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Goodbye Booze, For Now

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Happy New Year everyone. So I’m starting 2017 by not drinking any alcohol for four months.

The decision wasn’t made in the throes of a January 1st hangover. I had committed to an extended teetotaling break a few weeks before, the morning after attending the staff Christmas party of my former employer.

It was a rather restrained night, as far as get-togethers at the pub go. But the next day I remembered a detail that made me realize I’ve been making a huge miscalculation the entire eighteen years I’ve been drinking.

There seem to be three basic relationships a person can have with drinking. There are drinkers, dabblers and teetotalers.

Teetotalers never touch the stuff. Dabblers may have a glass of wine or a beer now and then, or even regularly, but they only occasionally have enough that they’d have to call a cab. They see drunkenness as an accident, a morally salient line one should avoid crossing. Drinkers get drunk on purpose, and obviously believe it’s worthwhile.

I have always been in the drinker category. Throughout my adult life, I’ve regularly gone out with the intention of having six or more drinks, sometimes many more. This is socially acceptable where I come from, but only recently has that begun to seem strange to me. 

It seems like a mistake of history that our species has such a casual fondness for what is actually a very hard drug. It’s only drinking’s popularity that makes it seem like a sane thing to do—fairly normal doses are enough to make people sway and stumble, say rude things, throw up, writhe in bed the next day, and often much worse. It’s addictive, expensive, frequently life-ruining. Even the kindest person in the world, having had enough alcohol, becomes awful to be around.

I’ve mostly kept myself within the bounds of “socially acceptable” drinking, for what it’s worth. I don’t drink alone, I don’t drink and drive, and I’m only rarely the drunkest person in the room. But I’ve been drunk a lot. Over twenty years, it’s almost certainly more than five hundred times, maybe a thousand.

How is it possible for drunkenness to be such a worthwhile drug experience that I’d do a thousand times? Even if it was free, physiologically healthy and zero-calorie, the drug itself still represents a very questionable tradeoff in terms of mental faculties. For a few hours, you gain some relief from rumination and stress, and it’s easier to laugh and open up. But you lose a significant degree of what are probably the best human capacities: judgment, self-control, intelligence, basic awareness and kindness.

Maybe others are getting more out of it than I do, and giving up less. But for me it is very obviously a bad deal, and it’s getting worse as I get older.

An obsolete tool

It may have been a good deal at first. When I was in my teens and early twenties, drinking probably gave me a net benefit socially. Those first few years of drinking came with a real social freedom a shy person like me couldn’t get any other way. After a few drinks I could talk to people easily and I made friends quickly, and I had no other tools for doing that.

But I’m no longer an awkward teenager who’s afraid to talk to people. I have more chances to socialize than I can make use of. I seldom stress about work. I like my life. And I like myself, except when I’m remembering being drunk.

My drinking has tapered off from more than once a week to less than once a month. I drink so infrequently for a “drinker” that it didn’t seem worth quitting. So why is this suddenly troubling me twenty years into my drinking career?

That night out in December shattered two myths I’ve used to rationalize my drinking habit. To make the story short, I woke the next day feeling intense shame about a flippant comment I’d made to the bartender. It wasn’t mean, just snarky and abrupt. I doubt I offended him through his hardened bartender skin.

(*Because I know people will ask, I’ve included the entire story in an endnote.)

I know I’ve made many unhelpful remarks like that over the years, but there was a reason it got to me this time. That morning, I remembered exactly how I felt as I made the comment—and I know that I felt aware, restrained, almost sober.

This was alarming, because I believed my many years of drinking had left me with a somewhat reliable sense of how unreliable my faculties were at any given stage of impairment. Who knows on how many other occasions I believed I was sober enough to be witty and still polite, but had already become annoying and oblivious.

The mirage of responsible drinking

For a long time I’ve believed I could achieve a sort of “happy window”, about a drink past “tipsy”, where I could reap the upsides of the drug without reaching the point where the serious downsides kick in. Theoretically, I could enjoy the freewheeling spirit alcohol offered without getting obnoxious or overly familiar. Obviously I would overshoot that window sometimes, but I could dismiss that as an error in execution, not in the plan itself.

However, that morning I was mortified at my behavior, and I knew I hadn’t overshot my window. I had monitored myself as well as I knew how to.

That horrible morning, I spent two hours journaling on the topic of alcohol: why I drink, what it does for me, what it costs me, and why the idea of abstaining completely is so scary. The list of costs was long and alarming—the financial and caloric costs alone are enormous, and they’re nothing compared to my growing morning-after self loathing, interactions that are worse than I realize, and the disruption to my fitness and meditation regimens.

The list of upsides was pathetic. I don’t feel any social advantages anymore, so I was left with stuff like: People will bug me for not drinking. I might not get invited to things where most people are drinking. Beer tastes really good sometimes.

This journaling also led to the other major revelation: all those fun memorable nights out with friends weren’t great because I was drunk, they were great because I was with my friends. This was a basic attribution error: Parties are fun. I am drunk at parties. Being drunk is what makes parties fun.

It’s clear now that if there is a responsible, happy window for me, I can’t depend on knowing where it is if I’ve been drinking. And that means the kind of moderation I believed I was practicing either doesn’t exist, or I am still incapable of it after twenty years of drinking experience.

Canceling a bad deal

Even “restrained” drunkenness erodes almost every part of my personality that I like. Alcohol still makes me feel free, on a very superficial level, but only in exchange for turning me into a person that would annoy me if I was sober. Responsible drinking, for me, seems to mean not drinking, or at least not being drunk.

