Thursday, December 5, 2013

30 Day Challenge #3: No Alcohol-- But Why??

NO ALCOHOL for 30 Days.

When I first expressed my commitment to this challenge, I imagined I would receive one of three types of responses:

1) "Are you insane!? But you love beer!!!" (shock and dismay)
2) "So what? I barely drink without trying." (unimpressed, wondering why this is even a "challenge")
3) "Good for you! That's a healthy choice!" (encouragement, approval)

Within my own judgments of myself I have experienced all these sentiments and emotions. Part of me feels like this is an ambitious challenge rich with opportunity for growth. But another part of me is kind of embarrassed that I can even call this a challenge. I mean, does my life revolve that much around alcohol that this is going to be a real struggle?

Good--or bad--or somewhere in between, the resounding answer is: YES. Alcohol is a big part of my life.

Now just to ease any possible concerns or misunderstandings, I drink recreationally and socially on average 2x/week on the weekends. I am very mindful about how it could be affecting my functioning and am always on the alert for drinking becoming a problem. I am careful to ask myself questions about whether I am using it to self-medicate or in a way that is particularly harmful. I am mindful about balance and moderation because honestly, everyone is susceptible to substance abuse. It doesn't matter who you are, how successful or intelligent or emotionally stable you are, addiction can happen to anyone. This isn't to say necessarily that I have sustained some perfect balance. In an ideal world of optimal health and wellness I wouldn't drink alcohol at all!

Many people seemed to assume that one of the primary reasons I chose not to drink was that I wanted to see if I could do it, to show myself that I do have control over my drinking. But these type of reasons barely registered on my radar when I set out to complete this task. Call it naive or cocky, but I kind of KNOW I can choose when to drink and when and how much, and don't really need a challenge to show me that.

So then why No Drinking?

For brevity and clarity's sake, paired with my love for lists, I present to you my reasons for this challenge:

1) Assistance with Fitness Goals. As some of you might recall my previous challenge was to exercise everyday for 30 days for an hour without a gym membership. After this challenge I was disappointed that I hadn't lost more weight, despite my high consistency with exercise and my somewhat spotty consistency with diet. I felt that eliminating alcohol would increase my results in the following ways:
       a) Alcohol calories: When you actually start to add up all those calories in an average night of                drinking, you realize it is actually quite significant. The best case scenario is 100 calories per
       b) Alcohol by-product calories: This includes poor food choices made at the end of a night of             drinking, or the following day when you feed into your cravings for fattier foods
       c) Weekend Mentality: When you have an unhealthy mentality, one unhealthy behavior tends to lead into others, and equally when you have a healthy mentality, healthy behaviors tend to encourage other healthy behaviors. The weekends are always a major problem for me in maintaining consistency with diet and exercise, and it occurred to me that perhaps alcohol was partially to blame. I imagined that no drinking would put me in a healthier mindset which might motivate me to stick to my other goals.

2) Questions about Cognitive Effects. Alcohol is bad for the brain. Period. My brain is really important to me. I wondered whether I would notice feeling sharper when I abstained from alcohol.

3) An Important Exercise in Presence. Alcohol is often used as a way to connect with others or your immediate experience more easily. Your defenses are down, your positive emotions are heightened, your anxiety is reduced, and you can let go of your worries with greater ease. Although I think alcohol can be an acceptable facilitator for social interaction and recreation, I don't think it should be a necessity. I wanted to stretch myself to have fun in situations where I would ordinarily drink, I wanted to socialize and be present with others without relying on liquid courage. I wanted to strengthen my presence muscle, so whether I am drinking or not, I can expand and deepen the connection I have to all my experiences, whether under the influence or not.

4) Mind Altering Substance called Sobriety. As humans we all have an innate desire to alter our consciousness. Typically we associate this with substance abuse, or other extreme situations, but in actuality their are a plethora of ways to alter your consciousness. I was curious about what I would notice...observe...experience...feel when I entered into a sustained state of sobriety that parted from my baseline experience, and in specific situations where alcohol was usually an important variable. What happens when you remove this one variable, but keep everything else constant? I didn't know exactly what kind of things I would see or notice, but I was certainly curious.

5) Increase Empathy for the Experience of Abstinence. I have had friends, family, and clients who have had struggles with substance abuse and who chose to transition to lifelong sobriety. A noble and challenging task indeed. Although a 30 day challenge is chump change in comparison to a life of sobriety, it's at the very least a taste of some of the struggles (and joys) of this lifestyle. It's also worth mentioning that many people make choices to stop using alcohol for many other reasons other than having had a substance abuse problem, and I wanted to know what this might feel like as well.

6) A Desire to Expand My Recreational Horizons. Without alcohol I'd have to get creative with my recreational activities in order to fill the void left by some of my usual alcohol-centric habits. And perhaps through this process I would get more in touch with what actually inspires and interests me, and be more motivated to do things I ordinarily don't do!

7) An Experiment to Aid in Future Moderation. Although I don't imagine I will ever give up alcohol completely, I do want to eventually cut back on my drinking due to the various negative effects it can have on your health. I thought perhaps I would experience the benefits so much that I'd be inspired to move towards more moderation after the challenge. I also figured it would give me the tools to embark upon this task of greater moderation whenever I chose to enact it.

8) Improved Mood? Over the last few months I have struggled with some bouts of depression, and I wondered whether eliminating alcohol for awhile could have a positive effect on my mood.

9) When You Give Something Up, Sometimes You Can Appreciate it More. Perhaps I would find my experiences with alcohol more satisfying after living life without it. When you add something back into your life you can do so more consciously and deliberately.

No...but the real reason I did it was so I could lower my tolerance and get buzzed off one beer. HA!

I have tried my best to reflect back on my motivations for entering this experiment as accurately as possible. I do acknowledge that it might have been better to write this part of the blog before the challenge so as not to cloud my assessment of this with the processing and pondering I've done along the way, but this is the best I can offer you. My next post will be a summary of my experiences and observations that were derived from this challenge.

P.S. Beer is still tasty.

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