Month of Living Without: Alcohol

For the past month I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol. I realize for many this is no big thing, and if this is you, bear with me. I’ve never been a heavy drinker, but I’ve also never been known to shy away from a few beers or a bottle of wine. And after living in China for nearly 9 years, where drinking is cheap and accessible, I’ve long wrestled with how much I find myself drinking.

My propensity for drinking is not the alcoholism I had been warned about my whole life. It is not a crutch nor an addiction. It is, simply, a bad habit. It is a couple glasses of wine after the kids go to bed, a few beers on a hot day (something there is no shortage of here in Hainan). But in aggregate, it’s long been adding up. As such, I decided it was a prime candidate to kick off my first month of “living without”.

A Year of Living Without is something that Leo Babauta at zenhabits came up with and is currently in the process of. He describes it as follows:

So what’s the Year of Living Without?

Each month, I’ll go the whole month without one thing I do every day. Something that I tend to not want to give up, for various reasons.

I’ll give up something for a month, then evaluate whether it was something I enjoyed giving up, whether it’s worth leaving it out of my life, or if I want to put it back in after the month’s over. The next month, I’ll try giving up something else …

How It’s Gone

It was actually a lot easier than I had expected giving up booze for the month. The vast majority of temptation was pretty easily removed by just making sure there wasn’t anything to drink in the house. Much like my lack of consumption of cookies or sugary drinks, it just not being here was enough of a barrier for me not consuming it.

The challenge at home was not really the desire to drink, but rather the routine of it. I was used to sitting down with a glass of wine to sort of say “ah, day done!” Without that, something felt missing, or incomplete. To combat that, I substituted the wine/beer for a glass of Coke Zero … not exactly health-in-a-bottle either, but the goal was breaking the habit.

By far the most difficult thing was going out to eat with friends. I remain convinced that not drinking with a meal, especially outside on a patio in the wonderful weather we have here right now, defies the physical laws of the universe. Every single time we were out, I was eager to grab a cold one and enjoy the evening with friends. Not coincidentally, I curbed going out a bit this month to help assure I’d go the distance.

Not having alcohol while out with friends definitely didn’t hurt the experience — I have pretty decent friends, whom are all quite tolerable without inebriation. Unlike in my younger days when I would drink to feel drunk; since having kids, getting irresponsibly drunk is rarely on the table. So, as much as my head tells me the night just wouldn’t be complete without a bottle of something, the reality is that it’s mostly just a high-carb/low-quality vice born out of repetition.

Mind you, it’s not one I’ve given up for good. But I do think a month without alcohol has allowed me to step back and gain a bit of perspective on why I do the things I do — particularly the things that don’t offer a whole lot of net gain to anything.

Going forward, I will probably resume my nightly wine ritual, though I’ll be keeping it to a single glass a night. And if and when I drink beer, I’ll be forking out the extra coin for higher quality (read: non-Chinese) beers. Not only will the added expense assure that I more-deeply consider my choice of beverage, but it will also help assure I’m not consuming the copious amounts of formaldehyde I no doubt have put into my body over the years here.

What’s Next?

I’m not certain if I’ll do as Leo has, and keep this up for a full 12 months, but now on the eve of completing my first month, I have decided to continue forward with it.

There was a certain amount of strategy in choosing November to be my month sans-alcohol. I doubt I could have made it the month had I attempted it over the holidays in December. Instead, for this month I’ll be giving up social media. Primarily this will mean not visiting Facebook, though I’ll also not be going on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ either.

I did this for a week this past summer, and was quite happy with the results. It didn’t take long afterwards to fall back into bad habits though, and so the longer period of “take 2” will hopefully help better cement things this time around.

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