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. JohnA says:

    http://www.usatoday.com/experience/beach/photo-gallery/booze-friendly-beaches-in-the-usa/6874871/

    Talk about glorifying drinking! This is how local communities promote drinking. Good for the tourist industry. Good for collecting local taxes and revenue. Petty cynical to my mind.

    JohnA

  2. JohnB says:

    Congrats Julie!! 6 months is fantastic, keep on rolling!!

  3. Julie says:

    Thanks Beej, JohnA, and SEG for the shout outs. It’s actually been seven months with a seven glasses of wine lapse when I thought I could be a social drinker. I deleted those from my repertoire. LOL

    JohnB. congrats on your quitting both drinking and smoking. What an accomplishment during your illustrious journey. It has indeed been illustrious.

  4. Elise says:

    Day 4 just ended ( midnight east coast). I went out to dinner with friends. I ordered a lemonade. I usually would have had a drink to cope with my awkwardness. Everyone else had an alcoholic drink. I didn’t. I got through it… I lived through being nervous. I didn’t get drunk to cope with anxiety. I didn’t end up saying stupid things because I was drunk. I didn’t come home drunk and ashamed. I am going to bed now knowing I won’t wake up with a hangover. It’s only day 4, but today is very good. I kept a commitment to myself.

  5. Sherry says:

    Hi all

    Congrats on 7 months Julie

    JohnA. Good point. We in BC have now decided ” beer gardens” at events should no longer be contained within an area ( ie fenced). So now a person can drink anywhere they like at the event no matter who else is there. Unfortunately along with un-contained drinking comes an increase in un-contained smoking which puts a damper on the event for me as I’m very particular about the quality of air I breath.

    Feeling a bit out of the loop as I’ve been away and all these great discussions have gone on without me, so I’ll just pick up from here.

    Great to see new blood and returned friends

    Sherry
    Couple of days to 8 months

  6. Sherry says:

    Great work on quitting smoking JohnB

  7. Sherry says:

    Hang tough Megan. You are strong, you will get through this. “I am sober hear me roar., in numbers too big to ignore….”

  8. SEG says:

    Elise – Way to go. Keep it up.

    Hope to check back in later. Off to the morning races.

    Peace.

    630/100.

  9. SaraH says:

    Hello all! I have had to wait 7 days to be approved back to the moderator! Whew… good news is I was on day 5 then, and have made it to day 12! I have been reading every day since then. Here is my original post from day 5. Have a great day everyone.
    _________________________________________________

    Hey guys, back again for official try number 2. I was here around Christmas time and back again!

    I have been lurking a bit for the last couple days. I love reading all the posts they are so inspirational! I really appreciate those of you who have fallen off of the horse and come back to the board, admit it and jump back on. Lets me see the real side of this AV thing.

    I love the saying from a few days ago…Av is like a baby who wakes during the night, you have to let it cry it out before it can learn to sleep through the night. That really made sense to me.

    Key- I too am worried about football season, but look forward to remembering the games!

    A beer brewing company I “like” on Facebook had a picture yesterday rolling out their pumpkin beer for this fall, my FAVORITE!! I said…I must “unlike” this company… : )

    You are all great inspiration for me!

    Have a great sober day.

    Sara, Day 5

  10. vivek says:

    Hello Dear All
    Back on Island after a long gap.
    Actually I joined AA a year back and except two dry spells of 55 & 70 days, I have been drinking continously. Nowadays it’s once in 3/4 days.
    I could see many old timers sez, river rat, Fred, Alice, John. ..
    I fail to understand why aa is not working for me.I need help, I am desperate to come out of it.
    Please guide. I practically attend meetings everyday.
    Looking forward to you for strength.

    Vivek.

  11. vivek says:

    min,Johan,sarah and all
    Hi!

    Vivek

  12. Ruth says:

    Hi Vivek- welcome back! Well, there is an old AA saying that goes, “it works if you work it”! I would say there is a missing step in the 12 steps and that one would be “Don’t put the poison in your mouth” (copyright GW, I believe). Seriously, AA is a tool, like this board is a tool, but it is not magic. Getting sober is hard work, and it goes one day at a time, like Elise posted. That is the typical day, in my mind- you end up in a difficult or tempting situation, you face it down, you move on.