So I decided not to touch the stuff until May, when I take a trip to the UK. I reserve the right to visit a pub. After that I’ll have a lot more insight into what life is like both with and without this habit.

Still, I doubt I’ll never drink again. There is communion to be found in drinking with others, and I don’t think it’s all an illusion. While alcohol does break down a lot of inhibitions that keep us from doing stupid things, not all of our inhibitions are good—booze is known for making people feel free to tell their friends they love them, for one thing. Sometimes these confessions are sloppy and sentimental, but sometimes they’re genuine and long overdue. Clearly there are healthier ways to achieve that openness, but we are fearful beings and we don’t always find them.

This communion effect is a major reason I resisted taking a break, and at least part of the reason our species is so fond of this substance. The drug is not—maybe unfortunately—devoid of value. It just has so many costs, depending on the person, that it may not be worthwhile to use it often, or at all.

How is your relationship to alcohol? Are you comfortable with its place in your life?

Photo by Fabrizio Russo

***

*Six of us remained after the bulk of the Christmas party had cleared out of a local pub. I told the bartender, in what I thought was a joking tone, “You’re the worst bartender we’ve ever had!” To my surprise, he did not laugh and neither did anyone else in our party. I had meant it as lighthearted remark to break the tension after someone had called him out for ignoring our end of the bar. We had interpreted his obtuseness as poor service, but in hindsight it was clearly a passive-aggressive attempt to get us all to leave—one remaining former co-worker was in rough shape, having started drinking that afternoon. He needed to be escorted to a cab before he fell asleep on his stool, but nobody was taking the initiative to do that. We knew him but were not quite friends with him, and so nobody felt responsible for him. I suppose we believed that he had chosen to drink irresponsibly, unlike ourselves, and the bartenders had overserved him but now considered him our problem to solve. My comment was meant to tone down the confrontation level, but unbeknownst to me it was completely tone-deaf and out of place.

Even though I was nowhere near our colleague’s level of intoxication, I was still completely oblivious to what was actually happening, including how my comment landed, until the morning after. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I was in a position to help several people who needed help. All I did was make a ham-handed comment that I never would have made if I had been even close to the person I am when I’m sober. Yet I remember in that moment feeling like I was only “responsibly tipsy”—still sharp and witty, and miles from being crass. Realizing all of this the following morning was mortifying and I don’t ever want to be that unaware again. 

***

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Lorraine Beauchamp January 9, 2017 at 1:10 pm

If feels as if I am always saying this, David, but I love your honest writing. I’m 11 years sober, after realizing (long, sad story) that I had no “stop” button when it came to alcohol. I’m an addict, and it seems they are now discovering that some of us can’t control that switch – it’s a chromosomal deficiency of sorts.

I still drool when I contemplate a glass of cold white Chardonnay. I miss the pairings of food and wine that I so loved when I drank…. and of course, I (like you) always appreciated how it released my inhibitions and allowed me to relax, because I’m also a highly sensitive person.

I lost a few friends (obviously not true friends) and I stay at home on New Year’s Eve. I do like being alcohol-free, though, and feel much, much better in my soul and with my body.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Thanks Lorraine. I’m looking forward to seeing how my body feels long term. People say you sleep better, which sounds pretty good to me :)

Nigel Ikechukwu January 9, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Hi, I’m really happy with your decision to quit booze. I realized long ago that it does little to help us than make us feel tipsy. You can make yourself feel tipsy without booze.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Thanks Nigel. I’m starting to think that I don’t really like the tipsiness itself at all, and what I really like was the things I associated with drinking: being with friends, parties, celebrations, etc.

Sebastiano Piscicelli Taeggi January 9, 2017 at 1:30 pm

I just celebrated 5 years sober, after 30 years of drinking. I regularly believed to be witty and funny when I was drunk, but I wasn’t, and like you I still cringe at the idea of what I must have said in that state to people I love and who love me.
It wasn’t easy to stop, but it might be interesting for you to hear what made the stopping extraordinarily easy: it was when I discovered Douglas Harding’s “Headlessness” and suddenly realized that the state I was looking forward to achieve (by drinking) was exactly the ordinary state I am in when I’m sober! By drinking, I was trying to be at ease and comfort with myself, to enjoy the moment when the voices in my head would go silent – and now I recognized how, basically, I am always already in that state!
As you say on the bottom of this page: “Maybe you don’t have a problem”!
I am still in awe at how revolutionary a few experiments (headless.org) could be for my life.
As for keeping the door open to drinking, for the moment I’m not in a hurry to start drinking again. I’m not sure I could control it, my body reacts with craving after the second or third drink. In fact, today I even use headlessness in my voluntary work to help others quit drinking.
I’m very happy to hear about your decision! Let us know how it works out.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:03 pm

The sober state really is the best state with the most advantages, at least in my experience. I don’t think the actual drug effect helped me do anything for a long time, I just really got accustomed to having fun in a certain way.

