by Brad Bollenbach

Lonely Drunk

There are better things in life than alcohol, but alcohol makes up for not having them.

– Terry Pratchett

My maternal grandparents were both alcoholics. It’s for this reason that I can’t remember my grandpa’s funeral: I was only four. This is also why my grandma has meticulously avoided alcohol for over 20 years. If there’s anything to the rumours about alcoholism being influenced by heredity, I’m probably tagged.

My own consumption patterns change. Sometimes I’ll go through periods of several months having three or four drinks, three to five times a week. Sometimes I’ll restrict my consumption to social occasions. For about five months starting last December, in my quest to master the art of talking to strangers, my social life became two full-time jobs. I was constantly going out to social events, clubs, bars, museum parties, and everything in between. Despite temptation, I rarely drank.

Last month, I quit drinking alcohol again. I’d like to tell you that it was a struggle. I’d like to pretend that it’s almost impossible to stay sober at a social occasion where everyone else is burping bubbles. I’d like to imagine myself as more determined and disciplined than all the rest, and that’s what pulled me through.

But the truth is that I’m ruthlessly normal. And if you want to end your relationship with alcohol, right here, right now, It’s Not That Hard.

I’m guessing that most people who choose to quit drinking are not alcoholics. My intent is to offer here an action plan that anyone can apply, whether you’re nursing an addiction or just want to enjoy the benefits of uninterrupted sobriety.

Why Stop Drinking?

The long-term effects of bad habits are rarely sufficient to motivate people to change their lives. The near-term benefits of giving up alcohol are much more useful and interesting anyway. Here are the changes I experienced:

  • Productive socializing. Talking to strangers is a great way to build character, but its benefits are greatly reduced when you’re drunk. The alcohol represses much of the social anxiety, which inhibits lasting change. But the only thing more terrifyingly fun than getting drunk and meeting a bunch of new people is staying sober and meeting a bunch of new people.
  • Avoid the McPilgrimage. Clearly, there’s a conspiracy between the fast food industry and the liquor industry. Free will collapses under the weight of insobriety and convenience. With enough alcohol in your system, even the most wretched burger joint becomes an irresistible sanctuary.
  • Reclaim lost time. Let’s say you have a few drinks around the house, three times a week, and that light touch of drunkenness costs you three hours of productive thinking each time. Within one year, you’ll have shaved about one full month off your life. That’s a lot of lost CPU time that could have been put towards reading a book, writing a speech, playing a sport, or even starting a business. And this doesn’t even count the time lost waiting for your brain to resolidify the morning after a night on the town.
  • Get rich quickly. You don’t have to party that hard to spend $100-$150/week or more on alcohol and related expenses. If you quit drinking today, you could reasonably expect to convert that choice into a bankroll for backpacking around the world in about six months.
  • Become an early riser. I’m currently readjusting my sleep schedule to wake up at 5:30 AM, seven days a week. Alcohol, and the lifestyle that often accompanies it, work against this process. Alcohol makes me feel tired when I want to feel energetic and awake. Ironically, it also increases wakefulness during sleep.

You can probably think of other instantly gratifying benefits to life beyond the bottle. The important thing is to actually have a reason that is important enough to you.

Make It Priority Number One

Giving up alcohol is one of the easiest and hardest changes you can make in your life.

It’s easy once you’ve established the right rules, configured your environment to support you, and set up useful boundaries of pain and pleasure to help direct you towards your goal. The hard parts are the social implications and fighting off the One Man Army that is your ego, with its barrage of self-limiting beliefs and drink requests.

Giving up alcohol must be made priority number one in your life. A partial commitment is a commitment to failure. Even if you already don’t drink that often, it will be tempting to break your own rules when your friends call you up and invite you out. You’ve got to be willing to prioritize this decision in every situation where it’s relevant, even when that means Just Saying No to pub night.

It’s Not a Big Deal

Ever notice how some people act as though the end of their relationship is the end of the world? It’s as if there’s no point in living if they can’t be with that person any longer. Yet other people come along and date that person who left them, eventually break up with them, and see it as hardly more than a blip on the radar.

