My first moments of 2020 were similar to the start of many of my previous New Years. Thirsty, head pounding, generally unwell. But this first morning of 2020 was different, as it was the last one that I would spend like this for the next 365 mornings. My 2020 New Years Resolution was to remove alcohol from my life. So the first morning of 2020, not unlike many others, remains fixed in my memory because I haven’t felt like that any morning since.
I wouldn’t have considered myself as someone with a problem with drinking. I did, however, recognize the incredible space it took up in my life. My weekends were dedicated to events in which alcohol was present. Throughout the week, there would often be a special occasion or social gathering in which alcohol would be included. I felt an obligation to drink at almost all of these events, due to a mix of my own earning for a little chaos and social pressure. I didn’t drink to excess every time, but that was often the unintended result. I wouldn’t do anything dangerous or too embarrassing while under the influence, but I started to feel the shame and guilt creep up the next day. I would spend the next day sad and helpless, my body and mind were unhappy with my choices.
The social habit of drinking had become an unquestionable part of my social life, stemming from years of repeated patterns and behaviors, and oftentimes led me to a mental, emotional and physical space that I did not care to inhabit any longer. I was uncomfortable in my body and socially and creatively stuck. I needed to try something different. What is this lifestyle bringing to me that I can’t find elsewhere? How is it adding value to my life? Who did I become when alcohol was present? Did I like that person? What would my life look like with its sudden exit? How many spaces in my life had/has alcohol touched or influenced?
Encouraged by a close friend who had spent her previous year without alcohol, I had no idea what lied ahead for me. Not only was I moving to a new city, but I was doing so without the familiar social crutch of alcohol. This last year without alcohol has brought me more self love in the form of body awareness, social and self confidence and creativity and focus than I could have ever imagined.
Alcohol separated me from my body. It was an activity to do when I wanted to let loose and escape. I didn’t fully recognize the divide it had created with my own body until I spent some time without it. I also didn’t know that my body was always communicating with me, letting me know what it needed. With no impediments to this communication, I started hearing my body loud and clear for the first time. And upon hearing it, I started to begin to listen to and love it.
The removal of alcohol from my life brought me to a closer space of self love through increased connection to my body and improved athletic performance and spiritual connection.
Increased connection to my body
Alcohol is poison. I was actively poisoning my body for years. The outcome of that showed up in my skin, hair, teeth, and overall general body functioning. As soon as alcohol was cut out, my skin started glowing and my face took on another shape. I look back on pictures of myself during my drinking days and see a completely different person.
My body went through some major changes rapidly once alcohol was removed from my system on a more permanent and long term basis. I dropped excess weight and immediately started feeling more comfortable in my body. This was a combination of the reduced amount of extra calories that came from drinking and the increased awareness of my hunger levels.
Alcohol is a highly caloric substance, rapidly expanding my stomach beyond its normal capacity to fit the amount I wanted to drink and to turn off my brain to the feelings of being full. This trained my brain to believe that being full was a typical feeling and that translated to an imbalanced relationship to food and my body/hunger cues. Once the high calorie stomach expansions during drinking ended, I was able to tell when I was hungry and how hunger showed up in my body. The amount of sugar I was consuming in alcohol was exorbitant. I didn’t fully realize the repercussions of this until alcohol was removed from my life. My body initially craved sweets to make up for that missing sugar rush.
I didn’t notice how dull my senses had become from the overuse of alcohol, but I noticed my senses slowly becoming heightened.The more sensorially aware I became, without the impediment of alcohol, the more my senses started to recognize and welcome new stimuli. I began to notice more specific hues of colors, nuanced flavors of food, and distinct smells that I never noticed before.
The new sense of cultivated bodily awareness didn’t happen overnight. It was an accumulation of the slow daily practice of living in this skin, without any distractions. Of seeing it for what it is and accepting it. For finally hearing its wisdom and for learning to love it. I just didn’t know it before because I couldn’t hear it.
I have always been a mover. I wouldn’t consider myself “athletic”, but I definitely like to get my heart rate up and move. A body in motion, stays in motion. Hangovers or drinking events would take priority over the workout that I told myself I would do. Without the distraction of an unwell body, I am able to stick to my workouts and push even harder than I would have if I was recovering from a big night of drinking. I am able to focus more on my movement, which muscles I use, and how my body feels while participating in the different forms of movement. Which in turn has improved my athletic performance and allowed me to find and try new activities based on the ways my body liked to move. During this time, I discovered that dance as a form of movement and expression works well for my body. I may not have discovered this new method of exercise if I was stuck in my old pattern and unable to pay attention to what movement my body needs.
My personal yoga practice deepened immensely as a result of the removal of alcohol. I can feel each pose and breathe in more areas of my body. I am finding my edge of discomfort in poses and am able to sit in this discomfort for longer. My connection to breath has grown exponentially. I meditate deeper and longer because I have the concentration and awareness to focus on and enter new spaces of my body that were previously unexplored.
This was scary at first. Our bodies hold on to our deepest traumas and stories. It also holds our wisdom. Drinking was a way for me to avoid when these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings would come up. Now I have the strength to observe those negative thoughts and feelings and connect with my inner wisdom to integrate them into the understanding of my daily lived experience.
Due to the general improvement of my body, everyday activities are easier and more enjoyable. I can go on long walks, try any new physical activity without much worry, and feel comfortable and strong in my body. Alcohol impeded my relationship with my bodies. Taking a break from poisoning myself allowed me to hear what my body really needs.
One of the first thoughts I had when I decided to give up alcohol was wondering how it would affect my social life. This was the most challenging piece of the puzzle for me personally. How do I exude social confidence in a space where that confidence has historically only been induced by alcohol? How do I do it when everyone else participates, but I would not? Who would I be in social situations without the familiar confidence typically brought on by alcohol?
