Two days ago I completed my second 90 Day Challenge, the No-Alcohol Challenge. Not a single drop for three months.
I was never an alcoholic, but I did come to rely on a few stiff drinks whenever it was time to socialise.
And going over the edge was fairly regular.
“But everyone’s like that,” you may say. “What’s the problem? Are you Amish?”
No, I’m English. And yes, for us bulldogs my habits were perfectly normal.
But there’s only so many blogs about hacking human biology you can be subscribed to before you start thinking like a weirdo.
The reasons not to drink are as numerous as the excuses I told myself to keep it up.
A reason – It lowers your testosterone. 1
An excuse – It makes you more fun.
A reason – Hangovers make me completely empty of ambition for 24 hours.
An excuse – You need to let your hair down every now and then to stay sane.
A reason – Everybody does it (therefore is more awesome not to do).
An excuse – Everybody does it (therefore am weirdo if don’t also do it).
I could justify it to myself until I collapsed under the effort, but the fact remains, I haven’t felt excited about drinking for many years. I only drank because that’s just what we do.
I remember being 18 and proudly walking through the doors of a pub, a genuine ID in hand. Back then, necking a line of frosty pints was about as much fun as you can have fully clothed. But at 25, it had become almost dull. Not just moderate drinking, either. Binging was just as boring, leading to a mechanically predictable night of stumbling around and chatting as before only drunker. If anything really interesting happened, I wouldn’t remember it.
I looked at those faithful old blokes at the pub, sat in their spots every weekend without fail, and I wondered if they could still remember a time when a pint was exciting.
Why in God’s name did they still, after all these decades, drink?
Probably the same shitty reason I did…
…It’s just what I did.
Realisations like that made my next move very clear. Not necessarily to forego every drop of the giggle juice forever, but rather to break the hold it had over me, to thoroughly interrupt the habit, before it squeezed itself into an iron grip that I would never be free of.
Making It More Difficult Made It Much Easier
30 day challenges never worked, though I tried.
I couldn’t make it until the end.
And yet I’ve just finished a 90 day challenge.
90 days is a long time – almost a significant chunk of your life. Why did I manage that, when I couldn’t handle a more reasonable time scale?
Bigger goals are exciting. That’s it. I trusted 90 days. I knew it was long enough to physically change my brain, to allow the old neural pathways to atrophy like leg-muscles under a cast.
I didn’t trust 30 days as long enough to really change my mind, so to speak.
Recently my suspicions were confirmed. Apparently science agrees that you need more than 30 days to completely break a strong habit.
Like muscle-memory, habit-memory will mean that I can still go back to my old ways without much effort. On the other hand, I could choose to keep these new cranial pathways I’ve built up over the last three months, and that won’t be any more difficult.
That’s why I could do 90 days, when I couldn’t do 30. I believed in 90 days. I knew it would be enough to do something tangible to the wires in my skull, something I could take with me once it was over, and that made it more than just a masochistic exercise in self-denial.
Rather, it was a gift to my older self.
It’s Been Awesome (in a sensible sort of way)
1. No Hangovers
Not once in three months have I waken up and cursed the beating of my own heart as I roll out into the most comfortable clothes possible, get a pint of water, and crawl back under the sheets with laptop on belly ready to waste an entire day on this gorgeous planet.
I truly experienced little mini-depressions on hangover days. I know it’s not breaking news, but while others complain of headaches and nausea, I would feel only meaninglessness. My projects and ambitions seemed as pointless as a match underwater. It’s why I think anyone suffering from long-term depression should try changing their diet before turning to riskier things like prescription drugs. What we ingest clearly has a massive impact on our neurochemistry, and therefore our happiness.
While nothing is going to be as dramatic as alcohol, it probably points to what other, milder toxins do over years of building up in our tissues.
So it’s clear the biggest benefit to me has been no hangovers. Being T-total was worth it just for that.
2. Better Biochemistry
I had my testosterone tested before starting this challenge, and as soon as I get it retested I’ll update this post. I expect it will be higher. I wasn’t super low, but too low I think for a 24 year old male.
Speaking of feeling low, I don’t ever get hopeless anymore. That used to happen even on non-hangover days. Things aren’t any better for me objectively, but I’m more motivated and a little bolder than before. I have a great deal more faith in myself, too (though I admit that might stem from doing 90 Day Challenges in the first place).
My sleep has improved, but there’s a major confounder. I’ve adopted much better sleeping habits over the past months, and gun-to-head I’d say that’s what has helped my sleep problems most of all… Of course, adopting such a good sleep schedule would have been impossible if I were still drinking.
3. More Confident and Fun
Note I said “fun”, not “funny”.
I’ve become much less funny to watch.
In terms of having a good time on a night out myself, however, I’ve improved. To an outside observer, it might not seem so (since I’m pratting about less), but from this side of my eyeballs it’s so much better now.
Over time you learn how to get in the mood without the nation’s favourite drug. It comes down to the people. You can encourage curiosity by imagining you’re Sherlock Holmes or Patrick Jane when other people are talking, trying to pick up every nuance in their tone, body language, and the meaning behind what they’re saying. Think of it as altruistic mind-reading.
One of our deepest needs is to be understood by others. You can make far stronger connections with people if you just stop wondering what you’re going to say next, and really listen, and watch.
(Don’t just see – observe.)
While you’re walking around, you can also imagine your awareness expand out of your skin, like ripples of fire in zero-gravity, moving outwards in a sphere. Imagine you can feel everything your imaginary “awareness” touches. I took this idea from the marital art Aikido. Doesn’t have to be fire, could be water, or invisible ripples through space. Sounds like trite hippy jargon perhaps, but when you get it right the effects are immediate. Your senses open up, and you start noticing things you were ignoring before. There’s too much happening to take it all in, but then that’s not what you’re doing. That’s focussing the attention. You’ve got to keep it spread thin, so that your surroundings float in and out of your mind, in equal measure from all corners of the room. Doing this can make the task of walking from one side of a pub to the other surprisingly interesting.
I wonder what my relationship to the devil’s nectar will be now. It can’t help but be different in some way. The big question is, will I have complete control over how much I drink? Will saying no be just as easy after two pints?
My celebratory beer at lunch yesterday knocked me out into a deep, 3-hour nap.
It seems my liver has started to turn pink again, so to speak.