The decision to quit drinking alcohol is a difficult one to make in our world. Drinking is so normalized that people who decide to quit are assumed to be alcoholics, the dreaded victims of the frightening disease known as alcoholism. It’s hard to find good information about what life is like without alcohol that isn’t written by a recovering alcoholic.
I quit drinking about 200 days ago. I was not an alcoholic. I had a few stupid nights, for sure, but alcohol was not ruining my life. I did not lose my job, my friends, or even my keys. Technically speaking, I have not even been sober for 200 consecutive days. I’ve had 2 alcoholic drinks in the last 200 days, at the request of a loved one, to celebrate a special occasion. I didn’t enjoy it.
This isn’t the first time I quit drinking. I didn’t drink from age 16 to 23, either. I went through all of college without attending a single drunken party or ending the night by foolishly falling in bed with someone.
I’ve got a lot of experience with being sober by choice. It comes with a lot of wonderful benefits.
1. I’m Able to Eat Normal Food Again
The first ten years of my adult life were scarred by an intensely painful digestive disorder. Sometimes after meals, for no apparent reason, I would experience agonizing pain. I would liken it to being run through by a sword — a sharp, stabbing pain, the kind that makes you fall to your knees. It would wake me from sleep and nearly make me pass out.
The pain seemed to strike less often — not never, but less often — when I avoided gluten (and dairy, and onions, and garlic, and high fructose corn syrup, and a dozen other different things). This highly restricted diet reduced my episodes of pain from every day to once every few months.
These restrictions made it hard to live my life. For ten years, I spent over $500 a month on expensive specialty gluten-free food. My friends and family had to make special accommodations for me everywhere I went. I couldn’t travel outside developed nations (or even to the poor side of town) because I couldn’t guarantee the nutritional purity of my food. During high school, college, and even during professional conferences, I often went hungry because there were no edible options for me.
Not to mention, the pain itself. Wow, did it hurt. I used to bargain with God. God, please take away my pain, and I’ll donate to the church every month. I’ll give away 90% of my income. I’ll saw my own arm off like that guy in 127 hours. I’ll do anything. Please.
Doctors tested and tested me. I tested negative for everything. Negative for Crohn’s and negative for ulcerative colitis and negative for celiac and negative for pancreatic dysfunction and negative for enzyme disorders and negative for every known food allergy. Negative, negative, negative.¹
Even worse, nurses would compliment me for my test scores. “You are a picture of perfect health, my dear!” Oh yeah? Then why am I in agony?
A few months after I quit drinking, I did what’s called “rechallenging” my trigger foods. That means eating microscopically tiny portions of the trigger foods to see what happens. I would eat a few crumbs of gluten-containing bread, wait a week, and then eat twice as many crumbs the next week. Over a few months, I worked up to eating bites. Then small portions. Now I’m eating pizza and pastries every day. The pain hasn’t returned. A fucking miracle, by the way.
I have no idea what was wrong in the first place, so I have no idea whether alcohol was making it worse or not. I’ve tried so many diets, medications, and probiotics in the last few years that any one of those things could have been the cure. I also became one of Ohio’s first medical marijuana patients, and that helped a ton. But it’s probably not a coincidence I experienced spontaneous remission after I quit drinking gasoline additives, either.
2. I Have Drastically Fewer Miserable Nights
Do you know those kinds of nights you sometimes have where you drink a little too much, and then you get a little too sad about your past, and then you and someone at the bar you may or may not know start having an overemotional conversation? The ones where you don’t get to bed for hours because you were thinking about all the terrible things that have happened to you and how easily they may have been avoided?
Well, I don’t have those anymore. I thought those nights were an important way for me to process the trauma I couldn’t face while sober, but actually, they kept me stuck in trauma. I subconsciously told myself a story about how constant sobriety led to emotional repression, but this story was nonsense. It was motivated reasoning that allowed me to keep wallowing and drinking.
3. I Wake Up Early & Happy
I wake up spontaneously wake up happy at six to eight am every morning without an alarm. There are a lot of factors that go into this, but there is not a doubt in my mind that the absence of alcohol is one of them.
