11 Surprising Things I Learned from Not Drinking for a Year

That's right! You might not have expected this post since I play in a band called Wasted 24/7 (just sneaking in some promo here) and pretty much embodied that term for a big part of his life, but aside from the occasional accident (damn you woman, feeding me gin tonic when I asked for water), I haven't touched a drink in 13 months.

That sounded much more serious than it is though 😉 When I decided to quit drinking for a while I had no plan, no goal to reach, no nothing.  I just decided that, starting that day, I wouldn't drink until I wanted to drink again.  Meanwhile, I'd observe what would change in my life because of that decision and what wouldn't.

To my surprise I actually liked it and it was a lot different from what I expected, so I decided after a year it's time to share my experiences.  If it sounds like I'm trying to convince you not to drink with this post, that's not my intention at all.  But if you ever thought about it, here's what you can expect:

 

1. 80% of Your Hangover Is Not Caused By Alcohol

I totally didn't expect this because when I was still drinking, all my non-drinking friends kept rubbing it in my face how they didn't have hangovers.  I suspect that was just because they went home early.

When I quit drinking, I didn't quit going out.  In fact, at some point I actually partied for 30 days straight.  One of the first things I noticed is that I felt just as fucked up after going out sober as I did after downing 2-3 bottles of whiskey.

You know how they say that the best way to cure a hangover is to sleep through it? Well that's mostly it.  When you go out, you don't sleep as much or as deeply.  Alcohol is one of the causes for that.  But other than that,  you also subject yourself to tons of other Zeitgebers:

• Continuous social interaction

• Flashing lights

• Loud music

• Getting hyped up

• Dancing

• Walking around

And you usually stay up later than you do on regular days, which fucks with your sleep cycles.
While my hangovers used to be a little worse, quitting alcohol actually only made a negligible difference.  The only thing that fixes that completely is not going out.

 

2. You Become a Superhuman on Non-Hangover Days

This is the good part. I never realized how much the consumption of alcohol affects our body on days where we don't drink until I stopped doing it.

It takes a while for this effect to kick in (I'd say about 1-3 months), but all of a sudden you start to notice how different your body feels when you consume less toxins (similar to when you start eating healthier consistently). Some of the things that started improving rapidly after that point were:

• Strength

• Energy

• Mental clarity

• Concentration

• Alertness/Reflexes

• Productivity

• Motivation

• Restfulness

• Consciousness

• Depth of connections with people

• Honesty & openness

• Peacefulness (less anxiety)

• Emotional Stability

• Self-confidence

• Self-control

• (Self-)awareness

The thing is though, when you stop drinking for a short while, a lot of these areas start to get worse at first.  Because you're adjusting to a new way of living and possibly experience some mild detox symptoms (as with anything your body is dependent on).  But if you stick with it, the difference is night and day.  That's probably the biggest reason I'm not drinking again.  It's just not worth the trade-off for me at the moment.

 

3. You Don't Save Any Money By Quitting

Really, you'd expect you'd do, but you don't.  Unless you get really anal about your expenses.  And as much as we all love getting anal, when you're going out you should be having fun instead of counting pennies all the time.

The thing is that non-alcoholic drinks are finished much quicker by the end of the night than the alcoholic ones, and they don't manage to distract you from the fact that you're very thirsty like alcohol manages to do.

 

4. You'll be Shocked How Dependent You Were On Your Drink to Get In State

There's something to be said about the power of alcohol as a social lubricant / mood enhancer.  Sometimes it can really help you feel like every interaction you have goes super smooth and you say or do exactly the right things at the right time (whether that's true or not is debatable).  To make those new friends, tget everyone to like you, or to get that yummy person into your bed and out of their clothes.  This is largely because alcohol impairs our cognitive abilities.  Which can be helpful when we are stuck in our head too much instead of acting on our gut feeling/intuition.

When you first start going out sober, you notice it's a little harder to get in that perfect state again. To shut off that little voice in your head. To really stop caring what people think of you instead of just saying you don't. To open up and make yourself a little vulnerable to rejection when meeting new people.

You're forced to learn to just enjoy the moment and feel good for no reason, when before alcohol was actually a major part of the reason.

Even if you love drinking, this is definitely something worth learning.  Because once you learn to depend on nothing but yourself to get in that crazy party mood instead of external things, you can basically feel amazing whenever you want and still maintain complete awareness of everything going on around you and inside you.

