Month of Living Without: Alcohol

For the past month I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol. I realize for many this is no big thing, and if this is you, bear with me. I’ve never been a heavy drinker, but I’ve also never been known to shy away from a few beers or a bottle of wine. And after living in China for nearly 9 years, where drinking is cheap and accessible, I’ve long wrestled with how much I find myself drinking.

My propensity for drinking is not the alcoholism I had been warned about my whole life. It is not a crutch nor an addiction. It is, simply, a bad habit. It is a couple glasses of wine after the kids go to bed, a few beers on a hot day (something there is no shortage of here in Hainan). But in aggregate, it long been adding up. As such, I decided it was a prime candidate to kick off my first month of “living without”.

A Year of Living Without is something that Leo Babauta at zenhabits came up with and is currently in the process of. He describes it as follows:

So what’s the Year of Living Without?

Each month, I’ll go the whole month without one thing I do every day. Something that I tend to not want to give up, for various reasons.

I’ll give up something for a month, then evaluate whether it was something I enjoyed giving up, whether it’s worth leaving it out of my life, or if I want to put it back in after the month’s over. The next month, I’ll try giving up something else …

How It’s Gone

It was actually a lot easier than I had expected giving up booze for the month. The vast majority of temptation was pretty easily removed by just making sure there wasn’t anything to drink in the house. Much like my lack of consumption of cookies or sugary drinks, it just not being here was enough of a barrier for me not consuming it.

The challenge at home was not really the desire to drink, but rather the routine of it. I was used to sitting down with a glass of wine to sort of say “ah, day done!” Without that, something felt missing, or incomplete. To combat that, I substituted the wine/beer for a glass of Coke Zero … not exactly healt-in-a-bottle either, but the goal was breaking the habit.

By far the most difficult thing was going out to eat with friends. I remain convinced that not drinking with a meal, especially outside on a patio in the wonderful weather we have here right now, defies the physical laws of the universe. Every single time we were out, I was eager to grab a cold one and enjoy the evening with friends. Not coincidentally, I curbed going out a bit this month to help assure I’d go the distance.

Not having alcohol while out with friends definitely didn’t hurt the experience — I have pretty decent friends, whom are all quite tolerable without inebriation. Unlike in my younger days when I would drink to feel drunk; since having kids, getting irresponsibly drunk is rarely on the table. So, as much as my head tells me the night just wouldn’t be complete without a bottle of something, the reality is that it’s mostly just a high-carb/low-quality vice born out of repetition.

Mind you, it’s not one I’ve given up for good. But I do think a month without alcohol has allowed me to step back and gain a bit of perspective on why I do the things I do — particularly the things that don’t offer a whole lot of net gain to anything.

Going forward, I will probably resume my nightly wine ritual, though I’ll be keeping it to a single glass a night. And if and when I drink beer, I’ll be forking out the extra coin for higher quality (read: non-Chinese) beers. Not only will the added expense assure that I more-deeply consider my choice of beverage, but it will also help assure I’m not consuming the copious amounts of formaldehyde I no doubt have put into my body over the years here.

What’s Next?

I’m not certain if I’ll do as Leo has, and keep this up for a full 12 months, but now on the eve of completing my first month, I have decided to continue forward with it.

There was a certain amount of strategy in choosing November to be my month sans-alcohol. I doubt I could have made it the month had I attempted it over the holidays in December. Instead, for this month I’ll be giving up social media. Primarily this will mean not visiting Facebook, though I’ll also not be going on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ either.

I did this for a week this past summer, and was quite happy with the results. It didn’t take long afterwards to fall back into bad habits though, and so the longer period of “take 2″ will hopefully help better cement things this time around.

14 Responses

  1. Interesting idea to go without something for a month at a time. Good to change habits sometimes as well. Doubt I would I give up on alcohol, which I rather enjoy when not getting drunk (I like seeking out the various flavors). I am, however, trying to go the year with little to no cheese, which I think is even more difficult than giving up alcohol. At least I’m back in Asia where cheese is scarce.

    • No cheese would be tough, but I’m sure I could go a month without it. A year though… brutal. And yeah, the month thing is really just about that … shaking things up a bit and seeing where things land.

  2. “Not coincidentally, I curbed going out a bit this month to help assure I’d go the distance.”

    Yeah, this is the issue – it puts a crimp in your social life to avoid alchohol. Most folk just drink to relax with the friends anyway. I’ve also gone on the wagon for months at a time, never been a compulsive drinker, but life’s simply better with a beer now and then.

    • I have a few friends that have always been “one beer or less” type people in social situations, and it’s always amazed me. What I’ve noticed about China is that it’s turned what was an early-/mid-20s reckless attitude about alcohol into a mid-30s repetitive action. Going forward, now back on the sauce, the toughest thing will be resisting crap Chinese beer. There are at least 5-6 places between here and the local supermarket’s supply of Carlsberg that sell colder, cheaper and closer beer. It’ll be hard to “plan” my “I’m so exhausted and just need a beer” vice :)

  3. I like your approach and very much want to follow in your foot steps. I’ve been wanting to do a technology fast of sorts myself. It’s scary how much I’m addicted – to the point at which my daughter is jealous of my phone. Not a good parenting moment. I may start mid month and see how it goes. Am subscribing to your blog so I can keep up with your life and month of living without.

    • Best of luck with it Jenny. With the holidays, December’s a tricky one for any sort of “giving up” I think (January, I suspect will be lush with resolutions and motivation that last at least a month). For me getting rid of technology completely will be a challenge, as it is an integral part of my job, but I have been thinking of ways I could do it in limited ways (no TV is already on my list, but maybe no cell, etc.). Anyway, keep us posted on how it goes.

  4. Well done on the booze-free month Ryan. Regarding drinking imported beer – I’m sure you have seen how good the selection has become at Carrefour recently. There are a few different great import beers available for less than 20 CNY a bottle. And when I feel like splurging, it’s the Duvel for 21 CNY.

    • Yeah, the only downside is the distance. I don’t do much of the shopping, and I doubt the wife is looking to cart a bunch of imported beers back from Carrefour with two kids in tow. Even the Nanguo Supermarket about 1.5km away is a distance to my lazy ass. :)

  5. nice post – i would say though that BY FAR the most important thing to kick out of your life would be drinking cheap Chinese beer. it’s really rubbish and bad for you and can you say you really enjoy it? and it sounds that thanks to your laziness (a good vice!) if you took the pledge to only drink nice foreign beers then that would cut down your consumption quite a lot anyway coz it would mean a hike! haha anyway – good luck with it all and don’t forget too that if you do cut down on the booze it makes it a lot easier to lose weight! i am down ten kilos on 4 months ago and at least 5 of those are down to less boozing cheers! (or not)

  6. Congrats on the month off Ryan. I totally identify with what you’re saying about alcohol being a bad habit that can just follow into your 30s. I cut out alcohol for a month earlier this year, and made that same realization you mentioned – no more crap beer (i.e. what’s the point?). From a budget and health perspective – this would be a nice habit to kick. Tough though!

  7. hello Ryan,
    this summer my husband, my little daughter and I are planning to move to Hainan. So in a way we are going to be living without our usual life :-)
    It would be a great help if we could get some tips from you, is there any way we could contact you?
    Thank you very much!
    best regards
    Carine

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