I decided to give up drinking in December 2022 as an experiment. Sober curiosity finally got the better of me so I decided to take a year off the sauce and observe the effects. I wanted to know if a dry year would lead to any meaningful difference in life quality. The TLDR version is: yes, living alcohol free has had a sizable impact in a number of areas in my life.
This will be my last post on the subject because, honestly, it's a bit of a boring topic for me now. It's become a non-issue and doesn't occupy any mindshare these days.
Yes, my life is better in many ways and no, I don't plan on drinking again.
The past 13 Months in a Nutshell
- The first month or so, I was excited. Logging into my "I am Sober" app to check my streak count on a daily basis and noticing improvements to my productivity, sleep, exercise and clarity of thought.
- After 3 months, it was more about realizing self respect and living in line with my values. Clarity of thought and productivity were also key improvements during this period.
- After 4 months I really noticed physical changes in body composition and strength. Confidence increased, blood pressure dropped and high levels of happiness.
- After 7 months I kinda forgot how bad it was before I quit drinking. But luckily I had some journal entries to look back on and remind myself. I also noticed that quitting drinking is not a panacea.
- After 9 months I just never really thought about it. It's become the norm. I've also noticed a few people in my friend and family circle raising the topic and even considering the alcohol free experiment for themselves.
- And now, after 13 months, I'm kinda bored with the topic and want to get on with other things in my life, which is honestly great!
My Previous Relationship with Alcohol
As I've mentioned before, I wasn't a daily drinker and by no means an alcoholic but I was a binge drinker over the weekends. I'd go out with my mates and usually be the last to go home. After a night out, I never had the urge to drink the next day - in fact, for me, it was quite the opposite. So I can't relate to stories of people going on 3 week binges sending their life into a complete tailspin. But, I can say that my binges were enough to leave me in bed the next day and sometimes, after a full on rampage, I'd need a few days just to return to normal. I put myself firmly in the weekend warrior category.
Changes after One Year Alcohol Free
- Achieved more - I keep a "life highlight log" that includes any notable achievement or experience. Last year was just packed with items. I took up camping, visited 6 countries, started a new property company, explored so many different places in the Philippines, finalized my residency (which involved a mountain of bureaucracy and paperwork), came 3rd in a pool tournament in SEA, played in my first ever professional event in Vietnam, sold my software company and got the strongest I've ever been in the gym. It's hard to say how much I would have achieved if I hadn't given up drinking - as a guess, I've achieved and experienced roughly 40% more than I would have.
- More consistent - I'm more dogged and consistent with my pool training, going to the gym and all my other positive habits. Before, when I was regularly binging, it always felt like I was taking two steps forward and one step back. The binges were interrupting positive momentum and causing me to always "reset" and pick up the pieces. That's no longer the case.
- Stronger psychologically - My willpower to push through things I don't want to do is noticeably more pronounced. For me, resistance always comes from dealing with things like bureaucracy, paperwork, accounting and boring non-creative work. It also comes when tasks are overwhelmingly large and I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel. This last year, though, I've just plowed through pretty much everything without much in the way of procrastination. I've had a mountain of "boring" unavoidable stuff in the form of residency applications, interviews, accounting stuff relating to the sale of a company, taxation issues and meeting with lawyers etc. I've just been able to consistency face that feeling of resistance and keep moving forward more so than previous years.
- Life is more enjoyable when not drinking - Small things like going for a coffee while reading a book just feel more enjoyable. I also seem to have more enthusiasm to adventure and explore. Camping, for example, has become a new hobby of mine and I just love jumping in the car to explore a new part of the country, sit in front of a fire and relax in nature. I've noticed that regular drinking just seems to dampen the enjoyment of everything that doesn't involve alcohol.
- Higher self esteem - I'm actually quite proud of myself for quitting drinking completely for such a length of time. I'm living more in line with the values that I aspire to which makes me happier in my own skin and more confident. When I look back over my journal notes during the period when I was regularly drinking, social anxiety and fear got a regular mention. These issues have become increasingly irrelevant over the past year, so much so that I actually completely forgot that they were ever an issue in the first place. I always recommend keeping a journal of how you feel while you're drinking so that you have something to look back on and compare after you quit. You can't really underestimate how much high self esteem filters down to all facets of your life - for me, specifically, I'm now far more social and comfortable in my own skin around others.
- Sleep hasn't changed much - I can't say that my sleep patterns have improved much but I mainly put that down to other issues with my sleep hygiene. I do seem to have a more consistent sleep schedule, though, which is definitely a massive positive.
