The Sober Man’s Guide To Living Experimentally

As you know, I quite like me some life experiments. I’ve tried out and written about experiments such as veganism, polyphasic sleep, showering without shampoo, quitting pornography, and so on. I like trying different things and seeing what improves the quality of my life. I keep what works and ditch what doesn’t.

Today marks the end of one of the bigger experiments I’ve ever undertaken: One year without alcohol. For the previous eleven years, I hadn’t been sober for more than a couple of months at a time, and I was quite fond of the occasional tipple.

Last December I wrote about my primary motivation for giving it up:

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, how did it go?

I’m not surprised I made it a whole year without drinking, since I’m pretty stubborn once I put my mind to something. What I am surprised about is that, even though the experiment has ended, I have absolutely no desire to go back drinking again.

It’s not that I now consider alcohol to be a bad thing. Nothing is really good or bad in an absolute sense. What matters is whether something empowers you or weakens you.

I realize now that alcohol was weakening me. It hindered me from developing real confidence. It dulled my senses. It cost me time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

Sure, there have been several occasions throughout the past year when I felt it would have been easier to socialize if I had a few drinks in me, but I always stopped short of wishing I was drunk. My why was strong. I knew it was good for me to push through those socially awkward moments without the aid of alcohol and become more comfortable in my own skin.

All in all, I’ve felt like a stronger, more empowered person since I gave it up.

Real confidence

One of the biggest benefits of my year-long experiment has been developing real confidence with women.

I used to depend on alcohol to provide me with the courage (or at least the lack of self-consciousness) I needed to go talk to a pretty girl. Nowadays, that’s no longer an issue.

I’ve probably been out more nights this year than any previous, and I’ve found that alcohol had been holding me back all along. When getting drunk isn’t an option, your lizard brain has a hard time convincing you to hold off from approaching that girl. Because that moment is as drunk as you’re going to get. If you don’t go then, you won’t go ever.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of having all your sober wits about you and not coming across as just another slobbering drunk with a one-track mind.


You could say though that I’ve missed out on connecting with quite a few people since I quit drinking. Some folks are just really uncomfortable being around a guy who refuses alcohol, no matter how politely.

I don’t really see this as missing out though. I think of it as a handy filter. I can tell pretty fast how cool and open-minded someone is based on their reaction to my non-drinking ways. That guy who loudly questions my manhood when I pass up a free shot? Yeah, I’m not going to waste my time getting to know him better. Let me go talk to the girl across the way who doesn’t project her own insecurities onto others.

It’s the same deal with my veganism. Interesting to see who flinches when I throw that one out there.

Resistance to social pressure

I believe it’s good to become comfortable with people thinking you’re weird. Because if you try to do anything remarkable in this world, people are inevitably going to label you as such. Learn to live by your values and stick to your guns even if there’s huge pressure for you to pack it all in and rejoin the masses, to go back doing what everyone else is doing.

Not drinking this year has given me lots of practice dealing with social pressure. Especially while living in Spain this past summer, where I didn’t quite have the words to explain why I was passing up the local vino. Many a Spaniard seemed to take offense and turn their back on me. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I built a thicker skin because of it.

My buddy Benjamin Jenks has gotten a similar benefit from hitchhiking 14,000 miles across the USA:

Hitchhiking is a great way to build up your inner strength. You are going to be taking a lot of shit. Look at it as a challenge when someone flips you the bird (about one in 500 cars will… more in Texas) or chucks a milkshake your way. The more you take it and let it go, the more it won’t bother you in the future. This is a priceless skill that helps in your career and your relationships.

Will I ever go back drinking again?

I won’t rule it out. A future version of myself might develop a totally different perspective on all of this.

If you had told me three years ago that in December of 2011 I’d be a teetotalling, self-employed, minimalist vegan vagabond, I would never have believed you. So I can’t rule out the possibility that three years from now I might be the proud owner of my own micro-brewery, sat happily on a porch somewhere guzzling my own creation.

So I’ll refrain from making any predictions about future me. I’ll just keep heading in whatever direction feels right, keep experimenting as I see fit, and be willing to accept whoever the journey leads me to become.

Living experimentally

As mentioned, I like to experiment quite regularly, to try different ways of doing and thinking to see what I can learn about myself and the world. In fact, I tend to view my whole life as one big experiment, and I believe this mindset has served me well.

It’s so easy to just stick to the same old thing, to carry on doing something the way it’s always been done in your family or culture. But if you had been born into a different family or culture, would you think and act the same way? Would you have the same beliefs and values?

Probably not. So who’s to say that your current way of living is really the best for you? Perhaps your default programming isn’t serving you very well. Or maybe it is. But you never know for sure until you hack away at it.

I encourage folks to question what they do, what they think, what they believe. Rebel a little and experiment with different ways of seeing and being in the world.

  • What would happen if you adopted an alternative diet for a while?
  • What if you stopped watching the news?
  • What if you really believed you have what it takes to live your dream?

If you’re new to this kind of experimentation, start small. Just commit for thirty days. What could you give up, or start doing, for the the next thirty days that might improve your life? Even if it’s something that you don’t think would make much difference, just try it out of curiosity. See what happens. You may be surprised.

