Sobriety as a Spiritual Practice
Reflecting on two years alcohol-free
It’s been two years since I’ve had a drink. Two summers ago, a curious exploration morphed into a full-blown conviction over just a few months.
I was never a problematic drinker. I loved drinking, as much as it’s culturally acceptable to love drinking – just enough, but not too much. If you’d asked me five years ago if I could ever imagine quitting, especially if I didn’t have to, I would’ve looked at you in shock.
Why would I?
Yet, reevaluating my relationship with alcohol has improved my life in countless expected and unexpected ways, and I’d like to share some of them today because I truly believe more people could benefit from it. It being “voluntary sobriety” for lack of a better term, aka people who quit not because they’re alcoholics (another deeply problematic term), but because they simply decide their life would be better without alcohol in it.
If you’re curious, read on to learn why and how I quit, the role psychedelics played in the process (spoiler alert, a big one), and what I perceive to be the main benefits of my alcohol-free lifestyle.
How Ayahuasca and Mushrooms Guided Me to Sobriety
The story starts with a questionable (booze-induced) romantic decision on New Year’s Eve, after which I felt compelled to embark on Dry January. During that month I went to one party sober and unexpectedly had a fantastic time. I continued only drinking sparingly after.
A few weeks later, it was time to go on my first Ayahuasca retreat, for which I had to follow the dieta – a special diet that cuts out all stimulants, including alcohol. Upon my return, I’d again been alcohol-free for perhaps three or four weeks. To my surprise, after the retreat, I completely stopped craving alcohol altogether. The physical (and psychological) cravings that I (like many others) was no stranger to – a cocktail after a long work week, a glass of wine with a nice meal – were simply gone. This was not uncommon as I later learned, many of my friends in the medicine community are non-drinkers because ayahuasca and alcohol aren’t too compatible.
I began educating myself on sober curiosity, read a few books, listened to a few podcasts, and ultimately got excited about the spiritual prospects of being alcohol-free. My ego also began liking the idea of becoming a non-drinker. I also realized that many of the people (and specifically writers) I looked up to were sober – Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, Holly Whitaker.
At first, I became sober curious, meaning I didn’t stop drinking entirely but instead got curious every time I still felt the urge to drink. While it was rare it still happened on occasion. At the same time, I began my first microdosing protocol with psilocybin mushrooms. While Ayahuasca was a great catalyst that planted the seeds of sobriety, it was the mushrooms that truly helped me explore the day-to-day reality of drinking versus non-drinking. They made me more present with my experience and as a result helped me crystalize what felt best in my body, mind, and soul.
Over the following few months, I only drank a few more times, every time with the same outcome: I no longer liked how it made me feel, it didn’t taste as good as I thought it would, and I very much disliked how it made me feel the next day (even small amounts). Ayahuasca had made my nervous system more sensitive, so even super moderate drinking (e.g., an occasional glass of wine) no longer seemed too appealing. It still made me feel off the next day. It was no longer worth it.
Based on Ruby Warrington’s guidance, every time I still wanted a drink, I asked myself what it was that I truly wanted – relaxation, connection, fun. For example, if I thought a cocktail would help me turn off after a busy work week, I’d get a massage instead (and find that it was way more relaxing). If I thought I needed a drink to make a social event more entertaining, I’d simply leave early and do something I’d more genuinely enjoy. As a result of this practice, I fell in love with how I treated myself.
Then, one random day in August I woke up to an unspoken clarity that I’d just had my last drink the prior night. Perhaps not forever, but for now.
If I want to drink again in the future, I will. I’ll let myself explore it consciously, without judgment. However, so far, there’s been absolutely no desire. My ego also has also gotten quite attached to the identity of being a non-drinker, which might be something I have to work through in the future. Mainly, however, because I’m not ready to give up any of the immensely rewarding benefits sobriety has gifted me.
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The Main Benefits of Going Alcohol-free: Health, Confidence, Presence
There are many and small benefits to quitting alcohol, and I’ve decided to group them in these three categories. Of course, these are all very much interconnected. Presence could be relabeled as happiness, but I didn’t do that, because health and confidence also contribute to happiness.
Benefit #1: Health
This should be a surprise to no one, but I feel so much healthier since cutting out alcohol.
The health benefits are multi-faceted:
Physical health. I can just tell that my body is happy I no longer regularly poison it with ethanol. I mean our bodies tell us how much they hate it, they really do. They give us a terrible physical (and sometimes mental) experience the next day. In extreme cases, they make us throw up and even pass out just so we stop drinking. Yet, we still drink.
Sleep. I quickly learned that the fact that red wine (or any alcohol for that matter) helps us sleep is a misconception. It may help us fall asleep, but it will disrupt our sleep later during the night. Sleep has become my holy grail, and cutting out alcohol has up-leveled the predictability and quality of my sleep. I’ve gotten so used to being super well-rested that anything else is a no-go.
