Yesterday — Christmas Eve, 2015 — marked the second consecutive year of sobriety for me. I don’t know if I was an “alcoholic” by traditional metrics. Some people probably thought I needed to cut back, whereas others thought I drank normally.
However, I’m not in the business of doing things “average”.
I realized that my drinking held me back from reaching my full potential, so I decided to stop cold turkey. Maybe I’ll drink again some day, but not until I get to where I want to be in life. Until then, I simply can’t afford to drink. And I’m not talking about the financial burden of going out drinking every week, but the opportunity cost.
Going out takes time. Drinking takes time. Recovering takes time.
This is time lost that I could have spent on boxing (for those of you who don’t know, I’m a professional boxer), studying for my Physics degree, writing books and articles… Not to mention bonding with my friends, girlfriend, and family. Drinking might be fun, but it’s a time sink. And time is something that I can’t afford to waste right now.
It’s interesting though…
Sobriety hasn’t turned me into a complete hermit (granted, I don’t socialize as much as I used to). And when you’re not getting drunk, you notice things. Things you wouldn’t notice if you were drinking just like everyone else. Other people’s relationship with alcohol, for example. Here are ten of them:
1. 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 drinking certainly increases the quantity of social activities, it decreases the quality.
When I would talk up to people while drinking, it was difficult to remember what was being said, to stay focused on the stories being told, or to read body language and tonality.
I repeated things I said because I couldn’t remember saying them.
I was unaware of how my word were interpreted or received.
For every person who said I was fun while drinking, 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 the other hand, your inhibitions are lowered. Your inhibitions keep you from taking the risk of connecting with another person. They also keep you from doing dumb shit to make other people lose interest in connecting with you.
It’s 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. Not drinking forces you to develop confidence and take risks.
2. Alcohol keeps you from learning how to deal with emotions.
Sober friends warned that I’d “feel everything” once I stopped drinking. I didn’t understand what this meant beyond thinking that I couldn’t drink after something terrible happened.
That’s part of it, but what they were saying goes beyond that:
The effect alcohol has on your emotional state is not unlike the effect that sunglasses have on light.
Through the sunglasses you can see, but the light is dim. You can’t 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 prevents people from assessing and thus dealing with their emotional states correctly. I’ve only cried two times as an adult:
- When my father died
- And when I was drunk
If I felt socially awkward somewhere, I drank to feel more comfortable. If I hit on a girl and got rejected, I drank. This is just how I dealt with negative emotions.
But the effect did not end here.
For a while I had no idea how to celebrate good things in my life other than by drinking. I got a raise at work? Let’s drink! It’s my birthday? Let’s drink! I just won a fight!? I have to drink… Alcohol prevented me from truly feeling the joyous things in my life.
With alcohol no longer an option, I am forced to deal with all of these emotions — good and bad. Like when you take off your sunglasses, there was some pain, but the world is way more enjoyable. Occasionally, I still remember what the world was like through the sunglasses of alcohol.
2b. The guilt that comes with not drinking.
This is another aspect of “feeling everything”. Sometimes I feel immense guilt over my old alcoholic behavior. Feelings that I should have had about things while drinking emerge at the oddest times.
The longer I’m not drinking, the fewer and farther in between these episodes are, but they are powerful. I cannot drink them away. I simply deal with the emotions.
3. Alcohol is everyone’s responsibility ex-machina.
The song “Blame It (On The Alcohol)” by Jamie Foxx is reality for many people. I didn’t have this problem. In fact, I always hated it when people would excuse my shitty behavior by saying, “Oh, you were just drunk”.
If you run someone over because you were drinking, they don’t excuse you for it. There is a very real consequence and you have to deal with it.
But this doesn’t prevent people from using alcohol as an excuse. Alcohol is designed to make you do dumb shit that you wouldn’t otherwise do. And so many people drink with the intention of getting to the point where they will act in a way that is destructive.
A big turning point for me was deciding that I wanted maximum responsibility over my life.
I used to say “95% of my problems are started or agitated while drunk”. 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.
4. Most people can’t stop drinking.
And 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. Alcohol is a regular part of the typical environment. Most people have no idea how to socialize without it.
They know all the dangers, the risks, and the pain that comes with hangovers, but most people will never step outside of their comfort zone.
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 needed my own awakening to happen on my own terms. Most people will never have their own awakening, but if they do it won’t be because anyone persuaded them.
5. 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 hate them but were it not for drinking, 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 you spend with these drinking buddies is a big waste. You aren’t bonding, improving, or working on your goals.
Above all, you aren’t spending time around people you actually know and like.
With the exception of close friends, I no longer meet anyone in bars. This is because my time is valuable. If I invest it bonding with someone, then I make sure we have a quality interaction (see point 1).
You’d be surprised how many people want to do just enough to get your attention — especially if you are improving yourself. This doesn’t immediately stop when you’re not drinking.
One of my reasons for not drinking was because I didn’t have time for it. By extension, this makes me acutely aware of any attempts to waste my time. It doesn’t matter who you spend time with. What’s important is spending time with people who matter. I find that removing alcohol from my life has simultaneously removed some people while adding others.
6. Non-alcoholic beer is fantastic.
I genuinely enjoy the taste of some alcoholic beverages — specifically beer and wine. Non-alcoholic wine doesn’t offer much, but non-alcoholic beer has a lot of options. In fact, every German beer has a non-alcoholic equivalent. Some are so good that you don’t know you aren’t consuming alcohol until the third drink with your better judgement.
What is also really interesting is that most places carry a non-alcoholic beer. This was a big surprise to me. Prior to giving up alcohol, I didn’t think most places carried a brand. As long as you tip normally, bars are happy to have a person buy non-alcoholic beer. It’s one less person likely to act like an asshole.
A win-win for everyone.
7. 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 answer their own question.
It’s as if my decision to not drink makes people question everything about their drinking. Vegetarians complain about the same thing. When people learn that you don’t do things normal people do, they question you and attempt to bring you down. This is why one must be supremely confident in their decision. Also, a great support system helps.
8. You learn who has your back.
When I stopped drinking, I texted my closest friends and told them. I told them I was scared, but I didn’t specify exactly what scared me. I was scared of being an outcast. People talk about how you lose friends when you stop drinking. Although I’d known these guys for over 15 years, I still worried about this. Nothing really changed. They asked if I’d be cool around alcohol or still going out, but that’s about it. They wanted to help me help myself.
People will stand by you if you proactively fix your own problems. If I had killed a dude drunk driving, I hope my friends wouldn’t stand by me. Since I got my drinking under control before something external forced me to, I strengthened our friendship. As the old saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves”.
9. Price can be a big deal.
Alcohol costs money. An occasional drink won’t cripple your bank account. 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 drinking 2-3 times a week. Unless you make six figures or only drink at dive bars, you will see a big increase in your spending power if you stop drinking.
This happens because people adjust their spending to match their disposable income. Drinking a few nights a week will always cost 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 not drinking.
10. The edge from not drinking is real.
The single biggest thing I’ve taken away from the past 2 years is that I have a significant advantage in every area because I don’t drink. The only way this advantage would erode is if everyone stopped drinking.
I never waste time recovering from a hangover. This way, 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 miss because they’ve numbed 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, maybe I can enjoy a glass of wine. However, for now I must remain sharp.
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