For me, experimenting with vegetarianism proved to be life changing. In fact, if I had to go back and pick one thing that really got me devoted to this whole path of personal growth, it would be that simple decision I made back in late-2008 to go thirty days without eating meat or seafood.

Now I’m not saying a veg diet is right for everyone (I have only one person’s perspective), but that whole experience really opened my eyes to the value of life experiments. The realization came like this: Wait, so I’ve been eating a certain way all my life, and it turns out there was a better way for me to eat all along? What else have I been missing?!

From there I started questioning 9-to-5, I started questioning consumerism, I started questioning my approach to relationships… and on and on. I started peeking behind more and more curtains, and the walls have been falling frequently ever since.

Sometimes of course, such experiments don’t turn out so good. Like this past summer, I experimented with sleeping on the floor for three weeks. I’d read some reports that sleeping that way can be better for your back. That unfortunately didn’t prove to be the case for me, so I quit.

And that’s fine. Not every experiment will result in a positive change in your life, but at the very least you’ll get to know yourself a bit better.

Why do you live like that?

Ask yourself why you do what you do, why you think what you think, why you believe what you believe. Pick a specific habit and put it under the microscope. Does it really add value to your life, or might it be holding you back? What’s the trade off you’re making? Is it worth it?

And hey, maybe it is! To return to the example of alcohol, like I said: Drinking in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But you should be the master of your drinking habits, not a slave to them.

Try a few life experiments for yourself. Keep doing whatever you discover works well for you, and ditch what doesn’t.

Thinking of giving up the drink for a while?

Between DrinksThen check out David Downie’s book Between Drinks. David was perhaps the most famous beer guzzler in Australia at one point, founded the nation’s premier beer website, and has written and been featured in best-selling books about booze. As of this writing it’s been three years since he’s had a drop of alcohol. Between Drinks is the story of his transformation, and solid advice for anyone else who’s eager to experiment with the sober lifestyle. One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Drinking isn’t bad remember. Drinking is awesome. But some people (some smart people) take a step back once in a while and see for themselves if they are now at a stage in their lives where not drinking is even more awesome.

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    1. I too gave up drinking. I was having severe anxiety attacks and found that the reason I would feel so bad is because of the booze of the weekend before. I’d try to stop, then fall back. Again and again. Then finally I said enough and stopped. At I too was shocked at how easy it was to give it up. Sure the first three months were a bit tough, but emphasis on the word bit. After that, smooth sailing.

      I’m with you on every point. If it’s good for you, good. If it’s not (like us) good too.

      I feel stronger and more centered than I have since I was a child. And that feels great.

      On an aside, kicking things like caffeine and sugar have also done wonders. You know I’m no hippie! It’s just that stimulants mess me up.

      Also, no need to worry about airport bars for you for while. 🙂

      • I just hit 2 years of no drinking, and I did it to get myself back after losing myself into the club/gay/party scene. It wasnt always a problem, but after the death of my sister, my drinking became less fun and more of a coping tool (that backfired). I barely recognized myself and had lost all my goals and drive. I am SO happy I opted to make a change and try and do things clear headed. Its a work in progress, but I have come so far!!! The difference is night and day and I am so thankful to be who I am right now. Congrats and thanks for the article……….you sound a lot like me with always wanting to see what else I can do or experiment with.

      • I’ve just came across your website today, and feel extremely inspired after reading this. I’m approaching 6 months booze/drug free :)I’m a 22 yo Irish lad who also leaned heavily on booze as a social crutch, I used to use it to drown any anxiety I felt when out ‘socialising’. Eventually it stopped working, I used to get way too drunk, do stupid shit and end up feeling a thousand times worse when trying to piece my weekends back together. I am really impressed with your outlook on life, and will be adopting your filtering technique haha. It has been amazing to see how my friends reacted when I quit the booze, and it definitely has shown me who my true mates really are. Sometimes I feel as I might be missing out… usually when looking through photos on facebook.. but I suppose I’m just going to have to learn to go out sober and actually develop my social skills without the drink and build some genuine confidence. I’ve also started eating healthier and have noticed a great change in my mood. I’m actually feeling good for the first time in a long while. Thanks for the inspiration man, and I have to say I was pretty impressed to see a fellow Irish lad booze free, keep up the good work 🙂

    2. Wow, congratulations Niall! This is a great milestone. And very soon, Sonali is going to read your post and I am going to get me some stares like “see! it IS possible ! ” :-D..Seriously, you really inspire me and am sure many more ! I hope to take this inspiration through and kick myself to succeed on some experiments of my own, like exercising at least 5 times a week.

      Way to go, Dude ! Rock on !



    3. Well done, it’s passed a year! Congratulations!

      I’ve never been scared of trying new things but I have to say that since I met you I am more willing to experiment. It’s not that I do 30 days experiment on anything. I just try things as long as I feel like and see what happens. I gave up eating so much meat and it turned out I barely eat meat at all now, even though I don’t consider myself vegetarian because I don’t ban myself from eat some jam or other meaty thing when the occasion requires it, but it’s no longer a need. Same with doing stretches every day… well, I don’t do them every day but often and I like it and it’s become part of a habit. I gave up coffee 10 days ago because I felt I was dependent on it. I don’t have a 30 day challenge coffee free, I just won’t have any coffee as long as I feel I “need” it, even though I might succumb tomorrow… or not.