You may feel that it’s pretty easy to give up drinking. Or you may feel that it’s an addiction with a stranglehold on your life. Either way, there is no inherent magnitude to this task. It’s as big or as small as you make it.

No matter how much you want to tell yourself how hard it is, nobody’s ever going to claim that learned helplessness was the secret to their success. The most effective way forward is to not only make quitting drinking a top priority, but to think, talk, and act like it can be done.

Become the Impartial Spectator

Whether you view it as a spiritual separation, or merely conceptual, we all have more than one self. There’s the “Mmmmm…beeeer…” self, and the impartial spectator that can detach from and observe this desire.

Let the latter voice be your authority. You’re allowed to want a drink as much as you’re allowed to choose not to have one. There’s tremendous power in observing your thoughts as a third party. The impartial spectator can feel the heat without getting burned.

When in doubt, let it be there. No matter how bad the storm seems, it will pass.

Commit to 30 Days

If you’ve never done it before, it can be hard to think of giving up drinking forever. It’s discouraging to commit to permanent change, only to back out a few days or weeks into it. Some people will face social friction and lifestyle changes for which they’re unprepared.

But life is a laboratory. It’s an adventure that takes shape through hypothesis and experimentation, and most decisions can be reverted. When it comes to making big changes like this, live before you leap. Promise yourself that you will commit to this 100%, but only for 30 days, and see how it goes.

This is exactly what I did last month. I promised myself that November would be alcohol-free, and it was. Truth be told, I had a few drinks on day 31. But I broke the negative pattern that was creeping up on me and gained back the energy to spend on more important activities. And I’ve repeatedly proven to myself that I can give up alcohol whenever I feel like, whenever it seems like the right thing to do.

Dump Your Existing Stash

Any goal that’s important to you is important enough to start on right now. My 30-day challenge to give up alcohol started at about 3:00 AM on a Saturday morning. I had just gotten back from a post-nightclub McPilgrimage with some friends. I had a great time. I met lots of people. I even ended up dating a girl I met that night.

But I was really annoyed by how much I’d poured into me that night, at succumbing to the resulting Big Mac temptation, and at how much I was going to regret the hangover. As soon as I got home, the challenge was on. I had one last beer in my fridge, which I ceremoniously poured down the kitchen sink.

If you’re serious about doing this, get rid of your alcohol. If you’ve got $300 worth of spirits in your cabinet and you’re not yet sure if you want to empty it all down the drain, only to change your mind in 30 days, then store it at a friend’s place during your probation period. Preferably a friend that doesn’t drink.

Advertise Your Decision

I told most of my friends about what I was doing. Not only only does this add accountability to your goal, it also drops the hint that if your friends are planning on going out and getting wasted, you’re probably not interested.

Of course, you don’t have to avoid social situations where you’ll be the only one not drinking. I’ve gone out stone sober many times–even on my own–and met loads of people. Once you get used to social skydiving, you no longer need alcohol’s permission to talk to strangers and have a good time. You can get to that place by either getting hammered out of your face, or by learning to just not care what other people think. Frankly, the latter is way more fun.

Fire Your Drinking Buddies

Alcohol may be so tightly integrated into your social life that it seems almost impossible to go an entire weekend without drinking. If the only thing you have in common with your friends is that you like the same lagers, you might want to consider finding new friends.

I’ve let go of people in my social circle before and I know it’s not easy–but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. This might be the hardest thing you do in choosing a life without alcohol. The key is to remember that friends are an abundant resource. Having a strong social circle is purely a function of the effort you invest into it. That includes choosing to associate only with people who are aligned with your purpose, while avoiding the energy vampires.

This is another benefit of a 30-day commitment. Instead of permanently downsizing your social life, you can choose to be busy only for the next few weeks. Observe how it affects you when you stop spending time with your beer buddies. Join a local user group for something you’re interested in to bring yourself into contact with people with whom you share more than just a bar tab.

Bribe Yourself

I haven’t used this specific technique for giving up alcohol, but I have used it with much success in bulldozing my way through a wall of social anxiety.