Nathan Wheelhouse January 9, 2017 at 1:34 pm

I live in London, and operating on social occasions without alcohol is definitely the exception. I was at a party on New Year’s Eve, and most people were dancing away. I was standing around nervously with my girlfriend, too aware of my arms and legs and the hopeless movements they would probably make if I joined in. A bottle of wine later you couldn’t keep me off the dance floor. I felt wonderful for all of about 60 mins before queasiness set in, and left shortly after. Felt terrible all New Years day. I didn’t drink all of 2015, and although I built confidence in some situations that stopped the ‘I need a drink’ feeling, I found I just didn’t want to be around drinkers much and consequently didn’t socialize much all year. Drinking diet Coke or water in a bar for four hours just isn’t very appealing. The simple fact is that a lot of social occasions are dull when alcohol is taken away. I wish alcohol wasn’t so pervasive in society: to not drink is to be less popular than a vegan at a dinner party.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:17 pm

I’m interested to see what social situations are still fun and which aren’t. Last time I remember everything was still pretty fun, but got a little old around midnight. But that just means more sleep.

David Smyth January 26, 2017 at 1:18 pm

Well as the tee-total vegan at the party I can tell you that the friends that are worth having will accept you regardless of whether you validate their own attitude to drinking or not. The last few new year’s have been at someone’s house with my closest friends and you couldn’t drag me out to that cattle market in town instead.

Lynn Morstead January 9, 2017 at 1:59 pm

Dear Fellow Four-Month-Abstainer,
I’m doing the same thing again this year … did it a couple of years ago. My husband, a subscriber, sent me your blog since we appear to be on the same path. Your very bold and brutally honest writing is where I’m gently leading to in my daily missive (at https://dripinventory.wordpress.com/) on the day-by-day practicalities of adjusting to a non-alcohol life in a very alcohol infused world
Wishing you all the best!! Lynn

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Best to you too Lynn!

Matt @ thebookreviewblog January 9, 2017 at 2:05 pm

I think the effects worsen with age. I noticed around my thirties that I couldn’t shake off a hangover like I used to, now I seldom drink (couple of times a year). If I do, I stick to national guidelines (a few units in any one evening) and remember to drink water at the same time. If you’re at a party you can alternate, or space your alcoholic drink between non-alcoholic ones, or abstain. That’s my experience, everyone’s different. The positive health effects are well documented.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Oh man my hangovers have gotten really bad. But I can still drink quite a bit without getting to that range, especially if I take those anti-hangover measures. So it’s not enough of an incentive on its own.

Elizabeth Munroe January 9, 2017 at 2:18 pm

I am glad that you had the guts to tell us why your were stopping drinking for a while, and to tell us the story of the night that made you decide this. I’ll be interested in hearing any updates you give us about this journey.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Thanks Elizabeth. It’s a personal story but I figured others could relate.

CJx January 9, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Will be interested to hear your views on drinking after your UK visit… there is a real alcohol culture over here and much of it is not pretty!
PS: Any plans to apologise to the barman?

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:23 pm

The next day I thought about apologizing to the bartender but I decided that was a little too self-absorbed. I doubt he thought twice about it. My issue had little to do with that particular comment; it was more about the oversight it illuminated.

Cara January 9, 2017 at 3:32 pm

I’ve never really been what I could call a ‘drinker’ (not even back in my days as a bartender and a shooter girl), but in the past few years I’ve graduated (or digressed?) from being just a ‘dabbler’. I used to only have a few drinks on weekends—would never touch the stuff during the week. Now I have a glass of wine—and occasionally 1 1/2 or 2 glasses (rarely)—every night of the week. Seven days on seven. No break. I don’t really know why, so I decided this past weekend that I’d try going back to only having wine on weekends for awhile and see how it feels. It makes me feel nervous to know that I’m not having a glass tonight for the first time, which reveals to me that I’ve been using it much like I use sugar: as a comfort and a crutch. I’m also curious to see if the reduction from 7 days of wine to 2 makes a difference in my CrossFit performance, or if it’s too subtle an amount to matter much. Here we go!

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:26 pm

A lot of people say they noticed a difference in their alertness/fatigue levels after going from 1-2 drinks a day to zero. So I’d be interested to hear if you notice your workout goes better.

Lindsay January 9, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Your comment reveals an important fact about alcohol, which is that it’s even more calorie-dense than sugar (even without any mixers, etc.) and is burned quickly, just like sugar. So, for those of us who avoid eating sweets/sugar, alcohol is a good way to set back our efforts to control cravings, etc. If I drink often (even small amounts), I find myself wanting to eat cookies or whatever. =(

kiwano January 9, 2017 at 3:39 pm

I’d most likely fit the dabbler characterization best, and this strikes me as a place in which my not-so-secret weapon for staying within my limit in a heavier-drinking social situation might be appreciated. It’s scotch; when I’m at the point of having what I intend to be my last drink for the evening, I order a decent scotch. If someone offers to get me another drink, I can point out that I’m still working on the one in front of me, and if they suggest that I finish it quickly, so I can get on with my next drink, I can look at them like they’ve uttered some sort of terrible blashpemy against liquor and ask: “are you suggesting that I rush a scotch?”

I kinda picked it up from my dad who’s got Gilbert’s syndrome (which I didn’t pick up from him, though my sister did), and is basically biologically limited to one drink in a session (before he starts getting jaundiced). He tends towards cognac instead of scotch but the principle is the same, regardless of the slow sipping drink that’s employed to accomplish it.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:29 pm

Haha… this is genuinely interesting. Using scotch as a tool to drink less. I’ve never understood scotch, but maybe that’s because I’m just so accustomed to beer that I can’t fathom drinking a small amount of much stronger liquid. I’m too used to big sips.