      • Glad the experiments are working well for you 🙂

        I think many people are better taking a less extreme approach than me. I’ve found that I’m something of an all-or-nothing person. Before I gave up drinking for a year, I’d tried limiting myself to one beer per hour while I was out, and it just never worked. I usually need to go all in or I won’t keep up the habit.

    4. Another inspiring and motivating post from you, Niall. I haven’t had much time for leaving comments lately, but I’m very impressed with your blog, and I’ve been getting a lot out of reading it. Thank you!

      The first experiment I ever did was about 19 years ago, when I decided to give my TV to the Goodwill just before Christmas. I had been a TV addict for as long as I could remember. I was in graduate school at the time, and I would tell myself I had no time to socialize, and then I would find I had spent hours watching crap TV that I didn’t even like. I couldn’t seem to break free, so I gave it away, and told myself I would get myself a new one in one year. I figured a year without would be long enough to break the habit. I went through some serious withdrawals – I remember coming home and staring into space and thinking, “what do I do now?” Like you with your alcohol, at the end of the year I was surprised to discover I had absolutely no desire to get another TV. I’ve lived without all these years. People’s responses when they find out are quite diverse. I do remember early on I had a guy look at me and say, “Well that’s just STUPID”. I let that roll off of me (I admit it was made easier at the time because there was almost nothing about the person’s lifestyle that I respected or admired). I’ve had people offer to buy me a TV (I guess they thought I must surely want one and just can’t afford it – NOT 🙂 ) I actually almost never tell people, unless they ask me a specific question about my viewing habits. I’ve had people start telling me all the reasons why they themselves couldn’t possibly live without a TV, when in fact I never suggested they should, nor would I. It was a totally personal decision, and one of the few that I have never second guessed at all. It feels good to be reminded that I successfully did this long before I thought about personal improvement or learned about the concept of “experimenting” with one’s own life. By the way, I also tried the sleeping on the floor experiment. I actually did it for more than a year, and it seemed to be working well. Then I suddenly developed joint problems I had never had before, and pretty severe. They went away once I started sleeping on a bed again. I haven’t been as successful lately sticking with my experiments – I think it’s because I take on too many at one time. I’m going to give some thought to picking just one to focus on for a bit….. Thanks again for all your inspiration.

      • Wow, so much of what you went through with that TV experience sounds familiar to me, Mindy. Especially the part about people justifying why they do what you don’t, as if your choice was a judgement on them!

        And yeah, taking on one experiment at a time is smart. I often take on too many and get burned out.

    5. Well done Niall, fantastic explanation and good that you don’t rule anything out, because you feel the “now” is working for you, and that’s all that matters.

      I think it’s safe to say that your experiment is one of the factors, that has made me undertake the same one, for half a year. I REALLY liked this one and I have felt this SO many times already:

      ” That guy who loudly questions my manhood when I pass up a free shot? Yeah, I’m not going to waste my time getting to know him better. Let me go talk to the girl across the way who doesn’t project her own insecurities onto others.”

      Loving this post, mate. Well done again.

    6. Congrats! Well done!

      I love the idea of filtering the people you meet. I has never crossed my mind that it works that way. Till now I kept seeing it the other way around: I changed and I feel that people don’t want to get involved because they think I’m some kind of not-drinking-drugs taking-tv watching- alien. Thanks for that, it will help me along the way. For the rest of the non-drinking part, I’m totally with you. It’s not that I never ever drink. I just drink when I no it doesn’t weaken me. And besides that, for me alcohol is not worthy having a hangover day after. If you see these patrons: how your mind works and reacts, life gets easier. It’s not only your mind that works that way, it’s a human mind.

      Have fun in Budapest!

    7. Niall, first comment here but I wanted to say I really like how you approach life as a big experiment and question everything. Not sure about not drinking myself since it seems one would pass social occasions. For example, I had my farewell drinks yesterday (I’m leaving Amsterdam). It would have been weird to just watch my buddies drink beers. There’s something to be said about sharing an experience, be it a nice meal, a nice party or a nice wine. But maybe it’s a result of my current conditioning, who knows? 🙂

      Anyways, keep on going, we are watching your adventures and waiting for your blog posts.

      • Hey Tommy! I saw on Facebook yesterday that you were leaving town. Wishing you all the best on your next adventure 🙂

        As for not drinking at your own farewell party, yeah, you’re right. It would be weird. But I think only if you’re used to drinking regularly. For me now, it wouldn’t be weird at all to be at a party like that, even if I was the center of attention and everyone was drinking in my honor.

        I get your point though about sharing an experience. I was talking with a friend about this on Sunday. He asked if I was concerned with missing out on lots of different customs and experiences as I travel because I don’t drink or eat meat. And I’m sure I will miss out on lots of things because of my choices, but I think my unusual habits will also give me a unique perspective on the different cultures I find myself in. I don’t consider it good or bad, just alternative.

    8. I’m a drinker but I respect your choice as long as you won’t look down on me for drinking (I think that’s what a lot of those macho drinkers are secretly fearing when they put you down).

      Oh btw, you should release a paid product on dating+courage. I’d gladly pay for it. Preferably a print book and/or audiobook, as I’m allergic to e-books.

