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Ethanol Free — 30 Days Without Drugs Update

alcohol shot

On July 6, 2009, David began an experiment in which he resolved not to use any sort of drugs for 30 days. View the full experiment log here.

Day 22

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.

Saying Goodbye

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 in the experiment log) 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.


Photo by Jenny Downing

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Ola July 29, 2009 at 3:17 am

A great wrap-up of your experiment, David! Too many people (including myself) rely on alcohol or food to have a good time. We usually meet our friends for lunch, for a coffee, for a drink… But it can get quite uncomfortable if we just sit with someone face to face with nothing else to occupy our mouth but a mindful conversation.

Good luck with the rest of the experiment, please keep us updated!
.-= Ola´s last blog ..New York City Half-Marathon: Charity Places Still Open =-.

David July 29, 2009 at 6:34 am

Hi Ola — That is one thing I’ve noticed, there is a physical urge to occupy the mouth and hands with something. I’ve been filling the void with club soda, and it does fine.

suzen July 29, 2009 at 8:40 am

Great job, David! You are saving brain cells as well as money! Your insights in the land of sobriety will do much for your monitoring/awareness in the future.
.-= suzen´s last blog ..Negative Habits that Destroy Relationships & A Tool for Change =-.

Lori July 29, 2009 at 9:25 am

Reading about your experiment was delightful, David. For me, I’ve tried similar things off and on and observed similar experiences. So, I guess, 1) that makes me feel that I’m not crazy and 2) your post is a good reminder of what I had experienced before, which I completely forgot about!

Thanks for the reminder and for describing, so well, your experience. I hope that others will try your experiment, too.

And, finally, kudos for your commitment. Maybe you got some of the “balls” to do it from your Russian Kettle bell training? ;)

David July 29, 2009 at 10:41 am

suzen — Yes, I’m very curious to see what happens when I do finally consume a drug again. I intend to bring a renewed awareness to it, I wonder what my reactions will be.

Lori — I’d love to read other people’s accounts of similar experiments. I suspect my reactions are probably pretty normal, not that I expected it to be quite like this.

There are other readers who said they would join me in my experiment, I think I’ll drop them a message soon to see how it’s going.
.-= David´s last blog ..Ethanol Free — 30 Days Without Drugs Update =-.

Positively Present July 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

It’s amazing how much better (and cheaper!) a night out is without drinking, isn’t it? :)
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..stop wanting and start being =-.

David July 29, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Dani — I know! I’m quite alarmed at how much more effort and money is required to drink. For a normal night out, adding alcohol increases the cost by thirty to fifty bucks on average, if you factor in taxis, booze, and the inevitable late-night greasy meal. And that’s to say nothing of the health and social costs. Drinking really is a very costly activity.

Tim July 30, 2009 at 8:52 am


Thank you for sharing your discoveries that you made from this experiment. I have a lot of feelings about alcohol especially. Both my parents grew up in alcoholic households, but thankfully they themselves drank very little. However, I still think the effects of their upbringing has lasted with them for a lifetime.

I guess you can say I’m a little sensitive about drinking (especially drinking too much). My previous girlfriend was from Eastern Europe and drinking was such a part of her culture. She’s a really wonderful person but the amount that she drank really scared me. She complained so much about being tired and out of energy, but for some reason never connected the fact that her fatigue was from her drinking lifestyle. I tried to get her to stop, but in her mind, there was no problem. Needless to say, it was essentially the reason I ended the relationship.

My first job was at White Castle. If you live on the east coast of the U.S., you know that its open 24 hours and its food is the perfect companion to any kind of drinking. I still have vivid memories of working the cash register during a midnight shift and smelling booze on everyone’s breath when they ordered. I vowed then that I wouldn’t ever get like “those people.”

Flash forward to last March – 20 years later. I got laid off for the third time – the layoffs occurred in the late morning. By lunch we were all at the local pub having lunch and drinking. I ended up spending the next five hours there and miraculously made it home without incident. Yes, I can usually control all of this, but I have my moments, too.

In summary, there’s a lot to say for alcohol and caffeine. When not abused, these substances can make life good. But there is so much to say about clear thinking. Sorry to ramble.
.-= Tim´s last blog ..The Only Source of Confidence: You =-.

David July 30, 2009 at 10:37 am

Tim – Hi Tim. Alcohol really does have a pervasive role in many cultures, and we tend to make a lot of excuses for it. That’s one thing I’ve noticed, my energy levels are a lot higher. I don’t get tired, though this probably has more to do with caffeine than alcohol. But I do love going to bed (and waking up) without the cloudy, poisoned head I get from alcohol.

I really appreciate your comments, don’t ever be afraid of rambling! :)

Brad July 31, 2009 at 10:44 am

I love that “free” feeling – everyone just seems “weighed down” by alcohol when you are the sober one.

Ian August 1, 2009 at 6:15 am

Great wrap-up, very interesting perspectives. Have you still got a week left?

Your thoughts have got me thinking too, it is always best to drink when you really want to, like all things in life. I personally find myself drinking not so much on social excursions now, but much more only when going to a pub/clubbing. I find the confidence that alcohol gives to be its greatest positive. However, drinking for confidence and fun has to be balanced with not doing it too often, and not drinking too much in excess that leads to the feeling of “I wish I was sober”. Then again, if I could gain that confidence when sober, then drinking would be much less necessary.

One thing that was brought up in your log comments is herbal teas. I would strongly recommend green tea. I’ve never drunk normal tea or coffee regularly in the past, so I can’t say how the caffeine feels, but its really low; http://www.green-tea-health-news.com/caffeine-content-of-green-tea.html

And it has a huge amounts of health benefits; http://www.green-tea-health-news.com/index.html There is some dispute as to how much one should have a day, I would say no more than 5 cups.

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