• Kelly Smith

What I Learned After Not Drinking Alcohol For A Year

In February, 2020 I decided to cut out alcohol entirely. After a conversation with my husband, Jayme, we both realized that we'd been moderately drinking alcohol for over two decades with the exceptions of my two pregnancies, and realized that our bodies could probably use a break. We wanted to prioritize our health and set a better example for our kids about what healthy living could look like.

Additionally, I wanted to give myself the best odds for hitting some major business goals. I had a growth goal which required me to show up in a big and better way in my business. It was time for an experiment:

What would happen if I eliminated distractions and activities that were keeping me from being as clear-headed and focused as possible? How would I feel?

I would feel like I gave it 100% and if I didn't hit my goals, I'd still be proud of the effort.

I had my *last* beer with girlfriends on February 25th, 2020 and so began the experiment. Jayme committed to drinking only on specifically planned occasions, and I committed to completely eliminating alcohol for the entire year.

At the time, I'd classify myself as a moderate drinker. I would drink a glass or two of red wine or have a beer every couple of days, would enjoy an Old Fashioned during happy hour, etc. But I started to notice something; even though I wasn't addicted to alcohol and didn't drink to excess, I would sleep terribly on the nights I drank even one glass of wine. I had gut issues that I couldn't seem to fix with diet adjustments, I had minor hangover symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, and dehydration every morning, even after just one drink the night before.

Not optimal for someone trying to be the highest and best version of themselves.

Now, in February, 2020 I was growing my business and serving on the Board for Women Business Owners and I had some pretty lofty goals. I decided that my 38 year old body could really use some nutritional love and that my CEO self wanted to remove any self-limiting obstacles so that I could say without any reservation that I tackled these goals and left it all on the field.

Eliminating distractions and protecting my physical and mental health were the most important factors in being able to show up in my business the way I wanted to while still being the mom and wife I wanted to be.

It was time to "protect the asset."

Now, this is not a blog post about sobriety. I have no advice. I wanted to catalog this experience as a reminder of what happens when we try new things, trust ourselves, and make our health a priority. These are my experiences and this is not meant to be used as a guidebook.

Below you'll see the major moments of 2020 where I had a really hard time figuring out how NOT to drink in certain situations. Getting ready to cook dinner was one of those times. Being on vacation was another.

Coping with a global pandemic, definitely.

But What Do We Drink When We Cook?

I've never had a craving for alcohol until this very moment. It totally freaked me out. I was getting my ingredients ready in the kitchen and I just really wanted a big bold red to sip on while I chopped vegetables. I could taste it. I could smell it. It made me concerned that I wanted that glass of wine so-damn-bad. I let myself feel that disappointment and then I dug into it... why do I feel this way? And here's what I realized:

It was the experience of pushing pause in the service of others and doing something to serve myself.

The indulgence of opening a beautiful bottle of wine that some craftsperson worked hard to make that I got to savor and enjoy. I would have spent time picking out the perfect bottle to match the activity that I'd pair it with. The experience of pulling out a favorite glass and pouring the wine into it. It's a gorgeous and indulgent activity when you really think about it. I missed THAT. I missed the ceremony, the pomp and circumstance around the activity of doing something lovely for myself before going on about making dinner for my family. It wasn't the wine I missed.

It was never about the wine.

This was a huge awakening moment for me.

I replaced the activity of "filling my own cup" so-to-speak. I found delicious and equally artful (non-alcoholic) drinks to make, bought pretty cups as a gift to myself. I drank sparkling water in a stemless wineglass rather than from the can. Simple, but effective. Before I cooked dinner, sat down to read a book, or whatever else usually involved something to sip on, I'd take the step to indulgently, slowly, and thoughtfully "fill my own cup" with something as equally delightful and satisfying. It Was Never About The Alcohol.

And for me, that did the trick. I haven't missed the big, bold red since.

When On Vacation...

When we went on vacation I found myself poolside wondering what the hell people drink at the pool if they're not drinking Corona or Trulys! This time I had an a-ha moment... I realized I couldn't recall a time where I'd been on vacation and NOT drank other than when I was pregnant (and in that case, my motive for avoiding alcohol was stronger than a health experiment).

Of course it was uncomfortable. I knew no different. Once I realized this I remembered reading something about how the brain forms new connections and literally builds new pathways when experiencing something new.

So, while drinking a boring sparkling water I gave myself some grace for feeling uncomfortable and remembered that my brain was just trying to figure out "how we do vacations now."

The next time we went on vacation it was No-Big-Deal! I didn't miss the booze and had an experience to remind me that a) playing at the pool can be just as fun without alcohol than with, and b) that you don't feel like shit by dinner time. I was happy to trade the feel good factor for the old habit of Coronas pool-side.

