10 Observations From 2 Years Of Not Drinking

Yesterday marks 2 consecutive years I have gone without having a drink of alcohol. By traditional metrics, I don’t know if I had a drinking problem. Of the people who know me, I would imagine that there are some who will say that I needed to cut back while others will say that my drinking and behavior was average for a guy in his 20’s.

However, I am not in the business of doing anything average and that certainly includes living. I realized that drinking was an obstacle to my full potential so I decided that right now there is no place for it.

I’ll drink again someday but not until I reach some important milestones. Until then I simply can’t afford to drink. I don’t mean that I am financially unable to afford a night out or a bottle. Rather, I am referring to the time cost.

The time of going out, the time of drinking, the time of recovery: this is time lost that I could use on boxing, the pursuit of my physics degree, towards my writing, or towards bonding with my friends, girlfriend and family.  Drinking is fun but it’s a time sink. Right now I don’t have that time.

Over the past 2 years I haven’t been complete a hermit. While my nightlife socializing has been cut back dramatically (With the exception of the Jim ‘Bones’ Jones vs Daniel Cormier, I don’t think I’ve been out past midnight in the past 2 years), I go out to play pool, sing karaoke (a favorite hobby of mine), and watch some sporting events with my friends.

During those times as the only sober person in the bar—along with other experiences over the past 2 years—I’ve made many observations about myself, other people and their relationship with alcohol. These are observations that I would not have been capable of making while I was drinking. Here are some of those observations and thoughts.

Alcohol Weakens Social Ability More than it Enhances It

It’s interesting how many people think they need “liquid courage” to loosen up and be social.  While it certainly increases the quantity of social activities, it decreases the quality. When I would talk to people while drinking, it was difficult to remember what’s been said, stay focused the stories being told, or read body language and tonality.

Likewise, I would repeat things I’d said because I couldn’t remember saying them or I was unaware of how a thing I said was interpreted or received. For every person that said I was fun while drinking, I’m sure there are at least a dozen who have less impressive memories of me while drunk.

Alcohol lowers inhibitions. This is a dangerous double-edged sword. On the one hand, your inhibitions are lowered. On other hand, your inhibitions are lowered. Perhaps your inhibitions are keeping you from taking the risk of connecting with another person. They are also keep you from doing a lot of shit that will make other people lose interest in connecting with you. It is better to select a strategy for overcoming social anxiety than rely on alcohol. This is the long hard way, but it gives you control. Alcohol is a shortcut to overcoming social anxiety but the toll for that road is severe indeed.

Most People Never Learn to Deal With Emotions

One of the things I was warned to expect when I stopped drinking was that I would “feel everything”. I didn’t really understand what this meant beyond me thinking that I wouldn’t be able to drink after something terrible—like a break up or a death—happened. That’s obviously part of it, but this idea is subtler than that. The effect alcohol has on your emotional state is not unlike the effect that sunglasses have on light.

When you wear sunglasses, you can still see well enough, but the light is dim and you can never experience the full color and vibrancy of the world. If you wear them long enough, you forget the colors of basic shit like the grass or the sky. You might even argue that the sky is pink and the grass is black. You can’t tell what’s right because you’ve been wearing the sunglasses for so long.

Alcohol seems to prevent people from assessing and thus dealing with their emotional states correctly. The only time I’ve cried as an adult other than when my father died, I was drunk. Basic emotions, like loneliness or boredom, I did not cope well with for a long time because I never learned how to. Instead I would just drink with people and call it a “bonding activity”.

If I felt socially awkward in a place, I’d just keep a drink in my hand constantly refilled so that I didn’t have to feel out of place. If I hit on a girl and she rejected me, I was drinking so it didn’t matter. These are just the negative emotions and the effect does not end here.

For a while I had no idea how to celebrate good things in my life other with a drink. Got a raise at work? Let’s have a drink! It’s my birthday? Let’s get plastered! I just won a fight!? Oh, I have to get fucked up. Alcohol also prevented me from truly feeling the joyous things in my life.

