Philipp Marxen

One Year Without Alcohol as a Non-Alcoholic: Embracing a Sober Lifestyle

The Idea: 365 days no alcohol

A calendar with 365 days crossed off, a bottle of alcohol with a red cross over it, and a healthy lifestyle symbol like a running shoe or a fruit basket

Embracing a year without alcohol was a leap into the unknown, spurred by curiosity and a desire for self-improvement. It wasn’t about battling addiction, but about discovering the role alcohol played in my life and what might change without it.

When and Where I Got the Idea

I found myself in Kuching, Malaysia, surrounded by the unrivaled hospitality of locals who loved to share their culture over drinks. It was after one such night, that the idea crystallized in my mind: What if I quit alcohol for a full year? In fact, I had some episodes of not drinking for weeks or months, but now, why not make it a year?

Ramadan in Malaysia

As the festive month of Ramadan approached, I saw Muslims preparing for a period of fasting and self-reflection. This further inspired me and aligned perfectly with the timing of my no alcohol challenge. And let’s be clear, in Malaysia most bars will shut down during Ramadan and most supermarkets will not sell alcohol during these days.

Lent in Malaysia

Similarly, Lent was approaching, observed by the Christian community, a season of sacrifice and contemplation. Every year, I usually think about something to change or improve starting during lent. In 2023, lent and Ramadan was more or less at the same time. 

A Night of Heavy Drinking

That particular evening, the conviviality was overflowing, but so were the drinks. It was warm, the laughter was infectious and I thought I spoke some fluent Chinese with people, but probably that was the overconfidence brought to me by the drinks that were served. The next day’s headache wasn’t quite as welcome. It was this contrast that set the stage for my decision. Now is the time! 

The Decision

So, without a fuss, without waiting for a new week, a significant date, or a rounded calendar number, I just started. Right then and there. No internal debate, no second thoughts. I was eager to see what lessons this journey would offer. I just told myself not to drink for a year, and that was that.

Not Drinking As a Non-Alcoholic

A calendar with 365 days crossed off, a glass of water, and a "No Alcohol" sign

Embarking on a year without alcohol as someone who was never an alcoholic can be an eye-opening experience. It’s about exploring personal drinking habits, understanding the role of alcohol in social settings, and discovering the benefits of sober periods. 

Online Journeys of Alcoholics

While researching sobriety, I found numerous accounts from alcoholics sharing their one-year sober journeys. These stories are enlightening; however, their experiences differ from my own, as my drinking was not as habitual or compulsive.

My Drinking Habits (previous to going sober)

Reflecting on my own consumption, I realize that my intake fluctuated. Occasionally, I drank more, other times not much. On average, it’s safe to say that I consumed less than half of the European average—far from the staggering totals of around 80 wine bottles or 160 beer bottles yearly. 

Sober Streaks

I’ve had my fair share of sober streaks, ranging from several weeks to one or two months, typically aligning with periods like lent. These intervals were excellent opportunities to experiment with new habits and lifestyle changes. Sometimes, also unplanned periods of 1-2 months of no drinking, just as there might not have been a good opportunity.

Social Drinking

Socially, alcohol often acted as a lubricant for me, making it common to indulge in a few too many drinks while out with friends. Despite this, my social circle is a mix of individuals with diverse drinking habits—from teetotalers to those who enjoy their liquor.

Let’s Get Started!

A calendar with "365 days sober" marked. A glass of water with lemon. A gym membership card. A book on alcohol-free living

Embarking on a year without alcohol was more about personal growth than necessary change. Equipped with understanding from both non-drinkers and enthusiasts, my approach was unceremonious and private.

The Challenging First Day

My initiation into a year without alcohol wasn’t marked by fanfare, but with the resolve of a quiet commitment I made to myself. The challenge on the first day was unrelated to abstaining from alcohol; it was tackling a headache and sleep deficit from the previous night. The day demanded focus not on absence, but on physical recovery.

