Photo: Getty / Luis Alvarez
When talking about alcohol, I generally describe my boozing habits as such: "I'm not a big drinker, but I do love a glass of wine five to six nights a week." I'm sorry... what? Do you smell the hypocrisy as strongly as I do from my seat over here? Although I rarely have more than two servings of anything alcoholic (wine, beer, or cocktails), my favorite number is one and a half, and I do have that number more than occasionally.
I'll put it this way: When prompted on doctor's office surveys, I list my alcohol habits as 1-3 drinks per week. Because, even though I drink a little bit more than that, it's not like I have a problem or anything. I just like feeling all warm and glowy, and I really do love the taste of wine. Raise your glass of Pinot if you can relate.
But for the last year or so, I've been thinking a lot about whether this approach toward alcohol is really serving me. I seem to suffer from hangovers way easier than the average person (or maybe that's just a "welcome to your mid-30s" thing?), and those hangovers last a lot longer than they used to.
Beyond that, I've been walking through life with what I can really only describe as a vague, underlying but constant feeling of being slightly off and mildly unwell. My tummy often feels distressed and I'm bloated a lot. I'm pretty much always tired, and I plod through the days, dreading meetings, assignments and work that used to fire me up.
So I decided to do something wilder than having a glass of wine every night—not have one at all—for 30 days. That's right, for an entire month, I committed to going completely booze free to see how I felt and if the alcohol had anything to do with my bad vibes and body issues. There were three big changes that happened—and they weren't at all what I expected.
I've always been a pretty anxious person. Back in my twenties, I claimed that a nightly glass of wine helped me calm down enough to drift off to sleep. But here's the thing: although it may have initially helped me head to dreamland, that alcohol seriously disrupted my REM cycle. And the older I get, the more noticeable this issue has become. When I drink, I get up to pee as many as five times a night. I have bizarre and often terrifying dreams. I grind my teeth like hating dentists is my full-time job. I wake before sunrise and I always feel exhausted.
It's no surprise that I slept so much better without the alcohol. For the first week or so, I did have a harder time falling asleep. Mostly because I was actually sitting with the anxious and nervous thoughts, rather than avoiding them. But once I got used to my new routine, I started to feel excited about bedtime, rather than dread it. What once seemed like a battle between my worries and my pillow had become a true act of self-care (Let's just admit it: For many of us, going to bed at a decent hour truly is a radical act of self-care). And the majority of the time when I woke up, I felt refreshed.
I'm a thin person by nature, but my tummy is far from flat. Most days, I look like a snake that swallowed a rabbit whole. I figured this was just my lot in life—walk through the world wearing flowy blouses and being a little gassy.
Turns out, it wasn't so much my diet or my digestion that caused the bloating: it was the booze. (Ugh. I know. This is still a tough pill for me to swallow as I consider "what happens next.") But, after three weeks of teetotaling, I woke one morning, looked in the mirror, and thought, oh my gosh I have abs. I am serious! I never knew I had abs! I immediately drove to the mall and bought an athleisure crop top. I seriously wanted to celebrate, but my go-to glass of "happy times rosé" wasn't an option. I made chamomile tea and took many selfies for posterity, instead. It was almost as fun.
If I could spend my life doing yoga in a forest alone, I would. What I mean to say is: being around other people gives me social anxiety. I would prefer to be by myself. But my day job requires I be around other people. I'm a yoga teacher and the manager of a yoga studio. So I spend pretty much all day, every day interacting with others. And all day, every day, I operate with a gentle hum of worry and stress running through my veins.
But something funny happened when I stopped drinking alcohol: I didn't feel as nervous about interacting with others. And I am pretty sure I know why. I realized that so much of my anxiety came from the fact that I very rarely felt well in my body. I was tired, my digestion was off, my nervous system was a wreck and I was insecure about my bloating. All of those things made me feel guarded and unable to show up for others. I was so focused on how badly I felt, I thought that I didn't have space to be present with other people.
So when my physical problems started to fall away, I noticed that my attitude toward others become a lot more genuinely cheery. I wasn't just pretending to enjoy conversations—I was genuinely loving talking to and learning from others. I realized I could really listen when my friends and community spoke, and I loved how that felt.
So my month is up, and I will be real with you: I've had several drinks. Between a new wine bar opening, a girls' night out and a really nice weekend that prompted dinner on the deck, my pendulum has swung a bit too enthusiastically back in the "same old, same old" direction.
That's not surprising: complete restriction of anything (food included) causes us to overdo it sooner or later. But there's also this: I'm hyper-aware of how imbibing has been affecting my body and my mind. And I'm not loving it. I think for the next month, I might try something even more challenging: seeking moderation and balance. It's so crazy, it just might work.