HOW A 45-DAY BREAK FROM BOOZE TRANSFORMED INTO ONE YEAR (AND COUNTING) ALCOHOL-FREE
Written by Kristal Heibel | Photos provided by Kristal Heibel
It was New Year’s Eve and the countdown to 2021 began. A few of us shouted “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”! before the clock struck midnight. “Happy New Year!” echoed throughout the living room as party favor sounds pierced my ear drums. I smiled and blinked back the gentle tears starting to form. I took a deep breath and savored this joy-filled moment. “I did it,” I thought to myself. “I made it one year alcohol free!” I was in awe. My heart was full of so much gratitude as I drove home sober and entered the New Year.
Usually by midnight on New Year’s Eve I’d be wasted and lucky if I could even remember the whole thing the next day. For years, the morning after typically consisted of sleeping until noon, curing hangovers, eating junk food, feeling lethargic, and being anxious all day from drinking too much the night before. But this time, I knew I’d wake up the next morning refreshed from a deep sleep, energized, and anxiety-free. Instead of hangover foods, I would be eating a healthy breakfast – and well before noon.
Ever since turning 21 alcohol was a constant in my life. It was there for every occasion – good times, bad times, vacations, holidays, or simply because it was the weekend. Drinking in my twenties was fun, but it turned into a habit I indulged far too often and too regularly. It was something I proudly embraced as part of my lifestyle. Before now, 30 days had been the longest I’d ever gone without drinking.
I functioned well in life, but my drinking was excessive and taking its toll now being in my thirties. Sure, I would slow down and just have a few or not drink for a couple of weeks, but I would always fall right back into old habits. It took a while before this resonated within me and intentions became clear. Yet I’m grateful for my past, as it led me where I’m at today.
This journey began with feelings of discomfort, fear, and doubt, but within three months has transformed into an exciting journey of self-discovery, clarity, and endless possibilities. I didn’t expect to be alcohol-free this long until about six months in, and I definitely didn’t expect my whole life to change in all the ways it has and continues to. But I’m grateful it has.
For me, this has become so much more than just abstaining from drinking, but rather a journey into whole health – healing and growing physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I have had to challenge myself by venturing into unknowns and removing non-serving thoughts, behaviors, and habits to make space in my life to pursue my passions and have fun being creative with newfound hobbies. My relationship with myself has strengthened, in turn strengthening my relationships with others.
Do I solely credit not drinking for all this change? No, not solely. But like a domino effect, I had to knock down that barrier to get everything else in motion. And simply put, I was ready to do the work.
So how did I do it? This is what worked for me:
- What Was My ‘Why?” Why did I feel I needed or wanted to change my relationship with alcohol? There were many reasons. I felt blah, my energy was dull, and drinking wasn’t as fun as it used to be. I could go on, but in summary I wanted a higher level of health and happiness and I knew my drinking habits were keeping me from getting there.
- My Starting Kit: I had to replace my booze kit with more healthy options. I started with herbal teas to drink at night instead of my usual glass (or glasses) of wine, and a few small pieces of dark chocolate each day, as a treat. Instead of happy hours, I focused on reading books and hobbies that interested me.
- Social Media: I followed an alcohol-free group on social media and read through other’s personal stories on their struggles with alcohol, their alcohol-free journey’s, and successes.
- Daily Mindfulness: I found a 365-day mindfulness journal and committed myself to a mindfulness activity daily.
- Personal Journal: I journaled my journey throughout the year. How I felt. What thoughts I had. How my body felt, and then over time how it changed and healed. I journaled when emotional triggers came up, when profound breakthroughs occurred, and when I started experiencing the benefits. I journaled past experiences and worked through forgiveness. I wrote what it was like going through vacations, holidays, and my birthday alcohol-free. I also wrote down things I was grateful for.
- Counseling: I had counseling sessions the first few months to be able to vent and to make sure I was getting the support I needed.
- My Inner Circle: I held tight to my closest family and friends and shared my journey with them. I reached out when I needed to talk. When it was time to celebrate milestones, they were there beside me.
- Self-Care: In addition to the above, I read a lot, spent time in nature, and went for a lot of walks. I focused on whole health. Most of my diet consisted of whole foods and nutrient-dense foods.
- I was Ready: (This is a Big One) I had tried 30-day hiatuses before, struggled through them, and couldn’t wait for them to be over so I could drink again. This time was different. I was ready to change. Timing truly is everything. I embraced the tough feelings, emotions, and struggles. I sat with it and welcomed it rather than struggled against it. It wasn’t easy at times, but the tough times passed and got easier over time. About three months in brought more hope and clarity. That’s when the beautiful magic really started to happen. I was more confident, felt like I had more control, and trust within myself. It became easier to continue. I also noticed I had started changing and I really liked this person I was becoming.
- Celebrate Milestones! I made a big deal about my milestones – one month, three months, etc. Sometimes I would celebrate with a pedicure or a meal from a favorite restaurant. Or I would take pictures of glowing skin and a radiant smile and compare them to hungover pictures from the past. I celebrated New Year’s Eve with cake and enjoyed sparkling grape juice. I bought new clothes when I lost my booze belly and needed smaller sizes. The point is, I made the journey fun and made sure to have things to look forward to along the way.
So, the Big Question – Will I have a glass of wine someday?
I don’t know what the future holds, but the desire and need for drinking is gone now. My health and happiness are finally more important than booze, and I’m definitely happier and healthier. So today, I will continue living without alcohol, with January 2021 marking the one year point on my alcohol-free journey.
What I know for certain is life is so much more beautiful, peaceful, joyful, and healthy now. I absolutely love this version of myself, and I feel good! I know now, not only did drinking numb everything I intended it to – hurt, past pain, and the things I didn’t want to deal with – it also numbed everything I never wanted it to – joy, being present, all the love and beauty of life, and truly living.
Disclosure: I realize everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different and uniquely their own. This is me simply sharing my story and what worked for me. If by sharing, it helps someone going through a similar challenge, then great! However, I’m not a medical expert and those interested in an alcohol-free journey should seek/research whatever help it is they may personally need before getting started.