Associate massive pain to backing out. To create that pain, visit your nearest bank machine. Withdraw an amount of money that you’d feel uncomfortable losing. Give it to a friend you trust. Tell them that you get your money back if, and only if, you don’t have a drop of alcohol until your 30 days are up. You’ll be surprised at how even the most difficult tasks become doable when you associate massive pain to breaking your own rules. Money can be a great way to make it hurt. If you can think of an even better form of self-bribery, go for it.

The stronger you feel that alcohol is a part of your life, the more of these techniques you may want to apply. My most recent alcohol-free challenge didn’t require bribery or letting go of any friends. But I did find it extremely useful to limit the challenge to 30 days, to give myself permission to live the lifestyle before leaping to a permanent decision.

I also think that making this a top priority is key, no matter what your current consumption habits. It’s so easy to let yourself slip for just one night, and then feel guilty about breaching your own contract later on.

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Comments
  1. Mermaid says:

    Thank you RR and Sunshine. I posted it because I needed to vent and I couldn’t think of better place than here.
    It’s been almost 10 years since I walked away from my 20 year marriage and even though I’m in a wonderful relationship and crazy happy with my life, this has brought all that pain and memories back. Tomorrow I will take her to meet her two grown sons and help her break the news to them. More pain and tears. But once her family finds out she will have lots of support, right now I’m the only one who knows what’s going on.
    Lucky for me, AV has not shown up at all. Im mentally drained but having no issues with staying sober. She is not much of a drinker and has not asked for anything but gallons of tea to warm her up.

    Peaceful Sunday night to all.
    Mermaid

  2. Ruth says:

    Hi everyone- thanks for the shout-out, Holly! It is great to hear how everyone is doing, and even the daily struggles that some of you are facing (and conquering). It is always a good reminder of the power that alcohol has to bring us to our knees.

    Mermaid, I think all of our life experience has a place here, because, when you think about it, alcohol was there in PLACE of having authentic life experiences, and it is hard to have to have feelings, sometimes, so bring it on! I am sorry for your friend and can only imagine how difficult it is for you as well.

    As for the weather… my husband and I are on our first-ever kid-free vacation in San Diego and are enjoying sand and sun and good food… no complaints from me on that front!

    In other news, I don’t remember if I mentioned that my step-dad died on St. Patrick’s Day, and now my mom is in the hospital with pneumonia… I know that part of her just wanted to hole up in that house and die, but I guess death is harder than she thought… my brother had to brow-beat her to get her to go to the hospital. She is really no longer in her right mind and is making some bad decisions, financial and otherwise, that will impact him, and me too, I guess. It is hard for me to feel much about it at this point. My mom was the primary alcoholic in my life, and has basically been threatening to kill herself since I was 7 years old, so I kind of processed her loss at an early age. The really difficult part is not being able to communicate with her. She pretty much runs a tape loop in her head that repeats every minute or so…

    Well, that is my world at the moment: the good, the bad and the ugly. I wish you all strength and happiness, and remember that it does get better and easier…

  3. Steve UK says:

    Morning islanders.

    My strength and sympathy go to Mermaid and Ruth today, stay strong the pair of you..vent as much as you like..we are all here.

    Another sober weekend completed..all calm here.

    Steve
    Day 20.

  4. SEG says:

    Mermaid – You are a good friend. Glad you are there to walk it out with her. Glad you are not drinking through this.

    Ruth – Good job staying positive in the pain. It does get better and easier.

    On my side there is much anxiety over putting my hat in the ring on this job. My main trauma is the idea of relocating our family again, and pulling my two youngest from great schools and friends. I said to myself I would not disrupt that, and here we are on the brink of doing just that. Yet it does not seem right to just walk away from the opportunity as it would be an unbelievable blessing to the family and use of my talents. Sorry to be so engrossed in this as others have much to share also. It is kicking by butt just a bit. There are many friends I have to process with.

    Sober 873/127 & 1/29

  5. Holly says:

    Good Morining-

    Thinking of you today, Ruth. Enjoy San Diego all that you can!

    I’m sure the situation with your friend has brought up old stuff, Mermaid. Hang in there!

    SEG- those decisions can be so stressful. You will do the right thing.

    Must get up. I have overslept. Which was glorious but I have to hurry.

    Enjoy the day!

    Holly

  6. Sunshine says:

    Once again I realize that my day to day complaints are nothing compared to what many others face on a daily basis.

