“You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Taking The Plunge – My 90 Day Alcohol Free Challenge
At Finding My Psych, we believe in creating an environment that fosters sustainable behavioural change. While some require absolute abstinence to save their life, most alcohol consumption falls into the category of long standing habit with no functional rhyme or reason. This can be addressed through controlled drinking or significant periods of, “reset”.
After much consideration, I have decided to take the habit change plunge in an effort to gain insight about what role alcohol plays in my life. As a moderate drinker, there are times that I have questioned why I drink at all. There are also times when I have felt it would be best to eliminate alcohol from my life all together as it is apparent, at least on the surface, that it serves no function.
To be clear, the 90 day alcohol free challenge is about my own wellness journey…
My Story and Alcohol Habit
Everyone who gives up alcohol for any length of time has a story, right? Isn’t it true that every journey into the light requires an odyssey through darkness? Not so much!
In short, I have no story. However, I have formed a long standing alcohol consumption habit going back over thirty years. I remember having my first drink when I was 14. Like every college student, I over did it until I found my limit. For me the line was when hangovers started to impact academics.
Thirty years on, alcohol has been a part of my weekly routine. Usually without thought, Friday nights are a time to share a bottle of wine with my husband, often followed by a couple beers on Saturday. There has been periods of much heavier consumption. However, similar to my academic experience, I have never let anything get in the way of my career.
For anyone committing to a 90 day alcohol free challenge, it is not about fixing an alcohol problem. Instead, it is an opportunity to press pause to provide an opportunity to evaluate if alcohol belongs in the rear view mirror. Just like getting control over any excess in our life (e.g., digital engagement), we all must answer two basic questions:
"Is it helpful?" "Does it serve me?"
Inspired by Andy Ramage
If you need more inspiration to launch your 90 day alcohol free challenge, check out the work by Andy Ramage. Andy has created a program for those that need additional support for the behavioural change required to bust the alcohol pattern in your life.
Andy was recently on the Rich Roll Podcast sharing his journey. The biggest message is that you have nothing to lose. His message is aimed at those that do not necessarily suffer from alcohol dependency.
Alcohol Free Challenge Disclaimer
If you are alcohol dependent, see your physician before starting. For those that are not alcohol dependent, if you start the challenge and experience any degree of withdrawal during the first few days of your challenge, see your physician immediately.
- Alcohol Hallucinosis
- Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
- Delirium Tremens
Measuring The Impact of 90 Days Alcohol Free
Between December 5th and March 5th 2020, I will provide a weekly update about my alcohol free experience. Note that the challenge starts before the holidays leading into the beginning of the Spring. This is strategic. I do not believe in setting a future date to launch behavioural change. This only creates a pre-challenge binge of the behaviour you are attempting to gain control over.
I will report on the following measures:
- Status: Am I still alcohol free?
- Anxiety Rating (1-10)
- Mood Rating (1-10)
- Motivation Rating (1-10)
- Mental Clarity Rating (1-10)
- Energy Rating (1-10)
- Notable Social Challenges
Baseline: December 6th, 2020
Status: I started my journey yesterday. At baseline, I am having no thoughts about drinking. My last drink was on December 4th.
Anxiety Rating: My level of anxiety today is rated as a 7 out of 10. This is largely due to the crazy nature of my job. It takes me many days to relax after a difficult week.
Mood Rating: My mood is a 4 out of 10. Putting lots of pressure on myself around work. Also battling a regular yearly pattern of low mood as the days get shorter.
Motivation Rating: I feel quite motivated about my focus on health. I would rate my motivation as an 8 out of 10. My weekly klicks are up (running). I am hopeful about keeping this going as I know I have the ability. I feel the same about staying alcohol free for the next few months.
Mental Clarity Rating: My thoughts feel quite targeted. Thus I would give my mental clarity a rating of 6 out of 10. It could be better, it could be worse.
Energy Rating: My energy is a 7 out of 10. I attribute this to running.
Notable Social Challenges: I do not have any notable challenges to report right now. Most people in my life do not know I am on this challenge. That is about to soon change.
Week 1: December 13th, 2020
Status: Still on the 90 day plan. On Thursday I unexpectedly got excited about having drinks as a reward on Friday night. This affirms the habitual nature of my drinking.
Anxiety Rating: My level of anxiety is a 4 our of 10. It has been a relaxing weekend and I have been focusing on ruminating thoughts during the week.