Rocky Mitchell January 9, 2017 at 4:02 pm

My father was a massive alcoholic. He ran a bar where I used to go for daycare. When I turned 18 I began playing in bands at the professional level which continues to the present. Lots of bars and nite clubs, lots of alcohol. There were times when I drank too much, but I thank God I could always take it or leave it. I took over my mothers side family business in 1989…. bar & grill ! I’d say I barely rise to the level of a dabbler these days. Maybe two glasses of wine per week. But having been around alcoholics all my life , I’ve come to admire greatly people who have quit completely. The greater their drinking problem the more I admire them. I must say that your commitment to quit , but not completely , is reminiscent of the people in your vegan post who said they “couldn’t possibly give up cheese. ” in the nutshell I think that you and I and everyone else are way better off without alcohol in their lives .

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:36 pm

It is probably true that our species would be better off if there was no alcohol at all. I considered quitting “forever” but seemed like that was just an emotional overreaction. Also, I don’t feel that my 36-year-old self has the clairvoyance (or the authority) to decide what’s best for my 37- or 47- year old self. The goal of this campaign is to see what it’s like, and reassess.

Lauren January 9, 2017 at 4:09 pm

I have abstained for the last 8 months due to pregnancy. I have not been a binge drinker for many years and before being pregnant would only have a couple of drinks per week. I have found that even cutting that out has given me a clearer head and ability to express myself much better. Like you, I was very shy in my teens and early 20s and really relied on alcohol and other substances to socialise. But now I have pushed through that and for the most part and going out sober isn’t a scary prospect. I am not sure whether I will continue the abstinence after baby is here, I like to tell myself that “it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry”! Though as you point out, the disadvantages of drinking seem to outweigh any advantages.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:37 pm

A clearer head sounds good to me!

I am sure it gave me an advantage at one time, but that time has definitely passed. I just never gave non-drinking a chance to really show me what it’s got :)

DT January 9, 2017 at 4:20 pm

I can remember in my 20’s having a great time with alcohol. Then my father, who had never been a drinker, started drinking. Probably due boredom after reaching financial freedom earlyish in life. He also probably had a sensitivity to alcohol and some depression. After just a few years of heavy drinking, he developed cirrhosis of the liver and died. I can tell you without a doubt, that is not the way to go. I am now a dabbler. My husbands family started drinking at noon with sherry, then cocktails at 5, wine with dinner, a nightcap. They were very social. They were also increasingly rude and obnoxious as the day wore on. My husband is now a dabbler after spending his 20’s as a drinker. I hope just one person learns from our experiences and considers other ways to find whatever it is they are seeking. Social acceptance or happiness in a bottle is a mirage.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:44 pm

I am really glad that we are all learning from each others’ experiences in this thread. Alcohol plays a role in everyone’s life and we can learn a lot by talking about it. Thanks DT.

Ariel January 9, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Hi David,

This post is so right-on. I’ve been sober since October for many of the same reasons (I decided to stop after a particularly wild night out with a friend when I woke up like nuh-uh, I’m done with this shit). I actually wrote a post on my blog about it called “Stop Drinking and Watch the Stars Align” because in addition to the benefits you’ve mentioned above, I find that things almost magically seem to work out in my life when I’m clean and clear. I make more money, get better opportunities, and if I put an intention out there, it’s much more likely to quickly come into being. My vibration isn’t clogged, it’s crystal clear. Most importantly, I feel like I can count on myself to be there if someone else needs me… or if I need me.
(if you care to read my post it’s at https://arielkiley.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/stop-drinking-and-watch-the-stars-align/)

Shine on.
Ariel

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Thanks Ariel, I appreciate your post. I’m looking forward to seeing how the “stars align” like you say. People do say things just tend to work out better and they wonder why they didn’t do it before. Even relatively small amounts do have a detrimental effects on my day-to-day mental state. I know I’m a lot more moody, even the day after I had a single drink.

Ken b January 9, 2017 at 6:11 pm

Thanks for the article. As a non-drinker who is married to a wine rep that compensates for my tea totaling, I can appreciate your thoughts. It’s not particularly fun being the only sober person at a party. But everything, everywhere seems to be about drinking. I have witnessed (and been the target of) far too many comments that just downright mean by a person who is normally agreeable, if not kind.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 7:08 pm

I’ve been the sober person at parties, and sometimes it sucks, but it’s also great to be able to drive myself home whenever I feel like it, and I really like the feeling of being clear-headed at the end of the night. But we’ll see how it goes.

John Draper January 9, 2017 at 6:35 pm

David- Once again…. what a great post. I’m quite a bit older than… everyone in this comment section? I quit completely 25 years ago last month. This was after 20 years on the road as a techie/tour manager with rock bands, during which I was definitely a “drinker” (and other things!). I don’t miss it at all. I made the decision once, and now I don’t have to ‘monitor my intake’ ever again. I highly recommend it. As wise person once said- focus on your breathing.

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 7:09 pm

Thanks John. Congrats on the quarter-century!

Luke January 9, 2017 at 6:59 pm

That sounds like a really well thought-out decision on your part, David. I hope you find it a helpful and positive experience!

I have vastly cut down my intake, as I discovered (far too late in life) that alcohol brings out a terrible version of me. I thought I was funny and the life of the party at the time, but looking back I was the opposite. I went from getting drunk 6 out of 7 nights per week to now only having a few socially when my mates get together for a beer. And my life is far better for it!