In most of the social situations throughout my life, alcohol has been a central focus or has at least played a role. Weddings, tailgates, concerts, and more had a strong component of drinking associated with it. It’s how my community, friends and family socialized. In a space of loose speech and loose bodies, everyone shed the initial layer of self consciousness and loosened up a little. What I realized was that I didn’t really know how to socialize without alcohol.
Initially, this space scared me and I tried my best to avoid it. I wasn’t sure how to act or who to be. The more time I spent socially without alcohol, the more my initial philosophy shifted and the more empowering it became. It became my own personal social experiment. I started to observe and become more mindful and aware of the interactions and the intention of others actions, regardless of alcohol’s role in the social encounter. The regard that I held for the opinions of others slowly started to dwindle when I realized that most people are more focused on themselves than on me anyway. Especially when drinking was involved. With this new knowledge, I started to cultivate more of a power to do whatever I please and to be whoever I want.
Once I recognized this immense personal power, I started showing more up as myself, or whatever version of myself I wanted to embody at that time. I embodied different identities in social settings, and paid attention to see what felt most aligned with my true self coming out of me. Then I adopted the traits and actions that felt in alignment and integrated them more into my daily life and identity. Social settings became a new space of self exploration for me rather than a space of self consciousness.
Being drunk gave me an excuse to be silly and loud and wild. So does being sober. I used this newfound power as a space to push the boundaries of who I had previously been in social settings, but was still able to be in control of it. The bolder and brighter I started to shine socially, the more confident I became in showing up as my true self everywhere I went.
New social activities that I tried this year without the assistance of alcohol: karaoke, playing harmonica, dancing, dramatic campfire story re-telling, painting and showing my art to others. If I want to dance on that table or sing loudly, I do it. And I own it. I am forced to have no excuses and to be fully present and aware of my choices, which is incredibly powerful.
Alcohol not only separated me from my body, but it separated me from my people. Now, I show up more wholesomely as myself and am more present with people when I am with them. I would have never been able to explore this social space if I was too busy escaping it.
Alcohol clouded my brain. While drinking, while recovering, and even the moments between nights of drinking, my mind was never fully sharp. I couldn’t create or focus while my brain was cloudy. My immediate need while I was drinking was always to recover and soothe my body. So much so that the idea of getting ahead seemed like a distant dream. My weekends were spent horizontal and lethargic. The brain fog lingered and my personal projects and aspirations remained unfinished.
I realized how much time and energy I was spending on drinking. Not just the act of it; the purchasing of alcohol, the preparation of it, the actual ingestion, the unfortunate come down, the hangover and the next next day hangover. By removing the cloudiness of my brain brought on by alcohol, doors opened for me creatively and allowed me to maintain focus on projects and tasks to see them through to completion.
When I would be hungover, I could not think clearly or be comfortable in my body. This affected my ability to imagine, day dream and creatively process my thoughts. Without clear brain space to process, my ability to create became inaccessible. I could feel the creative energy inside of me wanting to be released, but the connection between my brain and my body was broken. This broken communication channel was the gap between idea and reality. I couldn’t use my body as a way to channel creative energy when my body was ravaged by poison. And our bodies typically are the ones bringing the inner creativity out (singing, dancing, painting, etc.) so my expression was hindered.
Now that I wake up every morning in a state of peace and balance, I am able to have a clear head to think and imagine. My thoughts show up clearly to me now and I’m able to more clearly envision the ways that I want to creatively express. The more aware of my body I became, the more I’ve been able to use it as a form of creative expression and bring my ideas to reality.
When I was drinking, my awareness would exit my body. I would dance and stumble around without much thought, waking up bruised and sore. This not only left a bruise on my body, but also on my brain. Paying attention to anything deeper than a rerun of an old television show felt like a challenge the day after drinking. Planning, envisioning and strategizing were completely out of the picture, which left my long term goal planning and short term execution nearly impossible. Not only did this affect my bigger picture goal planning, but it also took out the joy of noticing and paying attention to the small things in life.
Our brains are always on whether we want them to be or not. Consciousness allows us to take in our surroundings to help us survive. Drinking turned my brain off, or made me think it was off, for periods of time. It was challenging to turn it back on. Having a brain that is always on is an immense blessing. By allowing my brain to function without the impediment of alcohol, I’ve been able to focus more deeply and intensely, and also for longer periods of time.
I’ve read twenty five books this year. I started learning French. I taught myself how to paint with watercolors, play the harmonica and dance ballet. I have more time and brain space to not only figure out what I want to focus on, but to actually do it. I can feel myself holding on to focus longer, which makes learning and observing an enjoyable activity.
This focus on external activities allowed me to also explore and focus on my internal world. Because of my frequent alcoholic endeavors, I would find myself successfully dodging important signs from life that I needed to face. Having no other escape in the way that drinking provided me, I was forced to take a look at the challenging parts of my inner world and really connect the dots in order to understand a more full picture of who I am today. It allowed me to uncover spaces that I may have previously diverted by finding a party to go to. I’m deeply grateful for this experience.
I used to enjoy drinking because it would help me forget whatever else was going on in my life. Now, I’ve built a life that I don’t want to forget about or escape from. I wake up every day with a renewed sense of self and place in this world.
I encourage everyone who has questions about alcohol’s presence in their lives to look at it with curiosity. I encourage them to dig deeper into how it may be hindering them from living their best lives. I’m not entirely sure where 2021 will lead me, but I feel more alive and aware than I ever have been.
California Associate Clinical Social Worker #ASW100012
Under supervision of:
Javanne Golob #77915
San Francisco, California
I am a clinical therapist specializing in providing personalized care for individuals seeking support in addressing their mental health concerns, including trauma and addiction.