Exercise. Waking up every day feeling fresh and ready to go has also helped me lean into more movement. I feel more energy to not only work out but tackle the day more generally. Weekends are often my most active days, and I can’t imagine replacing my beloved Sunday morning hikes or workouts with lounging all day any time soon.
Diet. Finally, my diet has also improved. I still crave junk food sometimes (and I’ll have it – balance is key), but it’s much less often. After a boozy night, I’d predictably crave a heavy, carb-loaded meal the next day. While there’s nothing wrong with carbs, it was more so the lack of nutrition on those days that left a mark.
Benefit #2: Confidence
The author of Sober Curious often talks about the fact that people enjoy drinking so much because it downregulates the area in our brain that processes other people’s perceptions of us. That’s why the glass of wine before the first date, the shot before a big wedding speech, or the first drink at a big social gathering are so appealing for many of us.
So, what happens when you take away the thing that gives you “fake” self-confidence?
You develop real self-confidence.
For me, this happened in various ways:
Energy. I’m an empath and with that, easily overstimulated by my environment. Going alcohol-free, I realized one key reason I always enjoyed drinking so much: it helped me turn down the volume on my environment just enough to actually be more present and enjoy myself and the company of other people more (ironic, right… more on this shortly). Without this buffer, I had to learn other ways to manage my energy in large groups. This has ultimately allowed me to be more me, which brings me to the next point.
Authenticity. Alcohol sometimes makes us do things we wouldn’t otherwise do. We stay out longer than we normally would. We hook with someone we perhaps wouldn’t (or at least, not so quickly). We say things we don’t mean, or maybe we mean them, but we would’ve never have said them without booze loosening our tongue. Gone are the days of regret. I’m always fully conscious of my choices and don’t feel like there’s anything dabbling with my willpower, intellect, or consciousness (that is, other than psychedelics of course). It feels good to be 100% me at all times. It feels empowering.
Boundaries. This has also translated into standing up more for myself. If I have a conversation that’s not engaging, and there’s no alcohol at play to make it more engaging, I simply find a way to politely end it early. If I’m tired and want to go home, instead of having another drink to keep me engaged I’ll go home and give my system what it needs – rest. If someone does or says something sober me doesn’t approve of, I voice it more directly.
Benefit #3: Presence
This is the biggest benefit that I did not see coming, and it’s transformed how I show up in the world in all the best ways.
Presence is the gateway to happiness and fulfillment, and as such, has enriched my life in many ways:
Depth. One of the things I always loved most about drinking was how bonding the experience could be. You skip the small talk and get to matters of the heart more quickly (in vino veritas, as they say). I’ve come to realize that I don’t need alcohol to speak from my heart, to speak my truth. Sobriety has given me the confidence to share more vulnerably, without the need for anything to “loosen me up”. Vulnerability, in turn, is the birth ground of connection as we know. This point is connected with authenticity and confidence, but I put it here because conversations with depth ultimately pull me into the present like nothing else.
Connection. When you’re under the influence, conversations may seem more engaging but in reality, it’s much harder to be present with the other person and actively listen. Our attention span is lowered, we miss subtle, non-verbal cues, and we listen to respond rather than truly listen. Sobriety has made me much more present in dialogue with others and, as a result, improved my ability to authentically connect tremendously.
Contentment. We drink to enhance the moment. A date, a birthday party, a family holiday. It’s ironic that we celebrate peak experiences with a depressant, as Holly Whitaker points out, but it’s even more ironic that we believe the present moment needs enhancing. This is where the real spiritual practice comes in – realizing that the present is always complete as it is.
Overall, going alcohol-free has made me happier, healthier, more confident, and more connected.
But drinking is so fun, you might say.
It is fun, there’s no doubt.
But do you know what’s even more fun?
Finding activities that you enjoy deeply for the sake of the activity itself (without the need for enhancement), living an active and engaged lifestyle, developing real self-confidence, making presence your default, cultivating joy, awe, and wonder for the sober reality of life, and showing up to the world from a place of authenticity and integrity. This is why sobriety has become a spiritual practice, a practice to connect with myself and embrace the divine perfection of the present moment at all times.
If you’re still not convinced, I dare you to give it a try. You might find yourself unexpectedly falling in love the same way I did.
Ruby Warrington wrote a great book called Sober Curious, she also has a podcast. Ruby’s work is very much centered around the wellness and spiritual aspects of going alcohol-free, with lots of great techniques, reflections, and actionable tips for your journey.
Holly Whitaker wrote another fantastic book called Quit Like a Woman, which explores sobriety from a deeply personal lens while simultaneously exploring the patriarchal and capitalist structures that have enforced a generation of excessive (and often female) drinkers. Holly also writes an excellent Substack newsletter.
If you’re eager to quit drinking but recognize that you may need more help, I’d recommend looking into MDMA therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder (currently in clinical trials through MAPS and others). LSD and ayahuasca are also known to help.