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. MPC says:

    I’m such a drunk. After waking up plowed out of my mind, I started working on a new bottle of vodka. I feel so amazing when I’m drunk. But I hate the sober part. I feel like garbage when I wake up. Not physical withdrawals but shame and shame and shame and shame. Alcoholics know shame better than anybody. You binge and feel like God but you wake up at 330am in the morning and feel like a shell of a person.

    I’m drunk right now at 728pm and I love it. But I hate it when I sober up. Sobriety is like a scorpion’s sting when I’m in the middle of a binge.

    I’m not a victim. I make bad/good decisions on my own accord. But I’m alson really REALLY drunk right now.

  2. Ruth says:

    Well, MPC, you are on that merry-go-round of trying to figure out how to be drunk without having to pay the piper. We have all been there… just remember, this is a three stage disease. It starts out fun! Then, fun with problems, and finally, just the problems. It is a one way trip, and the truth is, and you know this, that you are running from something, and it will still be there when you sober up. When you are ready to give it a try, we will still be here, and if you do decide to see what sober life is like, you won’t be disappointed. I don’t think everyone has to hit rock bottom in order to turn around.

  3. Megan says:

    MPC, Sending prayers and sober thoughts your way. It’s really hard to start feeling the feelings again. I have days where I panic and think, this is just too damn hard. We are here for you when you are ready.

    That’s right Matthew is the husker. Hi if you are there!!!

    My last vacation day I spent cleaning the yard and doing some landscaping, digging, raking, etc without the alcohol. Very productive day and great weather!! I don’t have to worry about waking up to a mess as I got all my tools and bags put away!!!

    Went to a good meeting last night and I finally spoke about how I went back to drinking after 6 months of sobriety since this was my home group as we AA people call it. It felt really good to talk about it finally and was met with a few hugs and lots of support. This island is awesome but I feel like I am at a place in my alcoholism where I need both. I need the face to face accountability to keep me sober and I did pick a sponsor. I decided I do want to stay sober.

    Happy Tuesday to you all (almost Wednesday) day 52, will be 52 sleeps in am !!! :):) it’s so strange that there are moments (as I was digging for landscaping) the patio will be so nice to drink on when I’m all done… yes the obsessive thoughts are still there but further between and shorter thank God!

    Megan

  4. Kathryn says:

    Megan .. Terrific on surpassing 50 days!! You sound great!

    MPC.. You know how “amazing” (your words) it was being sober for 30 days. I hope you get off the merry-go-round that Ruth mentioned soon, and back to a better place. In addition to coming here for support, why not try a local, face-to-face support group? My prayers are with you.

    Meta..How are you?

    Take care, Islanders!

  5. SEG says:

    Mattie – Just catching up from a busy day yesterday. I can match you on the romancing the drink. We were at a fund raiser dinner for an inner city renewal group we help with, and the back patio with stocked bar was looking so good. All the guys (and I mean ALL) were walking around with the 12 year old scotch in there hands, the women with red wine, and little old me with tonic water. The house had wall to wall racks of red wine. Some part of me felt like a turd. The eye can not be satisfied.

    So the thing we must remember is the fantasy does not compete with reality. I went home and was available to talk with my wife, play with my kids, do some work before bed. In the past I would have gone home and just fallen asleep, woken up guilty, and done it all again. I have 23 better hours than before and 1 hour that is maybe worse. A reality I can live with and competes nicely with the fantasy of a nice scotch and cig.

    No one ever said sobriety is easy. But it is great.

    Megan – Glad you are finding support at your home group. I have had a tough schedule lately and really been to few meetings and it is no fun at all.

    Got to roll.

    a few more weeks to 18m.

  6. mattie says:

    Hope-Thank-you. Nice thoughts and i appreciate them. I will put this to good use. Good seeing you and congrats on your sobriety!

    Gabriel-thanks! I appreciate your thoughts on the smoking too. You and Julie (and others) make me feel a lot better about it. Great job to you!!

    Mermaid-Thank-you! Appreciate you words.

    SEG-thanks. I hear you. Luckily for me i haven’t been out and about much, but there have been some moments like you describe. Glad you’re handling it well. Good for you!

    I’m feeling much better. Looks like another nice day. Hope everyone is doing well. Check in and say hi.

    mattie
    day-149
    i will not drink today

  7. Gabriel says:

    Good morning everyone.

    Megan I liked your post. You sound like you have a lot of insight into your drinking. Hope your patio looks nice…it will be nice to enjoy without alcohol as well!

    I’m doing well. Yesterday I had a chance to get together with a bunch of old friends I used to hang out with and work with professionally. We would work hard and get together after work and always hit up the bar. No one ever knew I had a problem (perhaps I did not realize it at that stage in my life), but I decided not to go to avoid a potential trigger. I feel bad because I missed out on a nice evening with old friends (and I probably could have done some networking). I just find it easier not to put myself in situations like that right now…. I know one thing for sure…I am happy to wake up with a clear head and no hangover this AM!

    Have a good sober day everyone!

    Gabriel
    Day 108

  8. Gabriel says:

    Mattie-glad you are feeling better. Yes, it looks like a nice day!

  9. Beej says:

    Good Morning Islanders,

    I was thinking about the island some last night, about the poison, and about the pull it can have, even many months after the physical addiction has waned.

