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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  1. Sunshine says:

    Jeanne1-I am not going to tell you to make up mind because all indication in your writing is that you are just an instant away from quitting. By this I mean, it is a second or two decision. It’s the nagging baby that wants it, not the authentic you that is waiting to be rid of it. I know what you are going through..I have lived it..most of us here have lived it.. Just think of it as stepping over to the other side. We are really just little girls that haven’t grown up and haven’t figured out how to deal with our emotions, so we escape them..You have lots going on in your life that makes you want to escape and so do I, I suppose. I am so much happier now, Jeannie. Even though many of the things in my life aren’t as I would like them to be, I can’t run and hide from them inside a bottle. And each day, things are getting a little better. At least I like the person that looks back at me in the mirror. My sweet friend it will happen for you and then you will twirl and do childish little girl things that are authentic and real. It is a feeling to really look forward to Jeannie.

    SEG- Thanks for your words to me when I was trying to figure out the job situation. You said to meditate and it calmed me down right away. I guess I just feel alone sometimes and when dealing with all these new situations in my life I needed comfort and advice. Thank you.

    Hi Sherry. I think root canals are just the absolute worst dental procedure..glad it is over. You sound good girl.

    Oh John B. You are a good guy. Just well don’t drink. Challenges..challenges…..yes..ouch..

    OK..well work is just a trip for me. I am watching all these people and personalities like a little mouse. On Monday, I identified a few hangovers. HA.. What a trip..Maybe I will write a book!!!
    Hi to all…

  2. Mermaid says:

    JohnB-Keeping you in my thoughts. Things will work out, hang in there and look after yourself.

    Beej-Way to go!! Congrats on sober wedding!
    Enjoy your honeymoon!

    Welcome back Fred!

    SEG- Congrats on doing your best! Incredible challenge to take on. Time to walk and rest. Enjoy!

    Jeanne- Day two, you can do this girl!

    Packing and getting ready for 20+ hours of flying.
    This time airport bars don’t scare me.

  3. Megan says:

    Hello islanders. Have to check in and catch up. Still sober, will be 8 months on Sunday!! So sorry I haven’t been posting lately.

    Good to hear everyone’s posts. Beej, great job on the wedding. Congeatulations, I bet your wife is happy and proud.


  4. Megan says:

    Sorry, hit submit before I was done..

    JohnB, sorry you are going through a tough time right now. After being sober a while it seems so not fair. My hubby and I seem to be going through a rough patch too. Sometimes I feel like the drinking really masked the marriage problems. While drinking I was just treading water, now all the issues are staring us in the face.

    SEG, great job on your run, be proud!! You did way more than most people in recovery, take some time off, so some yoga, bike rides, etc. you are an inspiration to all :)

    Sherry, mermaid, Sandy,SteveUK, River Rat, Great Wolf, and any newcomers and anyone else I missed, lets keep on moving forward.

    Personally, I had kind of a crappy night, fight with husband, kids on edge and mouthy, kids both have health issues and will for the duration. I am quite angry at the big Guy upstairs these days. I did think about searching the garage for booze, but what good would it have done?? The cravings are less and thoughts are not as strong and long. Thanks for listening everyone..

    Good night , Megan

  5. SEG says:

    Debs – Forgot the headband, but the guy I ran with had one on, and he finished, so…

    Sunshine – You are welcome. Happy to help someone.

    Mermaid, Megan – Thank you. Great job on 8 months Megan.

    Just watched my Royals loose. Heavy sigh. Guess some guy in San Fran is really happy tonight.

    You know life can be tough. Most of us post a lot of trouble beyond just alcohol trouble. Kids, jobs, marriage, money, etc. One of the things people say sometimes at AA is if you put your problems in the middle of the table, then hear everyone elses problems, then you will take yours back. That has some truth to it. I am grateful for the good in my life. The blessings. There are many hardships and sorrows. Sometimes the sorrows swamp me for days, weeks, months. We get lost, and finding our way back is damn tough. We need handholds in the dark. This site is one of those. I pray we all can continue to be firm footing in the slippery world for each other.

    Not sure what prompted all of that btw.

    Sure are a host of folks that have been a bit absent lately. Cmon back and share.

  6. Megan says:

    SEG; good advice, I need to be more thankful for what is good in my life. Thanks for the reminder

  7. SEG says:

    Single digit countdown to 2 years. Feels good. Lets all go get us a milestone in our sobriety. Clearing away room for life. NOvember is almost upon us. NO more insanity. No chasing away our problems with liquid. No drinking. Just say No.



  8. Jeanne1 says:

    Good morning to day 3….I’ve had lots of stress, but the button for alcohol is gone right now. I prayed about it, visualized it, and I feel it. My continual prayer and mantra is calm down, deep breath, stay present. Deep breath. I can’t believe how stressed I let my self get. Then the little voice of how awful I am comes in.. Have to turn that off too. That should keep me busy.
    Thanks Pep great advice. You sound great. I remember you in this spot.. And your right the other side is better. Glad you decided not to travel for work. That seems really hard to me. And when ever I go out of town for a class I really have a hard time. Your could write a book.
    Seg: hoot hoot 2 years. Thanks for hanging out here and sharing . you advice and attitude is awesome.
    Good job Meagan. Wow 8 months. So glad you made it thru your hard night. I think your right that drinking really covers up problems in the marriage. Just in 2 nights my hubby has been pulling all sorts of head trips. Well he’ll come around. I think he has to trust I am for real. Well for that I do too.
    I went to spin class again last night, with 6 am yoga. I feel great for an old girl…
    much love in my heart,,

  9. Sherry says:

    Good morning all

    I am extremely greatful for my husband. He has been a rock by my side through all of life’s trials and tribulations. Thank you for reminding me how fortunate I am.

