I Gave up Drinking for Lent

I haven’t had a drink since the 5th of March – just shy of five weeks. I am completely transformed. The absence of alcohol in my bloodstream has solved all of my problems – both personal, and professional – and has left me with a slimmer waist, a glowing complexion, and an unwavering feeling of benevolence toward my fellow man.

So long as I live, I never want to so much as look at another glass of wine, let alone allow it to pass my lips.

Or, at least, that’s what I’d like to tell you. But I’m afraid it would be the biggest pack of lies I’ve ever told.

The truth is that when next Thursday rolls around, and Lent is officially over, I am going to congratulate myself with a delicious bottle of Pinot Noir. And I’m going to take it from there.

Why did I give up drinking for Lent?

Let’s start with why I decided to abstain. There were two reasons – neither one of them concerning religion, and only one of them concerning the effects of alcohol on the body.

A quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald states the first reason better than I could.

“First you take a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes you.”

That was reason one. Drinking had become far too non-negotiable for me. It’s not that I couldn’t possibly refuse a drink, or that I spent the day not quite feeling like myself until I could indulge. But I had grown increasingly wary of the way – unless there was a very good reason not to – pouring myself a drink had become a firm fixture in my day, like showering, brushing my teeth, or taking my medication.

Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t drinking against my will, and wishing I possessed the strength to quit. But the wires were getting crossed. Did I actually want a drink, or was I just accustomed to having one? Wednesday night with no real plans? A glass or two of wine whilst I cook dinner, then. Hmmm, it’d be rude not to finish the bottle. Don’t need to be up early tomorrow? Be rude not to have a whiskey. They serve beer at this cafe? Be rude not to order one.

I had lost the ability to consciously decide whether to drink or not, and I wanted to claw it back.

Reason two was nothing more than garden-variety curiosity.

Like I said, whilst never graduating to alcoholism, I have enjoyed a lot of drinks over the last ten years. A few months ago, I tried – and struggled – to remember a single sober period of longer than a week in the last decade. There was one time in 2014 when – just to prove to myself that I could – I went a week without drinking. But other than that? Maybe. But I don’t think so.

That got me thinking – what if there was a better life that I was missing out on? What if I was sapping my potential, perhaps severely? What if I drinking was worsening my ADHD symptoms?

I don’t really get hangovers. I don’t spend all our money on boozing. Drinking hasn’t been silently ruining my life. But without taking it out of my life for a bit, how could I ever know what – if anything – awaited me on the other side?

So… what’s it been like?

I hate an anti-climax as much as the next guy, but I’m afraid that’s all I am able to give you. It’s been fine.

It’s actually been a hell of a lot easier than I thought it would be. The few times where I’ve actually wanted a drink, or where I’ve been in a situation – like having friends over, or being out at a bar for a gig – it really hasn’t bothered me that much that I couldn’t have one.

My sleeping has changed. In general – my body clock forever ruined by years of getting up for school – I can’t sleep past 8 or 9 o’clock, no matter what time I go to bed, no matter what time I actually need to get up. In general, I’ll get about 7 hours of sleep. A few days after my last drink – a very generous birthday present Scotch – I slept for about 11 hours, and this happened a couple of more times. After about a week, I starting waking up with what felt like a hangover. This went on for about two weeks, and then stopped.

My moods are different. I feel slightly calmer, slightly cleverer, slightly sharper. I feel as though there’s a little more time and space for my thoughts. I feel – in the most subtle way – as though more things are possible.

My famously weak bladder certainly prefers sobriety. I’m drinking plenty of water and not going to the toilet anywhere as often – even throughout the day.

The hidden benefit

Perhaps I just wasn’t getting pissed enough – though I doubt it – but I expected for this experiment to be a lot more difficult than it was, and for it to result in more dramatic changes to my mind and body. I should be glad it wasn’t and didn’t, I suppose.

But am I glad I did it? You bet. Why? Well, whilst not getting what I expected out of it, I got something even better.

I got the pride and satisfaction that comes from deciding to do something and following through on it. And to me, that’s priceless. That’s worth so much more than than improved liver function, or fewer trips to toilet, or an extended life-span.

I am shocked and surprised that I could hold it together to not have a drink this long. Not because I was hopelessly addicted, but just because I am not somebody who can normally stick to things. Easy things, hard things, after two or three days, I’m onto something else.

I’m not used to feeling proud of myself. It’s nice. But I still have nine days or so left. Then I can crack open that bottle of wine. Mmm.

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