 

5. We Use Alcohol to Make Us Feel OK About the Things We Don't Like

• Boring family dinner with people you don't like but have to pretend-like because you're related? -----» "Alcohol, fast!"

• Feel bad because you got involved with some guy you knew up front was an asshole and then he -who could've guessed- treated you like an asshole? -----» "Where's the vodka?"

• Hours-long formal business dinner about something that could actually be solved in 30 minutes if we skipped the formalities and small talk.  -----» "ALCOHOOOL... SOMEBODY?? Please, I'm dying here."

When you stop drinking, surprisingly you notice there's a lot of places you hang out just because all your friends go there.  Place that you actually don't really like but assume you "have to go to keep the peace", when in fact you always have a choice not to go.

There's probably even some friends of your friends you don't like unless you're drunk. Guess what? You don't have to tolerate those things!  Just spend your time doing things that make you happy and say no to anything that's not really your cup of tea.  Problem solved without alcohol.

 

6. We Use Alcohol to Make Us Feel Okay About the Things We Do Like

Because we are often afraid of getting judged, we let alcohol take the fall for our behavior.  This way, we don't have to own our desires.

• "Yeah I kissed her but I really didn't mean to, I was just drunk." instead of "Sometimes I just like kissing someone for no particular reason.  And that's okay."

• "I made a mistake, but I was drunk so it doesn't count." instead of "I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway.  And now I want to be a little bitch by not accepting the consequences of my actions.  So I'll wear alcohol as a consequence-proof vest."

I don't know if this is the same for everyone but come on, honestly: Unless you were literally unconscious and someone took your hands and made you steal that road sign against your will, wasn't there a part of you that always thought it would be fun to put it in your bedroom but never did it because people would judge you for it if you did it when sober?

I know I wanted to!

I personally made tons of mistakes while drunk.  And some really bad ones too. The point is, some part of me wanted to make them at the time because they seemed fun. The only thing the booze changed was that I didn't care about the consequences anymore. So yes, I didn't want the consequences, but I did want to make those mistakes on some level.  That doesn't mean I'd repeat them, but they were my mistakes.  Not the whiskey's mistakes.  Whiskey has no brain.  Simple as that.  I don't remember ever getting drunk and doing something "bad" I really didn't want to do. Then again I don't remember a lot of times I got drunk, so who knows, maybe it could be true sometimes 😉

There's a good lesson here too: Own your desires.  Be proud of who you are.  Maybe some things you want to do are generally frowned upon.  As long as you're not hurting anybody, do them anyway.  If you think the consequences for others or yourself are not worth the short fun of doing it, then don't.  Simple as that.  Also, don't be afraid of making mistakes and admitting you made them.  If you don't, how will you ever learn?

Life's too short to wait on convenient excuses to do everything you secretly desire.  And it's also too short to spend it wallowing in regret that could've been avoided.  Or being paralyzed by fear of having to admit making a mistake here and there 🙂

 

7. We Use Alcohol As a Shield Against Criticism

This one is actually like number 6 but a little more sneaky. Here's an example from my own life:

The day before I was supposed to play a gig, I always told myself I'd rest well to keep be in good shape the next day.  Then I would just meet for one drink, and suddenly come home around 6-7am.  Of course to top it all off, I'd decide I'd better not sleep to avoid a hangover.
Sometimes I'd keep drinking to maintain the same energy level until the show.  Sometimes I would be sleeping on the floor back stage until 2 minutes before I had to play.

This is what I used to think was going on when something like that happened:
"I genuinely wanted to only have one drink but then the night was exceptionally fun, so I just went along with it and I had the time of my life.  Now I better get myself in shape to make the most of this gig."

This is what was really going on:
Since I chose to drink so much I would either have a huge hangover or skip sleep entirely and was now no longer accountable for any criticism.

Did I sing bad? "Yeah could be, normally I sing great but it was just because I have been partying all night..."

Did I play sloppy? "Possibly, I was shitfaced."

No matter how bad people would've tried to criticize me, it wouldn't've hurt because in my mind it wasn't my fault. That's too bad though, because constructive criticism and taking responsibility for the quality of your work and relationships are just what you need to improve rapidly in those areas 🙂

Now how can you relate this to your life?

• Did you fail any exams because you were partying too much?  -----»  "Alcohol-shield!"

• Did you fail to make it to your friend's birthday party and now they're mad? -----»  "These are not the droids you're looking for."

• Did you fail to get it up when you finally took your crush home? -----»  "Whiskey-dick!"

