Experiment Log No. 3 – 30 Days Without Drugs
In this experiment I will go 30 days without any drugs (except prescribed medicine) and document what kind of complications arise in my social life and my general day-to-day routines. See the original post here.
The drugs that have had the biggest influence in my life — the ones whose negative effects have made me want to undergo this experiment — are alcohol and caffeine.
I describe in detail exactly why I’m doing this in the main article, but here’s the gist:
Caffeine — It’s something I lean on at work, it makes me feel overloaded and tired later. It makes it difficult to stay mindful and focused. It’s not a huge problem but I’d like to see how abstaining affects my sleep schedule and my general physical state throughout the day.
Alcohol — It costs too much (including taxi rides and late-night pizzas), it supplies calories I don’t need, it makes me say dumb things and it impedes my ability to get to know new people. It’s ubiquitous in my social life; I’m 28 years old and so much of my recreation involves this nasty drug. I just want to see if the world will fall apart if I don’t have any at all for a month.
This is a bit scarier because my social life is so deeply wrapped up in alcohol use. Everyone does it (except for my pregnant friends and family members) and I hope it isn’t a crucial ingredient, because it sure has a lot of downsides.
This experiment began, on schedule, on Monday, July 6, 2009.
It is slated to conclude on Tuesday, August 4, 2009.
After that I can drink Long Island Iced Teas all night if I want to. I wonder what I will want to do.
I will post updates as significant ramifications occur, which probably won’t be every day.
Day 1 — Monday, July 6, 2009
Okay it’s evening now, and today went fairly easily. I did notice my usual reaction to seeing the Tim Horton’s sign on Portage Avenue as I drove to a job site today, followed by a small pang of disappointment as I remembered my commitment. There were no other temptations, and I have not told any of my friends yet.
Day 4 — Thursday, July 9, 2009
Well it’s the morning of day 4 and it has been a breeze so far. I do feel that “Where’s my coffee” feeling when I sit down at my desk in the morning. But I don’t find it difficult to have water instead. I have not yet been in a social situation where I might want to drink, I’ll report when I do.
Day 5 — Friday, July 10, 2009
Well it’s Friday evening and I’m bummed out. I’m not sure if my experiment has anything to do with it. This week was extremely hectic at work and I was so glad to leave for the weekend, but now I’m in a low mood.
I know part of it has to do with the underwhelming response to my latest article. I try not to let myself get emotionally attached to traffic numbers or comment totals, but it seems to be affecting me today. I was proud of it when I wrote it, but I’m not really anymore. People are on holidays I guess, or maybe I take too long to get to the point, or maybe it just sucks. The worst part is that I care, at least when I’m in a crumby mood. I crave recognition sometimes, and I’m too used to it. (experiment 4?)
It is under circumstances like these that I might possibly make some coffee and get busy on something else, or have a beer if I had any on hand. Another thing I do when I feel down is visit my friends. Friday night I usually drop by the house of a close-by friend and have a few. An easy thing to do — far easier than dropping by to not have a few. I will see some friends tomorrow, but right now I feel quite unprepared to socialize.
Early in the week I decided to stay home tonight. During the workweek, I crave free time so I can do the things I’ve been meaning to do. Often I try to fend off social commitments so I can spend friday evening writing or promoting my blog or just catching up on my to-do stuff.
But tonight I’m stagnant and kind of lonely. Coming off my move, I have more time but I’m as disorganized as ever and I just don’t know where to start. My GTD system is in shambles, I really should get on that. Other things have slipped too and I’m not sure which pieces to pick up first: my French studies, my blogging plans, the forty other projects I’ve got my hands into.
I do have a mild headache that feels very much like caffeine withdrawal, I just don’t know why I’m only experiencing it now, five days after my last cup of coffee. I’m inexplicably tired.
I don’t know if this whiny little entry has anything to do with the effects of drug abstinence, or if I’m just in a crap mood and needed a convenient place to complain. But I certainly did notice the inclination to both drink coffee and alcohol in response. I will try to find a much better high by making good use of the rest of my night and getting organized.
Day 7 — Sunday, July 12, 2009
Well I stayed home both Friday and Saturday, so that sure made it easy. A few friends were out of town, and I phoned another one whose phone was off, and ended up not going out. That’s fine.
I have had 4 cups of earl grey, though, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I thought tea had negligible caffeine, but now I see that black tea has about a third a cup of coffee’s worth. So I don’t know where that puts me. It certainly doesn’t have enough to cause the problems I was experiencing with coffee (tiredness, dehydration, unhealthy feeling) but it means I am not entirely off drugs. What I really want is the “hot drink effect.” I’m out of earl grey so I think I might switch
One problem I’m encountering is that I now drink absolutely nothing but water. I cut out milk years ago because it made me feel gross. I cut out juice and other drinks because they’re mostly empty calories. I try to drink water with gratitude, knowing that there are many people out there in the world who do not have the privilege of potable water on command. Maybe I should just learn to be happy with that.
I have noticed some physical effects though. I’ve been having mild caffeine withdrawal headaches, even a week into the experiment. And I feel very good physically. Alert, calm. But mentally I’ve been a bit down, probably because I didn’t really socialize this weekend, and I’m disappointed in my lack of productivity.
