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. fred says:

    Hi friends, I have a plan for a sober Saturday. No one can force me to drink today.


  2. Byrd says:

    Day 99, What a ride! (hey!! “99 bottles of beer on the wall” take one down!) In my case its Vodka but it was a passing thought I got a kick out of. This past month has not been easy but I know that experiencing the feelings is a necessary part of this process; it is just so intense sometimes. I hope that the intensity mellows as I go! Knowing that this painful feeling will ease up, will ease my thoughts of thinking that I have developed an imbalance.
    So, I am going back to the east coast next week. Kind of where the hurts began along with my drinking career. Drinking is a way of life with friends out there. Although; probably not as much as I remember because I became a drinker and I may have “thought” everyone else was like me. Part of my fear is that I will feel that I need to drink to have fun and fit in and fear that I will be a kill-joy. I know its not true regardless, the fear is still there.

    A quick post to say hi and share! great job everyone!

    I have no stock in Kombucha, but the label on some of the bottles have to claim a that the product has alcohol because of the fermentation. That is everyone’s personal decision. I buy the one’s without, just to be on the conservative side for now. But do your research so you feel comfortable with what you consume.


  3. johan says:

    Sunshine – sorry to hear about your puppy; shitty news for sure. I know she is special and my heart goes out to you!
    Acceptance and change only relates to ourselves; his behavior is his problem. Accepting it makes it your problem and you will go crazy trying to change it when he doesn’t see it.
    Have you thought about fitting him with a shock collar?

    Byrd – solid numbers!!!! Let nothing stand in your way!!

    RRat – what’s on the menu for SuperBowl Sunday?

  4. SEG says:

    Fred – Well Said.

    Byrd – Brilliant. I think we can all relate to those drinking environments with so much history. Can be a very strong pull. Work on day 100, and when you get in that moment in the future just focus on not drinking that day.

    Sunshine – Relational advice is always tricky to give like this. Work on you. Your peace, your love, your forgiveness, your stuff. Can not hurt! The rest we struggle to control.

    Johan – We have smoked ribs on our Super Bowl menu.

    Be good and remember we never drink when the Broncos and Panthers play in the Super Bowl.

  5. Sunshine says:

    Thanks RR, johan, and SEG for the input.

    Things always have a way of working out.


  6. COREY says:

    It’s Super Bowl Sunday! Let’s go Buffalo! I mean Carolina Panthers (for today only)

    I just got back from an AWESEOME service, truly inspirational today! Now I am at work until 6pm then a nice game! I don’t mind the outcome, it’s a catch 22 for me! Peyton going out on top and Cam being a badass QB and good for the sport!

    I am working on 35 days, killing it! feeling good! Went to the Lee Brice concert the other night, sober of course, wasn’t bad (concert was good) drunk people around me while be sober was brutal … some people found out about my story and wanted nothing to do but buy me drinks and get me hammered (total random people) which was weird, wish I was drinking I would have gotten a ton for free haha! I was good with sprite! It was pricy though haha!

    SEG- where you at? can I stop by for some smoked ribs, ugh that makes me so jealous haha! I laughed at the “Be good and remember we never drink when the Broncos and Panthers play in the Super Bowl” – I have a feeling you would say the same thing if the teams were KC v Bills as well haha made me laugh though!

    Fred – hope you made it that day, hope you killed it too!

    Does anyone know who Dave Mirra is? Sad that he felt the need to commit suicide :( — he was an inspiration to me growing up! They think he may have had the CTE disease – very sad though that someone can result to taking their own life!

    Johan – what you cooking today?

    Lets go Panthers – stay sober my friends!

  7. Byrd says:

    Good evening Island.

    Who watched the super bowl and got a kick out of Ms Mirin’s message. Wow – quite bold for a beer ad! Hit home and I believe I shared before how the death of a friends mom from a drunk driver had influenced me.
    I told my friend that her moms death played a large role in my motivation to STOP the nonsense and while on the outside my friend was glad, I somehow wonder if she finds pain from those people (me) who drove or still drive while intoxicated. I question my judgement for telling her. I don’t know at this time if I revealed it to her to relieve my own guilt; to help her know that her mom’s death had a positive influence (as horrible as that sounds); to reinforce my own determination. I thought at the time I should let her know and now I feel I should keep many things private until my “good” judgement is more consistent and I better understand things. Drinking can really F up your mind, thoughts, and perception of life around you.
    Sunshine, after reading a previous post, I really wanted to share how I related to your story about being with someone who doesn’t have the same values and beliefs.
    I have a history of meeting someone and jumping into a relationship because of chemistry and a quick look at values. this led me to many unhappy relationships and because of my sense of loyalty and commitment, I stuck with them because I felt that I was obligated. The only reason they would eventually end was not by my choice, lets just say. Now, I am alone because I never took the time to really evaluate the person that I was considering getting serious with.
    I am currently not in the market because I want to focus only on me. when I am ready, I will take this process of finding a mate with extreme seriousness. I want my next to be my last. Sunshine, I would ask you to follow your gut and end this nonsense if the values you need to have are not there. Ifs just that simple. #nojudgement
    Today was 100 days which seems significant and its cool.
    Peace and Strength to all. been pretty quite.

