Most of us love a glass of wine over dinner or a cold beer on a hot summer day.
In moderation, it can make us feel good. It’s part of our culture. We enjoy sharing a few drinks with friends.
But what happens physically and mentally when you quit alcohol for 30 days? I tried this simple experiment in 2010.
Seemed easy enough. I wanted to test my self-discipline. Little did I know then that 30 days would turn into six months, which became one year. After five years, it’s now part of my lifestyle. Life is simply better without alcohol.
People often ask me about my story.
I was a journalist for 20 years, and alcohol was part of the culture. I’d enjoy a few quiet beers during the week and go a little harder most weekends. It all seemed like good fun.
But on March 12, 2010, I awoke with a shocking hangover after a particularly fun night at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
I walked into an International House of Pancakes for a “hangover breakfast.” The menus had photos of the food on offer—big, bright, bold colors. The sight of those scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes made me feel ill. I said to myself: “James, what are you doing? You’re a 34-year-old man who’s getting fatter and more tired.”
I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. With emotions running high, I made a decision on the spot to go 30 days alcohol-free.
The first two weeks were hard. When socializing, my heavy-drinking friends would give me a hard time. “You’re not Australian!” they’d say. To make life easier, I changed my social environment. Although I didn’t fire my friends, I began to spend more time with those who drank moderately or not at all. We are often a result of the people we spend time the most time with, so I engineered this to support my new habit.
I also changed my home environment, removing alcohol out of sight. The visual cues were gone.
After two weeks, I felt better, slept better and had more mental clarity.
After 30 days, I’d lost an incredible 13 pounds (almost six kilograms) of fat around my stomach and looked better naked—just from no alcohol.
I had more money in the bank, and my skin looked considerably better. I had the mental space to integrate other positive habits into my life, such as daily exercise and reading. I now enjoyed getting out of bed early for the gym and reading whenever I had a spare moment. I began to lead a more interesting life because I had the energy to experience interesting things.
Before a night out, I always had a planned commitment with someone for the following morning. It could be yoga, hiking, running, or coffee—anything that was healthier, made me start early and kept me accountable to someone else.
“Bugger it, I feel great,” I said to myself. “Keep going and see how far it takes you.” Little did I know just how far I could go.
After 60 days, I craved a cold beer. Or a red wine. Or a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic with a dash of lime. When it was hot outside, I’d start dreaming: “I could smash an ice cold beer right now!” I breathed deeply, held my breath for 10 seconds, and exhaled slowly. I reminded myself that I was choosing not to drink. Other times I would just jump up and down—anything to the change my emotional state of feeling like I needed a drink. It was empowering.
When entering a bar or restaurant, I’d walk confidently to the bar and repeat in my head: “I’ll take an iced water with a piece of lime, please.” And that’s what I ordered. Whenever a waiter asked, “Can I get you started with some drinks?”, I’d reply, “Yes, I’d like an iced water with a piece of lime, please.” Rinse and repeat all night. I felt amazing, hydrated, clear-headed, and my final bill was a lot less!
After three months, I felt terrific. People didn’t even notice that I wasn’t drinking. Far from thinking I was an alcoholic in recovery, women told me they were impressed with my self-discipline. “Beautiful,” I thought. “I can stop drinking and still be fun, entertaining and attractive to women.”
However, guys were always suspicious of my alcohol-free lifestyle, hypothesizing that I was a recovering alcoholic who “obviously” had a problem. This was all part of the test. I smiled, pointed to my head, and gave my stock response: “I’m too strong in my mind!”
If people offered a drink I’d say, “No, thanks. I’m not drinking at the moment.” Or, “No, thank you. I’ve got to get up early in the morning.” Or “No, thanks, I’m the designated driver.” Or, “No, thanks. I’m driving.” Or, “No thanks, I’m taking a break from alcohol right now.” When people saw my confidence and conviction, they usually left me alone. If they didn’t, I was okay with it being their issue.
Some people even tried to slip vodka into my drink so I had to make a point of always sniffing the drink they’d ordered me.
By six months, I was in the zone. I felt energetic and healthy, and I started to thrive on telling people that I had temporarily stopped drinking.
The period between six and 12 months was fairly easy—and this is where I noticed the most dramatic changes.
My relationships became considerably better—romantic and platonic.
I was more considerate and started thinking about how I could help my friends—rather than how they could help me.
My work productivity soared. More opportunities—like an ESPN audition to host SportsCenter—came my way. When it did, I was focused, energetic and seized the opportunity. I got that gig and hosted SportsCenter for two years.
If you want to quit drinking like I did, go for it. If you simply want to reduce alcohol, go for it. But my story clearly shows some of the positive benefits of quitting alcohol, even for 30 days—only positive things can happen to your health, wealth, love and happiness.
More from James on his journey:
Bonus: 3 Buddhist Tips for Living Life.
Author: James Swanwick
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own