A few months ago I decided to go the whole of 2023 without alcohol as an experiment. This post is mainly self serving - a point of reflection on the 2 month mark of not drinking alcohol; something that I can look back on in the future.
Why I've Decided to Stop Drinking
I've already written about the insidious nature of alcohol in previous posts.
For most people, alcohol is not like heroin or meth whereby your whole life falls apart and you end up on the street looking for things to steal to feed your addiction. The consequences of regularly drinking alcohol are far more subtle, so much so that the cause and effect can often go under the radar without consciously looking for it. Most of us have been regular drinkers for so many years that we might not actually know what our normal baseline state of mind actually is.
Your lack of drive to strive and achieve new goals, for example; is that your natural state or is that a state that's been induced from continually dampening your dopamine receptors from alcohol?
If you regularly find yourself lacking motivation or are just generally apathetic towards life, you might assume that's just who you are, that you have an innate lack of drive, without even considering that the habit of drinking alcohol could be contributing to it.
So that's a large part of the reason why I want to take a year off: to find out what my qualify of life is when I don't drink and compare that to when I do drink.
- How much more consistent am I?
- Do I enjoy my work more?
- Do I have better control over my emotions?
- Do I keep a better gym and fitness program?
- How does it affect my relationship with others?
- How do my health markers change?
It's an experiment that should bring clarity. When I reach for the bottle a few times a week, what am I really choosing? What's the real cost of drinking? Can I achieve everything I want in work and life in general while periodically drinking?
For a long time I've suspected that alcohol is contributing to my lack of consistency. With this experiment, I'll know for sure whether that's the case or not.
So, without further ado, here's a list of things that I've noticed at the 2 month mark:-
Proclivity Towards Action
I've had a few months of really solid work.
I can't tell yet if that's because I'm going through an exciting and challenging growth phase with a new company that I've just taken over as CEO or if I'm more engaged in general. I need more time to be sure.
A lot of the work I've been doing recently has been strategizing and complex problem solving for the new business. This requires deep levels of concentration and focus (sometimes called "deep work") that I sometimes struggle to get into. I've noticed that over the past month or so there's not been much in the way of internal resistance to these deep work sessions - often I sit down at the computer and naturally fall into a deep work state. This feels different. During periods of drinking alcohol, I remember finding it a lot harder to focus for any great length of time, almost as if I had a form of ADHD. Now, I'm actually enjoying these sessions and, in some cases, I look forward to them.
Of course, knowing the physiology that underpins alcohol and how it downregulates dopamine receptors, this makes a lot of sense. Maybe this is just placebo and I'm concentrating and focusing more because that's what I expect to happen.
It's too early to say at this stage whether my recent heightened ability to focus is a consequence of removing alcohol or not. I'll review further down the line. Nevertheless, I'm enjoying being a more prolific creator, a value that I'm consciously building my life around.
Unphased by Insecurities
I have a natural tendency towards social anxiety such that I often avoid dealing with people. It's not an extreme case, I can certainly manage it, but it means that I sometimes try and avoid certain situations when I'm not quite feeling up to it.
This can mean avoiding social situations like meeting up with someone for lunch or dinner, avoiding phone calls and certainly avoiding large social gatherings, such as conferences. The worst is large crowds of people.
Over the last few months, I've been able to take on more and more of these situations without really even thinking about it. It's only upon reflection now that I realize how little of an issue it's been. I've arranged sales calls, organized meetups with people for dinner, recorded podcasts, reached out to people I don't know for potential business partnerships and so on...
This is not something I can easily do when I'm regularly drinking. That's not to say that I couldn't, but it would just require a lot more willpower.
Trying to dig deeper and pinpoint the reason for this change in behavior there are two key points.
Firstly, self esteem. As someone who now identifies as a non-drinker it reinforces a feeling of strong self esteem because I'm acting in alignment with my values. I don't want to be someone that regularly succumbs to alcohol binges. When I regularly do so, I'm acting against my values. It's an assault on my self esteem and I feel ashamed. When I feel shame and regret I have a propensity to hide away and don't want to show myself to others.
Secondly, physiology. It's already well understood that alcohol is one of the worst substances you can consume if you suffer from anxiety. Drinking alcohol can help with anxiety in the moment, when you're sipping on your beer, but at the expense of your longer term wellbeing. You feel relief temporarily but pay it back with interest as your levels of anxiety are chronically raised at baseline long after the alcohol has passed through your system.
This change has improved my life quality a lot. Over these past few months I've strengthened relationships with family members and friends, and also made new business connections with great people. Crazy as it may seem, I'm currently acting as sales director in my new venture mainly due to necessity (there's currently nobody else who is available to do it). This means connecting with many people I've never met on a daily basis and I'm actually enjoying it.
The holy grail. I've been trying to become more consistent ever since I started this blog 6 years ago. I strongly believe that if I can achieve full consistency then there's nothing I can't achieve if I set my mind to it. I've learned a lot of tools and made great progress over the years, but I'm still not quite there yet. A few times a year I'll fall off the wagon, lose motivation, and have to force myself to rebuild my positive habits (gym, reading, daily writing, deep work etc.) from scratch again.
It's too early to tell whether removing alcohol from my life will have a real effect on my consistency. So far, though, I've been doggedly consistent over the past few months. It's also been relatively effortless. I've had a few times where I've woken up feeling uninspired but a quick gym or reading session is all that's needed to completely flip into a more positive state of mind. It doesn't feel like I'm "white knuckling" through my daily habits. They're enjoyable.
If I can go through the whole of 2023 with a consistently productive schedule, then I'll know for sure that alcohol has a strong negative effect on my ability to be consistent.
Reliable Sleep Schedule
I've mentioned before that sleep is a cornerstone habit for me. If I don't sleep well and get up early in the morning then it causes a cascading set of negative consequences and my day is more or less ruined from the start.
Thankfully, I've been sleeping well and have cajoled myself into a solid sleep schedule.
When I drink, I have a tendency to binge. These binges mean that I'm often the last man standing and routinely get home at 5am or 6am in the morning. As a consequence, I tend to sleep throughout the day to recover and completely throw my body clock out the window. Having not had any of these alcohol binges over the past two months I've had no trouble keeping a reliable and consistent sleep schedule.
Generally on top of Life
I don't feel like I'm drowning in tasks or behind in anything. I have no outstanding obligations, my bills are paid ahead of time, my tax returns are sorted, my plans for the next six months are in place, the business has a clear strategy, my finances are in check, my gym routine is sorted, I have my goals defined, a bucket list that I'm working through and a clear vision for the next 3 years. It just feels like I'm in control of my life. This feeling of control and clarity means I have little emotional distress. My day-to-day life is stress free and enjoyable. I feel capable of taking on anything that comes my way. My life is not chaos.
This is a new feeling: Not so long ago, I had quite a few outstanding issues that needed sorting. This was a period when I was drinking regularly. Again, it's too early to tell if this is just coincidental, but it's certainly something I'm closely paying attention to.
A Promising Start
It's only been 2 months so hardly conclusive. It will be interesting to see if I continue to see similar positive effects 3 and 6 months after quitting. One thing's for sure though, right now I'm in a really good place and if this continues for the rest of the year I will never re-introduce alcohol back into my life again.