      • Hmm, perhaps I will release something like that in future. Thanks for the suggestion 🙂

        And I think you’re absolutely right about the secret fears of the macho drinkers. I don’t look down on anyone for drinking — it’s up to each individual to decide what’s right for them — but lots of folks automatically assume that I consider myself superior to everyone else by abstaining.

    9. Congratulations on your one year sober Niall! Great post. I love the way you emphasize that you throw out what doesn’t work for you. I’ve found myself having to do a bit of that after trying different challenges. For example, after trying vegan-ism for only one week I found my energy depleted, an extreme loss of muscle mass, and all around I was feeling very sick. I was so determined to make it work to the point of feeling like a failure for not being able to stick with it, but then I realized it just wasn’t right for me. I did learn a valuable lesson about myself from all of my “failures”- the key for me is moderation and mindfulness. My goal (which I find serves me well and is pretty natural as long as I am mindful) is to just enjoy a small amount of anything I want as long as I have a healthy motive for it -rather than over consuming and under appreciating. I’ve realized that sipping on one glass of wine every once in a while and slowly enjoying the taste as well as the slight head change is far more pleasurable for me than drinking a whole bottle and getting wasted. Also, when I do drink I make sure that once I am personally satisfied with my intake I do not let others pressure me to keep drinking. Often, even close friends or guys who try to hit on me, question why I’m not drinking any more for the night or not drinking anything on that particular night. It’s pretty annoying!!!! I find it so challenging not to be rude or short with people after they bug me so much about it. I can only imagine the reactions you get from people after not drinking at all. Sheesh! Any tips for how to stay calm and even semi-polite in these situations? I feel like I immediately want to snap on people. Eating less meat and incorporating vegetables into every meal has proven much more self-serving for me than torturing myself strictly avoiding meat. I feel much healthier. Sometimes though it is appropriate to ditch something if you feel you have a problem with it or its self-defeating. For me, this was mary-wana. I have FINALLY given it up after years and years of abuse- and I am proud to say I don’t miss it one bit. I’m drug free when at one point, I thought drugs were the answer for me. Through your posts I have learned (although it may be different from you) all that matters is that it works. Cheers to you and keep it up.

        • actually i liked what you had to say very much. i tend to be “windy” myself but i felt your words and thoughts were well-chosen and well expressed.

      • Thanks for the kind words, Kymber. Glad you’re getting some good practical tips from my posts 🙂

        “Any tips for how to stay calm and even semi-polite in these situations?”

        For me, it’s a matter of recognizing that it’s the other person who has the issue, not me. I’m comfortable with my choices, and so if someone sees fit to give me a hard time about not drinking, I can instantly recognize that they have some unresolved issues there, and they’re projecting them on to me. Sometimes I’ll point that out to them by saying something like, “Wow, you really have a problem with me not drinking, don’t you?” That usually stops them in their tracks.

        If someone persists in giving me a hard time, I just move away from them. Life’s too short.

    10. I heartily agree with you Niall on all points. I will be 10 years sober on Dec. 20 of this year. For me it was the best thing I ever did for myself, having been an alcoholic for most of my adult life. From that success I was able to give up smoking as well. I feel very strongly that I came through my heart attack without damage because I was two years sober at the time.

      The courage to get out on the road hitchhiking around the USA is a direct out growth of my sobriety experience. In fact there have been major improvements in all areas of my life because of that one decision. And as long as I am still living I will continue to make changes in this here life to see what effect they will have on it. I feel like a youngan” having the time of my life. A good many folks don’t cotton to it much but I don’t care. In fact I feel sorry for them. They just do not know what they are missing.

      Thanks for the post.


    11. Like Anthony (in the comments above), I also really liked that line —

      “That guy who loudly questions my manhood when I pass up a free shot? Yeah, I’m not going to waste my time getting to know him better. Let me go talk to the girl across the way who doesn’t project her own insecurities onto others.””

      Actually, all your reasons for why teetotalling has made you a stronger person (resistance to social pressure, real confidence) reminds me of living frugally. When your friends are starting to buy “nice” things (flat-screen TVs, nice cars, nice clothes), it’s easy to feel the pressure to “keep up.” But, of course, if you spent all your money keeping up with your friends, you’d never have enough to save for whatever it is that you REALLY want.

      But if you embrace frugal living, you’ll find that it gives you real confidence, it qualifies who your “real” and open-minded friends are, and it helps you resist social pressure.

      Another awesome post, Niall!

      • Love that parallel, Paula. I think anything we do away from the norm, as long as it’s for the right reasons, will make us stronger. It’s good to get comfortable what that social pressure and not let it bother you.

    12. Beautiful post Niall and well done!!

      It’s great when a challenge becomes a positive lifestyle change that gets completely internalized.

      Rock it!


    13. Congrats! I’m also a reformed social drinker {but my reasoning for doing so involved totaling my Jaguar and getting a DUI}. When I was forced to go into DUI class one of the counselors insisted I was an alcoholic no matter how I tried to explain that I was just a social drinker with a low tolerance for liquor {hello, I’m 5’2 and 105 lbs}. But she insisted I was just another alkie so to prove to her, myself and anyone else who may have questioned my relationship with alcohol I decided to stop drinking for 6 months. I did and it was easy. After the 6 months was over I drank a few times while on vacation and then once a few months later for my friends bday…on both occasions I recall thinking ‘why am I doing this?’ Like you said, it just felt like a crutch that simply didn’t bring out the best in me.