David Cain January 9, 2017 at 7:11 pm

Thanks Luke. Yeah I don’t like drunk me all that much, and I’ve only ever met him after having a few :)

Stephanie January 9, 2017 at 8:27 pm

Thank you for your honesty. Good for you! I am a major drinker and I’ve thought a lot about the consequences over the past year, as I’ve had some close friends have some issues with it. I personally am a stress case, extremely high strung and physically tense thanks to job pressures combined with a legit type a personality. I find that having a drink after work literally unwinds me (though I usually hold off till after a yoga class!). I have a massage, yoga, and stretching regimen but for some reason that’s not always enough to chill out. I never drive and I rarely black out, so I feel like it’s under control. Perhaps I’m rationalizing, but I just keep coming around to feeling that it’s under control! I appreciate this chance to examine it again and I look forward to hearing how your four months go! Best of luck to you. :)

David Cain January 10, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Thanks Stephanie. For what it’s worth, it didn’t matter to me whether it was under control, it was a matter of the upsides and downsides. In my case the downsides (at least of the way I was doing it) were way bigger and it made sense to step away.

Cait Flanders January 9, 2017 at 10:52 pm

I loved every word of this post, friend. I quietly celebrated four years of sobriety in December. Every year, I learn new things about myself and the reasons I used to drink. I was certainly in the “drinker” category. I drank to get drunk. It did help me get through lots of social situations in my teens, but what I didn’t realize back then was that it also used to feel like the only thing I was good at. I felt like partying and being able to drink more than even some of my guy friends was somehow an accomplishment – because to some of the friends I partied with, it was, and they celebrated it. I was never particularly athletic or smart or good looking. But I could drink. I was a great drinker. So that’s what I did, until I couldn’t anymore. And then I had to figure out what else I was good at, so I could rebuild my self-esteem around something healthier. Our stories are very different. However, like you, I also had a morning where I woke up and was dripping in so much self-loathing that I knew I could never touch it again. (I can share that story on our call this week, if you like.) I’ll be curious to hear about your experiences with these two things: “People will bug me for not drinking. I might not get invited to things where most people are drinking.” Four years in and it still happens. Well, I get invited to some things (not all). But people still bug me about not drinking. That’s an unfortunate side effect of choosing to live a countercultural lifestyle. But the benefits far exceed it. I look forward to hearing about how you feel after this experiment :)

David Cain January 10, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Hey Cait. I’m really curious about the micro level here — how I’m going to adjust to specific situations that alcohol has always been a part of. I have to decide little things about what to order when we go for wings, what to bring to parties, etc. People will bug me now and then but I’m not too worried about that. Much worse to be the one bugging others.

Paul January 10, 2017 at 12:24 am

Dear David,, I’ve met people like you over the years. Drinkers come in all shapes and sizes though the predominant characteristic of most problem drinkers is narcissism I.e. When they make a comment such as you did,, they don’t feel bad about it. You’re probably going to get a whack load of suggestions, advice, blah blah blah. They aren’t the most important thing,, anything I have to offer isn’t the most important thing. What is important is that within you is a little voice that tells you when you’re not being the man you want to be. It’s that sense of discomfort when you do something and after the fact realize you don’t actually like you when you do stuff like that. When alcohol starts costing you the best of you figure out which ones more important to you. I was once informed by a man with a high opinion of himself that good intentions don’t add up to squat. My reply to him was “you’ve obviously never mentored a sociopath”. You’ve got the core work with it, listen to it. If I can be of any service you’re welcome to email. Regards P

David Cain January 10, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Thanks Paul. You reminded me of a post I wrote about a question that helps me make lifestyle choices: what am I doing when I like who I am? Drinking is a tricky one because self-appraisal is impaired, and becomes drinking often comes alongside spending time with friends and other activities. But I definitely don’t like the person I become after too many drinks.

Anna January 10, 2017 at 12:52 am

Hello David,
my first drink experience was at 9 yrs old with a friend whos parents were both alcoholics. Her dad died choking on his own sick in their pub. Her elder brother and his mates supplied us wit the alcohol and we got drunk till vomiting. In england vomiting has become Something you laugh about the next day. I tried drinking at weekends to get drunk for many years till the age of about 20 when i just gave up. i gave up smoking aswell and its amazing how healthy and happy i feel. Since being in France i have absolutely no pressure to drink because they dont drink to get drunk, they drink to enjoy the taste so they just accept it when i say that i dont drink. Ive seen the horrific side to drinking and i want no part of it. Im very Lucky i dont like the taste though.
My sister is a big drinker and verging on alcoholic and she dislikes me intensely….. Im boring, goodytwoshoes, dry with no sense of humour to her because i dont drink. We are worlds apart. because drinking is her identity,I threaten her identity by not drinking it seems.

David Cain January 10, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Cultural differences are interesting. I’ve never visited France but I’ve noticed pronounced differences in how alcohol tends to be used in different countries. Where I live people will often go for a few after work, and sometimes a few more than a few. But in New Zealand I often saw people completely trashed on weeknights, still in their office clothes. I like the way the French approach sounds.

Cezary January 10, 2017 at 1:47 am

I appreciate honesty in your “Goodbye Booze, for Now”. I also decided to stay away from alcohol. I simply want to become a better being.
Getting drunk lowers your spiritual vibrations. A clairvoyant, friend of mine, would see bad qualities in people after alcohol – that is why she hasn’t had any for the last 25 years. When sober, she is able to help by giving them useful advice based on what she reads from their energy field. My warning bell rang when I had a row with my wife when drunk. Yes, alcohol will open you up, but in an uncontrolled way. Thus, alcohol means misery – what good is love you manifest when drunk? What good is any spiritual realization when high on drugs? Withheld love is the pain we carry from life to life. Alcohol can take the pain for a while, but what good is a painkiller when your body is sick – it only temporarily brings comfort. Anyway, keep your resolve. You are not alone.