The sad irony here is that because we are secretly afraid to fail, we do something that actually increase the chances of failure a tenfold just because we think that means we wouldn't have to take responsibility for our own failure.  While the failure itself could've easily been avoided by just working harder. In the end, if we still failed it wouldn't matter because it would teach us where our weak spots are so we can work on those.

 

8. It Makes You Irresistible to Both Sexes

Really, I'm living proof.

Nah, just kidding.

...or am I just saying that I'm kidding to appear less narcissistic?

You'll never know it unless you try for yourself 😉

 

9. The Social Pressure Is Real

I never expected this to be so severe, but when you quit drinking a lot of people suddenly judge the shit out of you.  Don't see this as something bad though, it's actually quite an entertaining pattern to watch:

STAGE 1:

When you first announce you don't drink, these people voice their support and applaud you for your brave decision like it's some kind of big heroic thing to do.  Really, it's not, it's actually easier than drinking since you have to do less.

STAGE 2:

This is the part where they start to sense that you're actually succeeding at it, and a lot of them don't like it one bit for at least 2 reasons.

First of all:  Seeing you succeed and have fun with it instead of having a hard time actually confronts them with the fact that deep down they don't believe they could do it if they wanted to.

...and/or...

They somehow believe that you now look down upon everyone who does drink, and are afraid that if you stay sober you'll feel better than them and will leave them behind.

In any case, now they will actively try to make  you fail. Some of them will go as far as buying you shots every single time they see you and then acting insulted that you don't drink them.

Others will just try to convince you to fail in a not so subtle way.  Some of the funniest things I heard from people, including people who normally act supportive when it comes to other things:

• "You already succeeded in not drinking for 3 weeks, that means you are not addicted. You've got nothing left to prove to anyone so drink, now. " (You're kinda missing the point. I'm not doing this for you but for myself.)

• "Come on dude. It's just one drink! It's always better to do something that's bad for you in moderation than to be so strict about it.  That won't make you happy at all." (Well I'm pretty strict about not raping people. And I'm also pretty sure raping people in moderation wouldn't be a change for the better.  Also, what's the point of having one drink? If I wanted to "not get drunk" I could just have some water, if I wanted to get shitfaced, one drink wouldn't do it at all)

• "You're not fun unless you're drunk." (Like ,really mo'fucker? Then why are you friends with me? )

Also worth mentioning, I remember one single person saying the following to me, and I loved him for his honesty:

"When you don't drink, it makes me feel bad about my own drinking habits, which makes me enjoy your company less on nights when I drink."

Now that's a true friend. Putting his own ego aside to open up about the fact that something you do makes him feel bad but he still respects your choice 🙂

STAGE 3:

These people now accept the fact that they can not influence you to start drinking again until you want to and realize that it won't make you leave them behind (although you might want to leave behind the unsupportive ones still stuck in stage 2 because they fear you will, ironically) so they stop giving you shit for it. However they still act like you need to justify your behavior for some reason. Are you on medication? Probation? 12-steps program?

Any reason will suffice except for admitting that you just tried it and found out you liked not drinking.  Since I started doing this just to see what would happen I hear people trying to defend my choices when they introduce me to someone new "Oh no, it's not that he doesn't like drinking anymore. He's not a loser or something. It's just an experiment he's doing at the moment, you'll see..."
I suspect if you have a driver's license, they will always tell people you're the designated driver instead of just admitting you don't drink because you don't want to.

STAGE 4:

They start to secretly ask you for advice, or simply admit that they have realized they have no desire to quit drinking and you should know it.

This is actually kind of funny when you think about this whole cycle, because you never judged them one bit for drinking, they just thought you were constantly judging them while they were judging themselves.

Anyone who is okay with their own drinking habits would never see any problem with you not drinking.

Also, any sober person who is a 100% okay with their own relationship to alcohol wouldn't be judging others for it IMHO.

So here's a great tip to learn something about yourself:

Do you think all people who drink water/coke instead of beer are losers?

Then you are probably judging yourself for your own drinking habits. That doesn't mean the habits are bad, but it does indicate you need to work on self-acceptance.

 

10. When You Use Alcohol to Run Away from Something, You'll Actually Running In Place

This is kind of weird to discover about yourself because for most of us, when we drink we rarely say. "I need to run away from X instead of dealing with it, so time for a drink." We just think we feel like partying.

But when all of a sudden you never drink, you suddenly start to see patterns. Every time X happens you suddenly feel like you want to party.  X might be stress you need to learn to cope with, some bad situation you don't want to think of right now, negative feelings you don't want to be feeling...