Next weekend it won’t be possible to not socialize (not that I would let it happen again), as I have a going-away party for a pair of friends who are moving. That will be a real test, and I will try not to compensate for my lack of alcohol by consuming too much food.
But the first week has breezed by, and I do feel exceptionally healthy. If this pattern continues I think by the end of this experiment I will have renegotiated my relationship with drugs for good.
Day 8 — Monday, July 13, 2009
Well I had a rude awakening yesterday. I felt like the tea was cheating a little, even though I didn’t get nearly the buzz as from coffee, so I made my last earl grey teabag and pounded it back to get rid of it.
I got tossed completely. It really made me feel unstable. I had been profoundly relaxed physically, and this quick cup just wouldn’t let me chill out. I felt high, and I couldn’t get rid of it.
I met my mom for Thai food shortly after and I was alarmed at how disoriented and uneasy I felt. It was a little difficult to follow the conversation, I became preoccupied much more easily, and I kept catching myself just staring at things: doorframes, forks, surfaces. I couldn’t rest my eyes or mind comfortably.
There was this inappropriate compulsion to act, to always adjust something, whether it was in my head or on the table. It very plainly made me less okay with things the way they were. It doesn’t take a Buddha to know that this is a recipe for suffering.
It may be partly because it caught me off guard. If I was able to bring awareness to the caffeine experience itself, I might better be able to field the weird impulses I kept having. In any case, I learned that there is quite a different between the sober experience and the caffeine experience, and I never want to smear them together with thoughtless caffeine consumption again. No more tea, that’s for sure, I can’t imagine what a large Tim Horton’s would have done to me.
Day 15 — Monday, July 20, 2009
I can’t believe this experiment is half over already.
Friday I had my first social engagement since this thing started. Two of my friends were moving away, and two of my other friends had just moved back to town. Definitely cause for socializing. We sat out on the patio at another friend’s condo.
I had told two friends I would drive them, and when I arrived to pick them up there were already in friday mode, beers in hand. I tried to pretend I was also in Friday mode, but it just didn’t feel like it. Normally I would have had my first of six (or more) beers right then, and it definitely felt weird
There were triggers everywhere. That particular basement, that particular couch and coffee table, the laughs of those particular friends… all of those things go with beer like milk goes with cookies. And it was sunny, Friday, old friends in town, an evening get-together on the horizon.
So we went, and I drank diet ginger ale (I need an alternative.) At first I really had trouble getting into the conversation, and it made me wonder if it was the alcohol itself that was missing, or just the comfort of a beer in my hand.
Later on we played cards and I did have fun. The evening was sort of subdued, but I think it was for everyone else too.
I think what I missed was the element of chaos that alcohol adds to an evening. It’s hard to explain exactly what I mean by this (I failed to explain it well to someone yesterday) but I’ll try.
Alcohol (or any other intoxicating substance) throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the regular patterns of everyday thought. So sometimes you end up going to places you wouldn’t otherwise, like a pub you’ve never been to, not to say that these are places you shouldn’t go. It might be lame, and it might be really fun and memorable. An evening with alcohol promises a bit of this “fun lottery” to add variety to an evening that might be otherwise pretty unexciting.
The night was pretty good altogether, but not exactly a blast, not that the drinkers had a blast. I did get over my “left out” feeling pretty quickly. I loved the fact that I was clearheaded at the end of the night, that I could talk to anyone without smelling or sounding like I’d been drinking, and that I could wake up at 8am feeling great. I definitely felt very glad I didn’t drink.
My body felt good, especially my stomach. I used to get little bouts of bloating, aching and other discomfort here and there, and my stomach has felt like a dream this whole two weeks. I see now what the culprits are.
Nobody bugged me about not drinking, there was no peer pressure. But they did ask why. I told them I was doing an experiment so that I could see how important alcohol really is to me. They all understood. Two of my friends are pregnant at the moment so I had a few allies to begin with.
So the first two weeks have been pretty easy. I have noticed certain patterns in when I think about making coffee or having a beer. Overwhelmingly, the urge strikes when I’m working on something and I hit a snag. The moment the job begins to look bigger than I expected, I immediately think of stopping to make coffee, or crack a beer.
I can feel my relationship to drugs changing. I don’t know what role they will have after this is over, but I will not use them with the same abandon I have been for the last ten years.
Day 22 — Monday, July 27, 2009
Well I’m down to little more than a week left, and it really has not been difficult. There have been a few brief moments where I felt a bit left out, but any angst always went away fast, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on any fun that only drugs would have allowed me to have.
I will say though, that part of the ease has been the knowledge that I will be allowed to indulge if I want after the 30 days is up. Not that it’s that appealing, but if my commitment had been six months, it may not have felt so easy on a day-to-day basis.
But such a lengthy abstinence is not necessary. Basically, I have two goals with this experiment:
1) Find out what I feel like physically after not having ingested any drugs for a while, and
2) Discover if my social life and working life have developed a need for caffeine and alcohol.
