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. Ruth says:

    Welcome to all the old and new people- Steve UK, Stu York, KJ, Daisy, Clive (hope I didn’t miss anyone). All of us here are so very familiar with the reasoning and bargaining that goes on around alcohol. Believe me, all of us have been there, done that, and at some point, you get it through your head that it is just NOT going to work, and like Daisy says, it is time to do something about it. For me, I had to go public with my family and make a promise to them and to myself that I wouldn’t drink no matter what, and that if I couldn’t do it on my own, I would seek help. For me it was clearly life or death, and I chose life. If you write down all the reasons you need to quit and just make yourself a promise that before you pick up that drink you will pour yourself a tall glass of water and read that list, I bet you change your mind! Funny, I used to avoid drinking water because I didn’t want to interfere with my ability to drink alcohol. I found in the early days that most of my cravings that I thought were for alcohol were just plain thirst! Anyway, stick it out, and post often, and Steve UK, it is not a negative post, it is just truthful… time to get back on that horse and ride!

  2. verann says:

    Hi to all on the island…the most recent posts of so many of you have me crying….I have hit rock bottom doing exactly what some just did in the recent weeks….I have drank my wine and beer much more recently….my husband of 15 years has had it and so have I…I am going to try this 30 days one more time and if I don’t get it…my family and I will find me somewhere to go for help…I love al of your inspirations and see myself in so many of you…that it took my breath away as I read them…..Thank you all…

    Day 2 for the 4th time in the last year….

    Have a sober day everyone I definitely will….My husband is taking me around right now at my request…so I do not go anywhere with out a driver who is sober……

  3. SEG says:

    Beej – Wait are you suggesting I enjoy my slow times? How silly you can be.

    Verann – A phrase I like is: I stay drunk, We stay sober. I would use all avenues for help. It gets awfully lonely out there. We on the Island are with you.

  4. min says:

    Hi everyone!

    Hope, you sweetie! Thanks for your very kind shout out. Great to hear from you, as always, and we’re all very much looking forward to your one year post. You substantially provide what your name conjures :)

    Welcome Daisy, Clive and welcome back KJ, StuYork and SteveUK. KJ, very astute obs there — I always made a point to put a check mark on the previous day when I woke up sober the next morning. I did that for a full year, and then just checked occasionally for the foxy numbers after that ( i.e. triple #s, round numbers etc.) but the day I quit for good is the day I took back my life and my self and started to truly live.

    Beej! You are a funny man lol! Thanks for the laughs and that goes for all commentary on the subject of Ahskeen too. Nice work people.. By the way, I think that the extent to which I can loathe alcohol is directly related to two things: feeling helpless in the face of my parents’ late-in-life addiction i.e. happy hour(s) and old age don’t mix (sounds funny, but it really isn’t:/ and, the level of trauma I was in when I finally quit. We all arrive here at various points on the spectrum and with varying lengths of drinking history but we share(d) the same red flags of addiction. Most notably, we continued to drink in the face of adverse consequences. I wish that I had quit when I was your age…but no!…I had to keep playing with fire for the next decade or so. Trying to moderate, for me, was like trying to stay in the saddle of a bucking horse. What a relief it was to finally jump off the damn thing and learn to walk on my own.

    Peppy! I’m so happy for you surpassing your one year!…actually was quite moved to read that, knowing of your struggles over the past few years. Happy belated birthday to you — you really are sounding great! Your course on Mindfulness is really taking hold — the 5-week Buddhist boot camp I took back in the winter continues to serve me well each and every day. My best to you on your continuing success.

    Key, that still must have been a bit of shock to suddenly lose someone you used to hang with, drinking pal or not. You are so right about how deadly this can get. I think one of the most unnerving things about alcohol addiction is that although the damage is happening in plain sight, nothing can change the situation until the individual (me/us/we) “gets it”. Sadly, I don’t think there’s one person here who hasn’t lost someone to alcoholism and I’d be a fool if I didn’t admit that I was once headed that way too. Talk about being my own worst enemy. Anyway, look at us go, woot! Way to go on your 60 plus days.

    Bit of an unintentional misdirection in my last post: We keep no alcohol in the house. Hubby just got some NA 0% beer last week, something he hasn’t had since he quit three years ago. It’s his recovery, but I still had to check in with him to gauge intent etc. So I agree with those who said the main concern with NA products should be the intention, i.e. drinking it to mask feelings versus drinking it for the malty taste to pair with the burger. I have to ask myself what my intentions are whenever I chew a piece of the damn nicotine gum, nutz.