Often you'll not be able to feel what X is. But suddenly you need a drink. Not because you're addicted and are feeling withdrawal symptoms.  It's something different, more subtle, that we all feel.

For me, the first time I wanted to go out and drink didn't come until after a couple of weeks, and when I didn't have one I noticed I started craving other things.
Weed, coffee, cigarettes, sex, junk food, healthy food, social interaction, hugging, television, literally running, traveling, reading (not in that particular order) etc.

After a while I noticed a clear pattern:
Every time I wanted to drink and didn't, I started craving one of these other things.  And if I didn't give in to the craving the list would go on and on.  What I found interesting was that some of the things on there, like junk food, cigarettes or television are things I normally never do.  Because I don't even like them.

Suddenly it became clear to me. I was just forcibly trying to occupy my mind so it wouldn't think of the things I am running way from, no matter how big or little they were.

Then I looked at everyone around me. We are all constantly numbing our minds with something. Mostly television, unhealthy food, pills and unproductive internet use. We do this because we are all running away from some things we are afraid of dealing with or find uncomfortable to fully accept as true. Truth be told, I think most of us don't even know what we're running away from. We might not even think we're running at all because our mind is sneaky and frames it in funny ways to trick us:

• "How great is it to come home and watch 6 TV-shows after a long boring day doing work I secretly hate!"

• "I'm not lonely, I feel good and I'm just horny!"

• "What break-up? I just really love Ben & Jerry's today."

Then I also realized there is NO point. You may think you're running away but you're really just wasting all your energy while running in place, because at the end of the day when you close your eyes and start to dream it is still there.

While you were running, whatever you was afraid of didn't go away.  And whatever you couldn't accept about yourself, your life or the reality around you is still there waiting for you to either accept it or do something about it.

So the next time I felt like I was in a good mood for a drink I sat down on my bed and let all the cravings pass one by one, even some of the more abstract ones like "thinking" or "sleeping" (this is where I noticed how tricky it is, it's like people who quit smoking and then eat healthy apples but actually use them to run away from the same feelings of stress), until there were no escape routes anymore.

Suddenly I felt really bad and I started to realize all kinds of things that had been waiting until I was ready to deal with them all my life. That was kind of a shock since I always thought there were no such things.

If feeling like that sounds horrible, that's because it is. But afterwards you know exactly what you need to get handled, which feels like a major shift in consciousness. Then you just get over it and handle it no matter what it takes and you feel happier than ever.

The good part? After you sober up for a short while and quit running away you can still enjoy all those cravings, but when you feel them, you know it will really be about fully enjoying the experience and not about numbing yourself. And you know what? That makes it all even better.

Suddenly you will deeply enjoy the taste that bag of potato chips instead of mindlessly devouring it in 30 seconds while watching whatever is on TV at the moment, or you'll be having sex with someone because you want to give it to them, not because you needed it really bad.

Another cool thing is that now that you've identified these patterns of avoidance in your own behavior, you are aware of them and know when a craving is really a craving (I like you and want to eat you!) and not a way of avoiding something more important (OMG I really need X right now.) So you can safely enjoy your vices while tackling any important problems that you need to deal with.

 

11. Your Life Doesn't Become More Boring

To be honest I expected it to, and it's one of the first things people always ask me.
At the start it might, but that's just because we have tons of positive associations strongly linked to alcohol.

"Fun, party, crazy, unpredictable, social, sexy", etc. It might even be tied to your identity on some level, like it was with me.
If according to your ego you are the guy who always brings the party, how can you still be that guy if you don't drink?

That alone might probably settle you up with a small identity crisis until you realize "alcohol", "fun" and "party" are not synonyms.

Think about it. If they only served water at a party but everyone's behavior remained exactly the same as when serving liquor, would the party still be there? Yup.
As long as you can still allow yourself to be a fun guy instead of a boring one, you won't become more boring. Some people might think you are because they will expect you to be and thus engage in more boring interactions with you, but that's their problem.

You can ALWAYS have fun if you want to.
You know you're on the right track when every time you do something someone yells "...and he's not even DRUNK!"

Just go do some fun, un-boring things every day and your life won't be 😉
The cool thing is, now that you do them sober you will not only enjoy them more intensely, you will feel so much more alive because you know it's all happening because you chose to do it, instead of blaming alcohol for all the fun nights as well 🙂

 

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