by Niall Doherty

New challenge: I’m giving up alcohol for a whole year.

I’ve started already. My last drink was December 4. (Well, December 5 really. It was a long night.)

I have many reasons for doing this, but mostly it’s just one big experiment. I’ve been drinking somewhat regularly since I was 17 years old. I’m curious to see what my life is like without it for a significant stretch of time. I feel most people fall in with the rabblement and drink because it’s what everyone else is doing; it’s what’s expected of them. This is especially true in Ireland, where the local pub has long been the designated third place (after home and work). I want to break free and think for myself, figure out if this drinking lark is really in my best interest.

Before I get too deep into this post, I should emphasize here that my giving up alcohol is not a judgment on you or anyone else who might drink. My aim with this blog post — and with this entire project — is to get you questioning your choices. Most choices are made for us, either by society or television or our peers or whoever. We just go along with them, not realizing that we can opt for something different, that we have the power to make our own conscious choices.

So I’m not trying to convince you to join me in abstaining from alcohol. I hope simply to encourage you to examine your own motivations for drinking. It’s fine if your answers are different from mine. We can still be friends, really 😉

The important thing is that you think for yourself.

The gift and the crutch

I’ve gotten a lot of positive benefit from alcohol over the years. In the haze of drunkenness I’ve made many friends, deepened many connections, faced many fears, told many an entertaining story. There’s no shortage of people who will attest to the fact that I’m heaps of fun to go drinking with. Alcohol helped me let loose and be social when I was still struggling with chronic shyness. It helped me hook up with my first girlfriend (and my last, come to think of it). It also helped me enjoy the hell out of New Orleans for three years 😉

But that’s just the bright side.

The dark side is that I’ve long felt that I’ve used alcohol as a crutch. I wouldn’t go talk to that girl or take to the dance floor until I had a few drinks. Alcohol was my liquid courage, and I was often dependent on it to be at my best socially.

That was fine for a while, but I’m not okay with such an arrangement anymore. I realize that a few drinks can’t bring anything out of me that isn’t already there when I’m sober. The only difference is that I’m less self-conscious when I’m drunk, more likely to take risks and be myself. That’s the gift alcohol gives me. The curse that comes with it is feeling less able to take risks and be myself when I’m sober. And that’s a cop out. That’s giving up control to something external, letting myself off the hook. I’d like to dig deeper and find that courage within myself, not in a pint glass.

So the plan is to still go out regularly and be social, but force myself to let loose and take some risks without the crutch of alcohol. I’ll throw myself out on the dance floor and make myself go talk to whoever interests me. It will be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but that’s just how growth works. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes:

“The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate.” – Douglas Engelbart

More motivation

I have several other reasons for giving up alcohol.

One is that it will be a good excuse to work on my will power. I’ve found that self-discipline is like a muscle: the more you train it, the stronger it gets. Being vegan isn’t much of a challenge for me anymore, not even in Ireland it seems. People eat milk chocolate and cocktail sausages up in my face and it doesn’t bother me a bit. I’d like to get to that point with alcohol. At the moment I feel uncomfortable not having a drink when everyone else is having one. If this experiment goes as well as my diet experiments did, I’ll eventually get to a point where I won’t feel like I’m missing out in those situations. I’ll be confident in my own choices and lose the urge to conform. That’s a good place to be.

I’m also excited about getting some time and motivation back. I didn’t drink an awful lot as it was, maybe once a week on average, and even then not usually very heavily. But every once in a while I’d go off on a tear and the day after was usually a wash. I rarely got hungover (veganism seemed to help me feel less sickly the morning after a binge), but my motivation would be severely lacking and I’d waste away that next day. And I hate wasting days. Time is our only non-renewable resource. Once you spend a day, you can never get it back. And as Jack Bennett reminds us with the name of his blog, there are only so many days in a lifetime.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the money saving aspect of giving up the drink. This appeals to me big time. I quit my day job and I’m trying to build up my own business, so it’s important that I keep my expenses low for a while. Not drinking will help with that. Pints aren’t cheap.

Finding my right people

You might expect that I’ll have a hard time going out and making friends if I don’t drink, since certain people don’t feel comfortable drinking in front of someone who chooses to forgo alcohol. That concern has merit, but I actually see it as a good thing. It’s important to surround yourself with the right kind of people, and part of that is weeding out the wrong kind of people. The wrong kind of people for me are those who see my personal choices as a judgment on them. If anyone feels uncomfortable having a drink in front of me, that’s their burden to bear. They’re obviously not satisfied with the choices they’re making. I can’t make them feel guilty or uncomfortable. They can only do that to themselves. When it shows, it’s a good sign for me that I should move on and find some people who can confidently stand behind the choices they’ve made, or at least respect mine.

I’ve also come to realize that these “right people” I’m looking for are unlikely to be heavy drinkers. My self-stated goal is to disrupt the rabblement, to help people regain consciousness and think for themselves. Alcohol, more often than not, is used as a tool to lose consciousness. People don’t want to think too much, so they take refuge in the pub where they can talk shite and not feel bad about themselves. Television is used in a similar fashion. Sit home and watch that for the evening so you don’t have to be alone with your thoughts and come to the painful realization that you could be doing more with your life.

Granted, that’s a huge generalization. Not all TV is bad. I’ve learned some good stuff and received many hours of enjoyment from watching it over the years (In fact, I just watched a fascinating nature documentary last night). Likewise, not everyone who enjoys alcohol is looking to lose consciousness. I’m well aware that the pub can be a great place to network and brainstorm. But those are exceptions. If you watch TV or drink alcohol primarily for those reasons, good for you. I also have many friends who like having a few drinks just to relax and unwind. I see nothing wrong with that either. But again, those reasons as primary are exceptional. Most folks turn to alcohol to numb the pain of a mediocre existence or to win the approval of their peers. Not my kind of people.

The downside

One thing I’m sure I’ll miss is the boost alcohol often gives me. That is, when I head out for a few drinks after a long day, I often get a second wind and can stay out having a good time into the wee hours. From previous experience with sober nights out, I know that it can be tough to keep my energy up as the party rolls on. I start yawning and thinking about how nice it would be just to head home and collapse into bed. Alcohol seems to do a good job of making me forget those urges. It will be interesting to see how I handle those stretches going forward.

Beyond that, there will be the obvious downsides, some of which I already mentioned. I’ll surely have periods of awkwardness, discomfort, frustration, isolation and loneliness. But I’m confident I’ll make it through to the other side, and I’ll probably be a lot better off for the experience.

How about you?

I’m curious to know if you drink and why. As I said above, you don’t have to agree with my reasoning. I’d rather you brought a fresh, well-thought-out perspective of your own to the table.

Let me know your views in the comments.

Cheers 😉