SIX REASONS TO SOBER SEPTEMBER
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Happy September, friends! There is nothing quite like the start of a new month to make me feel like I need to get my life together. Anyone else? In honor of Sober September, I want to talk about one aspect of my life that does feel together, and that is my recent break-up with alcohol!
This is my first time participating in Sober September, but not my first time spending a substantial amount of time alcohol-free. As of today as I write this post, I am 73 days sober. I just celebrated 10 weeks clean! I made the decision to give up alcohol in late June, following a lot of deliberation, denial and defensiveness. My relationship with alcohol during quarantine was NOT healthy. As I was spending so much time at home with little to occupy my attention, I found myself busting out the wine when it was NOT 5:00 somewhere. I was drinking a lot and I was drinking often. Between February and June, I developed a dependence that left me with trembling hands and moodiness if I hadn’t had a drink by late afternoon. The first time I noticed those side effects, probably around mid-April, I recognized it as the serious problem it was. I knew enough about alcoholism to know that I needed to quit, but I spent nearly two months burying my head in the sand because I was terrified of giving up the crutch I relied on to get me through long, tedious days at home. Eventually, with a lot of help from my husband and my mom, I bid farewell to my acerbic old frenemy and I’ve been dry ever since.
Sober September feels like a good occasion to talk about my own experience with getting clean and share some of the benefits I have personally observed in my 10 weeks of sobriety, but particularly within the first 30 days!
So, what is Sober September? What is this even a thing? I've always thought it was just an appealing alliteration, but apparently September is also National Recovery Month, making it a good opportunity for some sober solidarity. Some credit the naissance of the companion to Dry January to people seeking a 30 day detox between summer partying and the boozy holiday season. Autumn is also typically thought of as a time of renewed energy. Regardless of its origin, Sober September is trending and the “sober curious” are seizing the day.
Here are a few reasons to get on board:
1. Get to know your relationship with alcohol and make sure you're in control
Sometimes it takes taking a step back to see the whole picture. While you aren’t drinking, pay attention to the situations where you find yourself wishing you had a drink. Are you bored? Is it just habit? Looking for an escape from reality? Self-medicating away some anxiety? Rewarding yourself for something? Taking the edge off a social situation? All of these are extremely common reasons for drinking. When you’re in the routine of drinking whenever it strikes your fancy, you don’t feel the need to analyze your motivations for throwing one back. When you aren’t allowing yourself to drink, you have to come up with alternate solutions to the situations that make you crave alcohol. I learned very quickly that part of my drinking was purely out of habit, in that I enjoyed having something besides tap water to sip on in the evenings. Enter club soda over ice with a fresh squeezed lime, and my oral sipping fixation is satiated completely sans wine. A larger issue I had was that I drank frequently to cover up feelings of depression and anxiety, so I reached out to my psychiatrist to see if there was a way to manage these symptoms that didn’t exert total control over my life the way alcohol did. Turns out, there is another way for me, and I have come a long way these past few months by working with my doctor. When it came to enjoying alcohol as a form of reward, I found other satisfying ways to pat myself on the back. This was an easy one. I’m extremely materialistic and highly food motivated. There’s a gourmet bakery down the street that makes the world’s most decadent cakes. Friday end-of-week wine night has turned into Friday end-of-week cake night. Good-job-meeting-a-goal wine has become good-job-meeting-a goal-sweater. You get the gist. Take a hard look at the reasons you drink and think up alternatives that you can carry forward when your 30 days are up.
2. Remind yourself you don’t need alcohol to have fun
For me, I was so convinced that alcohol was a major reason meaningful events were so joyous and memorable. I thought I needed to drink to make special occasions special and I romanticized the role alcohol played in many of my happiest adult memories. About 10 days into my sobriety, I was maid of honor in my cousin’s wedding. I was terrified of the event and how it would impact my newfound alcohol-free lifestyle, but I was also sad because I believed I wouldn’t be able to have fun and let loose at a wedding reception without a few vodka tonics. As it is pretty plain to see in these uber flattering photos, that wasn’t the case.
