Thirty-two days ago, David began an experiment wherein he vowed not to touch any drugs for thirty days.
And I’m a new man. Just like that.
This last month has definitely begun a new chapter for me, and perhaps closed an old one.
To recap quickly: thirty days ago I was a daily coffee drinker, and I had a habit of drinking alcohol to excess on a weekly-ish basis. I have spend the last month completely un-high, with not so much as an aspirin passing through my system. The last time I went thirty days without a drug was probably over ten years ago, when I was a minor.
Though I have never been (quite) out of control, certain drugs established an alarming regularity in my life. I used them so casually, and for so long, that I suspected they might actually be necessary to hold my work and social lives together. Getting drunk and buzzing out on coffee had become too normal an activity for me to still feel okay about it. I didn’t want drugs to be part of who I was.
So I set out to discover who I was without them.
Basically I wanted to know exactly where these drugs fit in my world: what they added to life, and what they cost me. Specifically:
- Could I comfortably hang out with people who are drinking, when I’m not? Many of my friends drink on an extremely regular basis, and I’ve become accustomed to joining in when I’m around them. I wondered if I would feel left out, or if they’d be resentful, or if I wouldn’t be able to identify with anyone else if I was totally sober. All this time, I’ve avoided being ‘sober guy’ because I wasn’t sure how I’d fit into the typical social proceedings. Above all I was worried that hanging out with my friends was never really that fun, without the dose of chaos provided by alcohol. That was my worst fear with this experiment.
- Would work be less pleasant without my morning coffee? It’s no secret I’m not completely inspired by my day job, and I knew I was leaning on my morning coffee as a little daily ray of sunshine. I wanted to know if the caffeine was improving my workday, or sucking the life out of it.
- Would I feel a sense of deprivation? I wasn’t sure if the act of teetotaling would be like pulling teeth for a conditioned indulger like myself. I always knew I could abstain if I wanted to, but I wondered if I would come to dread social engagements, as if they were nothing but ‘willpower marathons.’
- What would I feel like physically and mentally? Were alcohol and caffeine sapping my energy? Dulling my mind? Making me fat? Ruining my sleep? If I was totally drug-free, would I be more calm, or more irritable?
- How tempted would I be to partake? I know that I am most susceptible to indulge in drugs excessively if I’m already a little under the influence. In other words, the buzz from two beers makes the third one much more tempting than the second was, and so on. It’s easy to renege on promises you made to yourself if you’re tipsy, but I knew I’d be totally sober for any tests of will that arose. So would I ever come close to breaking my commitment?
- Yes. A pleasant surprise. A regular pattern emerged in my social engagements: at first, I’d feel a bit left out, a bit tethered by my commitment. Club soda in hand, I wouldn’t quite feel like I was ‘participating.’ Each time, this feeling gave way to comfort, and the cravings would cease. I would become more and more at ease until the end of the night, when my peers would be getting a bit rough around the edges, and I’d be clearheaded and calm. I loved being able to drive my friends home. I felt grateful to have all of my faculties with still me at one in the morning, and proud that I’d had fun with no chemical aids. I felt like sobriety was my secret weapon.
- No. Quite the opposite. Without a doubt I can say work was much more of a drag when caffeine was a part of it. I’d hit the “3:00 wall” every single day when I drank my customary large coffee in the morning. Without coffee I was more productive, more calm, more alert and less irritable. As I suspected, my morning coffee was a crutch. It was my daily hit of gratification at work, my warm sanctuary away from my daily grind. It made me want to escape work more than anything. When I got to the office, I suddenly had nothing to lean on, so I’d just get to work, without trying to force some extra pleasure into it by getting high.
- A little. But it passed quickly when it did happen. There was no persistent, nagging dissatisfaction like I’d feared, just little jabs here and there. With a clearer head than I was used to, I was able to sink back into the moment and enjoy it quite easily whenever I was interrupted by a pang of envy or temptation. The most difficult moments were watching people pass around cold, condensation-covered beers, while I was sucking on a watery shirley temple. The office-coffee at work wasn’t very tempting, but the times I happened to catch a whiff of real gourmet coffee, I felt a bit left out.
- Awesome. I really felt the best I’d felt in years. I didn’t realize how much drugs (probably the caffeine, mostly) were stealing my energy. The whole month, I only got tired at night. I went to sleep easily, I became alert much more quickly in the morning. There was no need for a second wind, my first wind lasted all day. Thinking was easier and more productive. I worried less, I became more organized. And my stomach felt great! I didn’t realize it, but I had a slightly upset stomach at some point on most days. This I attribute to the caffeine too, and there was no trace of it during my month off. I never got indigestion, even mildly, no matter what I ate. I felt distinctly clean.
