My First Year Sober

November 28th, 2020

"Is that Natural Father??"

The moniker was a play on words on Anheuser-Busch's Natty Daddy, a ridiculous super-size me version of Natural Light. The light beer is known for its pisswater taste and college-affordable pricing. It was also my beverage of choice for 6 years.

I was a heavy binge drinker. My freshman year's crowning achievement was sporting a black shirt I received as a reward for drinking 15 beers in three hours. I ran a beer store out of my room that had 16 30-racks in it at any given time. Every weekend involved me dragging my friends out of their room and into the dining room to join me in getting wasted by throwing pong balls in red solo cups.

Then, a year ago, I stopped. What followed was a year full of clarity and more energy than I've ever felt before.

As I look back on my last year being sober, I want to talk about why I decided to stop and why I'm confident I won't ever go back.

Motivation To Stop

I would have laughed at you if you asked me to stop drinking. In fact, the suggestion would have been border-line insulting.

I had to get drunk every Friday and Saturday night to consider it a fulfilling weekend during college. This behavior got worse after graduating. I realized that I had far more control over my time in the real world. So why not get drunk on Monday nights while watching The Bachelor? Why spend Thursday nights sober if they feel so similar to Fridays?

Moderation, in general, is something I don't resonate with. If I decided to take that first drink, I've already decided that it was better than being sober. So why not go the complete opposite direction? One drink almost always implied at least ten.

After a couple of nights that involved 8 hours of continuous drinking, I started to wonder. Is there something better I could be doing with this time?

I had picked up working out again for about a year. Am I negating any progress from my workouts by drinking?

I also started to get serious about my finances, tracking my spending by category every month. How much am I spending on maintaining this habit?

I came across this Joe Rogan podcast with Nikki Glaser in early October 2019. In it, she talked about how she had quit drinking entirely years ago. The secret? Allen Carr's book How to Quit Drinking Without Willpower. She explained how the book eliminated her desire to drink instead of fighting her willpower.

Sounds like bullshit. However, I was intrigued enough to add it to my wish list.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving weekend 2019. Back in my hometown in Long Island, I go out to a bar with several high school friends and get unbelievably drunk as usual. I eventually become unresponsive, making my brother who came to pick me up wait half an hour outside in the parking lot. My mom stays up all night worried sick about where I am. My brother finally brings me home at 4 am, and I ping-ponged past my mom, face planting onto my bed.

The next morning my mom attempts to have an intervention with me about my drinking. While I appear as if I'm listening externally, I'm just yes-manning her internally. She doesn't get it. I have this under control. I'm okay.

Even though I was convinced that my actions weren't personally harmful, this was the first instance where I realized my drinking had a negative effect on others. I reasoned that this behavior was justifiable as long as I was the only person shouldering the risk. But, I became scared of what other negative externalities my drunk self was capable of. If this was the first instance, what will next time look like?

I had the Allen Carr book in my queue for a few weeks now; maybe this was the spark I needed to start reading it. I bought it from Amazon the following weekend.

Eliminating The Desire To Drink

I'm a slow reader. It takes me at least a month to get through a book, give or take a few weeks.

I finished this book in two days.

Most alcoholic anonymous-type programs take an unsustainable approach. They acknowledge that drinking is something you want to do; you simply need to find the willpower to overcome it. This rarely works because there's now a sacrifice associated with not drinking. Over time, willpower will degrade, and you will eventually submit to the desire to drink.

The book takes a different approach. Because overcoming willpower is unsustainable, it convinced me that I don't want to drink. How? By getting me to think about all of the reasons why I drank in the first place, a question I had never asked myself before. One by one, I began to realize that all of these reasons were better achieved while sober.

I identified three reasons for why I drank.

To Improve How I Interacted Socially

This is the most common reason why most people drink. We are convinced that our sober selves are too stiff. By drinking, we could relax this stiffness to better interact with those around us. Need help talking to that attractive girl or a new person you just met? Let's have a drink first!