David Cain January 10, 2017 at 4:30 pm

I feel lucky that I never found alcohol to be a useful painkiller. For me it was just something that facilitated fun. Every time I drank when I was upset I just felt like crap.

Mark Moorton January 10, 2017 at 6:09 am

I think this was an incredibly honest and brave article. Thank you for sharing this David.

I wouldn’t call myself a heavy drinker but towards the back end of 2015, I did start to worry that I was reaching out for a glass of wine too many times. I had said that I wouldn’t drink on a ‘school night’ (ie nights where I was working the next day) but that soon went by the by and I found I was having a glass (or more) as a sort of reward for a hard days work.

I therefore wanted to convince myself and others that I was in control of my drinking and instead of doing a dry January that so many people often do after Christmas and New Year, I went one step further and tried to do an alcohol-free 100 days.

It failed on two fronts – I managed to get to 67 days before I gave up (which in itself proved that I could stop for at least two months) but I also hadn’t factored in that just suddenly stopping something that I had been doing more or less constantly beforehand was not a good idea and did lead to a bout of depression.

So my only advice to ‘just stopping’ is to be wary that, with any other drug, one should go through a withdrawal process and I would say do the same.

David Cain January 10, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Thanks for the heads up. I never really used alcohol as an anaesthetic or a reward, so I don’t imagine I’ll have the same troubles though. It was always just a partying thing for me, and opportunities for that only come up once or twice a month in my current lifestyle. Most days I never think about alcohol at all.

Brandon V January 10, 2017 at 7:17 am

Thank you for sharing your insights on this topic. It greatly resonated with me. I’m constantly the friend that drinks half as much as my friends, but I’m still having 3-5 drinks in an evening. So I compare myself to them and tell myself, “Well, you have far much more control. Good for you!” But that’s still 3-5 drinks that provide no real value to my enjoyment with my friends and no nutritional value. I wake up at 4:45 a.m. every day to go to the gym, and I bust my ass to build muscle, and then I drink on the weekends and undo the good that I’m trying to produce for myself. I hope to find the grace and courage to commit to a teetotaler life. Thank you for providing strength to this community by sharing.

David Cain January 10, 2017 at 4:37 pm

I’ve gotten a ton of email from people in the last day telling me about the upsides of quitting, and a big one was sleep. It seems like alcohol does bad things to our sleep, and bad sleep inhibits our moods, and the results of our fitness efforts, for a couple things. Best of luck to you in whatever you decide to do.

Jennifer Keith January 10, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Congratulations. Expect steps forward and back.
I stopped drinking 31 years ago. The worst part of the brain damage for me was keeping me stuck in the most unpleasant and bitter aspects of my life, the most infuriating patterns. It was if I couldn’t learn from my mistakes. There’s research that alcohol chemically alters the brain and keeps people “stuck” in their worst moments, their most painful sorrows, their deepest resentments. Since I quit, it’s as if my psyche can stay rubbery; I have a great deal more choice in which life events I choose to internalize and what to let go. I am awake and alive, and take very little for granted. On 12/24 I turned 57, and there is not a single day that goes by that I am not delighted to be living without anesthesia. I love your writing so much and wish you well on this fantastic adventure.

David Cain January 10, 2017 at 4:39 pm

Thanks for the well-wishes Jennifer.

chacha1 January 10, 2017 at 2:57 pm

I am always impressed by how self-aware you are, David, but this piece is particularly courageous. Recounting this anecdote is the sort of thing that most people, even those trying to be better people, wouldn’t do.

I have never been a “drinker” in the sense that you use. I like the way my brain works, haven’t seen any real-world benefits to blurring its edges, and have seen firsthand many, many ill consequences to others from immoderate use of alcohol.

My use of alcohol is as part of a meal. My husband and I will have a glass of wine with dinner 3-4 times a week. When I need to drop a few pounds, I cut back to wine 1-2 times a week. :-) We both love wine and our favorite type of vacation is in wine country (complete with tasting rooms), but we don’t drink to get drunk.

Michael Baker January 10, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Great article, David. I admire your honesty.

I have found that abstaining from alcohol is easy when I remember that it lowers my state of consciousness. I do all these things to elevate my awareness—meditation, deep breathing, reading, walks through the forest—so why would I choose to do something that brings me down, that makes me less aware of my thoughts and reactions? It seems completely absurd, right? I try to remember this when someone offers me a rum and coke at the pool hall—makes it way easier to say “No, thank you.”

Also, declining feels truly empowering, like I have some control over my life and I’m not just listening to the narrator in my head.

Tspora January 10, 2017 at 4:15 pm

A very honest article, thanks. I do sense quite a lot of guilt though and I don’t think you need to feel guilty about your tipsy episode. But not because you were tipsy. That is where people get mixed up by excusing their poor behaviour on the drink. I think there is something to be said about why people drink to excess. I personally can take it or leave it but enjoy it occasionally and don’t mind getting tipsy. What is concerning is the compulsion to drink. That seems to come from an urge to confess something. And that confession is often something bad felt about oneself that one hides ordinarily. Having a drink too many allows that badness out occasionally to relieve the conflict within. If you learn to like yourself and try to forgive yourself then that compulsion will go most likely. Maybe that’s why you felt so bad about what happened, perhaps you felt you shouldn’t have let that ‘bad’ element which you think you have out for the night. Plato’s allegory of the human soul as a charioteer with two horses illustrates this well. One horse is noble and good, obedient to the charioteer’s intentions. The other is unruly and bad, unpredictable and disobedient. Here, the charioteer can only steer safely by controlling the bad horse, he cannot just rely on the good horse to get him through life in the way he wishes but must dedicate much attention to controlling the impulse of the bad. We are all liable to that impulse so we shouldn’t feel guilty that we have this within us, we just have to accept it and reign it in.

