How I successfully went a whole month without alcohol
Or as my husband likes to call it, “Sobember,” No-Drink November is my spin on No-Shave November – a month when men grow out their mustaches or beards to help raise awareness for cancer and men’s health – they gave up shaving, I gave up drinking.
Until recently, I had only really ever heard of people doing Dry January. I, myself, had done a version of a Dry January a few years ago, with a caveat – I only cut out beer, but still allowed myself to drink wine and liquor (mostly bourbon). So, it was really more of a drinking “diet” vs. cutting out alcohol completely. Then, at brunch one Sunday with my family, we, like always, ordered mimosas when to my surprise one of my cousins said she wasn’t drinking.
My first thought was she was pregnant (again). But she immediately followed up with, “I’m doing Sober October.” “That’s a thing?” I asked. “Apparently,” she said. “I kind of like it. I may keep it going after October.”
I thought she was crazy at first. Why would anyone willingly cut themselves off from alcohol? Something I enjoy on a weekly, if not almost daily basis. That makes me sound like an alcoholic, but who doesn’t love a glass of wine with dinner? A beer to take the edge off a stressful day at work? A sip of bourbon to cool the nerves after a long day?
Then I started seeing a few articles about the benefits of cutting out booze for a whole month, including this CNN article: You may need a Sober October more than you think.
The article brings up a few points that stuck out to me:
More and more people are questioning their relationship with alcohol and the role it plays in their lives.
The pandemic has increased a lot of people’s drinking (mine included).
Cutting out alcohol could help you be more mindful about how much you drink and perhaps even why you drink – other than because it’s what you normally do.
But a whole month without any booze? I couldn’t even remember the last time I went a full week without it, which is exactly why I figured I might as well give it a try. The holidays are typically an excuse to drink even more than usual with all the get-togethers and parties, so wouldn’t it be interesting to see if I could attend all those gatherings without having a single sip of alcohol?
I decided to document my month of sobriety so that others could learn from my experience, in case they are interested in doing something similar, especially with the new year upon us.
Week 1: Sparkling waters and mocktails to the rescue
I was actually a little surprised to note that not much had changed after the first week. Not that I thought I would have any kind of withdrawals, and I have to admit I was glad to see that I don’t have any kind of physical dependence on alcohol, but it also wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Did I think about wanting to pour myself a drink each day? Sure. When I went to the grocery store was I constantly bombarded with displays and cases of alcohol that were very tempting? Of course. Did I purposefully avoid activities that typically called for drinking? Maybe.
Take my Wednesday night bowling league, for example. It’s literally called a “Pizza and Pitchers” league, where you pay $16, and you get two tickets for your team that are either good for a pizza or pitcher of beer. I’ve been in this league for three years now and we’ve never gotten a pizza if that tells you anything.
For me, drinking water has always been a struggle. I typically wake up, make a cup of coffee, maybe drink some water with my lunch and throughout the workday, then I switch over to alcohol for the evening/dinner. So, when I decided to cut out the alcohol, I knew I was going to need something else to drink other than water, so I started experimenting with sparkling waters.
My favorite by far is the Sparkling Ice brand of sparkling flavored water you can find at most grocery stores. Schnucks and Dierbergs (here in St. Louis) regularly have them on sale for $1 a piece. My favorite flavors are the lemon lime, strawberry lemonade, kiwi strawberry, and strawberry watermelon. I like to pour them in a wine tumbler over ice (same way I used to drink my alcoholic seltzers).
There’s also plenty of mocktail recipes out there that are fun, including this great apple-ginger fizz that I made for a friend’s birthday one night. I brought vodka for everyone else, but I made mine non-alcoholic and it was great! This was also my first night out since quitting alcohol, and we went to one of our favorite drinking establishments in the Grove, Takashima Record Bar, which also happens to have a great selection of non-alcoholic drinks, appropriately listed under the label of “Temperance.” My favorite was the Sun Goddess.
I also make a yummy hot apple cider drink that I typically add vodka too as well, but I think it tastes just as good without. I got the recipe from a friend, and it’s pretty simple:
Hot apple cider
½ gallon of apple cider
½ gallon of apple juice
1½ cups of sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
Put them all in a pot, stir, bring to a boil, and then let simmer.
Week 2: How to socialize without drinking
Sadly, on Week 2 of sobriety, we had to put down our dog, Penny. She was 16, and the second dog we had to put down in less than a month. That was hard. My willpower to not have a drink definitely waned that day, but I stayed strong. I wanted so badly to drown my sorrows in a glass (or bottle) of wine, but instead had to face those emotions raw and unaffected.
