As a person with Mediterranean roots, wine is an old, trusted friend to me. Long, late-night chats over a bottle of Tempranillo or Montepulciano? Yes, please! But let’s be real: The cons usually outweigh the pros. Especially after you hit 30.
While studies suggest that it is mostly unknown whether hangover symptoms and severity change with age, I can personally attest to the fact that my ability to drink without experiencing a hangover has lessened over time. It’s taken a decade, but my Pavlovian learned response (drinking = not so fun next day) has finally kicked in. Which is why the idea of nixing booze for a month was appealing to me.
It all started in January. A few of my friends were doing a dry month, partly because they were exploring not-drinking as a new year’s resolution and partly as a reaction to their holiday hedonism the month before. We were all at a friend’s birthday party, where I sat with a glass of wine while my sober friends – get this – still had fun. I initially snickered, thinking, “Oh the horror!” But I was intrigued – and considered it a personal challenge.
I started my dry month the very next day.
Week 1: Can You Still “Get Drinks” Without Drinking?
Mere days into my sober stint, I noticed just how deftly alcohol works its way into your everyday life. While you’d normally think nothing of an after-work martini with friends, you’re not quite sure how to respond to that 5:30 p.m. “wanna get drinks?” group text when you’re dry. Spoiler alert: I said yes.
I showed up, ordered a virgin Bloody Mary (which is basically spicy vegetable juice and a piece of celery)…and had an a-ok time! The truth is I did crave a martini, but I didn’t need one.
I was invited out for post-work drinks a few times that first week, and each time it got easier to either say no, or show up with no interest in drowning the day’s stress away with booze. Frankly, going out with people who are drinking is totally fine during their first or second drink, but having crystal-clear clarity while your friends are getting more and more tipsy (and, let’s admit it, usually louder and less coherent) isn’t the best time ever. Honestly, it’s not even that I was envious of their drunk disposition – I just didn’t need to watch people get drunk.
Weeks 2 & 3: Saving Calories & Money
As someone who’d have post-work wine a few times per week or weekend dinner-with-drinks, I noticed a few very valuable things while off the sauce. For one, I was saving money. Living in NYC, it’s not uncommon to drop $10 on a glass of fairly decent wine, so that was an extra $20 (or $30, shh) bucks in my pocket. Not to mention, I’d save on the cost of taking a cab home because I was tipsy.
Aside from money, I wasn’t ordering late-night food because of drunk-munchies. Nor was I pre-carb-ing to handle a night out. I could eat a delicious salad and not worry about how those dirty martinis might hit me. I lost a pound or so (the average glass of wine contains about 125 calories) by not adding an additional 250-350 beverage calories to my meal. My skin looked clearer, since I was less dehydrated, and I got more sleep – amounting to more energy when working.
The superficial benefits were excessively clear. Despite loving those results, that’s not actually why I ended up sticking with it.
Week 4: Personal Transformation
So many people learn early on – say, during their college or formative years – that drinking is the magic key to fun and socialization, and those ideas are internalized and relied upon during our adult years. So, whether or not we’re downing shots versus having a glass of Pinot doesn’t matter. We’re still taught to think we’ve got to booze up in order to enjoy ourselves. After all, it takes the edge off and releases our social inhibitions. And, people have loved and lived and died by the effects of alcohol since, well, the beginning of time (ahem, Greek mead).
The most impacting change, for me, was two-fold. One, I unlearned the idea that the ritual of drinking is necessary, and two, I realized tangibly that my body is better to me when I am better to it.
By not drinking just one glass of wine after work or having weekend drinks, I was able to wake earlier, work harder, focus on my hobbies, and not feel sluggish. Although I was never drinking to excess, it was a symbolic change. It goes to show that we can achieve great things with will power and introspection. This can be a useful lesson when life throws curveballs at you that you don’t willingly choose as a self-dare.
My ancestors would roll over in their graves if I gave up Montepulciano, so I won’t do that anytime soon – but I will continue to consider the tangible and intangible effects of what I’m putting into my body.