Relax—this won’t be a lecture, because I’m no hypocrite. I love alcohol.
To me the heat of a single-malt scotch on a February night, a good book in hand, feels like being a baby in my mother’s arms.
A medium-rare steak, lights dimmed, and Mumford and Sons on the stereo is heaven. But it would be nothing without a full-bodied glass of dry red wine.
I get giddy about diving into a cooler of craft beer around the campfire—a ritual done with childhood friends every year—where we laugh all night until our sides hurt.
Despite my unquenchable thirst, I’ve almost quit drinking.
Cut Back for What?
“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” —Ogden Nash
Like any passionate love affair, mine gets savagely jealous.
Alcohol wants me all to itself, so it’s led me to give and get a black eye, to start completely avoidable shouting matches with people I love, and to drown insecurities in the corner instead of starting conversations that would open doors.
These days I rarely have more than two drinks at a time and those sordid incidents have decreased proportionally. My liver and my friends are relieved.
But I’ve started to see that even light indulgence is holding me back, like driving with the handbrake on.
A single glass of wine wakes me up in the middle of the night, my mind ticking like a clock. Beer makes my body ache and my anxiety swell like a balloon.
This is still not a lecture, but, how do you feel the morning after?
The Best Way to Destroy Your Health
“Almost anything can be preserved in alcohol, except health, happiness, and money.” —Mary Wilson Little
You already know the dark side of drinking: It causes car crashes and broken bones, throat, mouth, esophageal and breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, birth defects, thinning bones, muscle cramps, infertility, erectile dysfunction, malnutrition, diabetes complications, damage to your nervous system, a shrinking brain, anxiety, depression, nervousness, nausea, tremors, heavy sweating, gassiness, bloating, diarrhea, ulcers, hemorrhoids, stroke, heart attack and lung infections, and makes it harder to fight off sickness.
It can decimate your bank account. When I quit drinking for a month in my mid-20s, I saved $800. That’s almost 10 grand a year, enough for an epic trip around the world or a down payment on a house.
And the lost productivity? I wonder about all the skipped gym sessions, books I didn’t read, even early morning cartoons I missed because I never could get much done with a hangover.
I won’t go on—you and I know the health and other costs, and we still drink. Lack of information is never the cause of our problems; lack of action is.
What Would “Different” Look Like?
“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.” —Frank Sinatra
For a year I’ve watched the scales tip out of alcohol’s favor. The buzz just isn’t as much fun as getting up early to lift weights or meditate by the river. And yeah, my 20-year-old self is shaking his head while muttering “lame,” but thankfully he’s not in charge.
In June I decided to quit drinking until Christmas. Only a month has passed and, to be honest, I still have the same problems, but less anxiety and more energy.
Many high achievers drank a lot: Winston Churchill started with whiskey and sodas at 11 a.m., wine and brandy at lunch, and a couple more at dinner. Stephen King would crush a case of beer a night in the early 80s and doesn’t remember writing Cujo, an award-winning book that became a movie. Even Plato said, “He is a wise man who invented beer.”
I used anecdotes like these to justify my overindulgence for 20 years.
But the list of those who abstain(ed) is much longer: Gandhi, Bruce Lee, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, 50 Cent, Tyra Banks, Jay Leno, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, ole’ Abe Lincoln… it goes on.
It makes perfect sense that the group who isn’t poisoning their bodies and minds on the regular will be, do and have more.
So what might happen if YOU gave up or cut back on the nectar of the gods?
1. You’d have more cold, hard cash.
The other day I was perplexed to find $100 in my wallet, then I remembered I had quit drinking. More cash means money to hire a trainer, to buy better food and supplements, and to go to a doctor.
2. You’d wake up earlier on weekends.
Did you know that there are people who wake up before 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday? It’s true! I’ve become one, and I feel like the weekend is twice as long.
3. You’d hang with different people.
Birds of a feather, and all that. When you spend less time with drinking buddies, you can’t help but run into successful people—ones who can open doors for you. Be warned: You may have to cut some old ties.
4. You’d lose a few pounds.
There are roughly 200 calories in a pint of beer, 85 in a glass of red wine and even 96 in that “skinny” vodka soda. Your body ain’t using those to build lean muscle. Enjoy fitting back into those jeans. You’re welcome!
5. You’d hit the gym more often.
I’ve heard rumors of people who can hit the gym with a hangover, but I don’t believe in unicorns. It’s amazing how your motivation to exercise grows when you’re off the bottle. Plus, the more you work out, the less you crave the alkey. Virtuous circle for the win!
6. You wouldn’t die too soon.
Studies found that 1.5% of all deaths are caused by alcohol. On top of that, 6% of years lost to disability were due to alcohol. Sure, those rates are relatively low, but what if this was you and not a statistic?
7. Your mind would be sharper.
It’s a myth that alcohol kills brain cells, but it does damage the ends of our neurons and impair communication between them. Remember your brain? You know, that thing that houses your intellect, consciousness and personality? Take care of it.
8. Your mental health would improve.
Alcohol wreaks havoc on the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in your brain—those chemicals that can make you feel happy. Cutting your consumption is an amazing way to beat depression and anxiety. (This I have learned firsthand.)
9. Your relationships would improve.
We all love the happy drunk—the life of the party—and the way our wallflower friends turn into stand-up comedians. But too often these Jekylls turn into Hydes. Everyone has a story of picking a fight, spouting offensive remarks or losing friends while in an altered state.
10. You’d get ahead at work.
A former colleague of mine was known for having a problem and not realizing it. An hour into our work socials he would be incoherent. The story about the guy who had too many, fell down the stairs and broke his leg is now legend. Don’t be a legend.
“Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
I suppose you expect some tidy conclusion, a paternal pronouncement on the evils of alcohol and a subtly veiled reversal of my promise not to lecture you.
It’s not coming.
The two wolves in me continue to tussle it out, one hungering for that relaxing cold beer after a day well fought, the other fighting to gain the higher ground where the better man in me is waiting for me to evolve already.
Until this battle is won I can’t preach either unflinching sobriety or moderated inebriation.
Besides, I’d never dare to tell you what to do. I’ve only planted a seed in your mind. Maybe the idea will wither and you’ll continue to alter your state with booze.
Or maybe it will germinate, and each time you pick up a drink it will be with new mindfulness, and one day you’ll climb to the higher ground.
Have I got you thinking? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by @doodiebearz via Twenty20