Giving up the drink

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 😉

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    1. When I saw “Disrupting the Rabblement” pop up on my screen I got confused for a moment – ‘I didn’t subscribe to this, but it does sound like something I’d like.’ I was a bit relieved when I recognized your blog. ; )

      I do drink – I don’t drink very often, partially due to the cost of drinking out and partially just not being in drinking social situations very often. As to why… sometimes its due to curiosity, I was at a Christmas party last night and the host had a German warm wine in a slow cooker and I wanted to try it (it was much better than you’d think). Sometimes its nervousness.

      I don’t really seek out drinking situations. Personally I find that drinking unzips my inhibitions in a way I don’t always like – a few weeks ago I drank way too much at a cast party and I don’t remember anything about it (since I don’t drink too often I don’t know my limits well).

      Drinking is still a bit novel to me – when I was in the years most people drink I was nursing and caring for two young children.

      I do know what you mean about people thinking you’re judging them because you choose to not do something. I don’t watch television (more lack of interest than a choice) but there are some people who take it as a judgment on them that I don’t.

      • Thanks, Angela.

        “Personally I find that drinking unzips my inhibitions in a way I don’t always like”

        I’m with you on that. A little bit of a buzz usually helped me loosen up and enjoy myself, but I was always tempted to keep drinking and that’s where the trouble would start. I’d sometimes become rude or argumentative or just very impatient. Glad I won’t have to worry about that anymore.

    2. Niall,

      First things first: I’m liking the new look of the site!

      Second: I have never been much of a drinker (had my first drink when I was 22), but my biggest observation is that I was just very bored being sober among a group of people drinking. The conversation doesn’t tend to go upwards, if you know what I mean. 🙂

      My $0.02. 🙂


      • I know exactly what you mean. My cousin has been sober for several years now and he still goes out regularly. His trick is to go to a place with live music or dancing (or both). That way there’s something to do besides listen to devolving conversation. I’ll be trying the same myself.

    3. Hey Niall,

      great challenge! I see more and more people giving up on alcohol. Actually I have never started to drink. From my experience you can end up in a few awkward situations; as everyone is expecting you to drink alcohol you often end of with someone pushing a glass of beer into your hands and you have to turn it down. Especially awkward when drinking alcohol is part of some kind of family tradition.

      But I think for people like you, who explicitly want to challenge common expectations, this will be encouraging to further go this way, isn’t it?

      And by the way: Fooling drunk people while you are sober is a hell lot of fun 😉

      Good luck with your challenge!

    4. I have been alcohol free since I was 25 (2006) – I still go out, I still attend parties, I still have an amazing time – I’m just the girl without the drink in her hand. I do agree with what is stated above – it’s truly not much fun to be the sober one stuck in the drunken nonsense conversation – pick fun places where there is more to do than just sit and drink and you won’t get “stuck”. At first friends and people around me found it quite odd that I did not drink and it was a bit awkward – but they quickly adjusted (and stopped asking so many questions!)

      Excellent challenge – good luck!

    5. My appreciations to your choice, Niall!

      I generally don’t drink at all and those people who know me for quite long (friends, family, collegues) don’t offer me alcoholic drinks.

      In Russia a refusal to drink is treated as a sign of disrespect, especially if you offered by a person you are a guest at and/or you see him first time. For these cases I use a template “For your respect I will have the only glass, for my respect please don’t offer me more”.

      I become used to drunk parties when I am sober. And I am not always stuck in these situations: I remember friends saying that I am the most drunk here though I didn’t drink any alcohol. So now I use another phrase: “To be ‘drunk’ I don’t need alcohol”.

      • Haha, thanks Pavel. I like that you can let loose and have a good time without the aid of alcohol.

        I like this, too: “For your respect I will have the only glass, for my respect please don’t offer me more”.

    6. Great post!

      I’m actually doing the exact same challenge and its amazing how similar your approach and beliefs are to the process.

