What a month of ditching alcohol taught me

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What a monthlong challenge to give up alcohol taught a millennial woman.

I go to work, then I go out — tracing different parts of the city to hear music, check out art spaces or catch up with friends, drink in hand.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first sipped alcohol. I grew up in a household where it was OK to taste mom’s mudslide or dad’s wine at a young age.

Getting my driver’s license meant freedom to go to as many music shows as I wanted and stay out as long as I could get home safely.

But at 16, driving isn’t the only new thing you’re introduced to.

At sleepovers in high school, refilling what a friend and I had consumed of a bottle of vodka with water was pretty standard. Whiskey with iced tea — you know, the typical teens-looking-to-grow-up-far-too-quickly thing.

Twenty-one came and went, and all that was different was I didn’t have to worry about the underage-drinking taboo. It also meant access to new shows — shows in dive bars, where booze typically flowed until close.

Much of me was shaped in places like these. It’s loud, you can speak freely and strangers become friends through mutual adoration of whoever’s playing and who’s buying the next round.

Earlier this year, I decided to take a month away from booze. Nothing was out of control, and no one had expressed concern, I just wanted to see if it was something I could accomplish.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported 20 percent of millennial women, ages 18 to 34, have engaged in binge drinking — defined for women as having four or more drinks on one occasion.

When I’d go out, three or four drinks were part of the norm.

At 25, I don’t have serious physical health problems and lead a much more active life than my pant-size suggests. Consulting with my doctor before taking on this challenge, I was assured my blood pressure was right where it should be —125/70. My liver and thyroid work were just fine. My cholesterol is a bit high but can easily be rectified.

The results: I lost around 12 pounds. My skin looks the best it ever has; and If I don’t stay up until 1 a.m. watching MSNBC, I’m less tired than I would be if I were out at a show.

The sober month also helped me understand that I was drinking to enhance my performance of myself instead of just being myself.

For many people, mental health is harder than drinking to navigate. The same study found that millennial women struggle with mental health an average of 4.9 days a month compared with the 4.3 days women average overall.

I have crippling anxiety, so much so that there were weeks I couldn’t leave my dorm room in college.

Music always helped alleviate this anxiety, and going to shows forced me out of my comfort zone, helping me to cope socially, including acute paranoia onset by the glares and comments I got because of my size.

But a month of sobriety made me realize that alcohol played a part too.

Throughout the entire period, I went out socially three times, whereas I would typically go out two or three times a week. I felt as if I no longer was allowed to go out.

I couldn’t comfortably exist in spaces where drinking was expected or encouraged. If I did, it was to play yet another role: the sober person, the “mom.”

“You like to perform, to entertain,” said my therapist. She says that if you perform long enough, that is who people think you are. I felt I had turned myself into a whiskey-swilling caricature of who I thought I should be in social situations.

After reflecting for nearly four months, I’ve learned that implementing a two-drink maximum and sharing less of myself with others alleviate the pressure to fill some sort of role.

Moderating — being aware and keeping track of my consumption — became my solution.

A 2016 survey from trend analysts Canvas8 on behalf of Heineken for the beer brand’s “Moderate Drinkers Wanted” campaign polled 5,000 millennials (ages 21-35) on how they feel about moderate alcohol consumption. The results showed that 75 percent moderate how much they drink the majority of the times they go out.

So it seems I’m not alone in my quest.

“(Millennials) want to be accountable and feel they’ve had an impact on the world. They want a meaningful life, fulfillment at work, and they are highly intentional in the way they live.” said Dr. Goal Auzeen Saedi, a clinical psychologist with a specialty in millennial behavior, when asked to weigh in on the survey results.

A month of sobriety taught me that it is freeing to take control of your life and challenge your habits. It’s also better to be honest with yourself than to be a character in a narrow representation of your life.

jroti@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @jessitaylorro

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