I didn't drink for 40 days: What it taught me



This is going to be a little bit outside the norm, here on the blog- a personal journal of sorts, of my choice to stop drinking for a time. I hope you'll find it helpful.


This year, over the 40 (plus) days of Lent, I chose to go without any alcohol (unless you count kombucha, which I did not).

It’s something I felt the Lord calling me to for several months, since almost a year prior at a conference I went to that urged me to take some time abstaining from anything that was getting in the way of connecting with God and doing the work I was called to do. I hate to admit it, but I lasted THREE days. To premise this, no- I don’t have a drinking problem (though I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little worried at how resistant I felt to it as soon as I started).


In my defense, I WAS on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Florida (Disney!) by myself with a girlfriend and I truly felt like I was missing out by choosing not to drink. I went back and forth on it, decided to call it that month and that I would do it the next month when I wasn’t on vacation.


That ‘next month’ took six whole months to finally commit to. Now, I didn’t go crazy and get drunk on that trip- I was at a Christian mom’s conference, after all and after way too many nights of partying (and subsequent next days) in my early twenties, that's not really my style.


I DID enjoy a limoncello lemonade watching the fireworks at Epcot and fully enjoyed every sip.


But it did give me pause. WHY did I feel like I needed that drink in order to fully enjoy the trip? It wasn’t the first time I had gone without alcohol for an extended period of time (see: two pregnancies). So why did now feel so hard?


The more I explored it, the more I realized it came down to the fact that it was a choice, and in that choice, I felt the opposite I thought I should- I felt powerless.


I felt restricted. I was coming up against the same feeling that I had fought tooth and nail against for the past four years- restriction with food.


And even though it was something I felt called to do, I didn’t want to do it, and I felt restricted knowing I had a choice.


The reason I share this, is because we emphasize so much how the beauty in Intuitive Eating (and living) is that we have a choice. We have a choice to serve our bodies well and we have a choice not to (through unnecessary restriction for the purpose of weight loss or emotional overeating). But simply having the choice isn’t always so cut and dry.


Choice can feel overwhelming. Choosing what we know is good for us, when we know the alternative is available (and appealing) isn’t always easy. And that’s ok.


It takes time to come to terms with doing what is good for us, and making choices that serve us, without feeling forced into it.


It takes time to come to terms with doing what is good for us, and making choices that serve us, without feeling forced into it.

When we follow a plan, we listen to an expert, we put a timestamp on something, it can be comforting to know someone else is making the choice for us, taking ourselves out of the equation and following, hoping for the best.


When we make the decision to allow ourselves the choice, at first the freedom can feel big, bold and overwhelming.

But over time, we realize the power in making choices that serve us means the power to feel how we want to feel in our bodies and show up the way we want to show up in the world is in our own hands by the actions and decisions we take. And it becomes empowering.


It comes down to trust. We need to trust in our bodies that they will tell us what we need- and trust in ourselves to listen and respond, knowing that we’re human, and we don’t always get it ‘right’ and that’s normal- it’s continuing to make those daily decisions that matters the most.


So back to not drinking. I grew up Catholic and it is tradition in the 40+ days leading up to Easter (Lent) that you choose to abstain from something, just as Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness and resisted temptation, through faith.


He made the choice to trust in himself and his faith in God that God would see him through those 40 days of temptation, and we can choose to do the same.


As an adult, I don’t always abstain from something during Lent, and with my past history of eating disorders, I don't fast from food for spiritual purposes.


But this year I felt the nudging that I needed to finally make the commitment and choose to refrain from alcohol for the period of Lent, a full 43-46 days depending on who you ask (which is, by the way, thirteen full days longer than I had originally planned months prior).


And this time, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be- and I know, it was because my mindset had shifted.


Choosing to abstain from something wasn’t just a choice. It was an act of faith.


Choosing to abstain from something wasn’t just a choice. It was an act of faith.