George G. January 10, 2017 at 10:08 pm

I entered my relationship with alcohol very tentatively, because my father was a lifelong alcoholic, and I experienced so many of the problems that stem from alcohol abuse. He could be quick to anger (and was a very frightening person when angry) and lash out with physical abuse, or he could retreat into somber depression, even going to the point of coming very close to committing suicide on several occasions. My father’s struggle with alcohol addiction is one of the primary factors that caused my parents to divorce when I was 12 or 13, and it tainted my view of my father right up until the day he died.

I never wanted to go down that road myself, so I swore off the Devil’s Nectar for a long time, until peer pressure in college eventually overrode my fears and I started opening up to booze. I’ve been drunk enough to not remember the night before maybe three or four times total in my life (I am currently 32 years old), but I know that my safe limit is typically three to four drinks at most before I need to call it a night.

Now I drink responsibly, mostly at home but sometimes at parties with friends. I’ve never been a fan of the bar scene, so I rarely visit those. I may drink two or three times a week at the MOST (though I admittedly shouldn’t drink at all in accordance with my current medication for depression/social anxiety), and typically no more than one or two drinks.

My biggest interest is the whiskey family, especially savoring fine whiskeys and scotches the few times a year I can afford to do so. A fine scotch can be sublime, something to be smelled, sipped, and savored slowly and mindfully. It feels like a uniquely enriching experience, so I typically save it for special occasions like birthdays and major holidays where light alcohol consumption is acceptable.

Sarah January 11, 2017 at 4:07 am

This hit me where it hurts: you lose a significant degree of what are probably the best human capacities: judgment, self-control, intelligence, basic awareness and kindness.
Why do we give up such great parts of ourselves so easily?

I’m doing a dry 2017. Started just after Christmas as I was so sick of my tired, obnoxious, escapist drinking self. The most amazing thing about sobriety, so far (and I’ve done long stretches before but never 12 months), is that when you experience joy, it’s real. It’s absolutely fucking real.

Look forward to following your blog. thanks for sharing.

linda January 11, 2017 at 9:33 am

Just discovering this blog – wow, it is wonderful. And this, in particular, is so timely for me. I rarely get drunk. But I find myself doing light drinking constantly, in a way I never really did before. I am just desperate for a beer or a glass of wine after work. And I think that it is seriously contributing to the number on the scale going up! I really would like to reign this in. At the very lease I think it would be smart to abstain during the week. There’s something a little disconcerting about feeling like I “need” a drink when I get home from work.

jazztonight January 11, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Sorry, David, but four months of not drinking is not going to show you what life without alcohol is all about. All it will prove is that you can go four months without drinking.

Years ago I took a class at Berkeley in Drug Use and Abuse. Evidence presented by the prof. indicated it can take a year or more for all traces of substances, including alcohol, to leave the brain.

Years later when I stopped drinking (I was always just a casual drinker) in my mid-fifties, that’s what I found to be true. It took about a year, and then the veil was lifted. Fortunately, I don’t miss drinking, and often find I’m the only one not drinking in a room full of people. I don’t mind at all.
https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm

Anyway, good luck in your 4-month challenge. One of the many things in life that amuses me is how people use “wine-tasting” as a legitimate reason to drink.

David Cain January 15, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Four months without drinking has to happen before a year without drinking, or a lifetime without drinking. I am already learning a lot.

Abhijeet Kumar January 13, 2017 at 6:57 pm

I have been on this path of self awareness for about an year and a half, and reading this post made me feel I am not alone in feeling the way I do, sometimes, when it comes to how I do not want to do the regular things my friends would do for fun — happy hours, bar hopping. I like connecting with people, I like letting lose, and as long as there is a sense of novelty, spontaneity I feel the urge to go out and be a part of it. Drinking with the right person, I still can do, not because I have to, but for an adventure. But if there is no adventure, I am prepping myself for a shitty next day.

I often wonder as more people take to practices like Mindfulness, would there be a time when socializing would not involve booze, but actually more nature, palatable bites of food. May be it won’t be a night time thing. It would be in daylight. I am already experiencing some of that, mostly through the meet ups I go to.

David Cain January 15, 2017 at 2:54 pm

I have definitely experienced a conflict between what I seek from my drinking and what I seek from meditation and mindfulness. And the latter does a lot more for me, which is a major reason for the break.

MLK January 14, 2017 at 3:04 pm

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve felt just like you described in this post after the staff christmas party just this past december. I thought about the same things you have and I too found that drinking was not helping me anymore in anyway.

As a test i decided to quit drinken for the whole of 2017. I would like to test if it has any positive effect on my health, finances and most important my relationship with friends and co-workers.