The First Week Myth

Against common assumptions, the first week was surprisingly smooth. As someone who didn’t depend on alcohol, I experienced no yearnings or withdrawal symptoms. The absence of alcohol in my routine was, in fact, barely noticeable, signaling the potential ease of this self-imposed experiment.

Support from Ramadan

Coincidence lent a hand when Ramadan rolled around in Malaysia, creating an environment conducive to my alcohol-free year. With reduced access to alcohol across the social landscape, the period provided a supportive backdrop, sparing me the effort of seeking out non-alcoholic environments.

Availability Of Alcohol

Empty liquor shelves, a dusty bar, and a calendar with "365 days sober" marked

In my experience abstaining from alcohol for a year, I’ve encountered numerous situations where alcohol is readily obtainable, but I’ve navigated these scenarios keeping my commitment in mind.

During International Flights

On various international flights, I’ve seen that complimentary fine wine is often offered. It’s a nice perk, although on my recent flights I noticed airlines seem to be scaling back on this luxury. It’s there, it’s fine, but not indulging is really not a big deal for me. I just go for H2O.

On Business Trips

Business trips used to involve a fair bit of drinking; however, I don’t participate in those many drinking events anymore. The availability of alcohol is not a pressing concern, considering my reduction in business travel. I just travel more due to life choices.

At Social Functions

Social gatherings, from weddings to housewarming parties, often feature alcohol. Facing these situations, I find that most events are quite manageable without drinking. Whether it’s catching up with friends in the park or celebrating a grand opening, alcohol is present but not necessary for my enjoyment.

Difficult Situations

During my year without alcohol, certain events proved challenging for my commitment to stay sober.

Venue Openings

I recall the excitement of a dance school kicking off in Colombia. The atmosphere was buzzing, and everyone was raising a toast. To fit in, I accepted a glass of champagne, but discreetly handed it over to a friend—still keeping in the spirit without a sip. In Taipei, celebrating a restaurant opening, I sipped a minuscule amount of champagne out of courtesy.

Outdoor Events

Colombia offered its share of temptations, especially when I played drums at an outdoor event. Post-performance, fellow musicians eagerly shared a drink. Feeling the pressure, I took a small shot of aguardiente, but its taste ensured it was a one-time experience. Beyond the taste, there’s a genuine risk for foreigners regarding accepting any beverage, as it can be spiked with scopolamine, leading to prolonged unconsciousness.

Conversely, summer outdoor events in Germany were filled with Latin American vitality and fantastic tunes. It was a proud moment for me as I navigated through these without succumbing to the allure of drinks. Always, rather also bringing small things to eat and non-alcoholic beverages to share with friends.

The Confession

In reflection, my no-alcohol journey wasn’t perfect. I must admit that on those two separate occasions, I did consume a very small amount of alcohol. Despite these instances, it remained largely a year of sobriety for me.

Positive Changes

In just one year of abstaining from alcohol, I’ve noticed a myriad of improvements in my physical health, mental clarity, and daily life. I’m genuinely proud of the progress and curious about the continuous benefits that unfold.

Improved Sleep

Within a week of quitting alcohol, I found myself sleeping more soundly. It’s been enlightening to see how abstaining from alcohol has aligned with an overall improved quality of rest.

Enhanced Fitness

My fitness has seen a boost—not drastic, but noticeable. Alongside a consistent workout routine, my body seems more responsive and energetic without the influence of alcohol.

Sharper Memory

I’ve made significant strides in language acquisition, working on five foreign languages simultaneously. Not only is my memory sharper, but all aspects of cognitive function seem to have been enhanced.

More Engaging Activities

Since alcohol isn’t a cornerstone of my social life, its absence hasn’t hindered my activities. In fact, I find equal, if not more, enjoyment in gatherings and hobbies that don’t revolve around drinking.

Bolstered Dating

Almost the biggest benefit comes to dating. By setting aside alcohol, I’ve found a natural way to select potential partners who share similar interests and lifestyles. It’s an unexpected and welcomed form of preselection in my romantic encounters. People that do not drink often are more reliable and often are much more likely to go on hikes or travels. Something I enjoy.

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