      I’ve found a great deal of inspiration and opportunity giving up drinking. I did lose a few close friends along the way, but I’ve also attracted much healthier people for my life.

      There are definitely those moments of loneliness, hopefully they will go away with time and effort.

      Well written and keep up the amazing work. You are an inspiration to the many.

    7. Please keep me posted on this challenge (no drinking). I would LOVE to try this out, but I’m just not at that place yet. I guess for me, I just haven’t found a ‘good enough’ reason to quit. I REALLY liked how you used the phase ‘liquid courage’…that describes me to the T. Sometimes I rationalize that I’ll have that second/ third drink just so my friends will get off my back. Also, I feel so much more fun and outgoing with a few drinks in my body. I’m painfully shy! Maybe when I’m more comfortable in my own skin, I’ll take on this challenge….

      • Hey, Tammy. Thanks for the comment.

        I’m almost six months sober now, and it’s been great so far. I’ve gotten much more comfortable going out to bars and being social without the aid of alcohol. I’ve also hit the dance floor a few times without any drink in me, had a blast! In fact, I’m so enjoying life without alcohol that I can’t see myself running back to it right away once 2012 rolls around.

        “Maybe when I’m more comfortable in my own skin, I’ll take on this challenge…”

        Be careful right there! I used to to have the same “when-then” thinking: When I’m more confident/comfortable, then I won’t need alcohol.

        But I had it all backwards. It actually works the other way around: When I don’t need alcohol anymore, then I’ll feel more confident/comfortable.

        Yes, you have to go through some growing pains at the start as you get used to being the only sober person and being social without the aid of alcohol, but once you get through that pain period you’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of.

    8. Hi, dont drink that much, but decided from 01st May this year to try giving it up…5 weeks off now last Saturday night..going well…miss the “going out” bit I have to say…but the night doesnt be long flying around either when you stay in…I am married with 2 kids aged 5 & 4 really do appreciate not being out when your heading off to bed around midnight..or waking up tired but not hungover the next morning..I just drove into town last night (Sunday 5th June…bankholdiday weekend in Ireland) and all the people comming and going from pub to pub…some the worst of the wear…made me feel somehow lucky!!!..there wouldnt be a sign of any of them this morning when I was up getting the kids breakfast etc…when I did drink that was one thing..I always got up with the kids in the morning..not fair on them that you have been out the night before…go for a mineral now the odd time..not as regular as I would have went for a pint or anywhere near it..but…I intend giving it up for a fair stint (dont know how long) and see how it goes…heres to the next 5 weeks (i.e mid July anyway)..and will see where I am then and where I want to be…sorry for not commenting on everyone elses post..will read them some other night and see what I think..good luck to you all…and fair dues to us all (mostly moderate drinkers) for giving this a stab…it isnt that easy really..but worth the challenge….

      • Hey, thanks for the comment, Joe. I know exactly what you mean about feeling somehow lucky in the morning when you see everyone else looking a little tender. Best of luck with your own experiment. Hope it works out well for you.

    9. Hi Niall 🙂

      Great post and good luck with your challenge!

      I loved the bit “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.” This is brilliant and applies to so much in our lives.

      I can’t really tolerate much alcohol, I have tried over the years and just suffer, so now I have very little. I find that people have thought me ‘boring’ for not getting drunk but I can honestly say I’ve never wanted to get so out of it and not know what I’ve said or done.

      I really admire your life choices, vegetarian to vegan etc and the way you share it all with us to help us find our way too. Many thanks for another very insightful post.

      Best wishes x

      • Thanks so much, Debbie! As I mentioned in the post, those people who might judge you for not drinking obviously have their own issues and are just projecting on to you. I have many friends who drink and are comfortable with their decision to do so. They don’t judge me, I don’t judge them, and we get along just fine.

