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. Grayson says:

    Oh I almost forgot why I jumped on here in the first place. Check out this link! No surprise here but Americans are drinking more. A lot more! Specially if you live in Wisconsin. See below.


  2. johan says:

    Grayson – a good win and a valuable story we can all take something from! Well done! Always nice to hear from you man!
    On your drinking more link, our provincial gov is ‘helping’ micro brews by introducing beer to local grocery stores. It’s a tax creation/collection program in disguise and while it may help micro brews sell product, it will be at the expense of people like us. I know, I know, beer doesn’t cause alcoholism but making alcohol easier to get doesn’t help. Hell yeah there’s a growing problem.

    Beej – two more sleeps, to not getting sleep ;-)!
    Best Wishes!!
    Speaking of births here little Slagthor might be the 3rd? At least from what I remember – NJ, Amanda, and the Beej’s. You realize you have been here a while when….

    Mermaid – hope things didn’t get shook up too badly!

  3. Beej says:

    Here’s an interesting part of your article Grayson..

    “In both 2005 and 2012, 56 percent of Americans said they drank [no] alcohol at all.” See, we’re the silent majority islanders. Nixon 2016 :)

    Glad to hear your wife is back at it. She lead through the toughest part and kept at it for two years+. You’ve got it from here bud. I admire your resolve.

  4. Mermaid says:

    Happy Friday!

    Our summer weather has been replaced by rain, cold wind and occasional hail. To make me bit more whiny and miserable I’m dealing with a nasty cold.
    Good news is I get to dog sit my daughter’s pooch this weekend. The sweetest, best mannered young man! He gives me the puppy fix I need since I can’t have a dog of my own at this time.

    Beej- This is it! Say goodbye to adult life and hello to the world of parenting! You will love the journey and learn so much about life and it’s wonders. All the best to you and Mrs. Beej, may things go as smooth as possible. Can’t wait for your posts next week! Please don’t leave us hanging for too long..we are all expecting with you guys ;-)

    Happy weekend to all! Remember we don’t drink on the last Friday of the month!

  5. Fred says:

    Looking forward to sober weekend. Will cstch up on posts. Behind due to 16 hour work days.


  6. SEG says:

    Grayson – Sounds like your wife is really being honest. Relapse is no fun, but a quick recovery with honesty is sure good news.

    Beej – Look forward to hearing the good news.

    Fred – Excellent.

    Some islanders have been silent lately. Hope you are well.

    My boss reached out to me to see if I had questions before the big interview next week. He did not do that on the last go around, so it seems as if he really wants me to get it this time. He has a better relationship with this VP. I have no indication of where I stand this time other than that. Wife is way more reserved, and I am way more focused on my present work. We shall see.

    Sober 899/101

  7. Holly says:

    Good Morning~

    It seems many people have personal stories about addiction in family and loved ones. It makes me sad. I of course have a family riddled with alcohol and addiction, as well. I am really sorry to those of you who are struggling watching and working through the emotions of that right now. (Min and EmptyZ)

    I have been busy and haven’t been posting much, I will try to get back to that more consistently. I haven’t lost the focus for sobriety. It is too good! Or at least, so much better. I am learning a lot about myself and my relationships. Sometimes I have a thought that I am “cured” or some dumb thing. Doesn’t stay long though.

    Good luck with your new offer, SEG. Try to get some rest, Fred.
    Hi Mattie, River, Megan, Ruth, GW, Beej, Mermaid, Hope, SteveUK, Johan and many others.

    Out to the trails today.


    day 63

  8. River Rat says:

    Nice Holly, Happy Trails! I like your restatement, “It is too good! Or at least, so much better.” I totally agree with that for me. I find myself hoping for more but am aware it really is much better on this side of the bottle. Must be the addictive nature always looking for more.

    SEG, as I said before, I like the way you’re looking at this now through learned eyes. That’s great the boss is talking the way he is. I’m thinking, even if things were not to pan out again, it sounds like you are a respected employee? Hopeful for you.

    Hi Fred, nice to see you poking around again. 16 hour days can really mess with the will. Get on the sober train. It’s a worthwhile trip.

    Grayson, your story of your wife’s struggling really got me thinking. I have a family member with the same narcotic issue. I have a hard time relating to it as an addictive product because it’s not my crutch but I have seen what it’s done to a loved one. It has actually helped drive a wedge among our family because of the way it makes them behave. Appreciate you sharing. BTW, what a great number to post. Miss you and hope to hear from you a bit more often.

    Beej, the PM feature on a site could have ramifications for sure…not saying always a bad thing but I can see it.

    Steve, I’m picturing you having another beauty Sober Saturday morning. I’m proud to say I slept a bit later this morning after a successful later night. Coffee is just as good 2 hours after sunrise.

    Hi Min. Another beautiful day here in the Peg. Looking forward to a mixed bag of yard work and play (riding).

    Alright Gabe, 1/4 of a way to 100. I look forward to both of us posting around that time and taking note of the changes in our lives.

    Johan, I think the weather may be smartening up your way now? Thanks for reminder to send some $ to Brad. I’m on it. this site has provided me with some terrific support.

    Hi Megan. Have you finished at your past job now? Do you start new one on Monday? Hope you’re doing well and that anxieties are not mucking too much with you. Hopeful for a positive change.

    Sandy, I think this would be your 2 week mark? How’s it going?

    Mermaid, is it boating time again?

    Hey EmptyZ. Last weekend knocked you down and I know it can be hard to get started again. Trust me, I know. How are you? Start up again if you haven’t and come enjoy the view.

    Last night was tough. Went to an outing that involved a lot of wine and beer pairing. Was sooo tempting. I was drinking water and was offered “just a small taste” enough times. I found myself believing that I could just have a few tastes and I knew it wouldn’t do any harm. I knew it! Yeah, right. Been there, done that. I ended up explaining to a few how I love my day-after experiences from not drinking night before. Anyway, I emerged victorious and enjoyed all the foods, the gallons of water, some yummy coffee, and I remember it all….crystal clear.

    d 34

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