So far I’ve discovered that (1) I feel physically awesome almost all the time, and (2) I have been able to both work and have fun just the same without drugs.
I can’t say I’m not excited at the thought of having a few beers with my buddies after the experiment is over, or enjoying a traditional after-dinner coffee with my mom. I really do want to do those things, but mainly because I feel like I can bring a new sense of awareness and appreciation to the experience.
Of course, reintroducing drugs into my life means conscious moderation. Staying away from years-old habits for a month isn’t going to obliterate them. It would be easy to fall back into the same patterns if I didn’t take steps to prevent it, so I will be vigilant.
With reasonable certainty I can say: gone are the days of drinking coffee at work, except maybe after a fancy lunch with a client. I do not want to use coffee as a productivity tool, it just doesn’t work very well. It supplies energy that must be paid back twofold in the afternoon, and it makes one animated at the cost of being focused. Surely my ‘base state’ is good enough for me to get my work done.
If my first coffee after the experiment is anything like my disastrous tea experience (see Day 8) I may find that I don’t want caffeine in my life at all. The tea caught me off-guard and made me completely loopy. Disoriented and uncomfortable. The opposite of relaxed. Of the two main drugs in question, caffeine is the least tempting.
Alcohol, on the other hand, still beckons. Not drunkenness, just a cold beer or two. It’s summertime and I’ll soon be ten thousand miles from my dear friends. I want to sit in the July evening air and have a beer with my friends. It’s one of those great simple pleasures I’m sure will flash through my head when I’m dying.
But gone are the days when I drink six beers in front of my friend’s TV, flipping through movies we’ve all seen. Staying sober has so many upsides, that it’s too costly to drink as casually as I have in the past.
Drunkenness no longer appeals really. Friday night, I went to a friend’s house. Of the six of us, two weren’t drinking (she’s pregnant), while the other four consumed beer and/or Grey Goose steadily all night. I drank Perrier. We played Rock Band and had an absolute blast.
My friends had a great time, same as me, only they began to slur their words eventually, bump into things, talk too loud and misunderstand a lot of things other people said. From the outsider’s perspective it was difficult to see what copious alcohol consumption could possibly be adding to their night.
Of course, that’s the way it is with drugs: the non-user generally only sees the bad parts. But I do have a hell of a lot of experience being drunk, and very often I have wished to be clearheaded again.
The Glass Ceiling
Once you start consuming, there is an expectation (at least in me) that a good time should just happen through the gradual course of the night. I think this expectation appears after a young person’s first few drinking experiences: things just get inexplicably fresh and fun when alcohol is introduced, and the drinker is always looking for that. The good times have a way of rolling in on their own.
But often they just don’t, and you’re left with a distinct feeling of incompleteness, of lack. And that’s when you drink more, or seek another kind of high, chemical or otherwise. Stimulation has to keep coming, you can’t just sit and be present with a swimming head full of ethanol.
In that state you can’t enjoy the subtle miracle of life, or the blossoming of the present moment. You can only enjoy form: the limited nature of things and events, not the mysterious and unmanifested backdrop behind it all.
Earth, not Heaven.
There is a whole higher realm of wonder and pleasure out there, one that I’ve become more and more in tune with over the past few years. It is the state of mind that produces the best experiences, and it’s completely asleep by the end of my third beer.
In those dreary instances I’ve had to admit to myself that alcohol doesn’t guarantee a good time by any stretch, and if the night’s not going so great it’s much easier to change that if you’re not drinking. You can go somewhere else without a taxi, you can socialize cleanly with people who aren’t drinking, and you can always call it a night and still get something done, read a book, or write something.
Anyway, at the end of Friday night, I drove my (very thankful) friends home. I hung out for a bit, watched, chatted, gratefully free of the chore of waiting for a taxi or a bus. I enjoyed their presence, and mine, and there was no neediness or heaviness, no sloppiness or difficulty.
The whole night cost me about eight dollars, including gas.
It was just so easy. I was free.
Day 29 — Monday, August 3rd
Well, I’m near the end. Wednesday, I can go out and have a beer, or make myself a coffee. I don’t think I’ll do either of those things. At this point I don’t feel drawn to drugs, but I am eager to have the option of using them if I want. I may just have a beer if I’m out, or a cup of coffee after dinner if someone offers. But I’m not planning to jump back into any habits.
I have a lot to say about what I’ve experienced, and I’ll do that on Thursday. For now I’ll just say that this month really flew by, and I broke some new ground socially. Best of all, I’ve developed the ability to go out with people who are drinking and not drink. This is a major victory for me, it represents a lot of open doors. I would recommend this to anybody who finds themselves running afoul of casual drug use.
Day 30 — Tuesday, August 4th
As of 8pm I was done. I broke the fast with two bottles of local brew. Had a weird experience.
You can read about it in my final report, linked below.
Awesome experiment. I learned so much about myself, and most importantly, I learned how to go out without drinking. May not sound like a feat to some of you, but you may not understand the culture I come from. I am a much more grounded and potent person suddenly.
There were some very interesting and unexpected discoveries. Take a look in my final report.
Thank you for tuning in.
Photo by James Cridland