I’m a recovering alcoholic. I started drinking heavily in college and became a daily drinker around the time I graduated. I continued to drink every day for years, until finally quitting just before I turned thirty.
Throughout that time, I tried countless approaches when it came to my drinking habit. Ultimately though, they can be distilled down to three basic strategies: the first was to ignore it, the second was to reduce my drinking, and the third was to cut out drinking entirely.
Ignoring the Problem
I used to think that the easiest option was to simply ignore my drinking problem. Of course, I knew that continuing to drink every day was unhealthy and destructive, but I thought that it at least wouldn’t be very hard to do.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Drinking every single day is immensely difficult, even for an addict. It drained my finances, it got in the way of my social life, and it kept me in a state of permanent exhaustion.
My years of daily drinking were the most tiring years of my life. I can see when I look back at old pictures of myself that I always look as if I’m about to pass out.
The worst thing was that every year got harder than the year before. I had fewer friends, more stress, and less interests.
Although I thought giving in to my addiction was the path of least resistance, it was actually the most difficult option I could have chosen.
When I realized that I couldn’t continue to drink every day, I debated between getting entirely sober versus just cutting back on my drinking.
I understood that I had an addiction to alcohol, but I still believed that I could somehow transform myself into more of a typical drinker. In my mind, cutting back on drinking sounded way easier than giving it up completely.
My thinking made sense when compared with other parts of life. It’s easier to eat a little less than to fast. It’s easier to spend a little less time watching TV than to never watch it again.
But I quickly came to learn that my addiction didn’t follow the same pattern as my other habits.
When I tried to cut back on drinking, I failed miserably. I set rules for myself, limiting when and how much I drank, only to break them almost immediately.
I couldn’t keep my drinking at a moderate level for more than a few days, and the entire time I’d think about alcohol non-stop. Then I’d inevitably go back to drinking as much as ever within a week.
I tried to drink less many different times, but it wasn’t just difficult — I found it flat out impossible.
I discovered through this process just how differently I thought about alcohol compared with the mindsets of non-addicts. I wasn’t drinking to enjoy the taste of beer or to experience a slight buzz. I was drinking to get drunk, every time.
One or two drinks was never enough for me. It didn’t satisfy that compulsion towards drunkenness. Once I grasped this, I understood that moderation would never be the easy solution I had wanted.
Throughout these years, I had taken for granted that getting sober — quitting alcohol completely — would be the hardest possible option for me. If I couldn’t go one day without a drink, how could I possibly go an entire lifetime? When I considered sobriety, I felt like I was kidding myself.
To my shock, it turned out to be the easiest solution of the three. Or, perhaps I should say the “least difficult.”
I don’t mean to argue that quitting drinking was easy. I’ve often said that it was one of the hardest times in my life. But the key difference between sobriety and my other strategies is that sobriety has gotten easier with time.
Every year that I spent as a drunk was harder than the year before. Every time that I tried to cut back my drinking, it was just as difficult as ever. However, every year that I stay sober, life gets easier.
With alcohol out of my way, I’m healthier, have more free time, and spend less money. Activities that used to feel impossible — like exercising regularly — now feel like no big deal at all. My life is still far from perfect, but I’m happier than I ever was as a daily drinker.
The actual abstinence itself has gotten easier too. Four years in, I can’t even remember my last craving and truly don’t miss alcohol.
Getting sober isn’t an easy option, but it’s the easiest of three difficult ones. After a ton of difficult work quitting, it led to a much easier and happier life.