    Sorry for your loss, Ruth.

    Not much to report here.

    Have a good day.

  7. kathryn says:

    Hi Islanders..I wish I were on land with all of you amazing people. Unfortunately, but not surprising, I am back in the water, trying to keep afloat. The moderation that once seemed to work, no longer does. In fact, I can see the problem escalating in a number of ways. I am frightened, very disappointed with myself, and terribly sad. I know what I have to do, and reading your posts helps.

    To all those who recently celebrated milestones: Mattie, Holly and anyone I missed, huge congratulations! Mermaid and Ruth..My thoughts are with you.

  8. johan says:

    Sunshine – our day to day struggles are normal and are no less important. No worries about posting anything here. And no, I won’t take you up on that golf bet. I have heard about you bilking overly competitive, unsuspecting, golfers of their spare change.

    Ruth – Sorry to hear about your step dad, and your mom too. That is where alcohol would have taken you if you had followed it. Be proud you had the courage and strength to break the cycle! Enjoy your vacation!!

    Mermaid – your friend is lucky to have you to lean on!

    Mattie – your list is only a year old, no worries. If you did everything on it, there would be a new list.

    SEG – you will know what to do. Change is good sometimes!

    SteveUK/Holly – nice job coasting through another weekend! They keep getting easier too!

  9. johan says:

    Kathryn – accept it and stop fighting a battle you have no hope in winning. Its so much easier jut to remove it. Stick around a while.

  10. mattie says:

    good morning island,

    Ruth-Sorry to hear about your step dad. Hope your mom is doing ok. Hang in there.
    Mermaid-Sorry about your friend. That’s a tough one, but it’s nice you’re there for support.
    Sunshine-Please don’t feel bad about your posts. There are many folks on this island. With many folks come some hardships. Your situation is an important concern. I’ve been in the golf game before. The hobby is seemingly fueled by alcohol before, during, and after. So i can see how easy it is to be left with an empty feeling from time to time. You recognize that. That’s good. You just stay strong and keep doing what you’re doing. Because it’s working and you have a better life now. As for the game itself: Practice makes perfect. It’s a challenging game so don’t sell yourself short. Keep practicing and have fun with it.
    johan-thank-you.
    Kathryn-Grab a hammock. We’re here for you.
    SteveUK and Holly-Great job.

    Monday monday. Time for another week. Hope all is well.

    mattie
    day-56
    i will not drink today

  11. River Rat says:

    Good morning Sunshine…Your post was not petty in the least. I have the habit of comparing myself to those in, perceived, more challenging circumstances. A good friend has often reminded me that my feelings are still valid and need to be aired on occasion. I pass that on to you my friend.

    Ruth, enjoy the kid-free-zone!! Sounds awesome! Your comment on your mom’s tape loop resonates on varying levels with me. My mother-in-law had one of those repeating loops going on in her last years while in the full throws of alcoholism. I realize that I have some repetitive pity parties going on as well that alcohol has fuelled. Not saying I’m successfully over the regrets but I now have a chance to break that cycle. More capable of practicing stoicism while actually present. Very sorry to hear about your dad and your mom. My thoughts are with you.

    SEG, I totally get how much anxiety this must cause you. As you go through this please continue to lean on the island. That’s a beauty of this virtual place that no matter where you go you always have us. Keep sharing as you work your way through this life-event.

    Welcome back Kathryn. I’m recently back from some devastating swims myself, after a really good period on land. I’m frightened, disappointed, and sad as well. The good news, I’m feeling much, much better a week in. I had a lot of trouble breaking the last period of moderation. Sometimes 6, 3, or even 1 day and the AV convinced me I should have a drink. Here’s my favourite BS line. “Oh, you likely feel worse because you’re trying to go cold turkey. Ease into it. Have just one or two to take the edge off!” I fell for it too. Kick it to the curb. Go through the first few days of dysfunction from detoxing and turn it around and we can stroll around the island with you : D

    Hi Holly, SteveUK, Mattie. I’m following your leads : D
    Holly, I’m back on niacin. Last time I took non-flushing but this time taking the much more affordable regular stuff. I’ve read lots on it and some suggest doses as high as 3 g per day. That’s 6 of my 500mg pills per day. I’m starting slow, to minimize the flushing. Spreading it out over the day, only after meals. Currently just taking 500mg and have read about how to know when you are at the correct dosage. Just a lot of info to digest. Do you, or anyone else reading, have any personal experience/advice or somewhere to point me to that you found helpful?

