How Quitting Alcohol Solved 95% of My Bad Habits: An Essay On Sobriety vs. Drinking
I haven’t drank alcohol in two years and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I removed alcohol from my life’s equation, I cut out 95% of my life’s poorest decisions and worst habits. A quick disclaimer: this won’t be a sermon on sobriety or why drinking is good or bad in the absolute sense — instead, I’ll tell you a story.
How It Began
It all started two years ago right before I left my digital marketing job and I decided to go cold turkey from alcohol after realizing that drinking was the foundation on which every other vice in my life stood. It wouldn’t take more than a couple drinks down the ol’ gullet before it felt like a snowball of hedonistic impulses began tumbling down my life’s hill, its momentum gaining speed with every sip. I’d immediately start feeling like I was in lack and start craving for a secondary sensory input, then a tertiary sensual pleasure, and so on — Anyone got dip? Ya’ll want to smoke? Should I text her this late?
Now to be clear, I never had a major problem with drinking. I didn’t feel like I was addicted, I never blacked out (this is of course, RE: post-college), and I handled myself fairly well most nights out. I was a responsible, law-abiding citizen working a full-time job, moving up the corporate ladder. Just a normal dude having some drinks on the weekend, and maybe that would lead to varying degrees of intoxication ranging from “yeah, I’m feelin’ it” to “dude, I’m wasted.”
No big deal, right?
Looking back, it turns out that a small amount of alcohol played a much bigger role in my decision-making than I had thought at the time.
Like I said, it didn’t take much before my software unconsciously started craving other sensory inputs — and those first sips are where the problems started. Alcohol made all my cravings more prominent. It was only when I stopped drinking that I realized what a difference sobriety made.
What was the Result?
In short, my greatest misdeeds crumbled to the ground. I’m far from perfect in so many ways, but I can say with a high degree of confidence that ever since this decision, my poorest decisions and worst habits were cut from the root. All at once I stopped drinking, dipping, smoking, and sleeping with people I shouldn’t be sleeping with. It was a pretty dramatic life change and has served me well ever since in mind and body.
“Ah, can’t you have just one,” my friends would ask at first.
Sure, I could have just one, but one typically leads to two, two to three, and so on. Just a few sips and my mind loses its balance and self-discipline. There was just no guarantee for me how quickly that momentum of impulsive decision-making could build. As the frequency at which I turned down their generous and well-meaning offers increased over time, my friends began to understand what was going on and flat out stopped offering me drinks. Even if I was asked, there came a point where I didn’t have to think twice about saying no and that’s when sobriety became second nature.
Not only did my poorest habits fade away, other good things started happening too. I became more creative in my writing and I read more often. I stopped staying out late and started waking up earlier. Overall, my body felt better and my mind was thanking me for it.
But I want to bring the focus back to my poor decisions and bad habits… or rather, the elimination of them. I can’t stress this outcome enough, above whatever other benefits might have come. I mean, how often do you wake up after a night of drinking and think “man, I shouldn’t have done/said that to him/her/myself.” For me, it was often enough to consider cutting it out entirely and it saved me a ton of time dwelling in the past.
Why Do We Drink?
I was having a conversation the other day with some friends about alcohol and what struck me is that while one of us abstains and the other drinks, we came to agree that our choices are based upon the same fundamental idea — having control over the mind. Specifically, having more or less control over it.
The Untrained Mind is Chaos
Now stay with me here, because to better understand this subject of “having control over the mind”, we have to understand chaos vs. order, and for that we can turn to myth and psychology. Chaos vs. order is one of the oldest ideological concepts humans have woven into their mythology and story (in Greek mythology, Chaos [“Chasm”] was the first thing to exist, out of which came darkness). The concept is also foundational to many religions (in Christianity, in the beginning there was the word… and the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it; thus bringing order to the world), as well as a variety of spiritual teachings.
If we take an objective look at our mind, we can quickly see that the mind is mostly chaotic. Our thoughts are discursive and we jump from thought to thought, often in an irrational manner. It is our own mind that creates false realities and imposes suffering onto itself.
Given that the mind is chaos, pretty much everything we do in this life is to reduce that amount of chaos (psychologists like Mihlay in his book Flow, call this internal chaos psychic entropy). On the grand scale of humanity, we create entire societies to usher children into an otherwise strange and unmanageable world. We create belief systems to bring order to a universe filled with unknown mysteries. We make music and art and write and play sports, all with defined rules and guidelines that make their creation and execution an easier process. We stand on the shoulders of giants because without these systems (societies, governments, music, games) the world might very well be anarchy and dare I say… chaos.