      All this happened back in 2008 and since that time I’ve stopped drinking completely. I don’t miss it at all, I honestly think about all the money I save {not to mention the headaches or regrets I might have after a night out drinking}.

      Asking why, why, why and why again is really the only way to live if you really want a life of your own and not someone else’s programmed perception of how YOU should live!

      Keep inspiring Niall!

    14. Hi Niall,

      I am finally getting my head around using comments. I really enjoyed that post! As I told you in an earlier email I am on a 6 weeks alkaline diet basically banning everything acid from my plate. When I started it I thought it would be much harder and I would crave things like chocolate and wine like crazy. But actually I am fine. I have not had serious cravings….sometimes the occasional coffee smell gets me;-)

      I love the experimental approach to live you are describing! I am doing an experiment at the moment in writing in Calligraphy style (an A4 page every day). It is inspired by an amazing book I am reading “The brain that changes itself”. The author claims that writing in that way improves your speech, movement and brain capacity for memorizing. Since this is somewhat relevant to the work I do I am testing it;-)

      I also love the way you say that you won’t rule out that a possible future version of yourself might have a complete different outlook on life. It is good to stay fluid and flexible!

      Be well


    15. Always a fan, Niall. Always a fan.

      I need to do something like this with sugar. It’s honestly scary to consider as I do use sugar as a crutch when I’m stressed, which these days is far too often. But maybe this will be the nudge I need to do an experiment. I have done it in the past with poor effect, mainly due to lack of commitment. I do believe that chocolate is a freaking DRUG, and I go through moderately serious withdrawal when I stop using, I mean, eating it.

      Any advice on how to get yourself to do what you know you need to, but maybe don’t totally *want* to?

      • Thanks, Jen.

        Have you read The 4-Hour Body? Some good advice in there about how to stick to healthy habits. One of the big things is to allow yourself a cheat day. After all, not eating chocolate for 6 out of 7 days consistently is better than going three weeks without it and then falling off the wagon completely.

        Another trick is to post about your intention on your blog. That always holds me more accountable 🙂

    16. Congrats on the no-alcohol year! You’re right; we can never quite experience what other people feel unless we experience it ourselves, hence the need for experimentation.

      I rarely drink myself— maybe 1 to 3 glasses a month. Instead, watching people get drunk around me makes me laugh (bordering on schadenfreude) and at the same time makes me pity their lot. I never could understand why people need to drink themselves silly. Social pressure makes people do odd things.

      • Nice to be free of all that, isn’t it? What’s amazing to me is that I couldn’t feel all the pressure before, and I didn’t realize I was folding under it.

        Thanks for the comment, Theo!

    17. Hi Niall
      I am soooo pleased I just came across your site and experiment!
      After getting very drunk on Wednesday on a night out, and losing my iPhone and shows, I decided I’d had enough! haha
      I go out a lot at weekends (I love clubbing and am a DJ in my spare time), and every occasion is an opportunity to drink – and I rarely say no.
      However, in 2010 I managed to give up for 6 months, and was really proud of myself, but slowly but surely got lured back in.
      I want to stop for very similar reasons to yourself. It is adding very little to my life, but seems to be taking my time, money, and now iPhone!!!
      Most of the resources out there are for people who are classed as ‘alcoholics’ and talk about taking each day at a time. I cant relate to this, as I dont drink to the extent that I get withdrawal symptoms etc. But I do binge drink on occasions and use it as a social crutch. So this site is very refreshing!
      Part of what’s stopped me from giving up before is a stupid reason really haha – but I am a veggie, I have never smoked or taken drugs, so alcohol is really one of my only obvious vices. I am afraid that I’ll be that “boring girl who doesn’t eat meat or even drink”! But that’s my own insecurity, and need to find some way of getting over that 🙂
      Thanks again and I’ll keep you updated with my progress.

      • Great stuff, Ginny. Not sure if you know, but I’m also vegan. So if I can also give up drinking and still not come across as that boring guy, I’m sure anyone can 🙂

        Really glad you found my site, too. Just been listening to some of your music. Exactly the type I love to listen to while knuckling down to get some solid work done.

        Rock on!

        • An update:
          I am now on day 17 of sobriety (I prefer to use a positive term, rather than “not drinking” which automatically focusses on the “drink”, but I wish there was a better phrase than “being sober” or “T-Total” haha – we need a “vegetarian” equivalent word for not drinking). Anyway, I digress….
          I think I have been offered alcohol every night since I began in one form or another (family get togethers, meeting with friends, a quiet glass of wine at home) and it has been easy to say no until I went to my friend Sue’s house. We were just chilling and watching films, and I had a hankering for a glass of wine or two. I thought “I am safe in her house if I get drunk, Im not driving, Its just to relax”. I almost convinced myself. But then I thought “why would I need to drink?” I had to ask myself that a few times, and it helped that my friend was supportive and knew I was not drinking, so hadn’t bought wine in, but I didn’t drink. I was very pleased with myself.
          The next temptation is a gig I have tomorrow night, which I am rather nervous about! haha But I am intending to stay sober, and “feel the fear, but do it anyway”.

