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:

    I certainly have caught glimpses of my bottom. I feel like I could easily go there. Thats why I keep trying. Its very scary to know you could lose everything.

    Today was hard. I just didn’t feel well. for no really darn good reason. Tomorrow will be better.

    Holly

  2. SEG says:

    Sherry, RR – Really good sharing on the topic of being a high bottom alcoholic. Something I deal with also frequently. I have one friend who will keep saying to me, how much longer do you have to do this. Not because he is against AA, but he just can’t believe I am an alcoholic. Comparing ourselves is so dangerous. Always we go back to the basics. Why did I search for a site on how to stop drinking? Because I have a problem with alcohol. Why did I walk down the steps to the AA meeting in the first place? Because I have a problem with alcohol. These problems never are healed by returning to the thing that caused them. So no DUI or divorce or whatever. Yet is right. The elevator does not have to hit the bottom floor before we get off.

    If others are reading and can’t post at the moment then hang in there. Hopefully RR gets Brad to fix that as we want you to share. Or we can move over to the other site soon.

    Blessings.

  3. Megan says:

    Hope everyone is having a great weekend. The 3 day weekends used to involve drinking, starting on Thursday of course, and starting earlier in the day on Sat and Sunday.

    We talk about that in AA, about hitting bottom, there is a good story in the big book about still having a home, a marriage and car in the garage. It’s a matter if time for me, I could not have gone on like I was living. I still have my marriage , my home and my family, thankfully. But still repairing the damage of some family dynamics/ relationship with my daughter, etc. And more importantly, I need to continue to learn how to live sober, on life’s terms. That is the reason I still go to AA and here for support. AA gives me many tools on living without alcohol. The quitting part is hard, yes, but the relearning how to live will take a lifetime. And most importantly, helping others. If we don’t stay to help the newcomer, who will be there to help? We are the ones who can truly help, as we have been there.

    Enough of that. Have some chores at home and meeting tonight.

    Sorry I didn’t address personally , on my tiny iPhone!
    Have a great day, everyone!

    Megan

  4. johan says:

    I think what we have the biggest problem with is the label. I don’t drink aftershave out of a paper bag on the street corner; so I am okay?

    I choose not to wear that label (or use it for that matter) because I don’t buy into it, no matter what our society wants me to believe. Alcoholism a ‘disease’? Maybe, but if so the cure is relatively simple and effective.
    Bottom line is, I do NOT drink alcohol; BY CHOICE; my choice. I wasn’t on ‘Intervention’; I didn’t get a DUI; I didn’t lose my job, or the hundred other things that people who drink excessively do to screw up their lives. I was luckier than smart is all, because it would have happened eventually. I believe that!

    Alcohol no longer has any power over me because I CHOSE to remove it from my lifestyle. Plain and simple. Sure there were challenges, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t, but there hasn’t been one day in almost 6 years that I have missed being drunk. Not one day!
    I don’t want to drink it, I don’t need to drink it, and I don’t think about drinking it. As SEG says everybody’s bottom may be different, fortunately mine wasn’t sod-bottom.
    The fact that we put so much thought into this is surely an indication of the power it can have over us if we let it. It’s just a liquid we pour into a glass, yet we have built so much intricacy around it.
    That’s my rant for today.

  5. Julie says:

    Been lurking. It’s been 17 mos. since my husband passed and my life has been in constant turmoil ever since. Alcohol has been my only salve. I only drink a couple a day, but it does affect how I feel the next day. I want to quit, but don’t know if I have the strength. Right now it’s wishful thinking. Before my husband unexpectedly died, with the help of you on the island, I made it a year. I still cry at the drop of a hat. I’m like a ship without a rudder. Anyway, I’m checking in to let you know you’re still an important part of my life.

  6. Fred says:

    Julie, I’m sorry you’re in pain. The Island is always here remember.

    -fred STAY

  7. Julie says:

    Thanks, Fred. I appreciate the greeting. I know I have a tough journey ahead but I also know I must do something about it. I think I’ll try and find an AA. So many go to meetings and find it helpful. I know ,too, that it’s the commitment. It’s so hard when everyone around you drinks. It’s like trying to be a vegan when everyone is grilling steaks.