        Thanks again 🙂

    10. Hey Niall!

      Great post, thanks so much for the inspiration

      I was more than a moderate drinker but then I decided to quit because I felt it was time to change my lifestyle and do better things with my life. Honestly I felt so much better when I quit and my life improved in so many way. I became healthier, had better relationships, saved money, and met fascinating people. It is good when you have the motivation to stop drinking, you will do many fascinating things in life. I was however very pressured to drink as someone who had done me a huge favor offered me a drink without knowing my story. He is the kind of person who loves alcohol so I felt it is unnecessary to preach about sobriety, so I took the drink after 1.3 years of being sober. I guess I felt it would be rude to turn it down. But I’m telling you after that drink, I though I’d miss alcohol, but actually I didn’t. I felt that sobriety was a blessing and I didn’t find alcohol to be that enjoyable anymore. I’m hoping to go back on the sobriety track as it was so much better in many ways. There are people who enjoy the drink and are very respectful and responsible, I respect them so much as well.

      best of luck to you and your choices!

    11. I don’t drink either. The mean reason is because I discovered that I drink for the wrong reason: When I’m feeling bad, so I can get drunk and to put my mind on ease. I also disvovered that my mind reacts very predictive on alcohol: immediatly it gives a “time to get lame” signal, when I smell my favorite drink.

      I only drink when I’m 100% sure that my mood is good, and I can drink just for the fun. Which is like 3 times a year…

      I can have loats of fun without. It’s just a little different with alcohol.

    12. So finally I got around to read this post and loved it, more than others you’ve published. Reason is, in my teenager years I avoided the alcohol in my system, because at home it was preached that alcohol was the origin of all evils in society.

      Later, after my brain unfroze from the ideas stuck in me, I realized alcohol only brought what people had already inside, so it was a catalytic, not a cause!

      Still, I stayed 100% sober until about 24… When I lived in Ecuador for 3 months, right after my first broken heart. That really moved my insides and made me realize I had nothing to lose. Before this night , I could go out with my friends and drink no alcohol at all, and have a great night with them (and they with me, knowing somebody was there to drive them and take care of them)

      So the night in question I invited a cute girl on a store to a night out and she accepted. We chatted, she offered a beer and that was it, my first drunk night. No regrets at all.

      After that, my relationship with alcohol remained as a pleasure. Yes, I read and learned the way alcohol is supposed to be drank and enjoyed. How to pair wines, what beers go with which food, how to avoid hangover, how to pace so I didn’t end up losing control, the works.

      Now, I guess you can catalog me as one of those “friends who like having a few drinks just to relax and unwind.” I really am, and having an alcoholic brother, I really had to put myself in perspective and analyze if I wasn’t in the same path.

      Not at all. Alcoholism is a personality disorder, revealed by the abuse of alcohol. Not my case 😉

      So, I like and support your project, and respect you as a non-drinker, because I was for many years and I’m worth exactly the same now, as I did before. Many people should try it sometime, just to see how they feel and find if alcohol had been a crutch for them.

      And, its a year since! You should be writing a post about it!


    13. You have narrated your experiences so well! Such a well written piece! I probably think I can do a great job of being my creative and expressive best if I’ve had a drink 😛 I’m 27 now and I started drinking at about 22. I’ve always found it exciting and interesting to perceive the world while I’m buzzing. For instance at college, my friends and I would get a couple of drinks before heading out to the cinemas to catch a movie. I thought it made the movie watching experience all more insightful and thought provoking. Recently my boyfriend wasn’t very happy when I told him I can open up better, laugh out louder and feel better relaxed and happy when I get a drink with him. If alcohol seems to heighten your sensitivity and perceive better the intricacies and beauty of the world, wouldn’t it be less exciting to force yourself to do completely without it I’m curious to see what you’ve got to say to this…

      • Hey sveta. Yeah, I don’t think alcohol is good or bad in itself. It’s how we use it that matters, our relationship to it. Some people don’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol and they should consider quitting it altogether. Then there are folks like you, who don’t seem to experience any downsides from the occasional few drinks. To you I’d say keep doing what you’re doing. Doesn’t seem to be causing any problems.