That was something that quitting drinking has made me realize – how often I would turn to it when I was facing a difficult or stressful situation. How I would use alcohol as an “escape” from whatever harsh realities I didn’t want to face at the end of the day.
The CNN article I mentioned earlier features an interview with an author, Annie Grace, who wrote “This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol,” and she “encourages people who are using a sobriety challenge to take note of when they feel the urge to drink and what purpose it serves.”
It has also made me think more clearly about the true pros and cons of drinking. I could count on both hands (and then some) when alcohol has negatively affected my life, but how many times could I count that it had positively affected my life? Not many. And could I have enjoyed those moments without alcohol? Probably.
However, I’ve found even now, a month later, there are still times when I just want a drink. In Week 2, there was a day we spent raking up all the leaves in our yard, and all I could think about when we were done, all hot and sweaty, was how good a nice, cold beer sounded.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to avoid all social gatherings for an entire month, so we went to a friend’s party right after I hit the two-week mark. It was easier than I thought. I brought a tumbler full of hot apple cider (see recipe above), so no one questioned whether I was drinking or not. I’m not sure anyone would have cared anyway, because when you’re in your mid-thirties, does it really matter if other people are drinking or not? Are you having a good time? If the answer is yes, then what everyone else is doing shouldn’t affect that.
One of my friends reached out to me about getting together – typically we would probably grab a drink somewhere, but when I told her I had given up alcohol for the month, she suggested going to a cat café (also because of the loss of my two dogs). We went to Mauhaus in Maplewood, and I would highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already! You have to make reservations, which cost $11, but it includes a coffee, plus it goes to a good cause – all of the cats are adoptable from Stray Haven Rescue.
Week 3: A sober getaway
Then, the real test came. At the end of Week 3, I flew to Tampa for a work conference. Not only had it probably been 15 years since I’d gone this long without alcohol, but it had probably been the same amount of time since I’ve traveled and not had a single drink.
To sweeten the deal, my mom flew in from California to hang out with me for the weekend. We hadn’t seen each other in nine months. This may sound odd, but traveling and hanging out with my mom typically go hand in hand with drinking – so I knew this was going to be a tough one for me.
After a full day of travel plus working at the conference, I had a couple hours to rest before my mom got into town. I normally would’ve gone to a bar to grab a drink to decompress. Instead, I went to a restaurant right on the water, got some conch fritters for a snack (so good!) and a Dr. Pepper. Definitely not the same as a glass of wine, but it was relaxing all the same.
When my mom got in town, we explored downtown Tampa, which typically meant bar or restaurant hopping. Instead, we just walked until we ended up back at our hotel and had dinner there. She had a beer with dinner, I had a ginger beer.
The next day the conference ended pretty early, so we had planned to take the ferry from Tampa to St. Petersburg, but it ended up raining all day so we went shopping instead. Normally, I probably would’ve turned a rainy day into day drinking, visiting the local breweries in town – my favorite way to explore a new city. I just had to keep telling myself, “Next time.”
That evening, we had a fancy dinner at Rocca, one of three restaurants recognized as “Bib Gourmand” winners by the Michelin Guide. My mom ordered a bottle of chardonnay, I had a cucumber spritz and an espresso. To be honest, while I would have loved a glass of wine with our incredible meal, I was happy to truly enjoy the food for what it was without alcohol tampering my judgment. We even went out to a bar after, called the Copper Shaker, where I asked the bartender to make me a non-alcoholic version of their Harvest Moon, a drink with lemon, honey, ginger, apple, and club soda. It was delicious!
I will say, I was surprised to see the cost of non-alcoholic drinks at many of the restaurants and bars I’ve been to, whether in Tampa or St. Louis, are not much cheaper than the regular, alcoholic drinks. Just a word to the wise to those who think they will be saving money while staying sober – it might not always be the case, but still worth it, in my opinion.
We ended the trip with lunch at a place called Whiskey Joe’s, which I know doesn’t sound like a great place to go for someone who isn’t drinking, but I picked it because of its location on the beach. Plus, I had a virgin pina colada that wasn’t too bad.
Week 4: A booze-free holiday
I rounded out my month of sobriety with one of the most gluttonous holidays in America – Thanksgiving. I had family coming in town, we had two Thanksgiving meals to attend, plus a night out with friends who were in town for the infamous Thanksgiving Eve – all without alcohol, again, for probably the first time in 15 years.
