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I Stopped Drinking for the month of November, Here’s What I Learned…

November is typically a surprisingly stressful month for me. I tend to find extra pressure to put on myself to have something to show for my efforts before year’s end, and to set myself up for success in the coming year… all while having increased family obligations and fewer daylight hours (which always challenge my ability to stay awake and stay motivated).

On top of these pressures, like you, I have been processing the stress and emotions of the roller coaster ride that is #2020 which includes the choice to move my mother from my hometown to my current town in the midst of a global pandemic, voting in (and watching the results of) this Presidential election, while marking the one-year anniversary of a personal loss that deeply impacted me.

Also, Thanksgiving!

Knowing what was ahead of me for November, I made the smart decision to put down the bottle for No-Drink-November. I say I made a smart decision because I learned some things from this simple choice, and some of the things I learned surprised me!

1) Booze is a bad way to cope with stress

I can just hear you now, “no kidding!” you say dripping with sarcasm. Here’s why I’m taking time to say it. This month was packed with all the things I listed at the top of this piece (a near double-stress load compared to October), but I experienced less stress overall than in the previous month.

Without booze, I was better able to handle the challenges I encountered. In fact, things I thought were going to be particularly difficult, turned out to be no big deal. That’s because without an evening-wine routine I noticed that I was:

  • Better rested
  • Less grumpy
  • Making smarter food choices
  • Better able to keep track of my task lists
  • Better able to resist the ‘trash-fire’ model of the world that says we are all doomed (for the most part… I’m not an emotionless robot!)
Aden Nepom makes a face. Courtesy of Art of Change

2) The first week was hard

I’ve never suspected myself of having addictive tendencies. Honestly, my success in November reinforces that belief. That being said, the number of times I felt whiney about not having wine during week-one surprised me. I did not realize that I had started viewing that glass of wine at the end of the day as an integral part of my routine.

Because of my work helping people develop better workplace collaboration habits, I was already aware of two important things that allowed me to quickly setup a strategy for these moments of internal pinch.

First, when it comes to change, mindset matters. My mantra for November was “I’m participating in #NoDrinkNovember,” which was far more effective than what many people choose, “I’m trying not to drink this month.” Trying is different than doing.

Second, change does not happen in a vacuum. You can’t replace something with nothing. I needed to have something to reach for in place of wine. I think of wine as warm and comforting (I typically go for reds), so I chose to replace that part of my routine with warming and comforting teas, like chamomile (which is calming), or raspberry leaf (which is good for balancing the female system).

I liked drinking tea in the evening so much, I started drinking tea in the afternoon too, adding Cup of Sunshine Tea from Traditional Medicines to help get me through the weather changes.

3) After the first week, I stopped thinking about drinking

Maybe it’s because I gave myself Thanksgiving as an exception prior to committing to No-Drink-November, so I knew I wouldn’t be going the full month; or maybe I got really into tea drinking. Either way I simply had other things on my mind during the month of November.

When I thought of booze at all, I thought about the difference in what it means for someone like me to stop drinking vs. what it meant when my friend Chuy had to give it up forever as a matter of life or death. You can listen to his story in this episode of the Changed Podcast.

Now it’s December…

…and I haven’t really jumped at the opportunity to add booze back into my routine. I like the way I feel, and frankly while having Prosecco with pomegranate seeds on Thanksgiving was fun and tasty… it wasn’t as exciting as I remembered, and my eyes felt weird the next morning.

I’m not saying that I’m done drinking forever, because I don’t think I am. There will be occasions when I will absolutely want to raise a glass in toast, and days when a glass of cabernet will feel like the perfect accompaniment to a relaxing soak in the tub. I am, however, saying that I am not eager to lose out on the good sleep, clarity of thought and purpose, and better mood that I have gained as a result of putting down the decanter.

As I finish out this year, and begin thinking about the next, I’ll be looking to be a bit more thoughtful about how, and when and why I fill the glass. As with all things, I am sure there is a balance to be struck.

Aden Nepom is president of The Art of Change Skills for Life and host of The Changed Podcast. She’s a pragmatic and playful advisor on communication and change.

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