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. Holly says:

    Hi
    River- Love the website and writing. Don’t have time to read it all this am but have it bookmarked. Thanks for sharing!

    Hey Seg!

    Feel like I have been eating too much and not get enough exercise. Catches up quickly now. Stress about work is piling up too. People’s position’s are being eliminated, we are getting new bosses and everyone is acting well…crazy. Very cut throat and dirty. Some of the things these women are doing…lets just say WOW. Not going to say much more about it. I am working on not letting work consume so much of my brain space. Venting doesn’t work, I decided. I will do my best and let the rest roll out.

    Thankfully, I have a long weekend coming up. Mom is here today so will be spending the week with her. Working some but off most of
    it.
    Wine thoughts entered the picture yesterday, but I had a really sick feeling about it when it did. Not appealing to me. On a completely superficial note… my skin looks amazing. Not even joking. I had no idea that alcohol was affecting that organ so much.

    Hi Sunshine, Corey, Gabriel, SEG, Megan, GW, Min and everyone. Keep posting!

    Holly
    seventy -something

  2. River Rat says:

    Holly, feel the same way about drinking lately. Turns my stomach to think about it.

    Went to an album release party for J.D. and the Sunshine Band last night. This is the 2nd over about 4 years. They are from a project, Sunshine House, that deals mainly with people suffering from solvent addiction. Many of them still drink but they have really turned their lives around and for some of them it just took the art form of music to really lift them up. Pretty profound! Had a great evening. One loud drunk in the crowd was a great reminder of what can happen when we consume. Seeing most of the 15 band members taking swigs of beer didn’t even phase me…sure, it looked refreshing but so is my na beverage. The show opened with a First Nations Blessing through drum singing two prayers to bless the event. Very powerful. The artist asked everyone to hide their drinks under their chairs as they would not/ could not bless the event if they could see alcohol present.

    Anyway, I’m off canoe shopping. Wish me luck. I too hope everyone is well today.
    RR

  3. min says:

    Hi everyone,

    Gabriel, well done, congrats on two weeks plus! Nice posts! :)

    Thanks, SEG. Your words and presence are full of life too!

    I STILL feel a bit queasy at the thought of alcohol but never more so than when a red wine *enthusiast* breathes large gusts of that smell through wine-stained teeth while explaining the virtues of that particular year and grape to no one in particular. Blargh. It’s good to be detached enough to notice these things tho….however, not detached enough to still feel queasy about it. OH well. A blessing in disguise perhaps? Maybe my olfactory sense is so powerful that it triggers unpleasant sensations and not-so-distant memories for me….hmm.

    Holly, I hope your mum enjoys her stay and that you have good weather for getting out and about (and no, I don’t say ‘oot and a-boot’ haha:). She’ll most likely notice your wonderful glow and be happy that you’re such making positive strides in your life. As an aside, if you’re interested in just how damaging alcohol can be for us females, please read Ann Dowsett Johnston’s book: Drink — The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. When I finished it, shaking my head, I just said, Wow, wow, wow. If anyone out there is worried about their drinking or that of a close female relative, you should read it too. Big Alcohol doesn’t want us to know about this stuff, how it’s twice as toxic on all counts and affects our brains in ways that our male counterparts don’t, or rather, can’t experience. Recovery is harder, too. “Mommy juice”, “it’s wine o’clock”, “skinny girl cocktails”; it’s all one big fat ruse, it all is. It’s a carcinogenic, addictive toxin that has taken the playbook from Big Tobacco and marketed in the same way. I should stop here before I erupt into a profanity-laden rant and spoil my stellar reputation here, Ha ha ha.

    RR, that concert sounded like a wonderful show for a very good cause. Interesting and non-judgemental approach from the drummers/healers too. In terms of harm reduction, it makes sense to turn a semi-blind eye to the beers when it is the solvents that were/are the problem. Wishing you continued uncomplicated healing and new-found comfort in your mobility — you’re a good man, who is just about to find his perfect canoe, awesome!

    Great posting everyone, have a peaceful evening,

    Min

  4. SEG says:

    RR – Canoe shopping. Jealous.

    Holly – Sure do hear you on the work. People really lose their minds over money, security, etc.

    Min – Thanks for sharing. That books sounds like a good read.

    Well of course my job is sucking up a lot of bandwidth. On the good side I have been slowly extending my morning meditations in response. Stress makes us turned towards our Higher power or stupid stuff. We have a choice.

    Walk it out.

  5. Holly says:

    Morning~

    Quick check-in. Don’t get to go back to work until Wednesday. Awesome. There are things that I can pick out that I do not like about my life, but there are far more things to appreciate. That is my job for this time. Gratitude.

    I hope everyone enjoys a sober Friday. Check in.

    Holly

  6. River Rat says:

    So nice hearing from you…you’re an important part of my day and I relish this community…

    Min, great post….awesome beginnings of a rant…I wanted more!!! …I’m ordering the book as well, to read and then share with whomever. Yes, that concert is still lifting me!!

