I Gave Up Alcohol for 33 Days, Here’s What Happened

The first night I arrived at my new assignment, the pastor and I went out to a local establishment—an Irish Pub.  I loved the ambiance of the place and it was one mile from the house.  I figured I would become a regular patron.  And I was right.  It was a convenient place to go for a Friday Fish Fry or for Prime Rib on Saturday.  I could walk there and get some exercise too.  During my visits, I learned of their BAC (Beer Advocates Club) and how if you drank 50 beers, you would get your name engraved on a plaque and placed on the wall.  Challenge accepted.  Challenge met in 1 and ½ years.  Statistically, that averages a beer every week or two.  More recently though I experienced a loss in my life, and was grieving over it.  I experienced a range of emotions: anger and sadness.  I felt alone and abandoned.  As I processed everything, it became easy to stop by my favorite Irish Pub and get a drink or two.

I justified it in many ways. I no longer have cable, so I went to the Irish Pub to watch the World Series, election results, and football games. That was my excuse. The pub is conveniently located right off the exit to get to the house, and I drive right by their driveway.  Often, I would pull in and get a drink: “I just want a beer, and there is none in the fridge at home.”  My more frequent visits labeled me a regular and I was known on a first name basis. I began to consider this a ministry. They knew I was a priest. And we had some serious conversations. But it became another justification, allowing me to unhealthily cope with my emotions.

Dissatisfied with the direction everything in my life was going, I turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the woman to whom I have been devoted for years and who I study and write about professionally.  I knew January 1st was a little over a month away, and I decided I would renew my Marian consecration.  As I embarked on this task, I thought, maybe I should give up drinking for the 33 days as a sacrifice. Little did I know that on Day 3 of the consecration, I would be encouraged to give something up as I continued my preparation.  I took it as an affirmation from God.  In the initial days of the preparation, many references to the spirit of the world pertained to drunkenness.  Seeing those references affirmed my resolve to renounce alcohol for the duration of my consecration renewal.  This is what I learned during my inspired 33-days without alcohol:

I Spent my Evenings Differently

When do people go to the pub and get a drink?  Typically in the evening.  While one might want to go for just a short while, it often turned into a bigger time commitment.  If I went at 8:00, to watch Sunday Night or Monday Night Football, I wouldn’t get home until 10:00 or 10:30.  My evening was pretty much shot.  And while two drinks doesn’t inebriate a person, some mental capacities are diminished, so reading or writing wasn’t going to happen.  Not going to the pub freed up my evenings to do more productive things.  I went skiing, read books, and watched wholesome movies (like A Christmas Carol or The Bells of St. Mary).

My Prayer at Night was Better

After a few drinks and going to retire for the evening, I rushed my prayer, whether it was Compline or any other type of prayer.  Because I was at home, I prayed more devoutly from the heart before bed, rather than just fulfilling an obligation and paying lip service to God.  I did more spiritual reading especially surrounding the topic of Advent.  All of this allowed me truly to say that I had the best Advent ever.  As a bonus, because I was already at home and not out, after I prayed, I went to bed earlier, and got more shut eye each night, allowing me to get up earlier and pray more before the day began.

I Learned Temperance and Self-Denial

During my thirty-three days, I forced myself to deny drinking.  At Christmas parties, I refrained from any alcoholic beverages and had a white soda or water.  I did return to my favorite Irish Pub to have dinner with friends, and because I don’t have cable, to watch the Packer game one Sunday afternoon.  Each time, I ordered Sprite or water.  It wasn’t awkward, and it showed me that I could truly deny myself.

I Became Aware of What Happens to Others After Drinking

For the first time, I went to festivities and refrained from drinking.  It allowed me to experience events differently, but also to observe others after a few drinks.  I never could observe in this way before, since I usually had a beer or cocktail.  This helped me to realize drinking makes you a different person.  Even if you have one drink, I became convinced you act differently.  Seeing the actions and behaviors of others after drinking inspired me to hold firm to my resolve.

I Was More Generous

Imagine going to a place to have a beer and the cost associated with that.  $4.00 a pint (at least), maybe two drinks; you are at 8 bucks and then the tip.  And you can’t go to a pub and not order some food, only if it is an appetizer.  The bill then could range anywhere from $15-20.  Do that three or four times a week, and that’s a significant amount of change.  I noticed my bank account had a little extra money this month, which allowed me to be more generous in supporting people in need during the Holidays.  Not only did I save money by not drinking, but I noticed I did not eat out as much either.  I would go out to eat and have a drink to accompany my meal.  Take away the beer, and I opted to stay home for dinner.  Saving money on needless meals or drinks allowed me to help others who were in need.

I No Longer Desired It

By Day 21 of my 33-day alcohol abstinence, I realized I no longer desired alcohol.  The first few days, especially after a long night at the office, all I wanted to do was have a drink.  I convinced myself that it wasn’t worth it, and persevered.  At least for now, the very idea of having a drink doesn’t attract me.  I don’t desire it.  I’m happy with how things are right now.

In my previous Lenten observances, I tried to give up alcohol, but I always caved to the “Sunday is not really a Lenten day” and satisfied my thirst for a beer.  Usually by the third or fourth week I abandoned my alcohol fast in favor of an easier penance.  I never thought I would make it for 33 days.  But I did.  Maybe it was because I had the help of Mary who inspired my fast or I realized that I absolutely needed this now in my life.  I didn’t give up drinking because I thought I had a problem.  But I think if I didn’t take my 33-day hiatus, it quickly would have become a problem in 2017.

Now, as I’ve noticed the diminished desire for alcohol, my alcohol fast will continue because what I have found without the bottle was peace, happiness, and contentment.  I have the Blessed Mother to thank, because as a mother, she looked out for her son, and inspired me to live a better, healthier, and holier way.

Thanks, Mom.

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Fr. Edward Looney is a priest in the Diocese of Green Bay, a Marian theologian, author, columnist, media personality, podcaster, film enthusiast, and fellow pilgrim. He is the host of the podcast, Hey Everybody! It’s Fr. Edward. You can follow him on social media at the handle @FrEdwardLooney.

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