My Alcohol Experiment Story
I haven’t had a drink in almost 2 years. I don’t count regularly, but for fun, I put the big milestones in my calendar.
Why am I sharing this with you?
It’s no secret that alcohol use has increased during the pandemic and that you are probably seeing more “gray-area drinkers” in your practice right now. I learned this term from Jolene Park, though it has been used in the medical literature. As a society, we have the stereotype of a problem drinker on a park bench drinking out of a brown paper bag. If someone is not at rock bottom, they don’t have a problem and are a “normal” drinker. Interesting, because the CDC considers one daily 5 oz glass of wine for women moderate drinking and any more than that, heavy drinking. Drinking occurs on a spectrum, and gray area drinkers can stop drinking, but they often have a hard time staying stopped. Maybe drinking hasn’t given them major symptoms, but they wake up in the morning with a racing heart or a hangover, and the inevitable voice inside that says “I’m never drinking again.” Yet later that day they do it again.
Here’s a great question I learned from Jolene that you can ask your patients: “When was the last time you took a break from alcohol?” instead of “How many drinks do you have per week?”
Most people know of only two solutions for drinking too much – AA or rehab. Yet there are other ways for people to stop drinking, regardless of where someone is on the alcohol use disorder spectrum (the more accurate term).
In early 2019, I came across an article about someone who hadn’t had a drink in years and asked the question “Would my life be better without alcohol?” versus “Am I an alcoholic?” This led me to download Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind. Interesting timing – I had just started the introductory class in SDSU’s Business of Wine certificate program because I was considering a career in the wine industry. During the Monday evening class, we tasted various wines, and it was easy to continue throughout the week. I was having either a hard kombucha or glass of wine or two most nights around that time, and more on weekends.
Alcohol was my study buddy during my master’s, a celebration on a sunny day, a companion when I felt stressed. Alcohol slows down the brain and feels like a great relief for those who are high-functioning. It didn’t keep me from work or school or pursuing various hobbies. I think one of the reasons I continued to drink more than I wanted to is that I didn’t have a rock bottom and that it “wasn’t that bad.” However, I did question myself when I often woke up with a racing heart and parched throat at 4 am. I also had cognitive dissonance being a nutritionist with a lifelong passion for health, yet doing something destructive to my body.
After listening to This Naked Mind, I signed up for Annie Grace’s free 30-day Alcohol Experiment in April of 2019. This is an amazing resource with a daily video and a journal prompt. It was a transformative experience examining my underlying beliefs about why I was drinking, why we drink socially, and why I both wanted to drink and yet not drink at the same time. I had so many “aha” moments and still love reading her emails. At the end of the 30 days, I felt less anxious and depressed, more calm, more rested, more mentally sharp, and more capable of handling life.
I loved the idea of approaching this with curiosity rather than willpower. There’s a big difference between eliminating alcohol for a few weeks using willpower to abstain vs. examining all the underlying beliefs we have about alcohol and, subsequently, not needing or wanting it.
I saved a post in the Alcohol Experiment Facebook group where someone asked what physical changes people observed when they stopped drinking. Here were some of the answers:
- clear eyes
- drop in resting heart rate
- brighter skin
- less joint pain
- better sleep
- lower blood pressure
- less bloated- sleeping through the night
- fewer headaches
- improved vision
- less acid reflux
- weight loss
- less puffy
- mental clarity
- less negative
- less reactive
- more fun to be around
- less anxious
- better able to handle adversities
- more present
- more motivated
- more optimistic
- less irritable
- more confident
- no guilt
- clear head and heart
- no more mood swings
- more patience
- more energy
- in control
Wow! How many of your patients are dealing with these and continue to drink more alcohol than they’d like?
I ended up not drinking that first time for 82 days. After, I went back to trying to drink in moderation, though I wasn’t very successful. I did the experiment again for 32 days in October of 2019, and finally recommitted in January of 2020. I intended to go at least 100 days and here we are, nearly 2 years later. Not having a glass of wine during a pandemic and major life changes certainly was challenging, but I think if I were still drinking, life would feel more unmanageable. Deciding not to drink is much easier than trying to moderate. Plus, there are so many fun non-alcoholic beverages available!
HELPING GRAY-AREA DRINKERS
Earlier this year, I completed the Nourish Method Coach Training Program with Jolene Park on how to help gray area drinkers rewire and reset their nervous systems after quitting drinking through the latest neuroscience, psychology, physiology, and functional nutrition research. (You can check out her Ted talk here). I’m so grateful to have tools like somatic experiencing and practices related to polyvagal theory to self-regulate, something I definitely did not learn in my childhood or even in my twenties. I am still a work in progress, but I’m learning how to regulate my nervous system without alcohol. This is often the effect we’re looking for when we drink.
Now that I’ve gone through a pandemic and numerous celebrations without alcohol I feel empowered. It feels great to be alcohol-free! I don’t judge anyone for drinking, and I simply want to share my own story in the hopes that it might help others.
For anyone at all curious about what life would be like without alcohol, I highly recommend trying the 30-day Alcohol Experiment (unless medical detox is initially required if physical withdrawal symptoms may be experienced). There is never going to be a good time to stop because it’s so normal in our society to drink for every occasion. One of my colleagues from the training program has been very vocal about her journey in Australian media. Just last week, 4,500 women reached out to her after her most recent article was featured on Apple News. Clearly, this topic resonates for many people right now. If reading this helps even one of your patients, it will have been worth it for me to share.
Thank you so much for reading this,