    Super summer busy this way…but just did a quick read though…Mary! I was SO happy to see your name pop up… keep trying no matter what, you are valued and missed here. Step, Johan ( I love seeing your posts here again!), GW, JohnA– great to see you guys. Beej, Mermaid & Sherry (nice going gals), SEG (well done on your post-600 days…we are 600 days apart so I hit my 1200 on June 30th, an excellent b-day present for sure…keep up your great work…just an idea but why not plant a tree with each of your kids in mind (5 saplings?– gardening therapy:), Alice (isn’t the “exactly one inch [of champagne] for toasting” what got you into trouble the last time?), Dee (hope you are well sweetheart:), Ruth (I remember things I wish I could forget — I was that gal!:), Mizz Frinker ((are U okay?…thinking of you and your brother’s situation)) Win (how does your garden grow?:) Julie, Megan, Archie, Fred, JohnB (200!! Yay! Great work on not smoking too!:) Greetings also to JM, Amanda, Mathew, Gabriel, Richard, RR (hope the crisis has passed), Grayson, K8, Sandy, Patricia, Corey, Meta, dear Mattie, Verann (you can do this sweetheart, be kind to yourself today)…apologies to anyone I’ve missed and sorry for the length of this post…wowza!…thanks for reading.

    much love.

    xox min

  5. min says:

    holy moly Ruth! lol…we’ve got ourselves some clashing horse metaphors! hahaha…never mind…the sober horse rules :))

  6. Alice says:

    Peppy! Congratulations to you. You are a shining example of just what can be done. You are truly awesome.

    I’ve been cleaning, packing, painting and basically working my butt off. I’ve been missing a lot over here. So wonderful to see old friends (Mary!) Great post, Min. Don’t worry, that inch of champagne won’t get me, and it won’t be repeated.

    Day 90 for me tomorrow, plus January, March, half of Feb and half of April. 2014 has been a darn dry year so far!

    I won’t be posting much but I’ll try to follow along as best as I can!

    Sober since April 24th, 2014

  7. Grey Wolf says:

    “Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, all the fears you have overcome.” ~~ by an Unknown Author….

    One must learn to crawl before one can take a step. A step MUST take place before one can run a foot race, but a soul can help another soul in more ways than known by the sharing of the steps that start a journey,,,,,,Like that saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”…
    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!?”

  8. JohnB says:

    Wow, active 24 hours! Going to bed, wanted to welcome all of the newcomers to our island and tell u all we understand, have been there and are in the same fight with you.

    Verann….do not give up. 7 months ago my life was in shambles….it was the conscience decision to quit drinking that changed everything…I mean EVERYTHING!

    It is daunting and scary but I promise you what is out there waiting for you as the days of sobriety pile up is so much more fulfilling than a drink…everything you can imagine is possible, great love, self respect, no more anxious feelings in your chest, no more bargaining with yourself…good nights sleep, mindful thoughts about life, love, friendship, truth … The world is out there for you and you already have a family that lives you! We are here for you just don’t pour that carp down your throat!

    Day 7 not smoking! I can do anything!


  9. min says:

    A very thoughtful post GW. It’s good to be reminded of how each step forms a building block to the next, no matter where along the path we find ourselves.

    JohnB, lovely words of hope and encouragement. Way to go on your smoking quit…bet you’re breathing easier already!

    Thanks for your kind reply, Alice. Some might think me daft for even posing the question and I did think it through before asking, but I’m relieved for your answer nonetheless. It sounds like you have a lot going on so thanks again for taking the time out of your busy sorting to post. The next few months sound exciting! Safe travels!

    For someone new to quitting though, an inch of bubbly could seem like such a small amount and wouldn’t matter, especially in celebration. But those brain chemicals can twig a reaction independent of our best intentions, and result in a cascading effect on our thoughts and actions. My best advice to anyone expecting an upcoming celebration, and just newly starting their quit perhaps, is to use sparkling juice or even water. I know I couldn’t willingly have even a small amount because I’d be letting myself down and I couldn’t live with that self-inflicted disappointment again. Now into my fourth year, living sober for me means living honestly and calling myself on my BS. It means willingly learning from my mistakes instead of willfully bending the problem to suit my desired outcome. I still have so much to learn and much of what I know comes from hanging out here.

    Thanks for being here you guys. I really appreciate you all and I’m grateful for this island of refuge and hope. Wishing courage to those struggling, hang in there, sleep will come and it will be deep and peaceful,


  10. KJ says:

    Good Morning All

    Min – great post and a wonderful acknowledgement of so many people, lovely.

    Seg – saying it straight, 100% right.

    Steve UK – I started with you a long time ago but tried the moderation BS and failed again, again and again. I would often go onto website and see how well you were doing and end up thinking sh*t that could have been me, as im from the same side of the pond as you and am just across the water in good old sober living Ireland ;-) i am here again and determined to change, we can run the days up together.

    im not in a position to give much advice but what i do know is that it is a beautiful morning and its so much nicer when enjoying it sober and without hungover haze.

    sleep 2 done.


  11. JohnB says:

    Great post min!!

    Hey Keith, what a great start to the day huh??? Congrats!! Seize the day!!

  12. Mary says:

    Carpe diem!
    Thanks Min & Alice, you give me hope and provide comfort. Min, you inspire me! Alice, congratulations on your 90 days. You are doing this! Proud of You!
    Hope, one year in sight, fabulous!
    Everyone here is truly amazing! I won’t drink today!

  13. SEG says:

    Min – Glad you are 600 ahead. Set a stone down up there on the trail, and I will smile when I see it in a few more years. The tree idea is great, but we are renting our house, and have probably only one more year we can stay so ideally we buy a home in the next year, then tree planting sounds super.