          By the way, I LOVE your manifesto and have been watching your “courage challenges” – they’re brilliant!

            • I like that idea as an alternative phrase Niall 🙂 BTW I stayed sober for my gig, and it was fab! However, I had two drinks on Sat night at a friends, but it was useful as I didn’t want more, so was a good test. Plus, she had bought low alcohol wine by mistake (it’s fate haha – she hadn’t realised I was staying “fully conscious” at the moment).

    18. You mentioned some really good points here Niall! I think the social pressure is the most difficult to deal with. The qualifier idea is wonderful, it is so true.. but then there are friends that you appreciate in many other ways but they still have a hard time with you not drinking..I will think of some good counter arguments that will not make them feel bad and then start with a 30 day test of no-alcohol. But a year or life would be even better! Thanks for being a pioneer :o)

      • Thanks for the comment, Ann. That’s a good point about friends you appreciate in many other ways. I guess in such cases sometimes it’s worth keeping them in your life, even if you have to put up with a few snide remarks every now and then.

        Looking forward to hearing how your 30-day experiment goes!

    19. Niall,
      Just started reading your blog. I like it. The quit drinking dialog is interesting. I quit for half of 2010 and 2011. Some personal observations…I wish I had not started again. I have ended up going back where I left off. Subsequently, I am considering stopping again. The reactions of others when you tell them you do not drink is very interesting. Most ask why, then justify why they do. I found most people drink too much, too often and they are aware of it. They sleep horribly and are tired a lot. In essence, none of it is good.
      Best of luck to you and your adventures. You keep writing and I will keep reading.

    20. Hi. I’m very interested to hear your story and perspective and all the replies. (By the way I never watch TV anymore… but i just switched to netflix 😛 at least i’m not being programmed by commercials anymore!)

      I was sober, in AA, for 21 years and some months. So as you can imagine i have a lot of programming.

      first i want to say it’s an awesome program that completely transformed my life.

      however around 18-20 years it started to feel stale. i was concerned, i “went back to basics.” I did a lot of service work. I reworked my steps. Nothing helped; the core of the problem, to me, was that I could no longer relate to the people i saw in meetings. I got sober in tough, old-time AA. I loved those guys. I moved to a certain section of the country that is, let’s say, more intellectual and a tad more snobbish, more segregated (I got sober in Florida which I highly recommend to ANYONE especially the Orlando area which has 600 meetings a week in the area ALONE, as well as some of the original clubhouses) Anyway I digress… I started to think about it and I realized I got sober at 25, in the midst of untreated suicidal depression. Yes, I was drinking… eating… smoking… drugging… spending money… doing EVERYTHING compulsively. But did that make me an alcoholic? I drank alcoholically – but I was certainly never physically addicted.

      I’m not saying these as excuses. I’m saying them as real questions. I always refused to become dogmatic in AA. I love the real oldtimers who didn’t think sharing their “wisdom” with the group was what it was all about. Sure, they were sometimes confrontational and offensive. But they were genuine.

      So finally, at 21 years, feeling alienated from AA which was the saddest thing in my life, I decided to take a drink. It’s been about a month.

      There is no question I drink more than the recommended “1 drink a day” for women. That went out the window pretty quickly. On the other hand, while i catch a buzz every day, I don’t get really drunk very often (maybe twice this month). Without going into every detail, I have *not* returned to my former pattern of drinking.

      Will i over time? Certainly from stories I’ve read, I may. A year from now I may be in rehab begging for another chance (or just dead). Or I might be doing just what I’m doing. I’m not depressed today, thanks to more or less 15 years of hard work in therapy, identification (finally and definitively) of my underlying problems (not attitude and not personality; severe, complex PTSD), and a combination of antidepressants and antianxiety meds. God knows, those are controversial enough in themselves in AA. But I had a woman actually tell me she would not sponsor me because I was in *therapy* (psych drugs are relatively recent, now i’m kicking myself for the prejudices I had for them, that were given to me). So you really have to listen to your own “ring of truth” when you listen to people in AA… and you have to go to meetings where people authentically have more than time and ego to share…

      So after 21 years, can i drink “normally”? i don’t think so. can i drink without progression? only time will tell. The thing is i’m 47 now, i’m on disability (from the PTSD)(and no, it’s not BS, I finally understand while no matter what my efforts I haven’t been able to hold a job for 20 years–not counting the years I was drinking). Is it a reckless chance? Maybe. But I’ve always been reckless. I’ve always gone against the tide. i always looked very carefully at what I was getting into.

      And the truth is right now I just don’t care. In the last year I’ve had so many losses, the grief is overwhelming. The funny thing is I didn’t drink during the deep, suicidal depression I went through from January to June. I drank in August. I consciously, deliberately went out and bought a bottle of wine. Did it start in my head, as they say with relapse, long before? Maybe… but i could have sworn i’d been trying harder and wanting it more, not blowing it off. I’d even been meditating like crazy — something i always put off before. I wanted some emotional balance desperately. I just couldn’t take any more and I wanted something to take the edge off, pure and simple. I talked and talked and talked about it in meetings before I did it. In Florida I would have had an army of support. Where I was living, all these wise oldtimers went off after meetings to enjoy their fan clubs…

      Now… if this gets out of hand and I survive it, I’ll go back to AA. And hopefully here in the midwest I’ll have a different experience and be able to connect. I moved all over Florida and never had any problem making friends in AA. I moved… there… and in 12 years I did not make one friend. I didn’t change… not that much, not that quickly. Don’t buy it.