  8. River Rat says:

    Great posts folks….so glad to see so much discussion. I”m dead tired so am going to embrace this moment to go to bed. Hopefully will have more to say tomorrow. Julie, I’m happy to see you back here. Please stick around. Sending you some positives.
    RR
    22 D

  9. JM says:

    Yohan – I’m glad you posted because I was thinking of a way to try and get that very message across, and you did it so much better than I would have!

    Positive choices don’t need justifying or explaining, and not drinking is a VERY positive choice. You don’t need to feel guilty about getting in shape just because you didn’t start out being dangerously obese, and nobody would expect you to pull out ‘before’ photos in order to get entry to a gym.

    JM

  10. SEG says:

    Johan – Well said.

    Julie – Its like being a vegan when everyone else is grilling steaks. Great analogy. Made me smile. The road less traveled if you will. You are trying to not medicate the pain of life. So great you see it is not the path even though no one would question you for a few drinks a night. I like the AA idea as well as some contemplative prayer or meditation to ooze into the gaps from your loss. Keep sharing.

    Fred, RR, JM, etc – Keep posting. Learned last night we lost a friend due to alcoholism. Such a crippling disease that markets itself as a great fun freedom from life’s pains. Reminds me of that island in Pinnochio that is so much fun until everyone turns into a donkey.

    Be good. Be sober.

  11. Sherry says:

    As a person who has always believed she has to be perfect to be loved I think it’s quite “normal” to struggle (in my mind) to fit in. I understand what you’re saying Johan and it makes perfect sense, but I’m not there. When I stopped drinking for 10 months with the help of this site and Jason Vale’s “Kick the Drink Easily” I felt that way. Just don’t drink. But this time it’s different. I felt angry and anxious the first 6 weeks and now I feel meh (as the kids would say) and I think about drinking every day, No pink cloud for me this time. I’m trying to sort through this mess one day at a time. I really hope I get where you are one day and I’m very happy for your 6 years of sobriety.

    Julie, I’m so very sorry for your loss. I hope you stay and post.

    Sherry

  12. johan says:

    Sherry – please don’t get me wrong, I was angry and anxious on the inside for well over a year. I thought I was supposed to be ‘enlightened’ in 6 months. A changed man! It wasn’t wanting a drink as much as angry I didn’t have it any longer, and not experiencing inner peace or whatever it was I expected. So I get it.
    Looking back now I see it for what it was; just part of the healing process. 30 years of drinking can’t be mended in 6 months. Patience; have faith!

    Julie – do what you need to do to remove the drinks! Stick around!!

    Fred – say hello to Gail!

  13. Julie says:

    Thank you all for your encouragement. I knew I’d get that here? It amazes me how many of you are still posting and have your wisdom to share?

  14. Julie says:

    I don’t get the ? mark

  15. River Rat says:

    Hey everyone.
    Amanda, Key, and Richard are at the other site. They are not getting the moderation approval for some reason here. They would love for you to pop in to the other site and give them a shout. They are missing us!!! I”m sure not suggesting we give up posting here, just want everyone to touch base. One of them suggested that this waiting for moderation for months has likely caused some to give up on this site and all the good stuff they can get here. Let’s not let any more miss out on our collective strength. Pop in and give them a shout here,

    https://redriverbluesman.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/island-of-hope-a-starting-place/comment-page-14/#comment-234

    RR
    23

  16. River Rat says:

    BTW, I’ve emailed Brad and told him about the moderation issue. Hopeful something will get fixed.
    RR

  17. Holly says:

    Hi Everyone~

    Doing my best today. Bad health news.

    So very sorry about your husband, Julie. It must be hard. Lets start and stay together.

    Holly

  18. River Rat says:

    Holly, sorry you received bad news. Hope you’re going to be okay? Hang in there.

    Julie, glad you’re posting. As a newcomer to AA I will ascertain that it is beneficial. I take everything helpful from the meetings and leave behind what isn’t working. Let’s face it, there are all kinds of varying personalities in larger groups and I can’t say everything I see or hear is helpful, nonetheless, 85% of it is great! I would recommend you go in with an open mind and see how it feels. A new guy came tonight from my neighbourhood and announced he felt like he was going to die if he didn’t do something now. He seemed very hopeful at the end of the meeting as he was warmly welcomed by new, like-minded people. I wish that for you.

    Of to bed I go.
    RR

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