Everyone has a different relationship with alcohol. I would never blanket a lifestyle choice on anyone. I can only reflect on my relationship with alcohol and the experiences I have had since letting go of it. For those that drink and maintain their own personal and healthy equilibrium—more power to you.
But this blog post is for those who are on the fence about quitting or find interest in the conversation. Since I’ve given up alcohol, here is what I’ve found.
We Don’t Lack Time, We Use it Poorly
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” ― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
Any citizen of the modern world is filled with obligations. Our smartphones are a portal to commitments, and as we age our obligations and responsibilities begin to grow even further. It’s common to feel like we don’t have time for a project or goals we have in mind for ourselves.
But like Seneca reminds us in the quote above, we have more time than we think, we simply don’t use our time properly. One of the greatest time killers of all? Alcohol. It isn’t simply a time killer while drinking, but a time killer that seeps into your following day and potentially next afternoon.
How many days have we each lost to a mean hangover? How many nights have we spent out too late just so we could cram in a few more drinks? How many times have we agreed to an event that we didn’t want to attend, just to end up intoxicated and losing time?
These are all instances where we could have saved time. We could have headed home early and gotten rest to get started for the next day. We could have avoided that mean hangover that rendered us useless on Saturday, our weekend when we are most equipped to catch up on extra-curricular activities.
A Sober Mind Means Sober Thinking
“Which is recorded of Socrates, that he was able both to abstain from, and to enjoy, those things which many are too weak to abstain from, and cannot enjoy without excess. But to be strong enough both to bear the one and to be sober in the other is the mark of a man who has a perfect and invincible soul.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
When I talk about sobriety, I don’t solely mean the abstinence of alcohol, but the sobriety of our thoughts. The sobriety of how we approach the world and makes sense of the events around us. If we aren’t sober in mind to think clearly, it’s easy to make irrational choices in our lives, whether they be work, relationships, or even overestimations of our own abilities and time constraints.
I find that we’re faced with difficult decisions on a daily basis. How do we respond to people that are frustrating us? How do we make time for those we care about without prioritizing non-essentials? How do we make the difficult choices that are thrown at us daily? A sober mind is a helpful guide.
It’s difficult for me to believe that a mood-altering substance―one that’s a depressant at that―will do us any favors when it comes to decision making. That’s why many of us feel relaxed and less-stressed when we drink, because it depresses the parts of our brain that we associate with inhibition. For a society so focused on mental health, it’s a wonder that we haven’t taken a serious examination at the way we consume alcohol, a substance that is known to interfere with our neurotransmitters and cause feelings of anxiety and depression in the long-term.
As Marcus Aurelius says in the passage above, he admired Socrates’ ability to abstain and enjoy things that other people could not enjoy without excess. “It’s the mark of a man who has perfected an invincible soul,” Marcus says.
I know many people who can enjoy alcohol without excess, those that are able to achieve what Socrates did, but I’ve found total avoidance to be much easier. Life is difficult. It doesn’t throw us any favors. We’re all trying to create lives we enjoy with careers that excite us. Why lose any of our time or mental energy on a drink that can be avoided? If we can mitigate risk—and automate our lives so to speak—why not?
We’re All Running Away
“They make one journey after another and change spectacle for spectacle. As Lucretius says ‘Thus each man flees himself.’ But to what end if he does not escape himself? He pursues and dogs himself as his own most tedious companion. And so we must realize that our difficulty is not the fault of the places but of ourselves.” — Seneca, On Tranquility of the Mind
In this passage Seneca is referring to travel, but I think the idea also applies to alcohol. I’m not going to launch into an existential dialogue here, but if we’re being honest, we’re all running away. We all have problems. We all face issues we don’t know how to overcome. We all think about our futures and wonder how it will be possible to obtain the things we hope for.
Alcohol is the perfect antidote. What better than a drink that actually depressing the brain, alters our mood, and makes us feel temporary relief? There truly is no better modern day escape. Better yet, it’s incredibly celebrated. Marketers tout Corona as an “inner beach.” Alcohol is served to celebrate at weddings. It’s served to take the edge of in the office. We go to happy hours and brunches. It’s how we connect.
But as Seneca reminds us when he speaks of vacation, as much as we try to run away, we never actually escape ourselves. Everywhere we are, there we are with our same woes, fears, and desires. With alcohol, there we are intoxicated with the combination of it all.
I don’t believe the solution is to avoid escaping. I belief the solution is to escape in ways that free the mind and promote healthy-habits. Running. Lifting. Martial arts. New hobbies. There’s a reason that when the rapper Eminem got sober, he turned to running. Exercise floods us with endorphins and produces similar addictive effects, hence why you always hear about your running friends talk about running.
Lastly, when we need comfort, how many of us are disciplined enough to use alcohol in a comfortable fashion without going overboard? What type of comfort is ok for alcohol use and not? If we’re angry after work? If we lose our jobs? If a loved one passes away? It’s a slippery slope to associate something rather dangerous with a source of comfort.
Not to Mention all of the Practical Reasons
Aside from my rather philosophical inquiries on the merits of avoiding alcohol, there’s plenty of practical benefits.
Better sleep. Healthier diet. More calories to eat sweets and snacks. Free time. Saving money.
You might be one who could care less about the philosophical musings I shared, but you may be in the camp of wanting to save money for other hobbies and interests. I’m sure I might have skipped over a few other practical reasons, because to be honest, I think every reason on this list is practical.
A Conclusion: Don’t Take Me Out of Context
It’s hard to write a blog post about why I don’t drink alcohol. I can already imagine the eye-rolling and agitation many people will feel just seeing the headline. And I can’t fully blame you, because there is potential for the subject matter to seem rather pretentious or like I’m trying to be preachy.
While I can’t control the way anyone reacts to anything I write—I wouldn’t write at all if that were the case—I can say that there isn’t any pretentiousness in writing this.
I started drinking in high school. I continued onward in college. There were heavy drinking sessions, mild sessions, slow cups of wine, and everything in between. All along the way I had thoughts about quitting, but I never acted on them. I never really thought about the topic holistically, and quitting just seemed too hard, so I carried on with it.
I can confidently say that I don’t crave alcohol anymore, and I intend—and hope—that this is a conclusion that I carry with me. So this post is for those who are on the fence about quitting and want to hear a similar opinion, or for those who simply like discussion.
I guess the funny thing about publically admitting I don’t drink applies some pressure that I never change my mind, but I don’t mind that so much. Now there’s some built-in accountability.
Note: To my friends reading, yes I still want to go to the bar and hang out, and yes I still want to be present at all other alcohol related festivities.