Experiments in Happiness: No alcohol, week two

Recap: My New Year’s resolution is to stop externalizing my happiness. This year, I’m focusing on my own behaviors and thought processes and experimenting with altering them—one per month—in order to become a more self-aware, self-assured person. You can also access my Huffington Post archive here for past installments.

January: No alcohol, week two.

Guys, I need a drink. Like if there were ever a week when I just wanted to come home, crack open a beer and chill the eff out, it was this one.

Let me back up and say this: Not drinking for two weeks hasn’t been super hard. After week one, I was like, “I’m nailing this!”—as if not drinking was actually something to be proud of instead of just a thing that millions of people do every day.

One of the reasons I picked no alcohol to kick off my year of experiments was because I noticed drinking more in December than at any other point in my life. I couldn’t go more than a day or two at a time without some kind of holiday party, happy hour, show, or night out. Even when I was home for the holidays, I visited a new brewery with friends and my family even did a BYOB painting event. I wasn’t repeatedly drinking to excess, mind you, but having one or two drinks almost every day really adds up. I gained some weight in December and felt a little doughy and lethargic returning home to New York.

What I didn’t know is that “dry January” is actually somewhat of a thing, especially in the UK—it just seemed like a natural way to start out. And I didn’t find it that hard to say no to drinks, and explaining why was actually a good conversation starter.

But then this past Tuesday happened. And this past Tuesday, my boyfriend (whom I live with) got a call that his temp job, which was supposed to last another four months, was being cut short—like, tomorrow-is-your-last-day short. Then he opened the mail to find a $500 medical bill, which we thought really sucked until the very next day, when there was a second $500 medical bill and we reevaluated the meaning of the word. Which brings us to Thursday night, when the sporadic bug bites the boyf had been getting every few days were revealed to be caused by bed bugs. BED BUGS. I know—I just can’t even, too.

I’ve joked that I’m not a real New Yorker because I’ve never been mugged and I’ve never had bed bugs, and now having had them, I can say that was a stupid, irresponsible joke and I’m very, very sorry. The boyf and I stayed up until 2:30am vacuuming our mattress, bagging up our sheets and bed skirt, and disinfecting our entire bedframe, which appeared to be the bugs’ stronghold. We’ve been sleeping on our air mattress in the living room. On Friday, I went to work like a zombie and the boyf did about $30 of laundry, which will remain bagged up all over our small apartment until the exterminator comes, which is supposed to be soon, but given our landlord’s track record, who actually knows when? Until then, we’re camping in our living room with a majority of our cloth possessions wrapped in plastic.

(PSA: A significant percentage of the population doesn’t react when bitten by bed bugs. If only one person in your household is seeing bites, don’t assume it can’t be bed bugs until it is undeniably bed bugs. Don’t make our mistakes! Save yourselves!)

To cap off the long holiday weekend, I got food poisoning, confirming that the only place less comfortable to sleep than the air mattress is my bathroom floor.

So now I hope you can appreciate why the only thing I wanted to do this weekend was cry into a beer or four. Not saying I would have otherwise drank myself into oblivion, but I needed to do a fair bit of de-stressing and venting, and both of those things feel more cathartic with a beer in my hand—though not after the food poisoning. With our finances now devastated and our domestic life exploded for the near future, I feel pretty confident saying that things can only get better from here, and if they don’t then someone has died. (Probably me.)

As far as the actual effects of not drinking for two weeks, I’ll run through the relevant criteria I outlined in my last post. Like I said, not every category will apply.

Body

Energy: I do feel like I’ve been sleeping through the night more consistently, perhaps owing to the “drunkard’s dawn” effect of drinking and not having to get up and go to the bathroom as my kidneys work overtime from two glasses of wine. Consequently, I’ve felt better rested this month than last. This could also be a result of having fewer evening/holiday engagements.

Weight: When I came home from the holidays, I weighted about 148 lbs—not terribly overweight for being just under 5’7″, but also about 8 lbs over what I’d ideally like to weigh from a “my clothes look good on me” standpoint. Since teetotaling, I’ve dropped about 2 lbs without changing really anything else about how I was eating or exercising.

Unfortunately, I do find that I’m eating more sweets and drinking more soda, neither of which makes me happy. Normally, meeting up with friends or at my office’s weekly Friday happy hour, I’ll drink. Now, because I can’t have a rum and Coke, I feel compelled to still have a Coke while I hang out. Out at bar with friends means that I’m ordering a dessert instead of beer so I’m not just sitting there guzzling free water and pissing off the bartender.

Mind

Stress: I’m going to go ahead and say that I can’t accurately assess whether my stress level has been affected by not drinking, given all the crap that’s been happening lately. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that if I could have decompressed with some drinks, I might feel a little better about the general downward chaos I’ve been in recently.

Savings: It’s pretty safe to say that dessert and soda cost less than alcohol, so in the money-saving department, I feel pretty good. I had a $7 chocolate cake the other night instead of one or two $8 beers. (If an $8 beer sounds outrageous to you, recall that I live in New York City.)

A lot of the alcohol that I encounter in my daily life is free, though—office happy hour, friends hosting a brunch party—so this has maybe less of an effect on my bottom line than it otherwise might.

Contentment: Yeah, no. (See everything above.)

Presence: Pretty much in a 24-7 worry spiral recently, so I’m not succeeding in the “being present” department. Another case where some alcohol might actually help, actually.

Creative

Production: I’m happy to report that I’ve been working as a dramaturg on a show that will be workshopped at the Cleveland Public in March, but that has nothing to do with alcohol. My writing partner and I have also been submitting for artist residencies and workshops, and the only difference there is that we’re not drinking beer while we type up our artist statements.

Motivation/Discipline: I’ve had rehearsals and deadlines recently, so it’s much easier to feel disciplined and motivated with hard stops looming. So though I’ve noticed an uptick of “doing things” it’s been more externally motivated than anything.

 

So that’s it for (a little over) two weeks down. I’ll check back at the end of the month to report any more “results” and to announce my February experiment!

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