The highs and lows of 3 months with no alcohol

TL;DR I highly recommend it

My wife and I talked about it months before my final gin and tonic. My 34th birthday marked the start of my wife’s third trimester. This meant my second daughter’s birthday would be about 90 days after my own. We’d always kidded about my going without alcohol “in solidarity” with her pregnancy. I liked the idea but didn’t bother with it while she was pregnant with our first daughter.

“Why should we both suffer?” I’d say, pouring a cold Asahi for myself at the Japanese restaurant. And I sipped that beer and smiled at her.

This time something was different. I believe in omens, and the stars aligned with her due date and my birthday. 90 days. 3 months. 12 company happy hours. Seemed like a good amount of time to go without drinking and I was feeling ambitious. I yearned for the challenge.

One month is too short. I can do anything for a month. One year would be too long. I’m not trying to punish myself. I just want to remember what it was like before I started drinking 15 years ago. More than a cleanse, less than a lifestyle change. I decided I just needed to do it and I made the commitment to myself and to her.

Month 1

The first week went quick. I had multiple drinks every day of the week leading up to the start of my booze fast, so my first couple days off drinking were a welcome relief. Then I was back at work and days moved fast. No time for drinking after work anyway with a toddler running around the house and a pregnant wife trying to run after her. My sobriety was needed.

On a normal week, I’d drink one bottle of wine, spread out over multiple nights after my daughter goes to bed. Some nights I’d prefer the cleaner vibe of tea. Other nights I’d really want a peppery red wine, discover I didn’t have one, and drink nothing. Although I really like a good beer, I never kept any around the house, so I didn’t have a six pack staring me down every time I opened the refrigerator.

My first weekend afternoon on the wagon I missed drinking a cold savignon blanc in my backyard. But other than that it wasn’t bad. I’d pop open a can of tonic water instead, and although it wasn’t the same, it did the trick. I could lounge with my foot against the oak tree bark and sip something special. It just didn’t have any alcohol.

It also was not too hard to tell my friends about my three-month experiment when I order my tonics sans gin. They respected it. I went to a startup conference with open bars and wine pours at dinner. I stuck with the program, and again, surprisingly, nobody cared.

The first month I also appreciated the lack of morning fog after my usual Thursday night company happy hour binge. There’s an alertness that comes with not being drunk or even a little bit buzzed for an entire month. It goes by fast, too. When the first month was up, it was hardly satisfying. I noted the accomplishment, but I was actually glad to have two more months to go. I figured it would get harder. And it did.

Month 2

First disappointment: I still weighed 210 pounds. No change.

Man, what good’s not drinking if you don’t lose some weight? That was a bummer. I did the math in my head. 250 calories per pint or glass of wine. That’s at least 1,000 calories per week, or 4,000 per month. Somewhere I read that 1,000 calories is a pound of weight. I should have lost a pound a week, and I didn’t.

However, I did increase my pull-ups from 12 to 20 per session. Perhaps just a coincidence that this development occurred during my drinking experiment, but that’s the only measurable physical impact I can point to after the first month.

Meanwhile, the temptations got stronger.

My wife and I went out to a really nice sushi restaurant in Orinda. It was better than any San Francisco sushi and on par with Sugarfish in Calabasas. I love to get sake with sushi, but this time I couldn’t. I missed that. I had tea instead, but I really wanted small glass of Saporo and some hot sake. I made a mental note to allow a splurge when my experiment was done.

The other trying time was during an overnight programming retreat I took at a local hotel. I’ll write about this sometime. It’s wonderful for my productivity — essentially I give myself about 30 hours to do a project, and my wife gives me the night off. I take it out of the house to maximize focus. I’ve done this many times, and it has always involved a couple glasses of red wine late at night in my hotel room with my website project. This time I put water in my wine glass. Here’s the picture from that night.

Yes, that’s cold water and Corn Nuts. Some great retreat.

Coding retreat sans wine. Sad!

I did “splurge” on some Red Bull, and my dinner tab was a lowest-ever record: $8 including tip for vegetable soup and tonic water. I think the waitress didn’t even charge me for the drink. She probably felt sorry for me.