    How are you doing Fred?
    Jeanne1, how’s life treating you?
    Johan, ended up just bbqing burgers. Used mini-Naan’s grilled over the flame with lots of garlic butter for the bun. Carmelized some onions, baked some bacon weaves (sp), and melted smoked goat cheddar on top. Cheers buddy!

    I’m finally starting to sleep a bit better. Still getting loud shouts from the AV but feeling confident. Really glad we didn’t go on that all-inclusive trip we were considering for this week. I’m accomplishing far less than my goal list but way more than if I were drinking. Slowly gaining some momentum.
    This quit I am really aware of aches and pains that accompanied my detox that first week. Slowly getting better. Coincidence? Anyone else have this? I felt aches in my leg muscles, lower back, hips….neck was stiffer, had frequent headaches, and my gut even seemed to be complaining. I know it could be coincidental but just checking to see if anyone else relates.

    Okay. I won’t be able to keep this up. Starting my days earlier but spending too much time writing posts : D Good to be back. Still plan on posting daily but have to tweak my routine.

    Have a good start to your week everyone.
    RR d8

  12. Beej says:

    Good Morning Islanders,

    Awesome post Johan. Thanks.

    Hope the vacation is a blast Holly. “Alcohol situations..” that’s a good one. This could be a novel, but in short, I’ve come to define them as times I’m stuck being around friends who are drinking to get tipsy/drunk… like probably shouldn’t drive drunk to can’t walk well drunk.

    It happens way less than you’d think, even on vacation. 90% of the time, they drink two, maybe three in those several afternoon hours on boardwalk after the beach. That’s not really drinking. At least now how we’d define it. What they’re really doing is just relaxing with friends, taking ridiculously small sips and waiting an eternity between them.. lol.

    They’re not getting drunk and neither are you. Just chilling with friends. It takes some practice and some determined relaxation skills at first, but if it’s an ability that’s important to you, it’s well within your reach. Just don’t feel like you have to rush it.

    That was a very sweet compliment Min. Thanks. You’ve still got my vote for island wordsmith. There are so many really. Then others who can say so much, yet type so little. A great mix.

    Nice job on a week+ River. You sound very determined.

    Third Sunday in a row SteveUK! What, are you trying to make a habit of this or something.. Very cool.

    Mattie – wow, I do vaguely remember us talking about your to-do list. Hells yeah, start knocking em off. Start with the easy ones and just start crossing em off. It’s a tremendous feeling.

    Wow Mermaid, sorry to hear about your friend. 37 years.. after that long, please shoot me before you leave. Wonderful that you’re able to be there for her.

    You too Ruth. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Very, very sorry. Please do whatever you have to so you can live with it after she’s gone.

    A bummer sunday is a great share Sunshine. I know that feeling exactly… particularly as it relates to golf, pool tournaments, a day on the water. It used to be guaranteed fun. Play well, catch 6 fish.. awesome. Drink hard afterward, doubly awesome.

    Fish won’t bite, or you’re at 48 by the turn, forget about it, it’s just not my day. Drink hard.. doubly awesome.

    Life’s less reliable, but more rewarding.

    You’ll make the right choice SEG. Tripled salary has got to be tempting. Buy each kid a sweet new car. They’ll make new friends.. lol.

    Well, we had a very eventful weekend. At the ER twice. Mrs Beej took a stepladder to the head on sat. It was sitting on the stair landing. she went downstairs and somehow hooked it with something she was carrying and halfway down it fell squarely on her head like she was a drunken lumberjack…. timber!

    She’s a rock though. The blow staggered her, but she kept her feet and didn’t fall down stairs. Then last night about midnight, she starts getting pre-labor contractions. We don’t know crap, so it’s back to the ER til about 4 a.m. Everything is ok.