    Megan. 8 months is so solid. Really happy for you. Hope your really proud of yourself.

    Jeanne. That’s right. Keep breathing. Calming.

    Mermaid. Enjoy your trip, I hope it’s an adventurous holiday.
    Funny thing those airport bars. I had to fly a couple of times before they lost their lure.

    Sunshine. I’m glad you survived the dentist and his / her long pointy things they jam into the tooth root. A book, let me know when I can purchase a copy. :)

    Stressful couple of days at work and even though I don’t drink because I don’t like the way it makes me feel, the verbalized thought ” I feel like drinking” slipped lips yesterday.,,,,. And then it was gone.

    Sending strength to all

  10. Beej says:

    Good Morning Islanders,

    8 Month party time for Megan! Two thirds of the way to a year… wow. I was just typing how easy and drama-less your journey has been, then saw your post’s continuation. Yikes. Wish I could help, or even had words that would. Scouring the garage would not have helped in the slightest, so good work there.
    Don’t be such a stranger ;)

    You’ve got some swanky friends Kaman. So far I count an MD and a radiologist! Sounds like you’re doing great. Best of luck w your kids’ first drink. Sounds tricky.

    Glad the dentist went well Sandy. No honeymoon yet. We’re going over Thanksgiving to save some vacation days.

    Thanks Ruth, that means a lot. It’s just crazy how we try to talk ourselves out of the obvious. Maybe the wedding was a really heavy lift, but I was buff after months of diligent training? Maybe it was a head game the whole time? Point is, it doesn’t matter.

    Thanks Sherry. I’ve done that too. “Boy could I go for a beer.” I don’t think there’s any harm in it. I agree, we’re blessed with supportive spouses. The road would be SO much tougher without that. To be able to go home and not need to escape home is such a gift.

    Hey Leo, drink your face off tonight or tomorrow if you need to. Just a couple days til NO-vember! Look forward to seeing you around the campfire :)

    Hey Jeanne – wow, the wedding day got ya all those years ago? I can def see that. New beginnings and such. I was lucky, with a year just weeks away, I had extra incentive. The honeymoon, a tropical island, on day 374, that might be a bit of a challenge for me. I love your head shaking “no” when AV strikes. Deep breaths and face-puckeringly bitter smoothies pulled me through.

    Wow Debs – bottle and sell that newfound tranquility. You’d make more than a few dollars on here! Very happy to hear you’re at such peace.

    Beautiful sentiments to Jeanne Sunshine. Have fun testing your hangover radar!

    Enjoy your trip Mermaid.

    Sorry bout your Royals SEG. I was pulling for them too. Bumgardener just wasn’t going to be denied. Certainly one of the best world series in recent memory. You’ve got some wise friends in AA!

    Beej, D 347

  11. Kaman says:

    Evening Islanders,

    Just a quick post to anounce the completion of 100 days sober!!! No drama, no fireworks just a normal day at work, gym and now home for the evening with the family. Just the way I wanted life to be, thank you to you all for the support throughout this and all the other attempts at sobriety.

    Did I mention 100 dry days !!! Lol

  12. River Rat says:

    Something I’m really enjoying these days is being at my job around the same time I use to be looking at my clock as the latest potential leaving time. Feels so good. So thankful to my friends here for helping me get my act together.
    Confession: like JohnB, I can’t post as often as my wife is asking about my clicking fingers at the computer. I can’t divulge some things yet. I’ll still post when I can but please forgive my brevity.

  13. River Rat says:

    kaman, Oh Yah!! Way to go Bro!!!!

  14. SEG says:

    Kaman in the house!

  15. Ruth says:

    Congrats, Kaman!! That is a huge milestone! And SEG! Is it really two years already? It really is amazing how things change as we rack up some sober time. I kind of do believe that it is true that our spiritual growth stagnates when we are losing ourselves in alcohol. I guess that means I am really emotionally still only 25! Crap! Still so much learning to do…

    Safe travels to you, Mermaid, and hugs all around.

  16. fred says:

    Go Kaman.


  17. Steve UK says:

    Morning islanders.

    Had a trickier day yesterday. The wife was away on business overnight and I have a couple of days off to look after the kids (half term here in the UK). It would have been very easy to have sank a few cold ones last night without no-one knowing.

    Happier to say I battled through it..had an early night and have woken up feeling fresher and rested today.

    Day 21 sounds a whole lot better than Day 1.

    Kaman, well done on 100 days..big achievement.

    3 weeks

  18. JohnB says:

    Megan – congrats on 8 months!!
    Karan – way to go on the century mark!!

    Still sober lol (I mean why drink now right??)

    Just wanted to breeze in and say I am thinking of you all and appreciate all the support … SEG, Beej , megan, Mermaid well… All of you!!

    Don’t drink

  19. SEG says:

    Steve – Good work.

    Fred, JohnB, RR – Shouts out.

    Ruth – amazing is it not. I am 12 emotionally. No that is not fair to my 12 year old daughter. 10 maybe.

    Trick or treat, smell my feet, please do not give me something to drink.



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