Mood Rating: My mood is a 6 out of 10. Things just feel more calm right now. This might reveal the deep connection between my anxiety levels and perceived mood (hopefulness vs hopelessness, etc.).
Motivation Rating: I am feeling quite motivated to stay on this plan. I would rate it an 8 out of 10. It is starting to seem like a long haul.
Mental Clarity Rating: I am experiencing a 7 out of 10 on mental clarity. Been quite productive.
Energy Rating: Energy is a 7 out of 10. Maybe due to improved sleep and focus?
Notable Social Challenges: There are no challenges. My husband knows about my journey and is massively supportive. Alcohol in general is not a focus in conversation as of late.
Week 2: December 20th, 2020
Status: Still on the 90 day plan. I have been thinking about alcohol A LOT this week. I am starting to see the, “I worked hard this week and deserve a drink…” pattern. With holidays coming up, I do see a challenge on the horizon. Lucky for me, I’m on call.
Anxiety Rating: My level of anxiety is a 4 our of 10. Sundays are my highest anxiety days due to rumination about my job and what I am walking into on a Monday.
Mood Rating: My mood is a 7 out of 10. Overall feeling better about everything. My mood does cycle in waves throughout the week. I am attempting to avoid inputs that cause the most mood challenge, such as the news.
Motivation Rating: My motivation is falling just a bit seeing how difficult this might be to accomplish over the Christmas and New Years holiday. I would rate it an 6 out of 10.
Mental Clarity Rating: I am experiencing a 7 out of 10 on mental clarity. Been quite productive at work with less foggy days to power through.
Energy Rating: Energy is a 6 out of 10. Sleep quality has declined this week a bit. There is not doubt that sleep impacts my day-to-day perception of physical and mental energy. Increased caffeine consumption does not help.
Notable Social Challenges: As I move into the holidays, there will be significant social pressure to drink. I realize that when given the opportunity to drink, it is up to me. No one is responsible for my choices when it comes to drinking. However, dealing with the momentary pauses when offered, might be a challenge.
Week 3: December 27th, 2020
Status: Still on the 90 day plan. Alcohol has consumed my thoughts less and less over the past week. I have also had more time away from work, thus less stress. I wonder if there is a connection to stress and triggered thoughts of using alcohol to, “escape”.
Anxiety Rating: My level of anxiety is a 3 our of 10. I attribute decreased anxiety to improved sleep and time away from work. I also bet that not being on the physiologic ups and downs of alcohol use and withdrawal, has improved my overall level of anxiety.
Mood Rating: My mood is a 7 out of 10. My mood is good. I anticipate mood challenges in January and February, two months that always seem to correlate with a mood nose dive.
Motivation Rating: My motivation is falling. I would rate it an 4 out of 10. I fully acknowledge that I might not make the entire three moths this go around as New Years is coming, and 2020 has been the most awful year in my lifetime due to COVID19, world instability caused by Trump, etc.
Mental Clarity Rating: I am experiencing a 8 out of 10 on mental clarity. Been quite productive at work with less foggy days to power through.
Energy Rating: Energy is a 5 out of 10. Energy seems to be directly connected to exercise. I have been exercising less due to bad weather, etc.
Notable Social Challenges: Everyone in my life is supportive of my alcohol free choice at this time. I also notice that others drink less around me. However, as indicated above, I think I won’t make it past four weeks on this challenge. This is not because of my ability to stay away from alcohol. Instead, I have desire to kick 2020 in the ass on December 31st. I’m not totally sure, but I am thinking that I will restart the challenge early in 2021. Stay tuned!
Week 4: January 2nd, 2021
Status: After almost 30 days without drinking alcohol, I have ended the challenge 60 days short. As indicated the week prior, it became clear that I wanted to send 2020 out with celebration. For me that meant a posh bottle of wine to share with my husband.
Overall Observations: Going almost 30 days without alcohol was profound. The biggest change I noticed was in quality of sleep. I also was less anxious all around. Alcohol related anxiety occurs a couple days after drinking on an evening. This is likely related to poor sleep from the physiological stress alcohol puts on your body. This is clearly seen in increased resting heart rate. After day three, my resting heart rate drops back down to around 48 bpm.
Would I Do it Again?: Yes. I absolutely plan on doing another alcohol free challenge. I think 90 days is attainable. However, I will likely choose a goal much more attainable, maybe 45 days, etc.