    SEG, some of our local canoe rental stores are selling off their seasons stock, one-season-used-canoes.. I’ve got my eye on a beauty…We-no-nah Spirit II, it’s a 7 ft. but ultralight, I think 42 lbs, made of kevlar. Time I got a canoe I can easily carry myself along with my pack, and use in all kinds of water with heavier loads. https://www.wenonah.com/Canoes.aspx?id=13

    Holly, thanks for the thoughts on gratitude…you are so right!!

    Yesterday I went to the St. Vital Shopping centre with my sis. I ventured with my walker and after hours of browsing got quite the collection, many books I was looking for and 3 X as many that just jumped out. My Alcohol/Addictions section grew as did my art books!
    Actually checked out 2 book sales this week….no more, don’t need another addictive outlet myself : D

    I’ve got some serious things to deal with today, after looking at canoes one more time, so I am on my way…
    Happy Friday everyone, prepare for the weekend,
    Under the same sky,
    RR

  7. River Rat says:

    SEG….ah that’s a 17 ft canoe LOL!!!

  8. River Rat says:

    Ok, typing before going to bed. I’ve got to be up in the middle of the night so I can get in line to have a chance at one of these canoes. I know which one I have first on my list, and my second picks, but apparently people camp over night to be first in line. My first pick there is only one of. My second pick there are 5. I’m not willing to camp out tonight with new hip and all. I don’t want to risk my health but I will get there for 5 am and wait for the doors to open 4 hours later. I’m super excited and believe I’ll be bringing a new baby home tomorrow…. Wilderness canoeing ended for me about 9 years ago, when I solo-paddled the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. One of my goals, now that I’m not wasting my life with booze, is to pick up my favourite pastime and get back to the woods, and, more importantly, the water in the woods.

    It’s quiet here today.. Goodnight friends,
    RR

  9. min says:

    RR, I laughed out loud about the 7ft.canoe!! You’d have to tow another one just for the gear lol! Geez, I hope you get the one you want, but even the second best choice will get you to the [sacred] water in the woods. Fingers crossed! :D p.s…call yourself a Biblio-Enthusiast and then it doesn’t matter :}

    GW, sorry I missed your post! Thanks for sharing where you’re at and I hope you’re at least in a peaceful place, especially if happiness has been hard to reach lately. Wishing you calm at the very least. It sounds like you’ve been on a powerful journey alongside your brother’s. Courage.

    SEG, hope you have a relaxing weekend ahead of you. Meditation sounds like the best strategy and good for you for being able to stick with it, it’s difficult! More power to you :)

    Hi to Holly, Megan, Gabriel, Corey and everyone else, have a peaceful night,

    Min

  10. River Rat says:

    Hey Min, I’m sitting here at 6 am, 7 th in line, although the others are all sitting in their cars, eyes on their lawn chair line markers. I’m in mine, coffee in hand, wearing 4 layers this morning. Oh, the number one spot is a small tent, can’t tell if its occupied LOL. LIGHT For STORE just CAMe On!! And it’s just after 6. You’re correct, I should at least score my second choice. Thanks for toes and fingers crossed. I’ll be sure not to take a 7 footer home!
    Good Saturday morning. Funny thing, I never ever wake up in the morning wishing I’d drank the night before! Never. It’s great to be noticing the subtle changes in my body, mind and spirit. I’m changing my sleep/wake clock, arising easier and easier, consistently early enough to make a good start to each day. I live reflecting on how I remember everything that happened the night before, even at my age! I’m calmer, more tolerant and patient, and to borrow a concept from AA, I am making spiritual progress.
    Well, that’s all I’ve got in me right now so I’m going to sit back and enjoy my time in line.
    Rr

  11. SEG says:

    RR – Those 7 footers are easier to transport. Hope you get the canoe you want. Being in a state with very limited water I either need to move or pick a different hobby. In fact I am sitting here thinking it is time for a new hobby. Running is getting old. Not that I will stop it. But some fun recreational hobby.

    Min – Thanks. I need the relaxing weekend. Work is intense.

    Holly – Good idea. Gratitude list.

    Sober city kids.

  12. Grey Wolf says:

    min – howdy hi, thanks for your thought…

    RR – I’ve got an Old Town Saranac 146 Canoe that weighs in at around 80 lbs. I have a ‘canoe holder’ that fits in my hitch receiver on the F150 pickup or the Jeep or the Aliner pop-up camper and also have made a ‘break-down’ dolly to transport said canoe to the water by myself. ‘Canoe holder’ is also set-up to load and unload canoe by myself as well, that I like, purchased it on Amazon. The holding bracket that you strap down the canoe to pivots, which is really rather nice which enables one to swivel the canoe after strapping is secure on one end of the pivot point. I like the comfort of the seats in the Old Town, not so well when solo tho, as we know that one has to be fairly centered when solo for maneuverability. I have figured out a semi comfortable seating arrangement for solo paddling tho, but if dog comes along and is behaving (Labrador Retriever would rather be ‘in’ the water than riding on top of the water) or if geared up, I can use the rear comfy seat. I recently purchased a cheap kayak paddle, that breaks down to use a one paddle to check out a double paddle, I really like it as well. When or if the cheap paddle fails, I’ll spend more $$$ to purchase better one. Anyhow, good luck, keep the shiny side up and stay dry…

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