    Elise, just put that day on auto-repeat and you got this! It really is all about being willing to wait out discomfort, whether that discomfort takes the form of anxiety, shyness, boredom, fidgitiness, self-consciousness, or whatever your demons are. It is amazing how much discomfort we can sit through, then come out the other side of!

    Welcome back, Sarah H.! It really is a process, and I think anyone who says they haven’t tried and failed at one point or another would be lying, we just didn’t all do it publicly on this board! For me, the best anti-AV remedy in the summer heat is watermelon, or mint lemonade…just puts the fire out.

  13. JohnA says:

    Vivek.

    We have spent so many years getting into this terrible habit of drinking too much, so it makes sense that it is darn difficult to quit. I think the key is to be very, very determined. Map out how much drinking costs you. Here is what I did: Take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle and write the advantages of drinking on one side, the disadvantages on the other. Don’t do it in your head, really write it down! This paper is valuable. Write down stupid things you have done because of drinking. The time and money you have wasted. What else drinking has cost you. Be perfectly honest. Write more as you think of more items. You will be shocked at what a high a price you are paying for this stupid habit – and how little you gain from it.

    Also keep contact with people who can support. Be sure to post often, people here care. Read old posts, there are many really good points made. I did not use AA, but I am sure that also can give valuable support.

    JohnA

  14. Grey Wolf says:

    Well, it appears that once again Richard’s post of many moons ago needs reposting, I hope that you don’t mind me resending or reposting this message Richard, as it does kinda hit the nail on the head and it’s message has stuck with me all these years since I first read it here on 30zzz. Which I think, in my opinion is a good message to all that read it. So with that being stated, there it is in its original form, unchanged ….

    HOW TO DO YOUR FIRST 30 DAYS!!!!!
    First off, let’s remember we are fighting an addiction. We are addicted to alcohol. This is our fight! Everyone wants to be rid of the demon, and also be friends with the demon. “Let me kick this habit and then we can be friends again”. You want to be one of those people that can have a couple drinks and be fine. Well you’re NOT one of those people or we wouldn’t be here, so keep the fantasy if you like, but remember who you are. Many will need to know for sure that they are not one of those people and will flirt with the demon, (you know who you are) and that’s okay, as long as you have done your 30 days, put some closure to the “what if” if you have to. It’s my opinion that those people that can have a couple and be done are really people that do not enjoy alcohol to begin with; they have a few in our presence to fit in with the drinking crowd. Like everything, there are exceptions. Do the 30 then re-evaluate!

    There are many tricks, and long standing methods to accomplish your first 30 days. I will try to list them here from memory but it’s always preferable to go back and read the older posts.

    Plan
    Plan for your 30 days in advance. Many end up here with a search on “how to quit drinking” because they have had enough, and that’s great. We love you, but take the rest of the day to prepare to fight. Others are lurking and waiting for the right time. I can’t tell you when your time is right but when you are ready and prepared you will have a better chance of succeeding.

    Prepare
    Arm yourself with the weapons and tools you will need to win this battle. (Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight)

    First off is liquid, other than alcohol. Water is a must and then several other drinks. Arnold Palmers worked well for me and also diet tonic and lime, but find your own happy drink. Some suggestions: Ginger Ale, Tension Tamer Tea, N/A Beer, Virgin Mary’s, Spritzers (N/A)of all flavors, elders please add your favorite. Vitamin’s (B Complex) Milk Thistle, supplements.
    Replace the lost calories. (The couple pounds of weight gain will melt off once you stabilize)
    Your body will be expecting that 2000 or so calories you have been pumping into it for years. A lot of us consumed over 2000 calories per night just in booze which turns into sugar. Your body is used to that now. Snacks, chips, cookies, fast food, whatever you crave get it. Keep your belly full. Chocolate has a lot of the same chemical properties of alcohol and can stave off the strongest of cravings. Deny yourself of nothing (other than alcohol).

    Give yourself something to do.
    Movies, books, walk the dog, exercise, do puzzles, or play video games. Make sure you have something to occupy down time. The first couple of night can be sleepless and you are going to need to keep busy.