A get together with family or friends was more about the alcohol selection than how I would catch up with everyone involved. There was a period of over 2 years where I didn’t go on a single date sober, purposely making sure I got there early to get a few drinks (a trend that incidentally stopped when I went on a date with my current girlfriend of 3 years (4 and a half years as of this edit) and I was experimenting with 30 days of sobriety).

With alcohol no longer an option, I am forced to deal with all of these emotions—good and bad. Like taking off the sunglasses, there was pain, but the world is way more enjoyable. Occasionally, I remember what the world was like through the sunglasses of alcohol.

This is another aspect of “feel everything”. There are times where I am wracked with immense guilt and regret over behavior and decisions made while under the influence of alcohol. Feelings that I should have had about things while drinking suddenly make their presence felt at the oddest times. The longer I go without drink, the fewer and farther these episodes are, but they are still remarkably powerful. I cannot drink them away. I simply deal with the emotion.

Alcohol is Everyone’s Responsibility Ex-Machina

“Blame It on The Alcohol” was only a song but it’s inspired by reality. I never really had this particular problem. In fact, I hated it when someone would excuse my behavior by saying, “oh you were drunk”. After all, if you run someone over because you were drinking, they don’t excuse you for it. No, there is a very real consequence and you will have to deal with it.

This is not to say that I hear a lot of people blaming their stupid behavior on their alcohol consumption (at least not in my age range. For younger readers, this is probably still a thing), but they don’t have to. Alcohol is designed to make you do dumb shit that you wouldn’t otherwise do. The problem is that many people drink with the intention of getting to the point where they will act in a way that is destructive.

Everyone’s favorite excuse

A big turning point for me was deciding that I wanted maximum responsibility over my life. If I fail in boxing or school or if I piss off the people I care about, I wanted it to be because I did something of sound mind and body.

Back in my drinking days I used to say “95% of my personal problems are started or agitated while I’m drinking”. I was basically acknowledging that my interpersonal life would immediately improve if I didn’t drink (see point 1). While it’s embarrassing to me that at one point this was acceptable, they say that admitting you have a problem is the first step.

Most People Can’t Stop Drinking

It’s not because they have a drinking problem. It’s because most people are products of their environment, rather than trying to make their environment a product of themselves. The environment most of us are brought up in makes alcohol a regular part of life. Most people have no idea how to socialize without it.

They know all the dangers, the risks, and pain of a hangover, but most people will never step outside of their comfort zone. Not drinking is a lot like not eating refined carbohydrates or exercising everyday: everyone knows the benefits and wants them, but 70 percent of American’s are obese.

I don’t care what other people do, but if I did I would hope that I have enough sense to never suggest to someone that they should stop drinking. It would be pointless. An old drinking buddy of mine quit drinking 2 years prior to me and told me all the benefits. He’s a smart successful guy, so you would think I would listen. Wrong. I had to have my own awakening on my own terms. Most people will never have their own awakening, but if they do it won’t be because anyone persuaded them.

Alcohol Makes You Waste a Lot of Time Where You Least Expect It

There are some people you don’t actually like. You don’t actively hate them, but were it not for the fact that you drink together or use “getting drinks” as an excuse to hangout, you wouldn’t talk to them.

Drinking buddies and party friends aren’t a bad thing, but you have to remember that time is a finite resource. The time spent with drinking buddies is an absolute waste—no bonds are really made, you aren’t spending time bettering yourself or working towards your goals, and you aren’t spending time around people you ACTUALLY know and like. 

With the exception of very close friends to catch up or to watch a sporting event, I simply don’t meet anyone at bars anymore. This is because my time is valuable. If I invest my time in bonding with someone, then making sure they meet me at a place where they are forced to focus on the quality of our social interaction (see point 1) increases the likelihood they are serious about getting together. You’d be surprised how many people want to do just enough to get your attention—especially if you are improving yourself.

One of my reasons for quitting drinking was because I didn’t have the time to invest in it. By extension, this makes me acutely aware of any attempts to waste my time. No matter how you decide who you spend time with, it is important that you spend time with people who are equally invested in you. I find that removing alcohol from my life has simultaneously removed some people while adding others.