- Blood pressure dropped - Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements dropped by an average of around 10 points. Blood pressure inversely correlates with all cause mortality so any reduction is very welcome.
On Experiencing Life...
This last year, being alcohol free really helped me to experience life as much as possible. I made the most out of 2023 more than any other year.
On Drinking And Success..
It's clearly possible to become successful even while drinking to at least a reasonable degree. For me, personally, I managed to attain a certain degree of success in business while getting rendered a few times pretty much every week for the past 20 years or so. However, I think it's probably understated just how much of a headwind drinking can be to your progress. My experience might not be equivalent to yours but I doubt I'm the exception here.
Unlike something like meth, whereby you can legitimately destroy your whole damn life and end up homeless, alcohol is more subtle and insidious. In some ways, it's worse, because it can trick you into thinking that it's not having any negative effect on your life at all. Living on the streets as a meth addict, it's easy to see there's a problem and what the problem is. But when it's just a few missed gym sessions a month or getting into the habit of putting things off because you just don't feel like it, then the cause and effect is more difficult to determine. You might just assume you're lazy by nature without giving it a second thought.
I'd wager that most people don't even know the reality of how regularly drinking alcohol is subtly affecting their productivity, sleep, psychological well-being, fortitude and body composition. That's why I'd recommend abstinence from the perspective of experimentation. Maybe alcohol isn't bringing you down in the same way it was bringing me down, but it might be worth testing to find out.
While these effects seem subtle, over the years they can cascade into unimaginable magnitude. I noticed after one year that I achieved around 40% more than I believe I would have if I had been drinking. What does an extra 40% return compounded over 10, 20 or 30 years look like? That could be the difference between a life of meaning and one that you look back on and feel that you've wasted.
Some Mindset "Hacks" that Worked for Me
- Just stay dry today. Don't worry about tomorrow or next year. Thinking things like "I'll never drink again" is often overwhelming and unhelpful. Just focus on doing the right thing today. And then do the same thing tomorrow.
- Write down how you feel before you quit - Try to capture all the negative feelings and emotions that you have during your periods of drinking. Write everything down with great detail really trying to capture how unhappy you are and how it's affecting your life. It's often helpful to look back at these entries after you've quit as a reminder of just how bad it was. Otherwise we tend to forget and look back through rose tinted glasses.
- Learn what alcohol really does to the body - The Huberman podcast is my favorite resource for learning about the physiological effects of alcohol consumption. Understanding in great detail exactly how alcohol affects the brain and other parts of the body left me in no doubt about my desire to cut down. Did you know that brain shrinkage directly correlates to alcohol consumption on a 1:1 basis? How about that alcohol consumption makes you more stressed and anxious even during periods when you're not drinking? Don't even get me started on how alcohol affects sleep. I didn't fully understand the ramifications of drinking until I listened to this podcast. It was a real eye opener and made quitting much easier.
- Accept that it's never just one drink - I tried to quit drinking multiple times before but I lasted only around 3 - 6 months. I ended up going back to the drink under the illusion that I could "control" my drinking. Inevitably, over time, my drinking got worse until I ended up binging just like the good old days again. This time around, I finally accepted where that first drink leads to. It's never just one drink for me - it'll always end up slowly escalating over weeks and months back to full on binges. Knowing this, and accepting it, really focuses the mind if I'm ever tempted by "just one beer". I know that it leads to all night rampages at some point in the near future. That alone is enough to make me think twice.
So what now...?
I'm going to continue this experiment for another year by staying off the sauce. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, alcohol doesn't really consume any mindshare now so it's not difficult to carry on at this point. I'm at a happy and productive place in my life so I want to ride this wave for as long as I can. I'm glad to have this binge drinking gremlin off my back.
This is my last post in the "I've quit alcohol" series. I wrote these posts both for me (so I can look back on them in the future if ever I need reminding) but also for anyone else who might want some insight or encouragement to take the journey themselves.
My advice, if you're thinking about quitting but can't quite imagine life without alcohol, is to start small with a 30 day challenge as an experiment and take it from there. Something like One year no beer is a good place to start.
Most useful resources that helped me:-
- What alcohol does to your body brain and health (Huberman podcast episode. My notes and one of my blog posts on the topic)
- Allen Carr's Easy Way to Control Alcohol (Robert Allen. My notes)
- One year no beer (I mostly spend time in their community chat on Slack)
- Does alcohol affect your sleep? (snippet from podcast with sleep expert Matt Walker)