5 months and 28 days ago I started a 40 day Program. I have written and spoken about it quite a lot lately, as I think it has changed many of my habits for the better.
Habits are by definition things we do because we’ve always done them. This often means that we don’t take the time to question why we do them, or whether we even want to continue to do them.
As part of the 40 day Program, I gave up alcohol and after 40 days, I felt so good that I decided to do it for 6 months, which just happened to be the exact duration of my yoga teacher training. Part of me wasn’t sure I could do it, making me reluctant to tell people about my ‘project’, but something inside me knew I needed it. I have never been a heavy drinker, but I have had drunken nights after which I have found receipts for rounds I couldn’t remember buying, and most definitely didn’t need. Those were very sporadic, so I wouldn’t quite say I had a problem with alcohol. I now realise however, that I often found myself drinking alcohol simply because that was the done thing, rather than asking myself if I really wanted a drink.
2 years ago I attempted to do dry January but caved in at an engagement party on the 24th of January. The next day I felt defeated, but didn’t regret my decision as I considered my circumstances to be justifiable – I didn’t know anyone there apart from my boyfriend; I was meeting many of his uni friends for the first time; the groom worked for a distillery, and it was an open bar. Did I also mention the long list of exciting cocktails? .
Last year I went slightly further, and I was proud to complete the whole month of January, but went back to drinking regularly as soon as I completed that month. Although both those attempts were challenging, I wasn’t the only one doing Dry January (since it is becoming quite popular) and since it is the post Christmas and overindulgence season, most of my friends were broke and/or not necessarily up for big nights, so it was manageable. 6 months ending in the midst of summer though; that was a whole different thing, and I am very proud to say I did it!!!
The first month was piece of cake. I was meditating twice a day, practicing yoga 6 days a week, not eating refined sugar and was almost vegan for most of that period, so I had other challenges keeping my mind off alcohol.
February was also easy. I missed a glass of wine over a romantic Valentine’s dinner, but that was about it.
In March it struck me I wasn’t even half way through. I got my ‘raving fix’ at Morning Gloryville (sober party on Saturday mornings). I also went to a concert and felt a little shy asking for water at the bar. I also found myself drinking silly amounts of sparkling water at a family gathering, feeling the need to tell my boyfriend’s family that I wasn’t pregnant or on a diet. Looking back, I don’t think any of them cared, but I felt a little uncomfortable not to join in the bank holiday celebrations. On the other hand I had no trouble waking up early to meditate and practice yoga, even on the weekends, as I never went to bed past 10pm. I felt healthier than ever.
April was when I met my biggest challenge yet. I went to Paris for the weekend to visit my best friend and we went for dinner with some friends from high school. A few people were curious but respectful about my project, but one of them, who may have had one too many, just didn’t get it. He offered me a drink 2 or 3 times until I said ‘I’m not drinking’ to which he replied, ‘are you Muslim’ and when I said I wasn’t he just said ‘oh so you’re pregnant’ and when I said no again he said ‘oh that’s right, you’re a hippy aren’t you?’. I have never thought of the word hippy as an insult but I felt hurt. I’m a confident woman but the conversation made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to justify myself, so I simply replied ‘if it makes you feel better to put me in a box, then yes, I’m a hippy.’ A very close friend, who’s dad and brother don’t drink, witnessed the exchange and told him to leave me alone. I don’t think he meant to make me feel uncomfortable, but the wine had made him quite loud and I was probably hyper-sensitive to his behaviour and the topic in general. Going home, I wondered if my younger self would have accepted an unwanted glass of wine to bring the conversation to an end.
In May, the days started to get longer, giving me a glimpse of the British summer to come. Not drinking during the winter months felt quite easy a part form my Parisian ‘altercation’ but as the days got warmer I started to wonder how I would manage throughout the first part of the Summer.
June turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. I spent more time doing yoga in the park than going for ‘drinks’ after work. Yogis are pretty damn understanding of any self inquiry work, which made socialising with them a lot easier, even if they were getting drunk. I discovered 5Rhythms (sober dancing mediation), which reassured me that I could still find occasions to Dance with other sober people. I went to two day festivals with friends who were drinking and for one of those my boyfriend decided to join me in my sober partying and admitted he was surprised by how enjoyable he found it. In June I also had one of my best friend’s visiting and I felt almost apologetic telling her I wasn’t drinking when we first met to go for dinner, but she just said to me she was trying to cut down so was happy not to drink either. In fact, I now realise that the majority of friends I have met for dinner over the past 6 months, have not drunk either, which makes me think that there is a real group effect in our drinking behaviour, but what if the norm was not to drink..?
It is now July and on the 9th, exactly 6 months after starting the 40 Day Program, I am going to be celebrating the end of Teacher training with my yogi tribe. I can’t wait to party with them, but a part of me is a little reluctant to drink. A few people with whom I have shared my concerns, have reminded me I don’t have to drink, however, as I said at the beginning, I think it is important to always question our habits and since not drinking has now become a habit for me, I want to try it on Saturday and make an ‘informed decision’ on whether I wish to drink again, or not.
Although I think a part of me already knows that deciding not to drink has major social implications, which I am not sure I am ready to face yet. Although most people say they don’t mind or care, I know from experience, that it can create a barrier. So when I go to Mexico later this summer, I want to be able to share a cerveza or a tequila, to bond with old friends I haven’t seen for 16 years, rather than saying ‘sorry, I don’t drink.’
The most common questions I have been asked:
Don’t you miss it? I wouldn’t say I missed its effect on me, maybe I don’t remember it well enough. But over the past 6 months, I did think on a couple of occasions I would have had a glass of wine over dinner at a restaurant while meeting friends, but I didn’t even contemplate giving in.
Did you mind seeing other people drunk? Not at all, I actually found it quite entertaining, until I didn’t, at which point I’d go home, but I never judged my drunk friends, after all, I have been drinking for most of my life.
Did you lose weight? No, but my body feels healthier than ever and while revising for my yoga exam I felt like my brain felt particularly clear but that could be more related to the meditation. I have also noticed people telling me that I am glowing, which makes me laugh as I think of it as what people say to pregnant women, but I guess it could be my sheer daily intake of vegetables haha!