    It is going to be a lovely 100 degrees this way today. Beej suggested I enjoy life, so warm me up Mr. Sunshine!

    Slow down you move to fast.


  14. Beej says:

    Good Morning Islanders,

    Wow.. so nice to see some activity and energy.

    Incredible advise Ruth. The story of how you got the ball rolling is so powerful. You didn’t try to stop drinking, you decided to stop and were willing to try whatever needed to be done to make that happen.

    Stay strong Verann. You have a husband who cares, helps, and loves you. Sure, he may be fed up, but he’s still driving you around. Don’t be discouraged about a few false starts. You’re going to get through this. You’re such an intelligent woman that there’s a certain inevitability to it. You’re obviously not going to let this ruin your life and destroy your health and marriage. There’s a lot to be said for “making the change” but sometimes you’re served just as well by simply allowing and accepting it.

    SEG – I should have known. You’ll probably spend your staycation grinding down tree stumps and digging up roots.. very relaxing.. lol. To each his own!

    Min – great post! Nice to be off that bronco, eh ;) Amazing support and advise to all.

    Hey Alice- Love your attitude and congrats on 90 days! You sound great. Looking forward to your 100 and four months beyond.

    GW – spot on as always. When it starts getting metaphysical we can always count on you to cut to the core of the issue.

    Way to go JohnB – your enthusiasm is infectious. I’m starting to get a little itchy myself. Coming along a little slower than you, but I’m definitely feeling that I’m capable and deserving of much more.

    Keith – great job! Sober-living Ireland.. lol.. You can be the guy with a year+ sober, no doubt. It’s just like saving up $5,000. So long as you put away $400 a month, you will have it!

    Sounding good Mary. I won’t drink today either.

    Beej, D 247

  15. D says:

    Verann, You sound an awful lot like me and my struggles starting out.

    John B, No CARP down my throat either :) Beautiful encouraging words and every word is true.

    Min, Angel of Strength to me… I am OK! and actually I am good! Trying to make every day is a miracle.

    Peppermint, You are so shiny; I need sunglasses!!

    Seg, Beej & Hope, My! You have become the solid force of the island and I look to read your posts. I remember when each of you started and look at you now!

    I have discovered in my on again and off again, starts and stops that I like my life better sober. I like me better sober and I like not beating myself up anymore. I decide each day that it is up to me to love and live each day.

    Workin’ on my shine.

    Love, Dee STAY

  16. SEG says:

    I am working during my staycation. Brilliant.

  17. Beej says:

    Uhhhh… yeah…. well, look on the bri
    ARGHHHH – that sucks. Sorry SEG

  18. Steve UK says:

    Hi islanders

    Thanks for the strong and kind words of support Beej. Sobriety really suits you, this oozes out in your posts..your humour also cracks me up :)). You have come a long way my friend.

    KJ, thanks for the post. We really do have a positive impact on each other here on the island as we can all identify with the same feelings and emotions. Happy to start walking the path to a life of great opportunities..lets do it !

    The old cliche’ of taking it one day at a time really applies at the moment. This evening I faced a big old trigger with as many of the tools in my toolbox when I cooked a BBQ. A lump of cheese, a glass of blackcurrant squash and 5 minutes later the weak AV was slayed into oblivion…well chuffed about that.

    We have a 3 week holiday soon in Cornwall..last year’s holiday at the same place involved drinking daily from 3pm until midnight most days.

    I am desperate not to repeat that pattern this year.

    I want to be a happy dad who wakes up fresh at 6am to catch the sunrise rather than at 9am with a headache but with an AV excitedly telling me that all is OK because I’m on holiday and can start drinking in a few short hours !

    The prospect of this frightens me, as does the fear of failure..until then its one day at a time.

    Day 2

  19. verann says:

    Her I am today haven’t slept since Friday night it’s like my brain is staying awake on purpose. I believe the self-medication of having wine every night forever is affecting my sleep which was bad any way for years…that’s why I drank at night. We all know that wasn’t the only reason why I drank mainly to push down all the hurt from my past. I was watching Steve Harvey just morning and LL Cool J from NCIS was up there he is one of my favorite he said “DON’T LET YOUR PAST HOLD YOUR FUTURE HOSTAGE” wow that blew me away because I am 52 and have been allowing that for a very long time….
    Seg you are so right and thanks
    John B how long after you stop drinking then was able to stop smoking….If you can answer because I smoke about 2-3 cigs a day and I want to stop that but it seems hard to do both at the same time.
    Beej thank you for the kind words….I just do not want to go done like this…I have sent a lot of people away from me and now my health is my concern…

    D you are not alone I am probably older so I have been dealing with this demon for 25 years of and on…until 10 years ago more on than off…hang in there and keep posting

    Thanks to everyone on the island for your beautiful words and inspirations you are now going through on the other side of having many days under your belt…When I grow up I want to be the many of you that have did it…much love

    Day 3 for me but having headaches and no,no sleep

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