    I’m sure I’m about the 14,403rd person to make this observation, but it’s so much like a broken relationship. We spend so much time bashing alcohol that we forget there were good times too.

    She helped us through awkward social situations, let us speak our minds when the truth was hard to say, taught us to dance and sing karaoke, let us put away our work day, and provided comfort when we were broken and hurt. Being great in bed and the life of the party didn’t hurt.

    Whether she was an evil temptress all along or we became obsessed, unhealthy stalkers doesn’t really matter. That relationship is now poison. Sure, we can fake it for a few days, weeks, or months, but we know how that ends even as we’re pulling into the hotel parking lot.

    What we have now in sobriety is a descent looking, late 30’s widow with a 9yo son, 4yo subaru, and impeccable credit. She’s not much on the nightlife, but has taught us to garden, mountain bike, and save for retirement.

    It’s not that sobriety is superior in every way. It’s that it’s much better for us and makes us happier overall. Like any marriage partner, either demands a total commitment. Choose wisely!

    Beej D 157

  10. SEG says:

    Beej – I always liked the analogy of Pinocchio and Pleasure Island. At first …awesome. Later…Donkey ears and no way out.

    Our new Island is Life Island. Not as glorious but alive.

  11. Richard says:

    Wow. Lots going on.

    Hope thanks for the check in.

    I started this run at sobriety 51 days ago. I did 32 days and then had a couple beers on a desert trip over the weekend and had too many bourbons around the campfire. Like you mermaid I felt like shit and that was easy motivation to get back on track. I really couldn’t believe how bad I felt the next day from the hangover. I guess while drinking we get used to the feeling and become numb to it not to mention all the other great things that go with hangovers.

    Hang in there all

    D18

    Viva la Isla

  12. Richard says:

    BTW what happend to the page #s we’re back at 72 and last I remember we were at 114. No I haven’t been drinking :-)

  13. Mermaid says:

    Back on dry land. No I wasn’t drinking either, just did a freezing cold sailing trip. Wearing survival suit and loving it! But I’m really looking forward to summer sailing.

    Richard-I agree. Couldn’t believe how hard I got hit with the hangover. In some ways it actually did a good job confirming the sober way is the only way for me.

    Beej- great post on the sick relationship with booze! Looking back I could have done better choices with choosing boyfriends but I looked at them through the bottom of the wine bottle.
    I’m kind of dating(very early days) someone kind, calm, funny and very sweet right now. He doesn’t drink which is a relief to me. In the days of my bottle goggles I would not have looked at him twice.

    SEG- Life Island indeed. My favorite hangout!

    Have a peaceful and sober evening everyone.
    Mermaid D4

  14. JohnB says:

    Great posts tonight, good to hear from you Richard! Beej – fantastic post, great analogy :) Mermaid, happy to hear about the dating front for you, you deserve it! Mattie – glad to see you out of the funk, so steadfast, proud to watch you work sobriety, closing in on half a year!! Megan – past the half century and onwards!! SEG – astute observations as always, Ruth great to hear from you, Kathryn cruising right along.

    MPC – it’s your ride, you can choose to get on or off at anytime. You have ripped off long stretches before so you know it’s in you and, while difficult, not drinking is a choice. All of us here have romanced that bitch fooling ourselves that maybe this time we can get the better of it. Each time we wake up and do the wake of shame feeling used and stupid. I wish you strength.

    All is well here. Since breaking 100 things have calmed down for me and I have had a couple of solid weeks. Relationship wise I feel as if I am in a groove but that has more to do with my self esteem and confidence and accepting things I have no control over. My wife and I are continuing to communicate better and things seem to be on a good track.

    Will check in later all

    Peace
    JB

  15. Sherry says:

    Evening Islanders

    Burr, cold day to be on the water today Mermaid. I would imagine you find it beautiful no matter it’s state. Calm and sparkling in the suns rays or turbulent and powerful as the wind gusts.

    Good post Kathryn. Powerful point you made on “amazing”

    SEG- Today I noticed a couple having a wine in large glasses, but only 1/4 full (6OZ). “Pfffff, fill the glass up” I thought to myself. I would need 2 or 3 that size just to get through my meal. It really is never enough is it? Not likely you would have been satisfied with just a small glass of scotch either. Well done on winning over temptation.

    Mattie – 5 times 30 sleeps eve. Well done!!

    Gabriel – I’m sure there will be many more opportunities to get together with your colleagues when you’re ready. We have to do what’s best for us right now. Hold your sobriety closely and guard it well.

    Beej, great analogy!! Lucky (?) for me I have already spent many, many years partying. Didn’t do a lot of it when I was young, but got really good at it with a couple of girlfriends in my 40’s
    The last few years turned from being the party girl to being the home drunk – more often when alone. Started to worry I would be plunked down in a chair in front of the TV with the curtains drawn, downing a bottle of vodka everyday before passing out in my chair. Scary stuff! Rambling on while trying to say for me alcohol has lost all of it’s charm and no longer helps me be better at anything except self abuse.

    Richard – welcome back at 18 days. Good to hear you got right back at it.

    Packing for my holiday without alcohol! New thing to learn, but as I plan on not coming home from one holiday before I plan another I should get good at it shortly. Hardy har har!

    I think I’m as much fun sober as I was drunk, maybe more fun. Hope it’s not annoying.

    Hugs to you all
    Sherry

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