    Have an anti-trigger
    Many things will trigger the want for a drink. Have something to counter that. Some turn to yoga, controlled breathing, walking, martial arts, tension tamer tea, or heck, a primal scream. Whatever it is it will be unique to you and use it whenever you need to. Keep your eye on the prize.

    Post
    Get involved in your resolve. Post daily, hourly, by the minute, take control of your addiction, ask questions, be aware. We are here for you but it is your battle. You have to want this more than booze. We have all had the same feelings, lack of sleep, battles, challenges, losses, bad luck, good luck, fortunes, and misfortunes. We are a community by the people for the people (okay I stole that one). But bottom line, there is someone here 24/7 to help anyone the best we can. You can’t find that anywhere else.

    Reward
    Reward yourself for your success. I think this is one of the most important motivators, and the key to many successes. This is a personal battle between you and your demon. The demon is not going to give you a pat on the back or a “that a boy/girl” each time you stave off the desire to drink. You need to reward yourself. It can be as simple as telling yourself you did great and feeling the pride of accomplishment. It can be a promise that after 7 days you’re going to go buy that “something” you’ve been wanting, or starting a sober wallet. I used the sober wallet. I calculated all the money I spent on booze and booze related items daily and came to $20.00. For each day I did not have a drink I put $20 into a drawer. I figured that was money I was going to spend anyway on drinking so I really wouldn’t miss it. Well after a week I had $140 bucks in the draw and realized how much of my/family money I was blowing on booze. That was a shocker. I am on day 128 today and have $2,560.00 bucks saved for a special day. Motivation? Yep. One caveat, in order to keep focused I told myself that should I slip during the first 30 days that any money in the sober wallet must be donated to a good cause.

    Persevere
    Be prepared everyday. As we adjust more to the sober life the cravings are far less and few between, but there in lies the problem. It is so easy to say “I got this thing beat” and consider having a drink. All I have to do is reflect on those who have gone before me and remember their disappointments at moderation. For now I’m staying the course.

    You are on a journey that quite literally is a fight for you life (getting control of your life again). Use everything at your disposal to win!!!! The only failure is to quit

    “Viva La Isla”

    And once again a big thanks to Richard for putting this message together years ago…
    __________________
    Have a good one
    ******************
    “It may be a long journey to get where you’re traveling to or has it been a long journey traveled to get where you’re at!?”

  15. Jase says:

    Thanks, GW, for posting Richard’s classic once again…just as timely as ever.

    Ruth, so true, much of coping with alcohol craving is waiting out the discomfort. I went through a few days recently where I had to come here and read and read for the support. Combination of summer heat, nutty family, and short temper. It can sneak up on me, because – hey, I don’t have a problem, look how long it has been since I had a drink. Had to just grit my teeth and endure.

    Funny thing… A chicken helped me through it. She came marching over the grass, squawking away and missing half her feathers. Got a wound on her back, too. So I got distracted from my aggravation by doctoring her and fixing her a safe place to stay. I think she’ll make it. She’s a funny little thing. I named her BeeBee (bare butt).

  16. Megan says:

    Thanks for all the shouts and words of encouragement!!! I did get to a meeting tonight.. Feel a bit better.

    Yes, so true JohnA , drinking will not make these things any better or easier. Just feeling sorry for myself this week, I guess. I made it through the week without. Thanks again islanders!!!

    I am looking forward to our yearly trip , long weekend to our favorite lake in our state, sober. Did it 2 yrs ago sober and had a great time. Last year I was drinking there after getting back to our cabin and how angry my daughter was at me for

    running across the road to the convenient store for booze.
    This year she will have something to be proud of. Looking forward to a good time with family!!! Megan

  17. JohnB says:

    Welcome back Vivek, Sara…great to read all the posts of experience talking…so many wise people here.

    Nothing new to report, all good on my side.

    The reasons to not drink have to outweigh your reasons to drink…seems obvious when u look at costs, embarrassments etc..you need to be introspective to the point where your resolve and avoidance is stronger than the craving or desire.

    Don’t swallow that crap

    Goodnight all
    JohnB

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