It was trusting- in myself and in God, that I could take this time to focus on what matters- Him, my family and the work I am called to do.


Just like in Intuitive Eating, when we allow ourselves to go fully all-in with eating without rules or restrictions, sometimes we simply need to allow ourselves to trust-fall, even when it’s uncomfortable, and let ourselves learn as we go- trusting that our bodies do know best, even when it feels difficult.


And the reason it felt so difficult before was my resistance to trust, for fear of what was on the other side. Would I be able to enjoy my vacation fully if I was preoccupied with this self-imposed restriction? I had spent so many years in a constant state of restriction, I didn’t want that feeling, ever again. But when it stopped being a restrictive choice and became an act of obedience, to God and myself, the struggle was no longer there.


This is a good time to stress I am not implying all restrictions are an act of obedience. We know through the scientific literature that the restriction of dieting is damaging both physically and psychologically and does not produce long-term results- so I would never consider this to be obedient, though making choices that serve you and tuning into your own body through trusting her- that is.


Just like in Intuitive Eating, when we allow ourselves to go fully all-in with eating without rules or restrictions, sometimes we simply need to allow ourselves to trust-fall, even when it’s uncomfortable, and let ourselves learn as we go- trusting that our bodies do know best, even when it feels difficult.


There are a few things I learned during this time that I think are especially relevant to this season of physical distancing we are in, now.


  1. We think there’s always going to be another time. Why not now? It’s ok to mourn the loss of control. Even when we feel like it’s silly- it’s ok to mourn giving up control- of our routines (as with COVID), of rules (with Intuitive Eating) or in acts of faithful obedience (choosing faith over control). Change can be overwhelming, even when it’s good. We can take the time we need to mourn the change, and allow ourselves to feel it- so we can move into trust.

  2. It’s ok to mourn the loss of control. Even when we feel like it’s silly- it’s ok to mourn giving up control- of our routines (as with COVID), of rules (with Intuitive Eating) or in acts of faithful obedience (choosing faith over control). Change can be overwhelming, even when it’s good. We can take the time we need to mourn the change, and allow ourselves to feel it- so we can move into trust.

  3. Being taken out of our usual routine can be an opportunity for unhealthy coping mechanisms to be revealed. Where I wasn’t abusing alcohol, I was using it as an all-too-often reprieve from the busyness of the day or the exhaustion of a long week. Taking the salve of a glass of wine or a splash of whiskey (Bourbon girl, no shame) away meant I was forced to find new, healthier coping mechanisms for relaxing and relieving stress. The same goes when we realize food is not serving us for emotional purposes- it makes way for a deeper relationship with ourselves and our emotions.

  4. While I realized I didn’t need alcohol to help me feel relaxed or cap my day, I did realize how much I missed and loved the experience of drinking in certain cases (responsibly of course). In the morning the loss of control and allowing myself to lean into this season, I also mourned the experiences I had so enjoyed that did involve alcohol. I realized I could indeed have fun or relax without it (which seems obvious but sometimes we need to be shown what is possible to truly believe it- the same goes for allowing ourselves permission to eat what is satisfying and how it actually makes us less inclined to overeat) but I also realized- I really DO love exploring new wines or trying new breweries with my husband, or cheersing with a cocktail on our Friday date nights. There is nothing wrong with this- or me- for enjoying these experiences, so long as I know that the alcohol isn’t what is driving my joy- it’s the experience.


It would be disingenuous if I didn’t tell you I was REALLY excited to dig into my Dry Farm Wines order and crack open a bottle with my husband to celebrate both the closing of one season and the entering into of another. But it did make me realize that what I thought alcohol was giving me wasn’t at all what I thought it was- and although I knew it before, it felt real and tangible that nothing that I needed was found in that 7pm glass of wine, and an important reminder that through faith and trust anything is possible- big and small.



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© 2020 Kristin Rugg Dovbniak for Healthy Mama Kris. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use

Headshots Marie Guagliardo Photography & Sarah Zollo Portraits