time.” I wondered, “Do I actually need alcohol to enjoy myself?” and if so, “Isn’t that kind of troubling?”

But most of all, I worried that I couldn’t afford the negative effects that alcohol was having on my life. I’m not talking about being black-out drunk or so hungover that I couldn’t go to work. No, that wasn’t me. I was worried about the marginal impacts — the little things, around the edges. I worried about my decision not to workout at 7am on Saturday because I had three cocktails on Friday night and got to bed after midnight. I felt guilty about snapping at my kids for jumping on my bed on Sunday morning after a few drinks the night before resulted in a terrible night’s sleep.

I basically worried that alcohol was making me a crappier version of myself.

So I quit drinking.

First, it was for a month. I decided not to drink in February. And it wasn’t hard. I mean, sparkling water on Valentine’s Day was admittedly kind of lame but thankfully my wife felt no guilt about enjoying a few glasses of wine while her prone-to-streaks husband pursued his latest health kick.

I kept it going into March. And again, it was easy. Except, of course, for St. Patrick’s Day. It was here, in a bar full of my friends and their wives — enjoying copious pints of green beer — that I encountered my first real challenge. I really wanted to have a Guinness. This was the first time in my six-week old streak that I actually felt a physical urge to drink. But I held strong — and actually found the greater challenge to be the dozen conversations I’d have to have explaining to people exactly why I wasn’t drinking. But that part would get easier.

After going the club soda route at a friend’s March Madness party, and passing on the mimosas on Easter Sunday, I entered April thinking “Well, it’s been a good run.” With my annual Guys Golf Weekend facing me at the end of the month, I knew the streak was set to expire.

But halfway through April, I started thinking “How bad would Guys Weekend be without booze?”

I decided to find out. A few weeks later, I picked up my buddies and their golf clubs at the airport and we headed straight to the bar. They’d heard grumblings of my ‘no drinking’ streak, but here’s where the rubber would meet the road.

And then a funny thing happened: Nothing.

I mean, we just did our thing — talked about how old we all are and compared notes on our kids, our workout regimes and our strange old-man medical afflictions. And drank. Except for me, the beverage of choice was a tall, clear glass of club soda.

In the end, Guys Weekend ended up just being Guys Weekend — with a built-in designated driver.

And after that? Well, after you survive Guys Weekend without drinking, the other nine months of the year are really just a formality, aren’t they?

Well, that may be overstating it slightly. Would it have been nice to enjoy a Corona on our beach vacation? Sure, but I survived. Would I have liked a craft beer to ring in the fall season? Of course, but I made do. Did I attend at least a handful of events where I was absolutely the only one not drinking? I sure did. And some of them were admittedly painful — it turns out dueling pianos are best enjoyed with adult beverages!

But as I entered the homestretch, the world seemed to conspire to make this feat easier for me. My friends and family had long since figured out that I wasn’t drinking, and they became enablers, but in a good way. Friends stopped asking me why I wasn’t drinking and started stocking non-alcoholic drinks in their homes for me when they were having parties. (Thanks guys, that was nice…). And people starting rooting for me to go the full year. Now, as I write this, having weathered the holidays cocktail-free, hitting the 1-year mark is truly just a formality.

So what’s next? Am I done drinking for life?

No, in fact, this February 1st — the one year mark — I am going to indulge in at least one beautiful, frosty pint of Guinness. Yes, I’ll probably be buzzed off of just one drink and if that makes me a cheap date, well that’s great — I’m getting cheaper in my old age anyhow.

But after that, I don’t really have any plans. I think alcohol will be back in my life, but less so than before. And while I’ve grown comfortable navigating any social setting without alcohol these last twelve months, I’m also looking forward to occasionally engaging in the social ritual that is drinking with family and friends.

All in all, a year without booze wasn’t so bad.

Did I lose weight?
Not really, but that’s because I probably allowed myself more cookies since I wasn’t drinking those calories.

Was it really boring?
Uh, yeah. But that said, after the first three or four cocktail parties, the novelty of it wore off and it became less of a focus for me and others. So then I was just back to being at a party with friends. Pretty natural, actually.

Did I have nightmares in which I forgetfully drank a glass of wine thereby blowing my streak?
This may or may not have happened five times.

Did I get better at “all the little things” that come from not being tired and grumpy on weekend mornings?
Actually, yes, I think I did, but rather than boring you with a list of personal accomplishments, I guess I’ll just say that I feel good about the year I had, personally and professionally.

So that’s it for the ‘no alcohol’ streak. On to the next one.

More on that soon.

Author’s note: Just want to mention two things: 1. the respect I have for women who regularly complete such streaks for 9 months at a time and don’t ask for a round of applause — okay, you’re pretty impressive; and, 2. that alcoholism is a disease not to be taken lightly. If you struggle with that addiction, you should seek help. Thanks for reading. — Greg