Speaking of Coronas...

A minor detail of 2020... Coronavirus. When I decided to stop drinking in February, 2020 no one had any idea we'd be in for a global pandemic. Little did I know that my kids would be home, and homeschooled by yours truly for 11 months. WTF. If ever there were a time to quit drinking, this would certainly NOT be it. But you know what, I think not drinking absolutely saved my sanity. Jayme and I made big family decisions in 2020 and I know I came into those decisions with the most sound judgement and as confidently as possible. I had to show up for my kids in a totally different way. The growth plan I had set was working simultaneously and my business doubled. It was and intense and insane time. It was completely overwhelming at times.

However, throughout the overwhelm I never had the feeling of "I need a drink." I think the reason for this comes down to mindset: I believed that I'm physically & mentally better off without alcohol, so that if I were to drink I'd really be really doing myself a disservice.

It was more like, "what can I do to take really good care of myself today/tonight/tomorrow/right now because I'm feeling totally overwhelmed," and it often looked like taking 10 minutes for myself to be completely alone while my kids watched a show. Or getting on my treadmill for just a few minutes. Or zoning out mindlessly scrolling Instagram consuming nothing but content that serves zero purpose. Sometimes it looked like having a big ugly cry in my closet!

It was never about the booze, what I needed was the space to take a break for just a hot second.

But How Do We "Happy Hour?"

This was relatively easy because most events were cancelled in 2020, however during the occasional, socially-distant-outdoor-dinner-with-a-friend and such, it dawned on me that, again, I had to figure out "how to do happy hour without booze."

Side note... absolutely NO ONE cared that I stopped drinking. Friends were supportive, but the conversation vibe felt more like sharing that you got a cool new purse, "Oh, hey that's cool," rather than you made this monumental life change like, "Wow, how can I support you in this life change." This is 100% due to the fact that this is not about sobriety, recovery, or anything remotely as serious as that.

That first time you share with someone that you're not drinking, it can be tricky. I don't spend time with people who make me feel self-conscious about my choices anyway, and was really excited to share about this new experiment I was trying out. My friends were supportive and curious as I expected them to be. Also worth noting, THEY didn't feel weird drinking in front of me. They asked if I minded, which I didn't, but that would be a very personal situation depending on one's circumstances Reminder: this is not a sobriety guide, it's a reflection of a health experiment I did on myself.

When In Montana...

I took my boys to Montana for two weeks in September, 2020. The experience was magical. It was our first stab at homeschooling and working from anywhere. We drove from where we live outside of Seattle to Big Sky, MT, to Whitefish, MT, with a stop in Spokane, WA, then back home. We spent time at Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and mountain biked all over. It was as fun as it was stressful. We hiked in grizzly territory. We were on the open road with no cell service. We had to monitor wildfire activity to make sure we weren't traveling to or through one. I was alone with my two boys in another state. Every imaginable worst-case-scenario crossed my mind. Usually in the wee hours of the morning when I was anxiety-ridden and couldn't sleep.

I was hyper-vigilant on that trip. I had to be. It didn't feel safe to me to drop my guard even for a second, though the thought crossed my mind to get a beer in the lodge at Big Sky after a memorable day of mountain biking.

While my boys and I watched the sun set behind Lone Peak, I thought that this would be the perfect spot for a Porter. Not since I was 16 have I ever been in a ski lodge and not had a beer.

But we got three hot chocolates and enjoyed the view.

They're Always Watching...

Jayme and I wanted to normalize NOT drinking for our kids; to show them an "alternative lifestyle," I suppose. Since drinking is so common and it seems socially awkward not to drink, we wanted to provide an example that a) not all grownups drink, and b) you can have a ton of fun and live your best life without having a beer before, during, or afterwards, and c) your health has to be a priority or everything else falls apart. At the time of this post they are 5 and 8 years old. I wanted to show them that drinking alcohol isn't a default position; that vacations and booze are not mutually exclusive.

Personally, I wanted to denounce the mommy-wine culture as toxic and demoralizing and make sure my kids know that they have no influence, fault, or responsibility for my actions or what I consume.

But at the end of the day, this non-drinking business... it's for me. It's for my health and well-being. My family, clients, and friends get the benefits. 2020 was the year that I got laser focused and decided to stop underinvesting in myself.

I crushed the goals I set for my business and showed up in the way I needed to for my family during this pandemic. Eliminating alcohol was one of the biggest reasons for this. The best thing for my body and mind is to skip the booze altogether. Maybe down the road I'll drink again, but now that I know how good I can feel, it's not at all tempting to go back.

Thanks for being here,