Ditching Alcohol Changed my Life (and no, I wasn’t an alcoholic)

Ditching Alcohol Changed my Life (and no, I wasn’t an alcoholic)

Posted on: December 9, 2022

Ditching alcohol changed my life for the better…and no, I wasn’t an alcoholic. The problem I had with alcohol was the way it made me feel. It took me a long time to recognize that. I’m sharing my experience becoming alcohol-free, because when something changes your life so profoundly, you want to shout it from the rooftops in the hopes that you can help others.

This is not meant to be an anti-alcohol rant; however, as a health professional my job is to help you live the healthiest life you can, and to feel the best you can. I would be remiss if I didn’t explain to you the science behind how limiting alcohol can improve your health. If you want to read more on the science, check out my links at the end of this post.

This might sound weird, but one major effect of not drinking is a feeling a freedom.

Things that seemed normal to me before I took a break from drinking:

Waking up after a night of social drinking (or even just wine at home) and making repeated trips to the bathroom (for number 2). The alcohol itself, combined with alcohol-induced poor food choices wrecked my stomach. Oh well, I thought. An upset stomach is just what happens when you drink.

Feeling exhausted the day after a night out, like a deep tired in my bones and muscles, to the point where around 3 pm I needed to lie down for a quick nap just to get through until bedtime. Again, to me this was the tradeoff of drinking.

Feeling a buzzing anxiety all day the day after drinking, like the world was just a little off. Was I too loud at the party? Did I really say that thing about politics? Was I obnoxious? Eeek.

I usually just brushed it all off, because everyone drank. I reasoned that one day of feeling lousy was worth it. Plus, drunk Shaina was fun. Drunk Shaina was nicknamed “Champagne Shaina”. Drunk Shaina was loud and sloppy and a source of entertainment for others. Could I let her go?

Well, friends, I did.

When I go to a party now, I can have fun, and not worry about being overtired, cranky with my kids, or nauseous the next day.

I can enjoy a nice meal without filling up on alcohol and being too stuffed to enjoy dessert. I no longer have to wonder if I said something inappropriate that I won’t remember later. (I may still say things that are inappropriate, but only if I want to!) Sober Shaina makes better choices all around.

So how did my break begin, if I ignored the way alcohol made me feel for so long?

It started when I took a nutrition course where I learned the causal link between alcohol and breast cancer, even with only 3 drinks a week. Once I knew that I couldn’t un-know it. It made me re-think how much I was drinking.

I also wondered why this connection isn’t talked about? Why isn’t this on all the liquor labels? (The WHO actually does recommend that warning labels be placed on bottles of alcohol, but it seems no one has taken them up on that yet.)

Since alcohol didn’t make me feel like a million bucks anyway, I decided I needed to more research on what alcohol does the body (even if it meant I had to let go of Champagne Shaina).

I discovered that there is no evidence that any amount of alcohol is good for you, but lots of evidence that it’s harmful. I’m not going to go into all that here (but there are links at the bottom if you’re interested). But that, coupled with the way alcohol made me feel, was enough motivation for me to explore life without alcohol. I know it’s not that easy for everyone to just decide to take a break from drinking and actually stop. But for me, it was enough.

Now, after 3 and a half years without alcohol I am happy to report:
  • My skin has never looked better or more hydrated. A huge side benefit I hadn’t considered, but LOVE.
  • A late night out doesn’t take me down.
  • My anxiety has improved SO much (I now understand that alcohol, even moderate amounts, increases cortisol, which worsens feelings of stress, anxiety and inflammation). People who drink regularly have more cortisol released from their adrenal glands when they are not drinking, resulting in feeling more stressed and anxious when not drinking.
  • I sleep much better now (that’s because the process of metabolizing alcohol disrupts our deep restorative sleep, especially if we drink at night, which most people do).
  • I rarely, rarely, get sick. And if I do, it’s very short lived.
  • I have seen a noticeable increase in muscle gains (alcohol impairs protein synthesis, the process of building new muscle cells).
  • I am the weight I want to be, and this is in part due to the fact that every weekend I am not taking in additional empty calories. Since alcohol is a toxin, our bodies cannot store it, unlike carbs or fats or proteins. So when we drink alcohol, all other metabolic processes have to stop. The only priority for our body is to get the alcohol out. That means our body isn’t breaking down the sugars or fats in our bloodstream, so these get stored while our body works on getting the alcohol out, and this is what leads to weight gain. 
 But do I feel awkward at social events?

Nova Scotia is a drinking culture. Halifax, our major city, has the most bars per capita in Canada. People did ask me why I wasn’t drinking (which I get, but no one ever asks you why you aren’t smoking). I felt awkward because no matter what answer I gave (even if I just said I feel better not drinking) some people immediately became defensive of their own drinking.

If you meet someone who chooses not to drink, don’t ask them why.

Another question I get is what do I drink at social gatherings when everyone else has beer, wine, cocktails, etc? It depends on the situation. Sometimes I’m happy with sparking water; sometimes I’ll drink a mocktail; sometimes tea, sometimes I drink nothing. I realized other people tend to feel more uncomfortable with me not drinking than I actually feel.

Overall, I’m happier with my life. I’m well rested. I feel confident in my body. My anxiety is lower. I feel healthier and stronger. For me, all this is worth not having that glass of bubbly. It’s about trade-offs. Maybe for you, it will be motivation to cut back just a little and see how you feel.

Interested in doing some research on the effects of alcohol? Here are some resources:

A great intro article on the effect of alcohol on our bodies 

The BEST podcast I’ve ever heard on the health effects of alcohol 

Alcohol and breast cancer

A short little podcast on alcohol and sleep