If I sat my LBF (life before fitlicity) self down and told her that, in four years time, she’d abstain from alcohol, I am
fairly completely certain she would laugh boldy in my face. But I’d look her right in the eye with a knowing confidence because – being that I’m hypothetically from the future and all – it’s the truth.
As I write this, it’s been almost a year since my last sip of alcohol, which was a modest pour of a dry white wine, that I enjoyed with my newly-appointed husband as the sun set into a technicolor horizon from the beaches of Canggu, Bali. Before that, my last drink was a Miller Lite on the dance floor at our wedding, that was later used to play a bust-a-move dance circle version of Spin the Bottle. And before that, I’m not entirely sure. I vividly remember (or, don’t remember at all) the last time I was actually drunk was the year prior to that, at my surprise engagement party in April of 2018.
And even though the last year without alcohol has been one of the very best years of my life – maintaining a loving marriage, fitness PRs and skill development, achieving three professional nutrition & fitness certifications, starting and sustaining a thriving business, changing my career path – there was a time when I repeatedly stated, with steadfast assurance, that I would never, ever be willing to give up drinking alcohol (read: getting drunk) in my pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.
A brief-ish history of my relationship with alcohol
Born and bred into a very social family, drinking alcohol and getting drunk have been a part of my life for as long as I have memories. No matter the occasion – celebrating or mourning – or lack there of – just casually ’cause – my familial circle raised a glass to that. And, I liked it. Don’t get me wrong, I still do! My family is loving, sensitive, supportive, wild, fun, emotional, and they also happen to hang.
Mom, if you’re reading this, close your eyes 😉 My personal alcohol consumption began in high school, with swiped bottles of literally who-knows-what and contraband cans of cheap light beer that seemingly materialized out of thin air. My (parents’) humble home may or may not have become known as The Party House come my senior year. Transitioning into college, alcohol became a larger part of what I viewed as my intrinsic identity. I joined a sorority that had the reputation of partying harder than most fraternities. I could “handle” my liquor, but I preferred beer. You know, like a cool girl. I believed I could drink most of my friends under the table, and would take any opportunity to prove myself right. I had my own personal beer bong that was lovingly christened “Katniss” because I wore it, from party to party, secured across my body with a piece of pink string, not unlike The Hunger Games heroine’s trusted bow and arrow. I was resilient, either sleeping through hardly-there hangovers, soaking them up with a greasy bacon egg and cheese on a kaiser roll, or chasing them with another round of drinks. For four years, weekends (and weeknights) were spent in strange and familiar rooms filled with strange and familiar people holding bottles, and bags, and cans, red Solo cups in hand. But hey, I graduated Magna Cum Laude, so let it be known that I had my brains and booze, too. Post-graduation, the bottom of a cold, tall beer was a social safe-haven at the end of a long, stressful day. Where alcohol consumption may have decreased in frequency, it must have doubled in volume. My body and mind were less willing to rebound, so I learned to navigate life with a hangover – and by that I mean I learned how to nurse a pounding headache with fried, greasy takeout, a cold shower, and a permanent fetal position on the couch. I without a doubt drank with the sole intention to get drunk… and then some. Drunk Guilts and Sunday Scaries and Alcohol Anxiety were regular states of mind, cloudying my brain in murky and solemn thoughts. But despite any destructive side-effects, the main event – the memories, as I hardly remember them – were fun.
So, despite deciding to put an end to living my life in a constant state of dissatisfied autopilot, it makes sense that, at the time, I wouldn’t consider alcohol as a factor I was willing to change.
A healthy-ish approach to alcohol
When I set out on my quest to get healthy, I am certain that my vision was skin deep shallow with sights set on six-pack abs, which is why I was reluctant to imagine a future without six-packs of beer. As I went along, though, and my daily acts of nutrition and fitness built into practices that started resembling habits, I realized that I quite enjoyed the way I felt when I made healthy food and activity a priority. And, slowly but surely, I also learned that alcohol had a tendency to get in the way of that.
Here’s a consolidated timeline of how this realization went:
- Phase I: When I was out-and-about, I did my best with my newly formed knowledge to make food selections “lean, clean, and green” and “approved” according to the guidelines of the meal-plan based challenge I was following, even when inebriated. Who cared if I was consuming half my daily calorie requirement in beer, I was eating turkey burgers without the bun!
- Phase II: Instead of skipping meals to “save room” for alcohol and the drunk munchies that came with it, I’d actually eat my prepped meals and snacks according to the meal-plan based challenge I was following. Woo! This was a win.
- Phase III: I started bringing my own better-for-you snacks to the pre-game or house party, drunk munchies shifted from pizza rolls and mozzarella sticks to the likes of Cheerios & almond milk, protein bars, and carrots & hummus, and hangover meals lost the grease and gained some nutrients, in the form of protein pancakes or sprouted grain “french toast”.
- Phase IV: I stopped drinking with the intention to get drunk. This was a monumental milestone. At first, I had to consciously practice this by setting limits for how many drinks I was willing to consume within a certain time frame. I said “no thank you” when people offered me boozy beverages and added more water into my liquid diet. Over time, I drank less and less. 5 drinks became 3, became 1, sometimes became none. When I drank but stopped before the threshold of drunkness, I realized (or perhaps finally admitted) the impact alcohol had on my life, beyond being a catalyst for less-than nutritious food choices and inactivity. It’s depressive qualities lowered and slowed far more than my neural and motor function in the instance of intoxication. It heightened my anxiety and lead me to feel less-than-proud of my choices, thoughts, and intentions. More often than not it made me question, why am I even doing this to myself – my body, my mind?