Now, think for a second on much smaller, moment-to-moment scale. Here, our minds experience order through a variety of different ways. One of the main ways is just by listening to music. At its simplest definition, music is just ordered sound, and that’s the reason music is seriously everywhere — in the shops, showers, sedans, you name it. On our way to work, while we’re working, after we’re done working. Without it, we begin to feel uncomfortable. We’re trapped in silence.. with our own thoughts! And most people don’t want to spend time with their own thoughts (more chaos, remember?). When we have songs stuck in our heads, that’s because our mind has reached out from the chaos and found order in that moment.
Whew, okay, now back to alcohol. Both my drinker friend and I have the desire to bring order to the mind. We want freedom from it’s insane chatter and endless self-rumination. It’s just that we have different perspectives and utilize different tactics on how to accomplish that freedom.
One tactic (sobriety) requires work and the other tactic (drinking) requires leisure. One takes years to master and the other provides instant gratification. One of us wants to make choices and the other wants to let go of choice entirely. One of us is concerned with taking control and the other with losing control. Either way, both choices of sobriety and drinking result in subjective “freedom”.
I can see the appeal and the logic in his decision to drink to gain freedom from his mind, and understand it wholeheartedly because I’ve been there, but this tactic of drinking starts to become dangerous when one begins to consider if this method is actually solving your problems or perpetuating and reinforcing a regressive behavior.
Personal Bias, Disclosed:
While the practice of removing alcoholic intake from my life has remained consistent for two years, my reasoning for doing so has changed over time. This reasoning is bound to change again, probably to something much closer to “eh, that doesn’t really matter to me anymore. Who cares?” I will then be called a hypocrite for writing this piece in the first place. But for now, while I’m still in sobriety, my reasoning has evolved from simply wanting to make better decisions to also include the idea that alcohol is an anesthetic.
It’s a well-known fact that alcohol was given to patients awaiting surgery back in the day because it numbs sensations on the body. This is extremely important to consider since these bodily sensations are the foundation of our emotions (see science, interoception). It is also the anchor for vipassana mediation practice, a technique which focuses on scanning bodily sensations. Therefore, since alcohol numbs the body’s sensations (or the mind’s ability to feel into them, I’m not entirely sure which one is more accurate, but the principal idea remains the same), and the foundation of this meditation practice involves scanning those bodily sensations, a personal bias has been reinforced within my belief system in support of sobriety.
Could Pain Be Essential?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling pain, or feeling whatever unpleasant sensation it is that you’re feeling. Pain and discomfort are essential to our personal growth and motivation. Each spurs decision-making and movement towards what our mind and body think best for us (whether they are right or not is a whole different conversation). If we dive into alcohol, we’ll be momentarily avoiding and suppressing those feelings, those life situations that our bodies are trying to tell us needs changed. The most rewarding experiences we have in this life are typically the midst of pain (think writer’s block or wanting to quit in the midst of a marathon, research study, relationship), but when we emerge out of those experiences, we become a more complex being and we look back at that experience as being a memorable and worthwhile pursuit. So if w’ere escaping those uncomfortable feelings every weekend, we could very well be resisting what our bodies are trying to get us to actually experience and confront.
Perhaps my lifestyle will change one day. Perhaps I’ll slip back into a different spectrum of morality and open myself up to drinks a few times a year. But thus far, in each and every phase of my life since I’ve stopped drinking, I haven’t found a single benefit that alcohol could provide me that I haven’t found elsewhere by substituting other mental techniques or just flat out just standing around and trying my best to enjoy myself.
That was my story, but this comes down to you. Is drinking a foundational pillar for poor decisions and bad habits in your life? Why is it that you drink? Do you use it as a crutch? If so, what is it you are avoiding? Does drinking provide greater value to your life, body and mind than to a world lived without it? Have you tested both assumptions?
I don’t think anyone should “stand against” drinking. That’s just silly. Nearly all my family and best friends drink and they’re all great, loving people who I’d never want to change unless from of their own will and desire to do so. Let other people drink if they want to and wish them happiness in it. I’m not judging (I drank a ton in college), but that’s not even the point, because where I am today is a place that is neither better nor worse than the past, it’s simply different.
What Works for You?
What you should think about is you and what I should continue to think about is me. All I am saying is that supporting sobriety might be worth your consideration because it might just change your life. Now relax and drink in all the wondrous possibilities. Cheers to you my dear friend!
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If you haven’t read it yet, check out this post about my journey as a writer.