  8. SEG says:

    Corey – KC and Buffalo would be tough since they are both AFC teams. A nice AFC championship next year would be very enjoyable.

    Well it was a Sober bowl this way, and hope everyone else had the same.


  9. Holly says:

    Good Morning-

    Way to on 100, Byrd. So awesome. :)

    I was so happy to see you posting and still progressing, River! I big part of myself when I started this journey, was a victim. That is slooooooowly changing. Awareness makes all of the difference too.

    Super bowl was fun to watch. The Bronco’s defense was great! Saw plenty of drunk drivers out though. :( It is nothing to mess around with and I completely loved Mrs Mirin’s commercial. Had a friends nephew killed last year due to drunken driving. I used to do it myself when I was younger, watched my parents do it. My whole perspective has changed now. Never going back.

    Sober today-


  10. COREY says:

    SEG – I totally loled – I HAVE NO IDEA why I said KC V Bills – I am a diehard Bills fan and know football very well – haha I guess I was not paying attention at all (my bad) but I see you got the jist of what I was meaning! I see Lynch retired (he posted on twitter) McCoy in trouble with the law, and Manning winning a Super Bowl all in a nights work! (I hope he retires going out on top) I heard Rams want to offer him 15 million for 1 year – I would hate for him to sign just for the money instead of winning and leaving! Anywho, it was a shitty Super Bowl in my opinion – Sober of course, ate too much!

    Byrd – CONGRATS on 100 days, that is amazing! Keep up the good work!

    I used to drink and drive A LOT – I wouldn’t drive far (I know it’s still bad and happens anytime) I obviously haven’t in a while. Thank the Lord for that! I was so invincible – I enjoy being sober! Don’t get me wrong I do have the urge once and a while to just “try” a drink or two and see how it goes – but I don’t want to ruin my streak haha! I would love to just have beers/whiskeys with my friends and cigars and what not but I know I can’t!

    Church was great yesterday, pretty good message! We started a new series – should be good!

    Hope y’all have a wonderful sober week!

  11. Byrd says:

    Well, its never just that simple……

  12. Byrd says:

    Happy Monday all! Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the journey.


  13. SEG says:

    Corey – I think we all used to drink and drive. Graciously for me nothing bad happened, but could have.

    Byrd – Top of the morning.

    Sometimes the island gets quiet. No worries.

    Off to take the 16 year old to weights then go run. Been amping up my workouts and meditation time. Seems to be a plus to the day.

  14. Megan says:

    To my island friends, I’m still hanging in there. Going to have my 2 year anniversary coming up March 2 I believe.
    It’s amazing I made it, as my life continues to bring challenges, not always positive. I realize we are all on our own journey, but Lord have mercy, please give me a break!!
    I know others must feel that way too, with career changes , etc, but I cannot seem to settle. There seems to be a black cloud hanging over my head.

    How is everyone, enough about my woes!

    Byrd, happy 100, that is awesome!

    Corey, keep at it-you sound awesome:)

    Holly, yes! I’m sure we all have rethought the drinking and driving thing. I was saved many times. It is a miracle I did not get a DUI. I will have to check out that commercial. Will have to google it.

    SeG , River, Johan, Corey, Byrd, Steve UK, John a and B, Amanda, Ruth, Key, Sunshine, jeanne, and all, sorry if I missed anybody. Grey wolf, are you still out there??

    Carry on all, Megan

  15. Alice says:

    Hi Everyone,

    I wrote out a huge post last week which I lost. It was all about the AV shouting at me. Then I slipped, and hid from the island for a bit but now I’ve got my mojo back.

    Now I’m off to catch up on everyone.

  16. SEG says:

    Megan – Wonderful you are coming up on 2 years. Sorry life is gritty these days. Sure can relate. Mine is going well at the moment, but having years of slogging through times has happened to me before also.

    Alice – Back and better than ever! Glad you felt the freedom to be honest and jump back in.

    Ash Wednesday peace and love to everyone. Island tradition is we do not drink on Ash Wednesday.

  17. COREY says:

    Megan – Congrats on the almost 2 years of sobriety. That is AWESOME! I am sorry about life being difficult from time to time, I totally can relate. I am happy to see you have a clear/clean head on your shoulders, you’ll do just fine!!

    Alice – we can’t wait to see your numbers pile up, you will kick this! I am glad you came back and shared! Have a wonderful day/week! :-)

    SEG – why do we not drink on Ash Wednesday? ha, I am kidding I know we don’t drink everyday!

    Byrd – how you doing? I can’t wait to hit 100! Does triple digits feel awesome or what?

    To anyone I missed, I hope all is well keep fighting the good fight!

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