      But the truth is I really question what the outcome will be. I feel my feelings–FEELINGS, not depression and anxiety. I always thought it was a logical fallacy when I would hear in meetings, “those who don’t come to meetings never get to hear what happens to those who don’t come to meetings” (meaning relapse). Is a choice to drink the same as relapse? And is the reason you don’t ever hear someone come back to AA and say “HEY guess what, I’ve been drinking for a year and it’s FABULOUS!” perhaps because noone in AA wants to hear it?

      Let’s face it… getting sober is hard enough without questioning whether or not you can get away with drinking. So i sure as hell would never return to program and flaunt it, assuming I do succeed, success meaning I don’t 1) recede into depression 2) get arrested 3) get hospitalized or 4) die.

      AA is a great program. If you choose it, remember the program is in the first 164 pages of the big book, anything you hear in the meetings is opinion only, some of its good, a lot of it is B.S. No meeting is like any other. That definitely goes for around the country and probably around the world. Meetings are not the program. Do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.

        • Hi Niall thanks for responding. I want to clarify a few things i said. First – working the program, to my bones, did transform both me and my life. The program does work, it did not fail me. I think the reason why renewing my efforts this time around didn’t work, is because I’ve done all the spiritual, psychological progress I can in AA right now. I never say ‘forever.’ But I think ten years of being stuck is about all I can stand.

          I think I still have work to do, obviously, but I think it will be a different path, I just have to find it.

          It’s also possible that picking up in August, even though I haven’t felt that awful depression, is still an extension of my self-destructive tendencies. I’m still in pretty deep grief and under enormous pressure of stress. I strive to be as completely honest with myself and others as possible. So I’m not going to blow past this either.

          I suppose saying I tend to be reckless and yet I “think things through” sounds contradictory. Maybe a better way of saying it is I think about the risks involved, i weight them against what I’m willing to lose if I’m wrong, and I prepare as well as possible for success. And then I hold my nose and jump in the deep end. I did it with AA (against advice), I did it with therapy (against advice), I did it with riding a motorcycle (against advice), I’m doing it with moving west (against advice). Everyone has their own risk tolerance and everyone has their own true north. My risk tolerance tends to be pretty high. My north star is a little askew, perhaps. Probably why I have a lot of problems, but then, I was born into a lot of problems, that’s nothing new.

          the truth is it’s been a month, and i’m already getting bored of drinking. pretty soon i’ll be in the mountains and i’ll probably be hand-building a shelter and wiring it and plumbing it and putting up solar panels and I won’t have time or interest for alcohol. So my level of concern is actually pretty low.

          People say you make your own luck. Other people say you pick the circumstances of your birth through some karmic cycle. All I know is I was born deep in the jungle and I’ve had to walk a long ways to get anywhere new, and things have changed for the better, but I’m just too tired to keep up this level of effort. So I’m going to try some non-trying for a while and see what happens. Not-trying for me means not trying to “fit in,” not trying to do what everyone else is doing. Not running in place.

          Apologies for double-dipping.

        • I thought I should post an update.

          I was able to drink “normally” for a few weeks. My tolerance increased gradually to a point where I knew I was drinking too much, I was drinking daily, and I was feeling lousy the next day physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. My life was revolving around my “permitted” happy hour (6pm) after which I would drink the rest of the night. So, while I did not return to the behavioral habits of my 20’s, I also clearly cannot “take it or leave it.”

          Therefore I’ve returned to AA and recommitted to complete abstinence. This is my fourth day.

          Unsolicited advice: Never be afraid to admit you are wrong!

    21. Hi Niall,

      I’m a musician playing in a band that has been on the road for 15 years playing in 5 star hotels in Asia and the Middle east.This life style has consisted of lots of partying, binge drinking and doing chemicals for many years. This time last year while watching the rugby world cup,somehow the words came out me mouth “If NZ win this world cup ,I’ll stop drinking for a month ” After the month I was feeling really good and decided to go another month and here we are now a week short of my first year of no alcohol.I’m still playing in a bar every night and the rest of my band think its slightly creepy but have been supportive of me.The thing I really notice is the clarity of mind and the extra energy.Waking up every day is so easy now ,where as before it was always that slow and groggy feeling. . Its really nice to read about other peoples experiences too , loving your site. . Keep up the good work!

    22. Thanks for sharing your story. You seem to have gotten down the sober thing pretty well. Good job. I’ve been sober for two years after getting in wayyy too much trouble. It’s pretty fubar what some people have to go through to finally “get it” when they have a serious problem. I guess the social thing is the biggest reason why I kept going. The drinking lifestyle was a catalyst for making new friends and finding new places to hang out…Now instead of going out drinking with friends when the weekend comes, I just find a nice cozy corner in my room and curl up naked with nothing but a blanket and turn the lights on and off for about 5 or 6 hours. That’s usually on Friday nights though. On Saturdays I have an aluminum foil chewing contest with myself to see if I can beat my own record. I’m up to 45 seconds but then after that I usually black out from the pain. Sometimes when I get really bored, I go to the shittiest part of my town and ask homeless people for change. No but seriously though, my weekends and social life are gone. Idk what the hell to do anymore

    23. Happy New Year, Niall.

      On New Year’s Eve 2011, I was inspired by this blog post to stop drinking alcohol for a year. My reasons for drinking were similar to yours. Mostly, I used it as a crutch to avoid facing my challenges. Plus, it was expensive and a huge time-suck.

