I’ve been sober for 100 days straight, and the vast majority of the past year. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. 30 Days Is Enough To Give You Clarity
I’ve taken longer periods than 100 days off before, but this is my longest dry streak in many years. Last year, I took four months off, interspersed with one-off drinking days.
30 days is enough time to re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol. Typically, people drink on weekends (in volume), or in smaller quantities a few days a week. One month off from a typical drinking pattern will put you in four to twenty situations in which you’d typically drink, but choose not to.
Repeated exposure to these situations lets you analyze your usual behavior with a sober mind. You’ll see the situations in which you use alcohol as a crutch, and those in which others do. You’ll get a better analysis of your behavior patterns. And you’ll challenge yourself to interact with people in those situations without alcohol.
2. It Gets Really Easy After 60 Days
If you’re really trying to take a long break from alcohol, or become completely sober, two months is about the point at which most difficulties slip away. The groove is cut at about 60 days.
At this point, you’ll probably have had a non-drinking interaction with most people you usually drink with. The social pressure is lessened, because everyone has been informed of your decision. You’ve had an additional month to think about what you learned in the first thirty days, and apply what you learned to continuing your sobriety.
3. Productivity Gains Are Incredible
It is far, far, easier to be productive when you’re not drinking. You don’t waste any time at all on weekends recovering from a hangover. You don’t have to force yourself into the office after a happy hour the previous day.
How do I write daily, work out daily, read daily, and publish daily? Part of it is an extremely simple system for daily discipline. Part of it is mind memetics. But not drinking has supercharged my ability to do these things without fatigue. Put simply, drinking saps your energy, even well after the fact. I am more productive midweek when I didn’t drink on the weekend.
4. You’ll Become Leaner With No Extra Effort
When you’re not drinking, you’ll become much leaner. Without spending any additional time on exercise or diet.
Alcohol is an enormous source of calories in most people’s diets. Even light beers are 100 calories or more, and they’re designed that way so you end up drinking many of them anyway. Pure liquor is also highly caloric. Beer, wine, and cocktails also have sugars and other carbohydrates in them. Eliminating alcohol can cut anywhere from 500 to 5,000 calories from your diet, without doing anything at all.
It takes a deficit of 3,000-4,000 calories to lose a pound of fat. So you could lose anywhere from a pound a week to a pound a month, just by cutting out alcohol.
Not to mention: did you know that alcohol is automatically the first source of calories your body chooses to burn? It jumps to the head of the queue, and pushes whatever else is being burned to the back. So if you’re drinking with a meal, you’re actually more likely to be gaining fat than if you’re drinking without eating at the same time. All those carbs in beer go to the back of the queue until your body burns the alcohol, which means they’re usually turned to fat. Especially if you keep drinking beer.
5. Drunk People Are Idiots
This seems an obvious point, but it’s hard to really internalize until you’ve been sober at multiple events with drunk people. Even your most reasonable friends and acquaintances can seem like drooling idiots with the vocabulary of a ten-year-old.
Don’t forget: you are like this yourself when drunk. But you don’t see it until you’re sober.
6. Early Nights And Bright Mornings
You don’t need to sacrifice nights out while sober. If people are really going for it, you can still be with them, and enjoy the fact that everyone is a bit looser. Because they are, you might feel a little looser yourself – without the need for a drop of booze.
But you get the benefit of being able to turn it in early. Every big night out reaches a state where everyone is drunk – see point #5. At this point, the drinkers are effectively children – in their behavior and their memories. Say your goodbyes at this point, and you can be in bed by midnight. You still participated, and people won’t even remember that you left – the drink will see to that. You didn’t miss out on any memories, because people will only remember the night up to the point where it all became a blur. That’s your cue to leave.
You sleep much better without alcohol, and don’t have to battle a hangover. You can have a full night out with friends, then wake up early and get to work. Early weekend mornings are a thing of beauty – fewer people out an about, but a perfect time to get some work done or go for a walk and enjoy the neighborhood a little less crowded.
7. Alcohol Is Everywhere
This becomes really evident when you’re not drinking. Alcohol is so ingrained in Western culture that you don’t notice it until you’re actively avoiding it.
Real estate listings will say things like “a perfect nook to curl up and have a glass of wine in”. Books, TV, movies – all filled with people drinking. Even Nassim Taleb fills his books with casual references to dessert wines, etc.
Most pernicious is the way the alcohol industry pushes this. Take a look at this Bud Light ad, which I noticed during an NFL game in January. Remember that children are watching their favorite teams play while this ad is aired:
This ad literally equates drinking with friendship, and the meme is broadcast directly to kids. They will grow up internalizing hundreds of hours of this type of messaging.
I’m not anti-alcohol by any means, but you must recognize that it’s an addictive poison that can ruin lives, especially among the genetically predisposed. This type of thing is highly unethical.
8. Drinking Is All You Have In Common With Some People
Many relationships function only because both parties drink. This is often the case with friends from college, or with certain colleagues.
When you take some time off drinking, you’ll notice that you’ve got no impetus to hang out with these people. Or they might stop hitting you up.
As Ed Latimore says in his book, a great resource on sobriety: being sober reduces the quantity of social interactions, but increases their quality. You’ll learn which of your relationships are quality, and which are based on mutual intoxication.
This doesn’t mean that you cut these people off – there’s nothing wrong with having drinking buddies, for when the moment calls. But your life will be enriched by knowing that’s all the relationship will ever really amount to.
9. Alcohol Silences The Mind
If you’re reading this blog, you probably think a lot more than the average person. This doesn’t mean you or I are more intelligent than others – just that there’s more of an internal narrative going on. I write mostly about information and memetics, after all.
People who think a lot tend to get trapped in their own heads. Alcohol calms the mind – it removes the narrative and lets one live in the moment. But it’s an illusion, and comes at a heavy price. You’re far better off learning to live in the moment, and adopting mindfulness, than drinking to silence your mind.
Not only that, but the mind silence doesn’t just last for the time you’re drinking. Sure, it’s nice to “turn off” for an evening, but with alcohol you’re turned off the next morning too. And, in my experience, for a couple days after that.
10. There Really Is No Reason To Drink As Much As We Do
I don’t plan to permanently quit alcohol. But I might not drink for so long, or take such long breaks, that the effect is largely the same.
Some time off will show you that there’s really no reason to drink as much as we all do except to fit in. Conformity is fear, and lack of confidence. Everyone around us drinks, and often frequently.
But what does it really bring you? There are other things that taste good. You can unwind with things that aren’t poisonous. You can simply work on being social rather than taking liquid courage. You can celebrate an achievement with a good meal, and hold the champagne.
Pretty much every situation in which we habitually drink can be dealt with at an equal or superior level without alcohol. What’s more, you’ll remember more of it. And your life will be much improved in other areas.
Sure, you can rationalize drinking in certain situations. I have, and will continue to do so. But look at it rationally – really rationally – and it’s just a facade.
Alcohol is best suited as an occasional indulgence, not a habit. And that’s the way I plan to treat it.