Dry January, Or, Where My Time Was Actually Going

I broke my booze fast on Sunday night January 31st  at around 10 pm with a Brooklyn East IPA, shared with some friends from out of town as we caught up. It tasted good, and halfway through it I had a light buzz on, a result of having cut out all alcohol since January 1st. The impetus was a friend making the decision and because I had already decided to do a Monthly Challenge every month for 2016, I jumped on the bandwagon. I had a Strongman competition January 17th, and I knew that cutting the sauce would ensure I didn’t throw any last minute wrenches into my recovery during my last heavy week of training and deload going into the competition, and it would help with recovery after. It ended up being a great experiment in physical health, mental and emotional awareness, and as always, an exercise in personal discipline that contributed greatly to my journey of self-mastery.

Here’s what I learned.

Sleep Is King

I had recently been feeling the desire to go full monk to my Strongman goals, I just had not yet found the way to express that desire. I knew I wasn’t doing great with my training recovery, and I knew that was holding me back. As a strength athlete,  if you’re training and not sleeping adequately, you might as well just smoke a pack of Reds and eat ice cream for breakfast. Wait there are probably guys that do that…anyway, sleep cannot be given enough priority. Your body can’t repair itself  (read – get stronger/faster) if you don’t give it time to rebuild via sleep.
I made sleep more important than almost everything else. In January, I slept less than 6 hours maybe 4 times.  I cannot stress how much of a victory that is. I know how important sleep is. But I didn’t truly know, because I wasn’t making it a priority. Then I did and the difference was shocking. I turned down plans, I went to bed when my roommates where all hanging out, I went out of my way to avoid things I knew would keep me up. Sometimes it was hard. Often it was easy, because my job also has me up at 5 am and on my feet sometimes for 6 to 8 hours straight, and if I’m not rested, it really affects my performance and I owe it to myself and my clients to be on my game. But even though I know that, I haven’t been consistent enough.  Making sleep a real priority increased my performance at my job. It increased my performance in training. Last but not least I still had a little juice in the tank for ME – though I am usually wiped out by 6 or 7 pm, I have never so consistently made Unwind/Me time.

What I Was Actually Doing With My Time

I also learned that while I’m a friendly social person, I only need quality of socialization, not as much quantity as I thought. When I was not drinking, I had zero tolerance for people I felt lukewarm about. I only wanted to spend time with the people I really, really liked and have already invested time in. This isn’t to say there isn’t value in small talk or mingling with friends of friends, but that was now a specific choice I could make or not, it was not the default mingling of indecision. . And it turns out that when you tell people you’re not drinking, they don’t try as hard to get you to go out with them – they understand that the nightlife maybe holds a little less for you if you’re not drinking. Which is not necessarily always true, but I think that’s the assumption that is made.

I spent extra time alone. Now for me personally this can be too much of a good thing, but that extra time made me more aware of how I was actually USING that time. I realized I was dumping it into social media instead of actually socializing or actively relaxing or working. I was coming home, flopping onto my bed and spending 15 to 30 minutes on my phone. Not only is this obviously not productive, it wasn’t even relaxing. Your brain is not relaxing when it it’s jumping from image to image, from status to status. It’s gobbling low level useless stimuli which is hurting your sleep, and probably making you a more boring person to be around to boot (seriously, are you talking to someone face to face? Then why is your phone out? Another topic entirely, but I digress).

Last but not least, because I was so on top of my sleep, I trained harder, I worked harder, and feel like I had one of the most productive months I’ve had in a long time. I was getting enough sleep so I could train hard AND work hard, and then go right back to a good night’s sleep, and it was a beautiful cycle. It’s also easy to see correlations between everything, and remember that correlation ≠ causation. Some of these changes may have had little to do with my reduced alcohol intake, and more to do with the fact that in deciding to experiment on myself, I was NOTICING myself more. I was making the active choice to notice, I wasn’t living on autopilot. Which leads me to…

Awareness Has a Ripple Effect

When you make mindfulness of one habit a priority, you end up becoming more mindful of ALL of your habits. When you become mindful or aware of something, you can evaluate it, quantify it, measure it, track it…you can start to decide if many of the things that you unconsciously spent time and energy doing are actually WORTH doing. That’s a lot of power to give yourself. We assume we know what we do and where our time goes, but personal experience is telling me otherwise.

I realized that the longer I went without booze, the less I gave a shit. People asked me things like “February 1st is around the corner, what’s your first drink going to be?” “Are you gonna hit it hard?” etc, and while mostly asked in a joking manner, I realized I wanted to say “I’m actually going to stick with it,” just to prove a point. My point being that partying and drinking just isn’t who I am anymore. I had a few drinks this weekend, but way less than I would have had back in November. I don’t tie my identity to how much or how little I party – I care about other things a LOT more than I care about how much I can drink on my weekend. And I was making the choice to put my time into those things.

I still drink, but it has a place now, and is no longer an unconscious habit that swallows needless energy and time. I have to clarify that as someone who works in the fitness industry and is a recreational amateur athlete who spends time around like minded people, this wasn’t an especially difficult challenge for me. It would have been A LOT harder if I had a regular 9-to-5 and like most New Yorkers, had a social life that was heavily intertwined with the nightlife. But I also went sober for two months once when I was a bartender. In a bar. Where they keep all the alcohol. So if I can do it in those circumstances, so can you, if you want (at the time, cutting alcohol was just to prove I could do it, and I didn’t read into it any deeper than that).

We are what we repeatedly do, I really believe that. You can go and party and not drink. You can go out and drink and not get drunk. You are in control of yourself. If the idea of giving up something like booze (or anything else) really sounds hard to you, ask yourself why. Is it because of potential peer pressure? Is it because it’s too intrinsic to your environment? Is it because you closely tie your idea of yourself to that thing, whether it’s drinking or a different habit or activity?  I don’t think it’s imperative that everyone ever cut out alcohol. This isn’t actually about booze. It’s about discovering and getting to know yourself, so you can learn how to make yourself active, purposeful and happy. So you can choose where you invest your energy.

I can drink, I can not drink. But either way, I’m really getting to know myself, and craft the life I actually want to be living, and that feels better than any drink.

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