    But, while we’re there, I’m leaning my chair against the wall, trying to get comfy and BAM. I go down hard and crack the back of my head. Before I can recover my senses, she’s pushed the panic button and I had to spend the next hour signing waivers and refusing to be seen at the ER.. lol.

    Got to bed at 4a.m. and woke up to no running water (utility work outside). All that, and I still feel a million times better today than I would have if I drank hard last night :)

    Beej, d 498

  13. kathryn says:

    Thanks River, Mattie and Johan for your kind welcomes. Looks like you have that traction now, River!! Must be a nice feeling.

    What started as drinking alone to cope with hurt, has created far more depression in my life. To the world, I am always upbeat..a voice of reason. How grateful I am for all of you..for being able to share my pain, and for your understanding, acceptance, and encouragement.

  14. Holly says:

    Hi-
    Beej, I so appreciate the advice re: drinking situations! I need a reminder to not over think things. You’re right, it’s only a big deal to me.

    River- I was confused on the dosage too. I went with 1000mg a day of the flushing type. (It’s the type that helps us.) I will take it at bed every night and have taken it during the day at work. You look like an Oompa Loompa for a bit, so be aware! You can split 500mg and 500mg if the flushing is too intense.

    Holly

  15. Beej says:

    You’re doing awesome Holly. Nothing wrong with being pro-active. Make no mistake, real drinking situations suck. When everyone rode together and you’re stuck at a restaurant table two hours after dessert with four friends that are knocking them back and (temporarily) loving life… that’s tough.

    I’m confident in my ability to endure at this point, but I still avoid those because it’s decidedly un-fun. Maybe someday I’ll learn to embrace being the sober DD, but I doubt it. You come to value your time, even if it’s just for sleeping, and I’ve got better things to do with mine than routinely babysitting drunks.

  16. JohnA says:

    Kathryn. You are most welcome here and certainly accepted because we have all experienced something similar to what you have gone though. I tried using alcohol to deal with stress and depression. Sure, there is an immediate positive effect like taking things more easily for a few hours, but in the long run it really makes things worse. Alcohol has been shown to actually induce depression. My solution has been just to give it up, and at this point I do not miss it one bit!
    JohnA

  17. Mermaid says:

    Wow Beej, that’s quite a weekend! Glad you are both ok and hopefully next trip to hospital is with the overnight bag and infant seat! I fell down a set of stairs when 8 months pregnant but luckily baby was safe and my scratches healed with time. Scary stuff.

    Kathryn- Welcome! Johan is so right about alcohol and it’s depressing effect. I haven’t stopped being amazed at how good and happy I feel just not drinking. Life keeps throwing issues to deal with but as long as I stay sober I feel like I can get through anything. That and endless supply of dark chocolate..

    RR- posting is therapeutic. Keep writing, it’s good for the soul ;-)

    Sunshine – I’ve never touched a golf club, but I know the let downs at the end of a windless rainy day on water with constant boat repairs underway. At times tempted to pull the plug.. But then comes that day when sails are full, sun is shining and everything works as it should. That makes it all worthwhile again.

    Mattie – Almost at 60! Great job! Another beach party coming up!

    Mermaid

  18. Grey Wolf says:

    Check’n in, all is well with me…sorry for your loss Ruth. No time to post at this time, pecking out message on ipad. Just use it to read on, don’t like to use for posting comments…

  19. Steve UK says:

    Hi all.

    Its really good to see some familiar faces here again.

    Pleased to see the shore in sight again Kathryn. Like many others who have been struggling between moderation and sobriety you are finally realising the overall negative impacts on your life. Stay for a while.

    Beej..nearly 500 days ! Where did they come from.

    JM..you kept it very quiet about your 2 year anniversary last week. Your inspirational posts around 6 months gave me the drive to forge ahead with my first significant spell of sobriety.

    River..sounding stronger already mate.
    Fred..I hope you are still with us ?

    Good to see Sunshine, John A, Holly, SEG, Grey Wolf, Ruth, Mermaid, Mattie and Johan all posting on the same page..great stuff.

    Another sober night last with my first nights sleep that didn’t include waking up for the call of nature. It always takes around 3 weeks for my sleep to return to normal.. this time is no exception.

    Have a great day.

    Steve
    Day 21

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