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. Grey Wolf says:

    The starfish

    Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf’s edge and and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached, he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

    The man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached, the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

    As he came up to the person, he said: “You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said: “It sure made a difference to that one!”

  2. Mermaid says:

    Well folks, what should have been my day 80 today has become another start for my sober journey. I wish I could say I don’t know what happened but I do know.
    The trigger was loneliness. With a dose of self pity thrown in. After saying goodbye to my daughter yesterday I had a 3 hour drive home and lots of time to think things through. Didn’t help. I still found myself buying a bottle of wine and drank it. The whole bottle.
    After not drinking any poison for 79 days my body reacted strongly and I’ve had the most horrible hangover which I certainly deserve. I’ve spent hours feeling emotionally beaten and physically sick.

    I thought about not coming back to this island, mostly out of shame, but I know I need to be part of a community in order to make it. Unfortunately my WFS group does not meet tomorrow due to Easter, I really could use the support from them.
    AV is done with me for now, if anything I’m glad I didn’t just have a glass as I would probably have another one today and so on, not having felt the severity of drinking as badly as I do now. Might have even played with the moderation thought.

    I have never attended an AA meeting but I’m thinking of finding one today. This is my first ever Easter Sunday completely alone. Kids are out of country, my own family across the world, my friends are with their families and I don’t really know anyone in the city as I moved here recently.
    I need to look at the loneliness trigger more carefully as I don’t quite understand it. I live alone, I do lots of things alone with no problem. Was it because it’s a holiday? Maybe.

    I’ve been at day 1 few times before and here I am again. I will not give up as crappy as I feel about having to start again.
    If there are any lurkers out there who are ready to embark on the sober journey, come and join me!

    Swimming to shore again..
    Mermaid D1

  3. Megan says:

    Mermaid, sending hugs your way. That is huge that you stepped up and admitted it and even more that you knew what triggered it. I have found some good people and wonderful women in
    AA. Many who live alone. Great fellowship. I could so relate if my kids were out of the house it would be hard. Don’t beat yourself up. Just relax:):) Megan

  4. Sunshine says:

    Mermaid-
    Coming back here and writing about your situation is the best thing you can do.
    Alcohol is all about self pity. We feel sorry for ourselves, we try to escape our feelings and we turn to alcohol to numb them. I am the Queen of Self Pity and Drama so I know the situation well.
    Right now all you can do is what you are doing. Forgive yourself, don’t look back, and start over. You have gone 80 Days which is fantastic. Just start over and do it again. Thinking of you.
    Maybe AA today might be a plan for you.

    It’s Easter so I have permission to eat lots of chocolate eggs and candy. Yeah. I like the cream filled chocolate eggs. Yum. Have a good day everyone.

    Oh, thanks for posting Keith B. Missed you posting here.

  5. JohnB says:

    Mermaid – today is a day like any other of those 80 days you faced before, life is ever present, fears, happiness, loneliness …today is just another day. Yesterday you were human as you have been everyday, again just another day. You will be fine, you can have peace, find your groove and get back to it today, like any other day.

    Sorry for your slip, sorry for your loneliness. We are all here for you.

    Hugs
    JB

  6. mattie says:

    Mermaid-You’ll save yourself a lot of grief by continuing on like you’re doing. Might be another year or so before you’d try again. Who knows. Just keep at it. I’ve been there. So have others.

    Julie-I feel you. I haven’t said much to anyone. You’re doing great. Keep it up.

    Megan-Happy 50 eve!

    Hi to everyone.

    mattie
    day-146
    i will not drink today

  7. Sherry says:

    Mermaid. Sorry for your slip honey and that you’re feeling bad today. All you can do is what you’re doing. Forgive yourself and move on. Day 1 must be done to get to day 80. Very brave of you to get right back on the path to a wonderful sober life. I can imagine how difficult it can be to be on your own during holidays. Sending hugs, love and strength your way today.

    Sherry

  8. Beej says:

    Good Evening Islanders,

    Posting now cause I’m not sure I’ll have time at work tomorrow. Lots going on.

    We’ve all just got to hang tough. After getting through the “holidays” and the onset of spring, I guess Easter can bring sneaky challenges.

    Sorry to hear about your slip Mermaid. I’m SOOOO happy you’ve decided to stay. Thank goodness for bad hangovers! Easter Sunday is a perfect day to lift yourself back up.

    Thanks for your wonderful post Hope. You’re truly a blessing to the island.

    Love the attitude SEG. Feel it, express it, be done with it! Please don’t feel like you ever need to hold back. We get as much out of it as you do.

    Sunshine, lean on the island as much as you like and please, never worry about “taking up space.” Like I said to SEG, there’s plenty of experience on how to do 30, but wisdom on how to overcome issues we face approaching a year and beyond is comparatively scarce. I’m sorry to hear about your friend.

    Don’t let the drinkers get you down or ever make you feel like you have anything to be sorry for Jules. There are certainly arsehulls in the world and certainly good people who don’t know what to say and foot in mouth themselves.

    Awesome work on avoiding the suds Megan. Dealing with family is one of the toughest things for me.

    I had a really convincing drinking dream. I snuck a few real gin n tonics before going back to just tonics. In the dream, I was wrestling with what to say to the island when, happily, I woke up.

    It’s taken a couple of days to shake the feeling that I cheated (albeit in my dreams). Strange.

    Beej, D 154

  9. Julie says:

    Beej and Mattie, you two are my soul mates for sure. What a blessing you are to me. I had a great day today and in deference to me no one drank. Now I think this group of friends just dragged out the Booze in yhe past because the party girl was in attendance. They all know I’m driving the wagon. Soda and iced tea were the drinks of the day. It’ serially nice when a group get together and no one drinks or talks about it.

    Mermaid, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of doing just what you did. I even have bottles of wine and a stash of vodka in my bar at home. In the past I took Brad’s advice and dumped it. This time I kept it and have not touched it. A test of my will. I’m so glad you stayed with us, because if I should falter, and I certainly could, I want to come home too. I hope you connect with new friends and find happiness. We know it’s not in the bottle, but in our minds. I love your posts and want you as my cyber.friend. Love Julie

  10. Sherry says:

    Mermaid. It’s not about a single day. It’s about your long term goal, so you can’t let one day make you lose focus of your goal. Considered having a glass of wine tonight myself just so you would have a 1 day, 2 day, 3 day……. pal, but hubby convinced me it wouldn’t help anyone myself included.

    Megan. The date/time craziness of this site has me confused about your 50th day. I think it’s today so let me send you a big hug. Really proud of you and how far you’ve come. If the day is tomorrow then I shall send you a second hug then and still proud of you.

    Hope. 257 days!! Always such thoughtful, supportive posts

    Sunshine. Sorry I missed offering support to you with your friend. I hope things work out for you both. Congrats on your 250 ish days

    SEG. Your post didn’t sound self pitying. Sounded to me like you were pondering “out loud” and that seems to be what we often do here.

    Julie. Glad you decided to stay

    Beautiful posts Grey Wolf.

    I have had a weekend full of family dinners and drinking. My not drinking hasn’t slowed anyone else down and it seems like they couldn’t care less which is perfect.

    Happy Easter and much love to all

    Sherry
    D 139.

  11. Sherry says:

    Megan. I forgot to answer your question about my image. It reads. ” life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself”

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