I was able to be completely carefree and have a blast, completely forgetting that there wasn’t any vodka in my soda. There were even some fringe benefits to a dry wedding, such as no blurry, squinty-eyed selfies on my Instagram story, some actually cute photo booth shots, no stress over breaking the seal and spending the night waiting for the restroom, no drunk dizzy spins from the reverse reverse in the Cha Cha Slide, no slurring during my speech, I didn’t fall asleep, I didn’t lose anything AND I have vivid memories from the whole night. It had been so long since I had done something so social with no social lubricant that I had forgotten it was even possible. If you have the opportunity to attend a celebration dry during Sober September, I hope you have a similar experience and leave with the takeaway that maybe you don’t need to be totally intoxicated to be the life of the party.
3. Obvious physical health benefits of 30 days without alcohol
Blah blah blah, nothing we haven’t heard a thousand times before, but pretty major. Giving up alcohol can improve your quality and quantity of sleep, help you lose weight (I’ve lost 10lbs since July!), stay hydrated, reduce the amount of fat in your liver (by 15% for just one month sober!), give you healthier skin (my complexion has never looked better), enable better performance in the bedroom ;), enjoy smoother digestive processes, have a happier heart, and the list goes on. Giving up alcohol for any amount of time has massive physical health benefits on just about every organ and reduces your risk levels for certain types of cancer, liver disease and heart conditions.
4. Lesser known mental health benefits of 30 days without alcohol
We all know alcohol is a depressant. It may temporarily boost your mood, but ultimately it lowers the serotonin levels in the brain that help regulate your feelings. The emotional roller coaster that comes with intoxication can have serious consequences, including reckless, dangerous behavior and even suicide. Additionally, hormone fluctuations from drinking can cause severe “hangxiety”, which can leave you feeling pretty stressed out and generally panicky the morning after a binge. Your brain works hard to accommodate alcohol, and a night of heavy drinking can throw your neurotransmitters out of whack for hours or even days before they regain their natural balance. When you take a break from drinking, you will probably find your mood becomes more consistent and you’re more able to explain and predict your emotional responses. 30 days of logical thought processes sounds pretty appealing to me. And once you fully recognize the hangxiety for what it is and that it isn't a normal part of your brain activity, you’ll be better prepared for it and more adept at quashing it when you go back to drinking.
5. Improved cognitive function after 30 days without alcohol
Alcohol is not a friend to brain function, you probably know that, but did you know that having roughly five or more drinks in one setting can screw up your cognitive function for as long as three days? You can literally spend three full days completely unable to think clearly after one semi-frisky night. Think about how that could impact your performance at work after a wild weekend. Even scarier, long term heavy drinking can actually cause physical shrinkage of the frontal lobes of our brains and inhibit the brain’s ability to repair that damage. The loss of frontal lobe mass can permanently impair our ability to think and concentrate. Taking a break from imbibing gives your brain time to repair itself and keeps your cognitive skills in tip top shape.
6. Have a 2020 win
2020 has been hard. It hasn’t been anything anyone could have possibly predicted. I know in many of our worlds, it feels like we’re just being subjected to even worse news after already bad news and the feelings of helplessness continue to spiral on their downward trajectory. We’re feeling disillusioned, defeated, directionless. I had a lot of resolutions going into 2020, as I’m sure many of us did. While I have still been able to make progress on a few small ones, many others are on hold indefinitely, pending some sort of return to whatever new normalcy is around the corner. Sober September, however, offers you a highly achievable goal with life changing benefits you will see in just 30 days. Sober September is a chance for a major 2020 win. There aren’t many better things you can do for yourself right now. Once you say challenge accepted to Sober September, you’re working towards a great big reason to celebrate and feel good about yourself. Come October 1, you’ll have the perfect reason to pop a well-earned bottle of bubbly.
What do you think? Are you going to give it a try? I would love to hear about how it goes for you!