- It varied. A lot. Most of the time, I just didn’t want to take any drugs. I liked being in control of my consciousness, I liked being clean. But there were times when I really wanted just to crack a beer or brew a pot. In the final days of the experiment especially, once I had already answered the above questions and gone a stretch I was really proud of, I really considered partaking. As the memory of these drugs’ effects faded, I became correspondingly more curious of what they would feel like with my new-found perspective. I am so glad I pushed to the end of it.
Breaking the Fast
Though I did cruise right to the end of the 30 days, I didn’t go much longer than that. When the finish-line hour came (8pm August 4th), a friend happened to invite me for a drink to celebrate his 31st birthday. So I went.
I had two beers. As I finished the second, I began to feel the subtle, familiar effects. I wrote this as soon as I got home:
After having two beers… I feel a little depressed, a little mean.
I feel a little reckless, a little disrespectful.
I feel a little irresponsible.
I feel like another beer. If I had one I ‘d drink one.
I feel a little less me.
I feel like I’m no longer responsible for my state of consciousness, my state of mind. A little cranky, a little guilty.
And I’ve only had two beers.
I care a little less. About being ready for work tomorrow, about washing up before bed, about not throwing my clothes on the floor.
I feel less compassionate, and a little sorry for myself, though I don’t know why. I don’t know what I have to feel sorry for.
I’ve lost the ability to just sit, and enjoy the moment. Or maybe I’m just unwilling. I feel an appetite for something, a lack of something. I’m having trouble just resting in the moment I’m in.
I’m not happy.
It will be interesting to see if I can actually achieve a happy, calm state when I’m feeling alcohol’s effects, or if it’s only gratification — happiness’ inferior cousin — that I can achieve while under the influence.
Alcohol seems to make it a little more difficult to be genuinely pleased with the moment, at any rate.
I really did enjoy drinking the beers though. They tasted good. One beer would have been better. Or maybe two in total, with an iced tea in between.
During the second one I started to feel the effects, and I couldn’t help but remember that alcohol carries the classification “depressant.” It really was depressing some delicate faculty in me that had been present for the last four weeks… a subtle air of stability, of needlessness. Depressant was the perfect word. Mostly it made me want more beer.
Of course, my first opportunity to have a coffee arrived soon enough. We went out for breakfast at work.
After having a cup and a half of coffee I wrote this:
At first I felt very good. Did not feel the disorienting, heart-racing feeling I had when suffered an accidental earl grey OD in Day 8. [Read the progress log here.]
For half an hour, I felt quite peaceful. It was easy to enjoy the moment, unlike last night after the two beers.
But now it’s been an hour, and I don’t feel that great. My stomach has lost the easy, light feeling it has had for the last month. Once again, it’s more difficult to be at ease.
A familiar tiredness is coming over me. I want to put my head down. I definitely don’t want to work.
I feel a knotted feeling in my chest, a slight flutter all over that I don’t like. I think this restless feeling might lend itself to physical action or even conversation, but it sure isn’t helping me sit comfortably.
Just like with my two beers last night, I feel I’ve compromised my state of mind and body. It’s tolerable, but why should I put myself into a state that I have to tolerate?
Like the beer, I enjoyed the act of drinking it more than the lingering effects.
I didn’t like what coffee did to me at work. Definitely worth avoiding. I can picture myself having a cup as an after-dinner thing, but it introduced an unnecessary, disruptive element into my workday. I will never go back to morning coffee.
In my final report for Experiment No. 2, I described it as “A success, just not the smashing kind.” Well, this success was the smashing kind.
I’m very proud of myself, and I believe I’ve gained insight and self-control I never had before. I feel like I’ve unhinged a many-years-long pattern of mild but still costly drug use, and I’m ready for greater challenges.
Even though my both my reintroductions to drugs were troublesome, I am not swearing off either of them. They do have a part to play in my life, but a much smaller one than I’d been giving them. I will take both to excess again, I’m sure, but not on anything resembling a regular basis.
I feel like I’ve successfully wrangled these two troublesome problem children into their proper places.
It really amazed me how much I’d been sacrificing for these so-called simple pleasures, and indeed, how much the general populace gives up for these common highs. The physical drain alone I found to be considerable, not to mention the monetary and social consequences. I have a lot to say about drugs and their roles in society, but I’ll get into that in another article.
This month of sobriety has changed my relationship to drugs forever. I’ve rediscovered the superiority of the ‘base state.’ It’s where I want to be, it’s where I’m most comfortable and capable.
Though there still exists in me a desire to alter my consciousness, I’ve learned how costly it is to do so. It’s just a really bad deal most of the time.
I absolutely recommend doing an experiment like this if there are any drugs that you use on a regular basis, particularly if you are getting tired of some of the downsides. If you think you maybe can’t do it, then that means you almost certainly should.
For me, this was long overdue.
Photo by Ben Sutherland