Non-Alcoholic Beer is Fantastic

I genuinely enjoy the taste of some alcoholic beverages—specifically beer and wine. The latter has much to be desired in its non-alcoholic version but the former has a lot of options. In fact, every German beer has a non-alcoholic equivalent and some of them are so good that you don’t know you aren’t consuming alcohol until the third drink and your better judgement is still intact.

My favorite brand

What is also really interesting is that most places carry a non-alcoholic beer. This was the biggest surprise to me, as prior to giving up alcohol I believed it was a specialty item of sorts that most places didn’t have. As long as you tip normally (and I always tip at least above normally), then I think bars are more than happy to have a person buy non-alcoholic beer. It’s one less person likely to act like an asshole. They assume you’re probably just the designated driver. It’s a win-win for everyone.

People Can Be Surprisingly Reactive

If you decide not to drink, you’d be surprised how many people feel uncomfortable about this. This is actually the second time in my life I’ve dabbled in sobriety. From 19-23 I also did not drink. At that point every time I turned down a drink there was someone that asked me why I wasn’t drinking.

Because I was younger, I’d end up explaining/preaching to them. Since you cannot logically come up with a reason why you should drink, people then tried the peer pressure angle. When that didn’t work, the conversation fizzled.

The difference between now and then is not so much age as it is people knowing I’m a pro-athlete. They can rationalize to themselves that I’m not drinking because of something related to my training. People ask why I’m not drinking, but then usually answer their own question with something along the lines of “oh you must have a fight coming up”.

It’s as if my decision to not drink makes people question everything about their drinking. A vegetarian once complained of the same thing: when people learn that you don’t do something everyone else considers normal, they question you and attempt to bring you back to their level. This is why one must be supremely confident in their decision. Also, a great support system helps.

You Learn Who Has Your Back

I remember when I decided to get on the wagon. I texted my closest friends and told them I’d no longer be drinking. I also told them I was scared, but I did not specify exactly what I was scared of. I was scared that I would be an outcast. Many people talk about how you lose friends when you stop drinking. Granted, these are guys I’ve known over 15 years but it was still a worry. Well nothing really changed. They asked if I’d be cool around alcohol or still coming out, but that’s about it. They were interested in helping me deal with whatever it is I had to deal with.

An important corollary to this is that people are willing to stand by you if you proactively prevent a problem from becoming a bigger problem. If I had killed a dude drunk driving, I hope my friends wouldn’t stand by me. Likewise, by choosing to get my drinking under control before something forced me to, I strengthened our friendship and increased their respect for me. As the old saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves”.

Price Can Be A Big Deal

Alcohol costs money. By itself an occasional drink or two will not cripple your bank account, but who only has a drink or two occasionally? Before I go any further I will state that I put alcohol in the category of luxury items. That is, you should not even go drinking if you have to think about how much drinking will cost you. But let’s assume you have the funds to go out drinking 2-3 times a week. Unless you’re making six figures and only drinking at shitty dive bars, you WILL see a moderate to significant increase in your spending power.

I think the reason this happens is because people tend to adjust their spending on luxury items to match their disposable income. Going out and drinking a few nights a week will cost exactly what it should to eat up the same percentage of your fun money. When you cut it out entirely, you’ll almost certainly be going out less AND not buying alcohol. You will absolutely notice the effects of how much money you save.

The Edge is Real

The single biggest thing I’ve taken away from the past 2 years is I have a significant advantage in every area when not drinking. The only way this advantage would erode is if everyone stopped drinking. I never have to waste time recovering from a hangover so I can always bust my ass in the gym, studying or writing.

Because I don’t care about hitting the bar, I get more time to work on my goals. The quality of my sleep is better because I haven’t gotten drunk in the past 2 years. As a result my mind and body recover optimally. I can catch things that other people might miss because they’ve spent so much time numbing their senses. This list could continue ad infinitum, but the main point is that there is NO PENALTY for not drinking. Everything I do sober is better than when I did it drinking.

At this point in my life, I need that edge. After I achieve more I can relax and perhaps enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, but right now I must remain sharp. On the other hand, I may get my degrees or win a major championship and decide I still won’t drink.

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