I started to reflect on my own social interactions in the context of drinking. Did it actually improve how I interacted with others? There was one night where I yelled at a pledge in front of his date for how he dressed. Another night I made fun of a girl in front of her friends for hooking up with my roommate. Do I want to be susceptible to more of these interactions?

I realized that improved sociability was not a function of the number of drinks but the number of quality interactions. As with any skill, you have to put in the reps. If I was wasting away reps on my drunk self, how will my sober self ever improve? If I genuinely wanted to improve how I interacted with others, I should optimize being sober around others.

To Increase The Amount of Energy I Had

To get excited about an activity, I thought I needed some drinks in me. Start dancing in the middle of the dance floor? Watch a live Mets game? Pregame for a fun night out? Let's pump some drinks in us first!

I started to think back on all the activities that I rationalized participating in because I would at least be drunk. There was a night where I sat at home on my own drinking to a few Netflix shows. There was a party that I didn't want to go to, so I downed a handful of beers before heading out. How could I have been spending my time instead?

I began to realize that the activities I do should excite me on their own merits. Why should I need to poison myself with alcohol to make an activity enjoyable? If I come across something that I wouldn't do without alcohol, then maybe that something is not worth doing in the first place.

To Be Known As "The Natty Guy"

I really enjoyed being known as the cheap beer guy. There was a work-horse association with it, dependability. How are we going to finish all of these beers tonight? Don't worry, Vargas is here! Are we going to have enough drinks for everyone? Of course, Vargas always has plenty!

Identity is a powerful motivator. When you identify yourself with a particular brand, your actions begin to revolve around maintaining that brand. The most potent force causing me to drink a lot was maintaining the brand to others that I was the friend who drank a lot.

Then I fantasized about a far more compelling brand to identify myself with. One that is associated with someone who was always in control. One that is associated with someone who was more careful with spending and personal health. One that is associated with achieving more because so many nights would not be wasted on getting drunk.

The brand of not drinking anymore.

Being a Non-Drinker

That Thanksgiving weekend was the last time I drank. That makes today about 1 year of me being a non-drinker.

There's a compounded grogginess that builds each time you drink and are hungover the next morning. I didn't realize to what extent this was true. Instead of laying on the couch for my body to recover from the night before, I've been able to build better habits around engineering, reading, and writing. I'm now excited to wake up each morning full of energy to tackle the day.

At the first party I went to after deciding to stop drinking, I only knew two people there. Yet I had a great time. I met friends of friends and felt my energy rise with everyone else who was drinking. The best part was that my night didn't just end with me passing out on the couch when I went home. I enjoyed the rest of my night and woke up at a reasonable hour the next morning.

After the first few months, I went on my financial tracking app to compare food & drinking spending. It dropped from $1600-$1700/month in October and November to $700-$800/month in December and January. That was not all just beer money. That's money subconsciously spent on buying rounds for the table, paying cover at late night clubs, and grabbing late-night food. All associated with drinking.

Finally, I love now being known for not drinking. I could be the person my friends depend on when they need a designated driver. I could be the person who doesn't need alcohol to make a fool of himself singing karaoke standing on a table. I could try to achieve much more in my career now without alcohol fogging up my vision.

I didn't need the willpower to stop drinking because I'm still fulfilling those same reasons that first led me to drink. But now, I experience them without alcohol.

This is not an attempt to convince all of you to stop drinking. We all have our own motivations. Though, I'd encourage you to ask yourself, why do you drink? Does drinking help you get closer or drive you farther from those reasons? For some, moderate consumption is achievable, and they could experience a benefit in drinking. For others, you may realize that drinking is working against you from achieving those goals.

I know I will never drink again because I've eliminated the desire to. There is a fear associated with it that gave me nightmares for months. But now I'm free. Free to enjoy life as it is without needing to become Natural Father.

A special thanks to my friends for help with this article: Ryan Williams, Jen Vermet, Andrew Spector, Tyler Wince, and Foster