Earlier this year, I began seriously toying with the idea of living life without alcohol.
I had no scary story around alcohol, no rock-bottom, no obvious reason to quit drinking. But I had a gnawing suspicion that giving up the wine couldn’t hurt. And the handful of times that I’d gone dry for a stretch (like doing Whole30) had proven that I was on to something.
This year, I’ve decided to directly compare the dry spans to drinking spans. Giving this personal undertaking real attention has been illuminating, and I’ve benefited in some truly unanticipated ways.
Yes, I’ve enjoyed all of the usual perks of giving up the booze: I sleep better, I’ve lost weight, my morning yoga practice is stronger, my skin is clearer, and I’m basically a better and kinder and more decent human being when I’m not drinking. These are not to be dismissed; those alone are good reasons to consider giving up alcohol. It’s just that I’ve also found a surprising number of unexpected gifts from living a dry life.
Here are some of the benefits I didn’t anticipate:
1. Waking Up is a Good Thing.
After a night steeped in Chardonnay, I always woke up in the morning (and often, throughout the night) with a slam of consciousness, from sleep to neurotically-vigilant attention in less time than it took to open my eyes. My heart would pound, my palms would sweat, my breath would catch…it wasn’t pretty, and it was the worst way to start the day. That rush of alertness set me on edge for hours.
Going to bed dry (sober still sounds weird to me) means easing into wakefulness, an awareness of the day before I crash headfirst into it. I hear birds (!), I feel the sheets and my body in them, I smell the lavender on my pillow. All. Before. I. Wake. Up.
2 – Wine + Eggs = A No-No.
Always on the quest for easy, healthy recipes for weeknight dinners, I have often reminded myself over the years that a sweet potato hash, or leftover roasted veggies topped with some eggs would make an ideal meal. The problem was, I never found the right wine to pair with breakfast. Not because I couldn’t convince myself that the flavors were working together (never an issue there), but because even at 6 p.m., it felt iffy to put a glass of wine next to a plate of food that smacks of the morning hours. So, I never had breakfast for dinner.
Eliminating my nightly wine habit has introduced a number of new dinner choices into my repertoire. We are fed this idea that wine pairs well with food, which implies that we must imbibe while eating to fully enjoy the food in front of us. (Plus it’s after 5 o’clock! Plus it’s been a long day! Plus, I deserve it, c’mon.) I’ve happily debunked the myth that the meal wasn’t complete without a glass of wine, and now, at least sometimes, breakfast is what’s for dinner.
3. Tea, Tea, and More Tea.
I love tea. I live in a world of coffee-drinkers, but tea has always been my jam. Like eggs, however, tea has long been contained to the early hours of the day and was consistently abandoned after about 2 p.m.
One of the biggest things I lamented when considering giving up wine was missing out on the whole wine-tasting experience: learning about the culture, region, history, terroir, variety, pairing…well, you get the idea. Wine is a production. There are few things in the foodie world that have all the panache of wine.
But behold: tea. Guys, you can do the exact same with tea. It’s a beautiful, delicious, healthy world to dive into, replete with cultural lessons, regional specialties, rich historical context, differences in terroir, varieties all over the palate, and pairings I never would have guessed. I’m even working toward my tea sommelier certification. Who knew?
4. Dry Brushing.
In my drinking life, I never considered myself problematically hungover. But now that I’m dry, I will say that I have found not only the time and energy, but the sheer wherewithal, to incorporate things into my life that I never would’ve considered before.
Dry brushing, an age-old process of brushing skin with a natural brush to improve circulation and exfoliate skin, is one of those things. Is this a relatively small thing? Perhaps, yes. Is this life-changing? In and of itself, probably not. But if my previous lack of time and energy to introduce an arguably luxurious new item into my daily self-care regimen is a symptom of how I was living when I was drinking, then I much prefer the dry version of my life.
Some further examples of things that are front and center in my dry life (but I wouldn’t have endeavored while drinking): meal planning, bullet journaling, tracking my finances, flossing, and being more reliable, amongst many others.
