Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person’s story.

I have Takayasu’s arteritis, a condition which causes inflammation in the largest artery in my body, the aorta. It makes it difficult for blood to flow from my heart to the rest of my body.

Despite living with a chronic illness for many years, I’ve always made it a point to live as normal a life as possible.

But after developing a painful ulcer while on summer vacation in 2016, I decided that it was time for me to take a break from alcohol for my own personal health.

I didn’t tell anyone of my plan. I wasn’t sure how friends and family would take it. And while quitting something entirely is hard for anyone, the pressure to fit in with the rest of society can be even more difficult for someone who’s always sick.

So instead of cutting alcohol wholesale, I committed to my promise by limiting my cocktail intake to just two drinks per outing. I also gave my home stash away to avoid faltering on my own when I was alone. As each successful day and night went on into the colder seasons, I gave myself the ultimate challenge: to completely stop drinking, beginning on December 31st.

On social media, I caught wind of the “Sober January” wellness trend that encouraged people around the world to join. I figured this would be the perfect way to hold myself accountable and make sure I took my much-needed break from drinking.

I spent New Year’s Eve out of town with friends. Up until that point, they had all known me as a free-spirited, fun-loving person who liked to have a good time (responsibly!), despite having a chronic illness. That night, however, they noticed that I didn’t grab one of the champagne flutes offered to me. That’s when I announced that I was beginning my New Year’s resolution early.

That evening became the most empowering moment of my sober journey. I knew that if I could abstain from alcohol on perhaps the most popular night for drinking of the entire year, then the rest of January would be a breeze.

I finally started letting friends, family, and colleagues know about my decision weeks into my no-alcohol challenge, as I knew this would likely change the dynamic of our socializing. To my surprise, everyone supported my decision — although I knew it would ultimately be up to me to continue keeping the promise to myself.

With the exception of one day in March, being completely alcohol-free has lasted me to this day. I couldn’t be more proud of myself.

Physically speaking, my body has been through a pivotal shift for the best. I’ve noticed a major boost in my natural energy, my skin is clearer, and I’ve even shed a few inches around my waistline, which has been amazing for my overall self-esteem.

I’m able to retain information much more easily, as my brain fog has subsided tremendously. I don’t experience as much nausea, and the amount of migraines I get on a weekly basis has significantly decreased over time. As far as my mental health is concerned, I have a more heightened sense of awareness for the world around me than ever before.

Taking in each new moment during this journey has been invigorating with no alcohol clouding my senses. I’m able to make more rational decisions and stay focused and present. I’ve also maintained some of the most meaningful connections because of it.

If you’re thinking about cutting alcohol out of your life, here are some tips and suggestions based on my own experience:

  • Start off by lowering your intake gradually. Easing into the journey makes for a higher chance of achieving success in the long term.
  • Let the people you love know about your plan to quit drinking. Having a support system is key.
  • Stay away from triggers. I found this crucial to blocking my desire to grab a drink after a stressful situation. Learn what — or who — you should avoid for your sobriety’s best interest.
  • Take a trip by yourself. As part of my intentions on shifting my focus for better physical, mental, and spiritual health, I found that solo travel allowed me to be free from distractions, which was important to the process.
  • Drink plenty of water! I’m an advocate for water intake. In the beginning, it was difficult resisting the urge to sip on a cocktail around friends or at dinner. Every time I wanted to, I guzzled down a glass of water instead, and it helped tremendously.

A year into what was meant to be only a month of sobriety, my willpower has given me encouragement to continue the shedding process. Now I’m removing even more practices and habits that may be bad for my overall health. In 2018, I plan to go on a sugar detox.

Ultimately, the decision I made to give up drinking was the best thing for my health. Though it wasn’t easy, by taking it step by step and surrounding myself with the right activities and people, I was able to make the changes that were right for me.

Devri Velazquez is a writer and content editor for Naturally Curly. As well as being open about life with a rare autoimmune disease, she’s passionate about body positivity, spiritual and cultural awareness, and intersectional feminism. Reach her on her website, on Twitter, or on Instagram.