no. 74 – The Sober September Episode

sober september and dry january podcast

Dry January. Sober September. No Drink November. No matter what it’s called or when it’s done, it’s the same thing — a month-long alcohol-free experience.

It’s also something I never thought I’d try… until I did. This past September I made a commitment to go alcohol-free for 30 days. Today’s episode is about what I experienced.

For a few years now, I’ve sensed that the “glass or two” of wine I was including most nights as a part of my nightly routine was becoming, well, too routine. I’ve gone through periods of measuring it out to be sure I was drinking “only the amount recommended” and even had a fairly lengthy stent of “cutting it out during the week” when I was macro counting with Emily Field.

But never in all of that time of cutting back or cutting out did I feel like it was my first choice. I still wanted to drink each evening, even if I felt like I “shouldn’t.”

I’m not sure what changed in the days leading up to September 1st that made a 30-day alcohol-free experience seem appealing. I’ve talked a bit on the show and in the Facebook group about some of the inner work I’ve been doing this year (be sure to check out The Enneagram Episode). I think somewhere in that work I began to realize my nightly glass of wine had a greater hold on my heart and habits than I cared to admit.

I’d be lying if I said that was the primary reason, though, that I decided to embark on a self-imposed Sober September challenge. My motives were frankly a little more selfish than that.

Simply put — I wanted to get a good night’s sleep.

I’ve talked on the podcast from the very beginning about the struggle I have to drink wine and sleep soundly. The older I get, the worse it becomes… and somewhere around September 1st I became fed up with the fight for sleep.

I decided on that first day of September to give my body a full month’s worth of alcohol-free living to see what happened. And what I realized was that the benefits of being alcohol-free FOR ME far exceeded my expectations.

Here’s what I noticed:

  • I slept better. This was no surprise. As I said, it was my primary motivation.
  • I felt stronger in my workouts. I noticed this a week or two in. And when I say stronger, I mean A LOT stronger… and a lot better overall… more energized. I also recovered more quickly with less soreness.
  • My thoughts were clearer. This is a bit hard to explain (and somewhat unexpected), but I realized that day after day, my head just seemed sharper. It’s worth noting that I’ve never been a binge-drinker, so this had nothing to do with being “hungover.” I wasn’t sure where the additional clarity originated, but I liked it.
  • I had a more positive outlook on life. This change was subtle but noticeable. I tend to find the dark cloud in every silver lining. During Sober September that seemed to fade.
  • My leggings fit a little better. Who’s to say if it was the number of calories that were cut by ditching the daily drink, the improved workouts described above or just an overall reduction in inflammation by being alcohol-free, but there’s no denying my belly bloat improved.
  • My grocery bill nudged down. While I wasn’t spending boatloads of cash on wine each week, a bottle or two of even modestly priced wine begins to add up.

But getting to the place where I saw these benefits for what they were didn’t happen overnight. The first 10 days were hard. Very hard.

Each afternoon around 4 o’clock I would question my decision to embark on this experience. Honestly, the main thing that kept me keeping going was that elusive good night’s sleep I had re-captured. As I crawled into bed each evening — 100% sober — knowing those late-night and early-morning tossing and turning sessions didn’t await, I found myself renewed in my commitment. (It’s worth noting that in this same 10-day period while the craving for a 5 o’clock pour kept calling, an afternoon sugar-craving crept in stronger than I expected.) It was all very real. And very strong.

Until it wasn’t.

After about 10 days or so, it didn’t seem like a battle. I don’t know if this is psychological, physiological or both. I simply realized one evening after dinner was done and the day was over that the thought to binge on brownies and a bold Cabernet hadn’t happened.

At the very end of the month, I had the chance to celebrate with some dear friends the wrap-up of an important work event. Given that my self-imposed Sober September deadline was coming to a close, I decided to celebrate with a glass of bubbly — typically my favorite drink of choice.

Experiment done. Lessons learned. Now, time to “get back to normal” and see what happened, right?

What happened was the bubbly didn’t taste as good as I hoped, but the sobriety felt better than I expected.

A few more weeks passed, and I found myself headed to a work conference that typically offers a plentiful selection of ways to sip away the stress of the day. I had not, at that point, really had anything to drink since I started Sober September (minus a glass of wine one evening in early October that gifted me with — as expected — an awful night’s sleep), so I decided to see what a “work trip” was like alcohol-free.

It was better than I ever would’ve imagined.

I typically leave this particular conference each year so exhausted that I’m asleep on the plane as soon as the boarding door closes. That’s the physical part. The mental part is that I always find myself anxious to hurry up and end each evening’s events. I’d always viewed the wine I was sipping on throughout the evening as something to take the edge off and make Regan a more enjoyable girl to be around. What I found is that instead, it was makeing Regan tired, fuzzy-headed and uninterested in others.

I suspect some of this is simply unique to me. I know plenty of people who become the life of the party after happy hour.

I’m not that girl.

Where normally I was the first to hop in the Uber to head back to my hotel, I actually wanted to stay and chat with people I hadn’t seen in a while. It was almost as if being sober made me more social. Go figure.

Am I vowing to never drink again?

No. I’m not.

I don’t think alcohol is wrong or bad or evil or whatever negative label some people want to give it. Being 100% truthful, I sorta wish this hadn’t been my experience.

Alcohol is EVERYWHERE in our society. It signals celebration, it can enhance an eating experience, and it accompanies most any social gathering. All of those things can happen without a drink, of course, but a feeling of being left out when you’re the one not drinking is ever-present… and perhaps more importantly to me, a worry that you don’t want others to feel judged by your choice. I chose Sober September as an experience for me and about me, not about others. And I’m choosing to continue it for the same reason. For myself.

Sober September started months ago. It’s now mid-December and I have had very little alcohol to date. I’m not committing to an alcohol-free life and I’m not asking anyone else to either. There are folks like Annie Grace leading that charge.

I’m not that girl either.

I’m simply a forty-something woman in midlife trying to find what, when, where and how I feel my best. Sober September showed me that for now, more often than not, it’s without a drink in my hand.