      In the spirit of exploration, I cycled through the holidays, events and stresses of 2012, finding beverage alternatives and facing my fears.

      I experienced mixed reactions to what I was doing, and sometimes criticisms. Just like those mentioned in this blog. I’m grateful to have been prepared for that.

      It was tough sometimes, but it turned out to be a great year! In a word — empowering.

      Many thanks for sharing your life journey. You are making a difference.

      Best wishes for 2013!


    24. Niall… Great site, great idea and just what I needed at just the right time. I’ve been sober for around 4 and a half years now (and not for experimental reasons…LOL). I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict… I feel REALLY great about being sober, but sometimes I feel resentful and left out… Alcohol-centric social situations are difficult for me… However, sometimes I do have the occasional flash of clarity and see/appreciate the unique opportunities being sober presents to me… My confidence has greatly improved on almost every level… But every now and again I need a boost… A reminder that what I’m doing is sometimes difficult – but always worthwhile… So glad I stumbled on your blog… I’m really going to try and change my perspective and live a little more experimentally… Thanks for the boost!!

    25. I am saving this quote:

      “Nothing is really good or bad in an absolute sense. What matters is whether something empowers you or weakens you.”

      Thanks, you gave me fortification to keep from drinking and to empower myself. Cheers!

    26. I am 25 years old and I have basically never drank alchol. I believe I would have been way more normal had I been drinking. Like I am still a virgin, and I have basically no friends. Just wanted to pass a different message.

      • By age 22 I’d been drinking regularly for five years and was still a virgin. Alcohol can help when it comes to social anxiety, but it’s certainly not the ultimate answer.

        By all means, try drinking alcohol, but don’t expect it to solve all your problems. It often just makes them worse.

    27. Niall… your video and post have really inspired me. Like you, the longest I have gone sober was 2 months (last year). I decided this week to start this again. I have just grown tired of feeling my personal goals and momentum are stalled by moments of alcohol-induced lethargy. In addition, I feel like my recent bouts of excessive social drunkeness have been bringing out a less-desirable part of me—either too muted, too aggressive, or just simply unengaged (and mornings with little memory of the “fun” I had just had) because of intoxication. This reality was the final straw which brought me to this decision (and how I found your awesome post through Googling)

      I plan to commit to 30 days of sobriety, though my internal desires are very much in line with your thinking, so I am fully expecting for this to go much longer. I sense there are some great things in store if I can get some consistent drive and focus.

      I look forward to hearing how your ongoing experiments are going through this blog. Thanks again.. JT

    28. I’ve given up drinking for similar reasons (couldn’t seem to ever have just a few) but it’s tricky to go out to social events (especially so-called “networking”) and not drink. I find that people tend to not respond very well to non-drinkers, especially when out… Do you have any tips? I’ve tried having alcohol free drinks sometimes but not all bars offer them, and I feel silly for pretending to drink when I actually believe not drinking is best for me, and would benefit many other people too… I completely agree with your line of thinking – questioning culturally dependent habits that we’ve take on just from growing up in a certain environment. If no one ever questioned and challenged tradition and social habits, where would the world be? And if more people questioned these things, how far developed could the world potentially be by this point? Exhilarating to think about…

      Thanks for a very interesting article! (Not sure why this is relevant, but I’m a girl, just thought it might be interesting for you to see that some women have similar thoughts on this issue… seeing as most of the other comments are from men)

    29. Noticed I was way off with my male/female ratio there, just had another look at the comments… Btw I saw an article in The Guardian (UK) a few months ago about new teetotaller bars opening, where people can socialise without drinking, some have quite elaborate, alcohol free cocktails (maybe in the future drinking will be seen similarly to how we now see smoking – no doubt it’s just as unhealthy for the human body and mind)

    30. I’ve just started on the giving up drink for a year. It’s only been a month and I’ve had difficulty explaining it to people who think I’m crazy, but your description at the top of the page, and I too am “not okay with such an arrangement anymore”. I think it comes from being a somewhat shy person who also has ambitions to be the centre of attention and drinking helped me achieve that. But can I be a better, bigger version of me without drink? We’ll see. I’m blogging about it currently in an attempt to record the evidence. Best of luck to you.

    31. Hi Niall,
      Like where you are heading with this. Stopping drinking is all about clarity and clear-headedness more than anything else for me personally. I am grateful for running in the mornings on weekends, not being tired after lunch and no having random regrets fro stupid things I may have said whilst drinking.
      Like how you presented this lifestyle choice as action based on more not as a loss or sacrifice.

    32. Read this thanks to your (always excellent) newsletter. Some great stuff to take away here – I’ve been doing a similar thing, experimenting, building myself from blocks and jigsaw pieces, seeing what gels, what fits, keeping some things and discarding others.

      It really is a great way to live – to be aware that you are not a finished product, nor ever will be. To evolve is powerful.

      Thanks again.