- Phase V: I found enjoyment in alcohol-centric settings without being drunk. Another monumental milestone, and the realization that sealed the deal in my preference for sobriety. When I realized that I could have fun – and be fun – at social settings and in the company of drinking or drunk people, declining boozy beverages was easy. Honestly, I have more fun being sober! Instead of standing there glassy eyed, my ass is the first one on the dance floor and the last one off. Plus, I’ll make sure all my friends are taken care of with food and rides at the end of the night – I am the MVP 😉 If I didn’t need alcohol to talk, or dance, or make people laugh, and if alcohol didn’t support anything else in my life, why did I need it? It’s here that I came to the personal decision that… I didn’t.
I should note: I broke these down into clear phases punctuated by neat and tidy edges, but in reality they flowed into one another, seamlessly and slowly over time.
My sober-ish life
As my daily actions became the habits that eventually reshaped my identity, it became clear I no longer resonated with someone who could “hold their own,” “handle their liquor,” or found pleasure in the act or effects of drinking. And because the very root of my entire evolution over the last four years is marked by a desperate attempt to reclaim intention in my life, I choose not to engage with activities, people, or things that don’t align with or support my identity. For me, that meant exploring a life without the consumption of alcohol.
It’s important for me to clearly state that my choice to abstain from alcohol is not motivated by body composition goals. It’s motivated by my personal desire to demonstrate intentional self-respect and support myself completely – mentally, emotionally, and physically – in every choice I make.
I’d be withholding the truth if I didn’t share some of the challenges I faced during this exploration: Questions and comments from family and friends. Feeling the need to make excuses to legitimize abstaining from alcohol – I have a run tomorrow, I have work to do later. Insecurities of being judged and being perceived as judging. Questioning whether or not I did want just one drink, one time. Questioning my worth in social settings without alcohol. Tolerance thresholds of late nights, crowded bars, and slurring speech. Defining what this approach to alcohol consumption meant to me. Giving it a name – am I “sober” (a term that generally people in recovery from substance-abuse) or do I abstain from alcohol? Is there really a difference?*
But despite the challenges, exploring and eventually embracing sobriety meant showing up as my best self, 100-percent of the time. And for that, I was willing to face some temporary discomfort to discover complete confidence in my decision.
*I still don't know the answer to this, which is where I came up with sober-ish.
The benefits that have bestowed me since becoming sober-ish are many and magnificent, to name a few:
- Even after a late bedtime, waking up to workout is a viable option if I so please
- Similarly, even late bedtimes bring quality restful and restorative sleep
- No more days wasted on the couch. I can be a productive powerhouse! Unless I’m choosing to relax that is 😉
- Sound judgement means clear choices and complete nutritional control – no drunk munchies, boozy binges, or hangover hungries
- A clear mind means complete confidence and eliminated feelings of anxiety, guilt, or regret
- Liking myself a lot more means caring if people like me a lot less
- I’m a cheap date 😉 My husband’s wallet, and my own, are happy
- In combination with my diet and exercise routine, I’ve noticed clearer skin, increased energy, and balanced moods
To sum it up, I feel clear and stable. I feel like I have taken ownership over my identity. I feel completely and utterly purposeful.
My tips for being sober-ish
It’s not your imagination: Sobriety is trending, and, if you ask me, for good reason. When you’re working your butt off (on?) in the gym, staying dedicated to your healthy eating goals, and taking time for your mental health, it can feel destructive to down one-too-many mimosas, bottles of beer, or glasses of wine on the regular. Even if you’re not binge-drinking (did you know that for women, this term equates to just three drinks in one day?) to the point of getting wickedly hungover, there are some undeniable health perks to forgoing booze, and it’s got people sober-curious. Here’s how to get started:
Understand Why. What purpose does alcohol serve for you now? Is it a way to relieve stress, to increase confidence in social settings, to ease emotions? Do you enjoy the taste? Is there cultural significance? Determine what alcohol does (and doesn’t do) for you, and what activities, habits, or routines you may be able to implement in its stead.
Own it. I’ve said (written) it before and I’ll say it again, the choices you make in order to benefit and support yourself do not require explanation or validation. But it can be helpful to let your family and friends know that you are choosing to abstain from alcohol, in as much or as little detail as you please, free of excuses! For one, it prevents people from offering you a drink 400 times and you turning it down just as many. For another, it instills confidence in your choice. I encourage you to be upfront and clear. Instead of easing in with, “I don’t really drink anymore” try just going for it with, “I don’t drink.” Instead of responding to a request like this, “Not right now” or “I’m good for now” try a simple, “No thanks!”
B.Y.O. Booze-less Beverage. Pack a cooler of La Croix, bring along a Kombucha, order up a seltzer and lime at the bar, or mix up a mocktail! For me, holding a drink in my hand is helpful for engaging in things like drinking games or toasts, and drinking something other than plain water helps set my ~*tone*~. Plus, unsuspecting people usually assume a seltzer-and-lime is a vodka soda! No questions asked, no answers needed.
Pack Snacks! While you’re packin’ faux-booze, be prepared with some real food. Bars or house parties may not have the most nutritious options available, and a long night may keep you away from your kitchen for longer than anticipated.
Be engaged. Don’t skip out on alcohol-centric plans just because you plan to abstain. Show up and show up as your best self, sister! Boogie on the dance floor and create conversation. When a toast comes round or the gang takes a shot, don’t hide out in the corner or get all awkward, just go through the motions with your alcohol-free drink of choice. It’s not a big deal unless you make it one, trust me.