My path to not drinking

It all started with a bottle of beer six of us shared after a day of playing war with toy BB guns. We were 13. It tasted awfully, but I felt so good after that. Not that I haven’t tried alcohol before, I probably did. But this time was different. I wanted more of that awesome feeling. Next time we got some beer I was so excited, and it didn’t taste too bad.

Drinking quickly climbed up to #1 spot in my leisure chart. Booze was hard to get, but those rare moments were next level of fun. Games were so childish — this is how all grown-ups entertain themselves. I know it’s dangerous to drink too much, but I’ve seen enough of those miserable drunkhards around to do it responsibly. I’m not that stupid.

High school was even more fun. Thanks to solid background my parents gave me I didn’t have to put in much effort to get good grades. I felt smart and could focus solely on pranks and partying. A beer or two after classes doesn’t count, it’s just to relax, I’m no more little boy after all. Real fun is when you get drunk and do something crazy. I rarely got in trouble, only for the outstanding stuff like insulting headmaster on the annual school-wide event, drunk as lord. I was required to visit special classes with a narcologist for a while after that, but no big deal — I was a hero, all that b**t could be just ignored.

Then uni. I wasn’t the smart kid in the room anymore, but who cares — I study only important things, everything else is just noise not worth my attention. Best of all, I could now get booze legally, just walk into the liquor store and grab as much as I wanted. I’m adult now! Party doesn’t have to stop. There was always someone up for a drink, at any time. My best friend and parents told me a few times that I’m drinking too much, but I still did quite well at uni and felt perfectly healthy, nothing to worry about.

Then I got a job. I enjoyed playing with computers and math since childhood, so I got paid well. Fancy places, sophisticated drinks. I felt smart again. Leisure now meant meeting at a bar, having a few drinks and some food, then moving to another place, and so on up until early morning. Every Friday of course, most of Saturdays, once or twice during workweek to meet old friends, occasionally on Sundays when bored. In other words, not very often, perfectly normal, everyone does that, right? I got a better job, polished my drinking habits. New places were opening all the time in the city, so there was always something to talk about. Bartenders knew me, I got discounts and priority service at trendiest bars, life was perfect.

Well, almost perfect. Often I felt sad, for no reason. Talking to my best friend didn’t help as it used to. We recalled good old times having so much fun, but after a while I felt even worse. Is it just that I’m grown up and life becomes more and more complicated? Also, talking to people felt a bit awkward sometimes, too small talk, too pointless. But not at the bar — after a few drinks it was all fine again.

Then a sudden thought hit me: alcohol means a lot in my life. And that’s a huge red flag. What if I’m drinking too much? No way, I’m healthier than ever, have a good job, the future is bright. But still, how much is too much? I started googling, and stumbled upon this table which lists recommended maximum intakes in different countries. Ok then, how much am I drinking on average? Last week we had three parties, but just one the week before. What is my average daily intake? I had no stats, so I decided to write down every single drink for a month or two without changing anything in lifestyle.

After a month the numbers shocked me. I didn’t realize I was that deep into drinking. I consumed 1767 ml of pure alcohol. That’s almost 9 bottles of vodka. Am I an alcoholic?

I continued bookkeeping. It became more and more clear that I had issues with alcohol. I needed to do something about it. Now that I have stats it shouldn’t be too hard to get it down to normal levels. After 3 months numbers went down significantly. The progress was obvious, I was in control. I stopped worrying.

But then after a few birthdays in a row my numbers went up for a while. Then down, then up again. The longer-term average didn’t change that much. I tried to set all sorts of limits, this didn’t work well. No problem stopping after a set number of drinks, but then I’m thinking of it all the time and fun is gone. And when there is fun, there are no limits. I’ve been keeping the stats for almost a year. Here it is.

It was a typical Saturday morning. Mild hangover, it will be gone after a light breakfast with few glasses of fresh orange juice. I got really good at drinking.

Then another sudden thought: I am an alcoholic. Not because of how much or how often I am drinking, this is very subjective. Not because of any health or social issues — if anything, my life is much better than normal. But because of my attitude, for when I’m trying to set limits it changes my mood. I’m addicted, at least psychologically. The only way to fight addiction is to quit. So I decided to stop drinking for a month and see how it goes.

Just 3 weeks in I couldn’t believe my eyes. Things looked differently, more colorful. People were nicer. I slept well and had exciting vivid dreams. Tons of energy in the mornings. Crystal clear thoughts. All sorts of creative ideas out of nowhere. I felt like my childhood was back.

With such a massive upside social difficulties became irrelevant. At first I was avoiding parties, but then forced myself to attend having just no-alco drinks. Surprisingly it wasn’t hard at all. Another thing was shocking — drunk people. What used to be fun suddenly looked so dumb and pointless and even disgusting at times. Not everyone though. I gradually limited parties to a circle of closest friends and most important happy hours.

Good things started happening, more and more often. In relationships, work, health — everywhere. I did more every day, but I also slept more and somehow had more free time. I started reading again. What I was doing all these years?! Life got richer and richer with meaning and details. I stopped noticing it soon, but it keeps going. The shift was truly massive. What was “change to better” before is now a baseline, happening all the time. And changes to better now are something I couldn’t even imagine doing before.

After a year I asked myself a question: did I lose anything? Is there any downside at all? The answer seemed to be a definite “no”, except for one little point: I couldn’t do something everyone else does, and most seem to have no problems with that. There are many people who drink rarely and in small amounts simply because that’s the way they like it. What if my addiction is now gone?

I poured a glass of thick red wine. Good nose. Did a few sips. Perfect taste. A few more sips. Pleasant heat spread all over my body. Poured some more. So. Good. And some more. My girlfriend had to stop me.

It’s not gone, and it will never be. This is not about addiction, this is the way I am. Different people handle substances differently. I tried smoking countless times in high school and uni, but never was able to derive any pleasure out of it. Opposite with alcohol. I heard there are some people in Siberia who get addicted after one shot, it’s just in their genes. After that experiment I never looked back.

It’s been almost two years since I quit drinking. My life before was not bad by any means, but now it is just qualitatively superior in every single dimension. This awesome writing by Andy Boyle inspired me to share my story. At first I planned to do it on September 26 when it will be exactly 2 years, but then I thought: why wait?