By this point, I had started to feel pretty comfortable without alcohol in most social situations, so it really wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. On Thanksgiving Eve, we went to Takashima again, so I already knew I could get good non-alcoholic drinks there. The Thanksgiving gatherings came with so much good food that I didn’t really have the space to dedicate to alcohol anyway, so it was a win-win.
Week 5: The bonus week
After going a full four weeks without alcohol, I still hadn't had my first drink and I wasn’t sure when I would. I’d heard quitting something like alcohol for at least 90 days is the best way to give your body a break and allow it to “reset.” Ninety days would put me into late January. I’m planning a New Year’s trip up to Chicago and a cruise to the Bahamas in that time – could I do those things without alcohol? The answer is obviously yes, but do I want to? Or would I rather try to slowly bring alcohol back into my life – allowing myself to drink a little at a time, moderately, to ease back into it?
Would I have my first drink on Dec. 1 or would I wait for a big event? I had a Friendsgiving with my college friends that Saturday which typically involved a night of heavy drinking. I decided I didn’t want to make a big deal out of what (and when) my first drink would be, and instead I would just have a drink when it felt right.
Well, after five full weeks, I decided to reward myself. Before we went to a concert with some friends, we stopped at Mission Taco for a bite to eat, and the timing just felt right. I ordered a Paloma. To my surprise, it wasn’t life changing. I realized I hadn’t missed alcohol all that much, but what I had missed was the freedom to choose to drink if I wanted to. The next question was, could I drink moderately? I limited myself to one more drink that evening – I had a City Wide beer at the concert, and that was it. That was all I needed. The best part? Still no hangover the next morning!
The next night we went to Friendsgiving, and I brought my sparkling water just in case I didn’t feel like drinking. I didn’t, at first, until some of my friends started passing around a few tasty beers, but I made sure to drink water in between and not drink too much. So far, so good.
Moving forward, I still plan to cut back on drinking, and I will try to not drink at all during the week. December will be hard because of all the happy hours and holiday gatherings, but it will also be good for me to try and abstain from drinking at every get-together – or at least try to cut back when I do drink. And who knows, maybe I’ll do another sobriety challenge in January after I get back from my cruise.
If you’re thinking about doing a sobriety challenge, maybe to start off the new year in 2023, here are some tips on what worked for me and what I found the benefits to be. If you’ve never done it before, I would highly recommend it – as it allowed me to evaluate my relationship with alcohol. I hope there are at least a few of you out there who have found my journey to be helpful in your own journey, whatever that may be.
Tips to a successful sobriety challenge:
Find fun alternatives to drink – such as sparkling waters and mocktails.
Find fun alternative things to do – go for a hike, go to a cat café, go bowling, grab a meal together instead of drinks, etc.
Give yourself things to look forward to outside of drinking – like good food! This tip also goes hand in hand with finding fun things to do other than drinking a cold one.
Plan ahead. This one also goes along with tips #2 and #3, but creating a plan of action, especially for social outings, helped me a lot. Bringing your favorite non-alcoholic options to a party or thinking about what you will want to drink with dinner helped me resist any temptations to drink alcohol.
Tell people you’re doing it. They will hold you accountable, respect your decision not to drink, and not pressure you or make you feel bad about not drinking (most of the time).
Benefits of quitting drinking for a month:
No hangovers. Let me repeat that: NO HANGOVERS. Waking up feeling refreshed on a Saturday or Sunday morning, ready to enjoy the weekend, has never felt so good.
It’s good for your liver. The CNN article said, “Even taking a break for a month is enough to just bring your liver enzymes down and for your liver to look healthier.”
Better sleep. Self-explanatory. I also found myself having more energy and just feeling well-rested and healthier, in general.
Food tastes better. I can’t verify this, but I am convinced food tastes better when you’re sober. Or, maybe I look that much more forward to food since it’s the only thing I can enjoy.
Weight loss. Also self-explanatory, but I do have to add some caution here, as I have noticed that I tend to treat myself with more sodas and desserts since I’m not drinking. So be careful.
Clearer skin! This was the case for me, anyway, and probably one of my favorite benefits so far, in addition to some of the weight loss I’ve seen. Most of my life, especially in my 20s, I’ve had issues with acne. If I had known that quitting drinking, or at least cutting back, would’ve helped, I may have tried this challenge a long time ago.
Kanna Rook has nearly 15 years of experience in marketing, communications, and public relations, and when she’s not coordinating media, writing, or crafting communications plans, she spends her time discovering new hobbies with her husband and traveling as much as possible.