At another entrepreneurship conference I had three tumblers with tonic and lime I didn’t feel like the only sober guy, and it didn’t affect my ability to network. In fact, being more lucid gave me more confidence. Also perhaps due to other reasons, but this may have been the best networking I’ve ever done at a conference.

On the plus side, I was much more mindful of not having those post-drink feelings: bloat, fog, and heaviness. The morning after the startup conference I was awake early and went on a nice long, slow jog along the Monterey coastline. I recognized another guy from the conference who apparently had the same itch. We gave each other the sober man’s nod. It’s like a secret club we’re in — let everyone else get wasted. We’ll take over the world while their eyes are closed. That part was cool.

On the other hand, I noticed that certain foods taste drier. Alcohol must soften my palate and help me enjoy certain meats. It could also have been my withdrawals kicking in, preventing me from enjoying food because I really want a glass of wine to go with it and won’t allow myself to have it. That’s too much mental work — I can’t do that and enjoy at the same time.

I also notice that I would binge eat. One day it’s chocolate chips. The next it’s hummus. I let myself get away with it because I’m not drinking, but I know this logic is not sound. In fact, it could be the reason I didn’t lose any weight in the first month: I made up for my loss in alcoholic calories by adding more junk food and carbs. Essentially, I fought against my urge to drink by letting go of other things I suppressed, like my ability to eat endless amounts of chocolate.

In general the time went fast. Perhaps not because of this drinking experiment, though. It’s just going by fast in general.

Month 3

This time was a blur. The third month actually was the easiest. About two weeks into my third month, my mother-in-law came to stay with us. The baby could technically come any time, and we wanted her here to take care of our older daughter if we needed to make a surprise trip to the hospital.

My mother-in-law likes her wine and cocktails, and kept asking to pour me a glass. It was tempting, being so close to the end, but I held her off. At this point I didn’t miss booze anymore. I had reached the nirvana of forgetting what I liked about drinking alcohol.

It’s an interesting place to be. I still wanted to drink, I think because I actually like the taste, but the urge was not nearly as strong as it was in the first two months.

The night that my second daughter was born, I went to the BBQ joint next door and had an ice cold Lagunitas in a bottle. It was good. I honestly can’t claim that it was the greatest beer I’ve ever had, or that I took each sip with a blissful smile. It tasted like I remembered. I took slow sips and finished the bottle.

Where I broke my spell. Image from TripAdvisor.


It’s now been about two weeks. I just finished one egg nog and brandy (’tis the season!). I’m buzzed enough that I wouldn’t want to drive right now. For the first few days I couldn’t get the buzz back. It was like I’d spent the last three months drinking my face off. My tolerance was really high! I knew better than to push it, but it was weird to drink two glasses of wine and not feel a thing.

A few days later I was a total lightweight again. One drink does it. I don’t fight that. It’s actually pretty nice to get a long-lasting buzz on one drink. I don’t drink as much as I used to. I pretty much stick to one drink a night now, and I find that’s a nice equilibrium between today and when I began my little experiment.

I set out to see what would change. Here’s what happened:

  • I’m wayyy down with soda water. I started with tonic and graduated to soda after about a month. Soda water with a lemon is a perfectly wonderful drink, and something I wouldn’t touch before I did this. I’m grateful to have discovered it.
  • I always liked tea at night, but during this experiment it gained more importance in my life. Since my daughter was born I haven’t had as many nights to myself (these solitary nights have recently returned, actually, which is how I had time to write this). I discovered that I like my tea nights as much as my wine nights.
  • I can have just one. I think this is the most important thing. If I was at a bar, I’d have multiple alcoholic drinks, because why would I order anything else once I’ve started drinking? In the past two weeks, on several occasions, I’ve had an alcoholic drink and followed it up with a non-alcoholic one. Why? For one, I was already feeling it and was thirsty. But more importantly, I want to retain control. I like being able to own my relationship with booze. We’re friends, booze and I, but this friend doesn’t get to tell me what to do.

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