This Was the Best and Worst Year to Give Up Booze

In October 2019, the day after my 39th birthday, I gave up drinking for a year.

Sarah Z Writer
7 min readJul 4, 2020

***This was originally published in July, 2020 in conjunction with a Medium publication. I remember, when I gave up drinking for a year, being SHOCKED to fully realize the social expectations surrounding alcohol. I abstained for my mental wellness, but people acted like not drinking is insanity. Last week on author Glennon Doyle’s podcast, “We Can Do Hard Things,” she and her co-host/sister discussed alcoholism and society’s casually aggressive relationship with alcohol, and it brought all these feelings back. I highly recommend giving it a listen. ***

It’s not just a booze cleanse. I also wanted to make other personal changes in the year before I turned forty; moving my body every day, drinking the right amount of water, sleeping the right amount of sleep, eating less sugar, working on my temper, drawing better boundaries in my relationships, tending to my mental health (by taking my meds, utilizing therapy and meditation for chronic depression and anxiety), and doing something creative every day.

I call it “The Me Project” even though, yes, it sounds like something I would have concocted when I was sixteen, leaning against a tree wearing aggressive black eye makeup, writing earnest poetry about crows. I don’t care. I wanted to hit forty with intention and self-awareness. I did not attach any BMI, weight or measurement goals, this was NOT a “New Year/new you” body thing. I was doing this for mental and physical self-care, self-love, and self-analysis. It was daunting but essential that I use the full year, knowing I couldn’t expect instant changes. After all, I wasn’t going to be able to shelf my family, jobs, other responsibilities, and years and years of bad habits and rise out of the ashes, a well-hydrated, well-adjusted, clean-living phoenix in one day.

Cutting out alcohol was easy physically, thankfully, but harder socially than the other changes. From friends and family, I received a lot of confusion and…annoyance, when I said I planned to abstain. I think people worry that if you’re not drinking, you’re judging. Or if you’re not drinking, you’re not ‘game,.’ We live in a culture that embraces, almost requires, that you drink to demonstrate that you’re normal, fun, having fun.

Some tried to talk me out of it, in whispered voices, “I mean, it’s not like you’re an alcoholic!” It’s very taboo to discuss this out loud, even when we should. They were right. I’d never been diagnosed or treated with substance abuse and it had never *technically* interfered with my life….but still, I suspected that deep-down, my drinking was hurting me and my family; I am less present and more short-tempered with my kids when I drink, foggier and less likely to engage in good intercourse (intellectual or otherwise) with my husband. Also, I do score higher than I should, when being honest, on those screening forms the PCP gives out at annuals, but who doesn’t?

I’ve seen alcoholism tear apart people’s lives and families and since that wasn’t my cross to bear, it felt sort of fraudulent to stop drinking, most especially to talk or write about it. I did it anyway, because I wasn’t to be maximally healthy, maximally me.

PLUS, I had hit a…if not rock bottom, than a fancy tiled bathroom floor bottom, anyway. Shortly before I made this commitment, while traveling for a dear friend’s wedding, I missed (and therefore, my husband also missed) most of the wedding reception because I was a pukey, passed-out mess. We were on vacation, having fun with no kids or other responsibilities…so technically it was “fine,” that I binged, I guess…but was it?

I knew booze was negatively impacting my mental and physical health and providing me an escape from dealing with my stuff. I didn’t want that anymore. Also, I was intrigued by people’s extreme negative reactions to me not drinking. It shouldn’t be THAT big of a deal, right? Is drinking such a mainstream cultural requirement that it’s a threat when people opt out?

Alcohol is a very acceptable crutch. I used it when I didn’t know what to say at social events. Drinking didn’t make me feel less awkward, but it allowed me to forgive myself for my awkwardness. At least until I reflected back on it the next day. I also drank to ‘settle my mind’ after long, hard days, because it was a totally socially acceptable (enthusiastically encouraged) way to make the sadness, worry, frustration, sense of failure, feel a little less acute…for a while. Obviously, all that shame, and all those other hard human feelings didn’t just get swallowed down with the gin. They were only temporarily set aside but came up in other ways; raging at my kids or husband, loathing myself, drinking more. I used booze to “help me get through life,” or more accurately, to “help me get through life as me.

“But what about the holidays?” people asked, aghast. As nervous as I was about spending an entire holiday season SOBER with my family, I did it. It turns out, I was more patient and alert with my kids, the food comas were way less severe when not coupled with hangovers, and even the things that always provoke my anxiety during large social gatherings were more manageable.

Then, there was winter. Living in the Midwest, winter is always a cold, dark, super mega bummer, but this year I actually tolerated quite well. I didn’t dive deep into seasonal depression and I stayed clear from my normal six-week sinus infection. I can’t know for sure if not drinking is why I had an easier time, but alcohol IS a depressant, so, it stands to reason avoiding booze helped get me through the darkness without falling into darkness. Also, alcohol is bad for your immune system, specifically the respiratory system.

Today is Day #249 “The Me Project,” Day #113, in “The Bunker”

When March rolled around and we all got shut inside our ‘bunkers’ with our families, scared for our lives and our finances, and the lives and economy of our entire world, I really, really wanted to drink. Everyone was drinking, talking about drinking, joking about drinking, and it seemed stupid not to, considering the circumstances. ‘Smoke ’em if you got ‘em’ eh?

YET, the whole reason I started this was to become the healthiest, best version of me, mentally and physically. Now, more than ever in my life, I need to be healthy and well, not just to fight off the virus should it attack, but also to keep my mental self together. When chronic depression and anxiety deteriorate, sometimes it results in death by suicide. We’re all feeling, to some degree, helpless and hopeless right now, and constantly worried. I’m not taking that threat lightly.

(Hotlines if you’re worried about yourself or here)

I’m doing whatever it takes to keep me and my family healthy and safe from the virus, doesn’t it stand that I should do whatever it takes to keep my mind safe and healthy, too? For me, this means exercising, writing, drinking lots of water, and not consuming alcohol…even though I really want to try the “quarantini” my friends are raving about.

This past eight months, working on the “Me Project,” I have felt healthier and truer to myself, calmer, more clear-headed and patient. All that is pretty useful right now. The glass of wine I could have tonight wouldn’t make the world a less scary place, and, it would likely not stop at one glass. The three glasses of wine I could have tonight sure as hell would NOT make me a more kind and caring faux math teacher for my kids tomorrow morning.

Last year I gave myself a year-long birthday present: permission to take time for myself, to focus on my needs, to care for me, and not just everyone else. Even when it made people uncomfortable or when it didn’t feel like the easy way through, my commitment to my wellness was the right choice…no matter that this is the year of the dumpster fire. I am proud that I am sticking with it…most of it. I’m eating chocolate chip cookies by the fists full. Personal growth is not linear.

I’m almost forty. Apparently, I’m stuck with me…in this bunker and in this life. I’m going to make the best of me.

High school me, perfecting my RBF (resting bitch face) and my cute little sister, who hadn’t started working on hers yet.

Sarah Zimmerman is a freelance writer, business owner, and medical professional. She has two kids and one husband. She enjoys coffee and chocolate and her family, in exactly that order. You can find her writing here on Medium, also on Ravishly,, The Belladonna Comedy, Pregnant Chicken, & more, of follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.



Sarah Z Writer

Frank and funny, Sarah writes the hard stuff of marriage, parenting, woman-ing. Ravishly, The Belladonna Comedy, Pregnant Chicken, & more. Twitter: @sarahzimzam