5. Time Expands.
This is no joke. And it’s not just the time you get back on weekend mornings (hello, no more hangovers!). It’s that the quality of your time expands beyond the beyond.
Reading goodnight stories with my kids is more meaningful, to all of us I imagine, when I’m not two glasses in. Conversations with my friends during girls nights are deeper—and, bonus, I remember them the next day. I make better choices all-around, and one of those is consistently sticking to a reasonable bedtime, which bolsters the quality of my time in an exponential way because I’m more well-rested and energized overall.
We get one time to do this, to live this precious life. We get one time to be with our people and love on them and know them. We get one time to make a difference and do good work and generally make the world a more awesome place. Robbing ourselves of our own sweet clarity and focus and numbing out on that time? No, thank you.
Disclaimer: I’m not 100 percent sure how much of this is due to not drinking versus how much can be credited with just generally adulting in a more competent way. That said, the physical spaces in my life are significantly less cluttered than they were before. You guys, my car is clean. Like, all the time.
I have always had this tendency to surround myself with creature comforts. Many of them. When I go on a trip I don’t pack a book or two, I pack seven. When I leave the house in the morning, I don’t bring a handful of essential oils, I bring every single one of the oils that I own. This means that historically, my car and purse and desk and room and kitchen counter have always been junked up. No more!
Like I said, I’m not totally positive of the correlation between living life dry and decluttering; I just know there is one, and I’m reaping all the benefits of it.
As they say, outer order creates inner order.
7. All the Books!
I read. A lot. I read while I’m waiting in line. I read while I stir whatever I’m cooking on the stovetop. I read in the (parked) car while I’m waiting for my kids. It’s a lot of reading. And hey, I used to read a lot while I drank.
But in my dry spells, when my mind isn’t numbed out on wine, it’s amazing what I can read—and retain. And weirdly (but not weirdly, really), my attention swerves toward deeper and more gratifying content. I read more poetry, more memoirs, and more soul-delighting books. I try to be hip to how much mindless bullsh*t I’m consuming through TV and magazines and my Facebook feed. Turns out, I also take in far less fluff book-wise when I’m dry than when I’m drinking.
8. Understanding Fatigue.
I know this may not sound like a perk—because, for one thing, when you’re a 30-something working mom with a side hustle and a household to run and some semblance of a social life to maintain, who isn’t tired on the daily? So many of us are working our tails off and coming home to the most important job of our lives—our children—and trying to keep it all together while making sure there are fresh organic (gotta be organic!) veggies and clean soccer uniforms. Deep bow.
But when I’m consistently not drinking, I notice how intimately attuned I get with myself and my body. How I can easily decipher the difference between being snappy due to hormones and being snappy due to exhaustion. How I can tell if a headache is because of stress or from being tired. How I have a read on my energy level upon waking instead of hours later.
So, really, this isn’t only about understanding fatigue. It’s about knowing what’s what with my body and then being able to take care of myself accordingly. It’s ultimately about being proactive around my health. And that’s far easier to get in touch with when I’m not drinking.
9. Legit Not Wanting to Drink.
You guys, this is what I want to leave you with. One of the greatest, and for me unexpected, perks of not drinking is that I legitimately do not want to drink. I thought I’d feel left out, like I was depriving myself, like I was the lame one at parties. But in the midst of my dry periods over the past year, I have felt empowered. I have felt very strong in my choice to not drink. I have felt so solid in choosing my health and my clarity—and myself.
I have a lot of conversations with people around drinking and choosing not to drink. Some people think I’m downright nuts for not drinking, sure. But more often, I hear folks say something akin to, “I want to want to not drink.” And I know—I have done that dance. Paradoxically though, one of the easiest ways to truly want to not drink is to not drink.
If you’ve ever wondered what life would be like if you drank less, or gave it up altogether, just try it. Give yourself a week or a month off the booze—and just see what happens.
Author: Kelly Hanlin McCormick
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May