Jina Schaefer looks like the picture of perfect heath. She runs marathons. She meditates. Gluten? Psssht, she doesn't eat that. However, this lifestyle she leads was earned, decision by decision, small step by small step. And what's especially great is that she's super normal and relatable and not holier-than-thou about it, which hardly ever happens.
A year ago, she decided to give up the booze, not because she needed to, but because she just wanted to. What happened next surprised her. We discuss the culture of alcohol, what it's like to be the "sober friend" and why she's not planning on drinking ever again.
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Let’s get down to business: What did you quit & why?
Alcohol. I felt like I needed alcohol to get through the holidays. Instead, I decided to try and give it up for 100 days through the holiday season in 2013. I knew this change would feel quite punishing and I was a tad nervous I wouldn’t stick to it.
Because of that, I made the alcohol-free endeavor the only way I knew it would actually stick: risking public humiliation upon failure via a video-a-day 100-day challenge on my Youtube channel. I knew I needed people watching me, rooting for me, and talking to me about it.
After about a month into the challenge, I felt such an elevated feeling of general happiness in my daily life that I played with the idea of quitting forever. *gulp* Alcohol had been my buddy since I was 14 - nearly 20 years!
60 days into the challenge I knew I was done drinking for good. I didn’t need it to cope with life anymore, I had much more energy and less guilt.
What did your life feel like before you quit drinking?
Here’s the thing, before I quit drinking, I considered myself a light drinker. I would have a couple drinks each week. Maybe five drinks at the most in a week.
I realize the “light drinker” status I had given myself was only relative to the years prior when I could take down a bottle of wine and feel fine. Which, to me now, it’s absolutely wild that I could do that. And - no way! - I didn’t “feel fine.” Clearly I was just used to feeling like shit! Ha!
Right before I quit drinking, I felt more burdened by the regular leg wrestling matches with guilt that I was having after I would drink. I would feel guilty about things I said. All of which I would have said if I were sober, but because I was drinking, I had self doubt and anxiety about it. I would feel guilty about the drinks themselves and the food I ate while drinking. And I couldn’t shake this guilt no matter how much I believed I would have said it anyway or that I was a good person. It was always this tango with guilt.
What pushed you to quit? Was it a specific moment, a constant internal nagging or something else?
There were many tiny pushes to get me there. The nagging was definitely a part of that (see guilt tango above). There was also a whisper of curiosity about people who led a sober life.
I was brought up in a family and community where alcohol is everywhere and a part of everything. I remember my boyfriend once saying (when we were leaving a baptism reception at a bar), “It wouldn’t be a Schaefer gathering without the risk of a DUI!”
I know, right?!
Because of this when someone would tell me they didn’t drink, I would assume it was an addiction they weren’t participating in. If they didn’t have an addiction, I was mystified. What do they do to unwind? Have fun? Bond? What made them make the decision? WHAT? WHY? I would even read articles and blogs about being alcohol free. I never thought I would do it, but it still really interested me.
The hardest part about quitting?
Making the decision to do it. Alcohol was such a part of my life. It was how I celebrated, how I coped, how I bonded with some people, and it was an effective lubricant for those awkward social situations. It was fun to talk about the practice of drinking - all of it: the kind of drinks, joking about needing a drink, how much I drank, what happened, etc.
Quitting can be emotionally taxing. Who or what helped you cope?
One of the tiny pushes to get me to quite was the quote by Brene Brown: “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive ones."
As a drinker I didn’t get this because I thought I was happy at that time in my life. But now? The shit is off the charts. I’m so much happier. One of the reasons is because I don’t have alcohol in my system bringing me down. Another reason is because I deal with stress effectively instead of waiting to take the edge off with a cocktail on Thursday or Friday.
I started journalling, meditating, exercising in ways I enjoyed, and having honest (sometimes tough) conversations. This helped to not only take the edge off, but to really deal with and process the pressures of life.
Was quitting scary for you? Why or why not?
Any commitment makes my chest tighten a bit, so committing to an alcohol-free life raised that issue for me. After a month without alcohol, I felt so much better that it was a no-brainer to quit for good - for my sanity and my health. It was liberating.
I think it was more frightening for the people close to me. They didn’t say it with words, but their reactions said it all when I told them I was done with alcohol forever. Would I still be fun to be around? Would I suddenly start judging their habits? Did I have some big rock-bottom wipeout I’m not sharing?
How did you feel immediately after you quit?
When I was in the practice of drinking, I thought I was happy. So when I first stopped drinking, I felt sad that I couldn’t drink. I felt like I was missing out, and I was morning that lifestyle. I had no idea what I could feel like on the other side of sobriety.
After three or four weeks, when the alcohol had been completely flushed from my body, I found myself less anxious, I was laughing harder and more often, I had more confidence, and I was better able to deal with stress.
Funny, because I thought alcohol helped me amplify all those parts of my life. I had no idea the levels I could experience without it.
How do you feel now? Any regrets?
No regrets at all!
When I was 25, I started working to become a happier person and to rid my life of toxic people (or at least put up the boundaries for people I couldn’t eliminate). So, when I quit drinking at age 33, my core group of people we’re overall supportive after the initial shock. This made me love them more. There were friends who faded away, but that’s okay. The only thing we really had in common was alcohol.
How has quitting changed your life?
I’m happier, more confident and peaceful. I love who I am even more. A method I use on myself and my clients is to aim to be healthIER. Meaning, it’s okay to eat a little too much or have a few cocktails, just try to be a bit better (meaning more aligned with your goals) next time or in the hours or days around the indulgence.
Quitting alcohol was the next step in my healthIER journey. It was like my soul knew it, but my conscious mind didn’t. That’s probably why I started with a 100-day challenge instead of just cannonballing into a sober life.
As a light drinker, I thought drinking just affected me the night of and the day after. I had no idea how much alcohol was affecting my brain chemistry the days and even weeks after drinking. This reaction resulted in me feeling more anxious and less in control of my emotions.
Advice to someone who’s thinking of quitting?
Be more mindful about how you use alcohol (or other mood-altering substance). Notice how it affects you, how it influences the life you want to be living, and how it impacts your ability to be the best version of yourself that this world needs.
This mindfulness is the very first step in improving your life whether you’re giving up alcohol or not. Only from this space of mindfulness will you bring yourself more in alignment with your purpose, and find the motivation to get there.
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You can read more about Jina's alcohol-free journey on her YouTube channel. Her website offers tons of info on this healthIER lifestyle stuff. Wanna find her elsewhere? Try Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Lastly, if you're looking to get better at life & live in the Twin Cities area, think about signing up for Lifestyle Design Camp in January.
PS If you want to share your quitting story, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.