Waking up happy and motivated has been such a boon for everything in my life. The quality of my work has gone up dramatically since I’m getting several hours of quality deep work in every weekday morning. Doing this gives me a fabulous sense of productivity. This, plus the daylight, make my levels of happiness soar. I enjoy this every single day.
That’s not even mentioning the delicious breakfasts I make myself, the chance to do chores well, the positive response from clients…
4. My Body Feels Great
In a society that is so concerned about body fat, what kind of nutrients people are eating, and whether or not we’re exercising on our Pelotons, it is baffling to me that people do not identify alcohol as a major detractor of health. Health establishments like yoga studios even have wine tasting nights! But the fact remains that alcohol is enormously bad for you.
If you drink alcohol regularly, you have gotten used to a certain level of fatigue and “grossness” in your body that you blame on “getting older” or “acid reflux” or who knows what. Your blame is misplaced. If you are a regular drinker, your fatigue comes from alcohol use. Period.
Thanks to my decision to quit, I don’t experience alcohol fatigue. My medical marijuana does make me feel fatigued, and in the several years since I first got my medical marijuana card, my pot use has become a bad habit. But, this fatigue is much less noticeable now that alcohol is out of the picture.
And when I’m totally sober — and I’ve slept well and eaten my veggies, of course— I’m as upbeat and energetic as a child. Do you ever see kids running around and wonder to yourself “How do they have so much energy?” It’s not because they have magic powers. They just take care of their bodies.
It’s dead useful to know how to access a well of endless energy when I need it.
5. I Save Loads of Money
I wasn’t exactly drinking a lot, but my drinks were expensive. I couldn’t have a beer or mixed drinks because of my specialized diet. I mostly drank wine and cranberry vodkas (Why cranberry? Because cranberry is good for you! I was only dimly aware of the irony). I would go and get good ‘n hammered about three times a month at local bars, where cranberry vodka prices climbed quickly. I spent up to $150 a month on alcohol.
Now, that money is being used elsewhere. $100 of it every month is going into my Roth IRA with Vanguard (which, sadly, is a large portion of my income).
If you drink on a weekly basis, you probably spend more on alcohol than me. Your tolerance is almost certainly higher than mine since you don’t have a lifelong digestive disorder of unknown origin, meaning you’re drinking more and spending more. If you quit, you’ll save hundreds of dollars every month.
All those financial goals you’re not meeting, and you can’t seem to figure out why? Alcohol expenses are a part of the reason.
6. I Don’t Have to Taste Nasty Alcohol Taste
Writing this article, it occurred to me that I haven’t tasted nasty bitter alcohol in over 200 days. I imagined the taste of alcohol in my tongue again and was a little revolted.
Alcohol does not taste good. People would not drink alcohol if it did not get them drunk. People say they like certain drinks and dislike other ones, but these are usually for reasons other than taste. If you don’t believe me, recall the first time you tasted alcohol. You probably spit it out, didn’t you? Then someone around you — someone older, someone who’d desensitized themselves — said “You’ll get used to it.” We may develop a Pavlovian positive response to the taste of alcohol, but that does not mean alcohol tastes good.
Everything I’ve drunk in the last 200 days has been sweet and delicious. A tiny benefit, to be sure, but an enjoyable one.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that life without alcohol is better than life with alcohol. When it comes to intoxicating substances, alcohol is unique in how much damage it causes and how little payoff it provides.
I’m thrilled I found my way to giving up alcohol, the same way I’m thrilled I found my way to giving up social media. Living with these things is like choosing to fight an uphill battle to happiness every day.
1: The only time I ever tested positive for anything was an emergency room visit for an especially bad episode of pain. They gave me some fentanyl, ran some tests, and said “You have biliary sludge. This is a disease only seen in the elderly and alcoholics. How many drinks have you had this week?” I said “Zero.” They said, “We won’t get anywhere if you lie to us.” I said “I know. Zero.” They rolled their eyes, clearly not believing me, referred me back to my PCP, and nothing ever came of it.