It’s allmost to early to tell, and I have not been drinking a lot the last couple of years, but I feel better about it after just the first 14 days of 2017

Amanda Warden January 16, 2017 at 8:30 pm

I am definitely a drinker who is always trying to take a break or stop completely. The reason is simple; I will never achieve the best version of myself with it in my life. The part I find to be the colossal challenge is the connection it has with some important rituals in my life and the attachment it has to some of my dreams (sipping red wine at a street cafe in Spain) It feels like by letting alcohol go I would be letting these things go too.
On the flip side, I love being connected to nature, people, animals, and am obsessed with living mindfully and with intention. All of which are hindered significantly when my frenemy alcohol comes out to play.
Thanks for writing this article and giving so many of us a platform to share our personal experiences and thoughts.

tallgirl1204 January 18, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Thanks, David, for this article. I am a “dabbler,” and a bit of an easy drunk — but in 2015 found myself having a beer (or two) every evening– far too much for a person of my tolerance. So I did a dry January in 2016– and I also abstained from sweets (which turned out to be harder but that’s a different topic). I spent the rest of 2016 in a better relationship with both. Of course, after the excesses of December, I am doing a “dry” January for 2017– it seems like a good practice for the long term. One thing that helps is to have an alternative. I went to a birthday party (champagne cocktails and cake) last week, and the host offered me a mocktail made with sparkling water, and she also provided a cheese plate. I had a lovely drink that looked just like everyone else’s, and I found myself hooting and dancing with everyone else– there’s much to be said for the placebo effect of “pretend this is real alcohol and the fun will follow.” Good luck, and I am interested to hear how this goes for you.

Tallgirl1204 January 18, 2017 at 10:55 pm

I do want to add that sugar and alcohol seem related– in the past when I gave up one I increased the other. I think it will be useful to notice if your relationship with sweets changes without alcohol in your life.

MindfulCents January 22, 2017 at 4:35 pm

I made similar decision On December the 26th. Alcohol doesn’t even taste that great so why do I drink it. Its expensive, it doesn’t align with my health goals so I let it go. I replaced wine drinking habit with herbal tea. I think I will stick with this new found satisfaction of sticking with my intentions.

Peggy January 22, 2017 at 7:27 pm
Louisa January 23, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Congrats on your decision. I would have apologized to the barman, myself, just in case it did offend him. But the better thing is to change your behavior so you don’t do it again. I have cut back my wine-drinking to a place where I’m comfortable with it. And while I rarely drink alone, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. A friend of mine who is single (and not much of a drinker) commented on the stigma of drinking alone. She objects to cultural rules that suggest it is inappropriate to do something by oneself. This means that people who live alone, or perhaps are introverts, are out of luck when it comes to having a glass of wine or a beer or whatever.

Amy January 25, 2017 at 6:47 pm

This is so well written, David, and I agree wholeheartedly. I turned 30 this past September, and decided then and there (while camping with my husband and our dog) that I was going to stop drinking. I had been doing some soul searching for a while on why I actually still drank, despite not even really enjoying the taste of it, what it did for my health goals, and how it made me feel the day after. I started drinking at age 16, and realized that I had never spent any significant portion of my adult life sober. Special events, parties, weddings, birthdays…all fueled with alcohol. I truly haven’t missed it at all, and truly believe that I’ll remain a teetotaler for life. It just doesn’t serve me or my goals, and detracted far too much for me to keep doing it. Bravo for sharing your story. :)

Mike January 26, 2017 at 9:43 am

David,

I am a long time reader and I believe this is my first comment. I would complement you on your honesty, as many have done already, but you have always been so refreshingly honest in your writing that sharing your inner most thoughts like this is what we have come to expect and love from your blog.

I feel the power of you message is so much more than one individual deciding to make a change in his life, but as another comment said “thank you for providing strength to this community by sharing.”

I know that it helps me when I am in similar situations to visualize a virtual community of like-minded people who have the strength to say NO things like alcohol, junk food and other life draining activities and that are also saying YES to life-affirming activities like exercise, yoga, meditation, hiking, etc.

I too have always been a drinker and after the excess of this past summer I took on the September Whole 30 Challenge and had only whole foods and no sugar, alcohol or other processed foods for 30 days. It was a great re-set and really helped break the habitual processes of reaching for a “relaxing” glass of wine or a beer 4 or 5 nights a week. I found myself consuming substantially less alcohol the last 3 months of the year and have now again taken on an abstinence challenge for January. If nothing else, I find these periods of abstinence give you mental re-set from the habit and also build up your power to say no when the social occasions arise. Plus your friends are typically more understanding that the answer is “no, not right now” as opposed to “no, never again” and you can also keep extending your personal challenge period until it just becomes a full time thing.

I’ve also found another great community of like-minded, disciplined people who strive to live better lives through listening to the Jocko Podcast. It might be a little hard-core and military & martial arts focused, but the message is awesome. When asked why he does not drink anymore Jocko replied – there is nothing in alcohol that will make me better, faster or stronger…

Brenda Young January 30, 2017 at 9:28 am

AA was suggested to me in my younger days after a pattern of disastrous drinking began to take form in my life. But after a bad episode – an uneven “tradeoff” (drinking to oblivion only to have reality and shame haunt me when sober), I reached a decision that I just did not want to be “out of control” ever again, and have not been drunk in 23 years. I tried completely abstaining for a while but at the time it felt unnatural and awkward. It took too much mental energy, resistance. I did not know how to sit with that feeling at the time. At any rate, having one or maybe two drinks…or none at all feels perfect. It takes zero self control for me to not get drunk. What would a third drink do? I don’t know. It’s not an interesting road for me to explore. Sometimes you can just make a decision once. Now to be able to do that in other areas of my life….like my sugar addiction. If sugar caused drunken stupidity, quitting would be a piece of cake.

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