I can still taste that first drink at 15 years old: a light beer liberated from my friend Peter’s fridge while his parents were out of town.
By the third can, my body hummed and my mind swam slow backstrokes. Stroked by alcohol’s gentle hands, I was in love for the first time.
It was a rapid progression from watery beer to Gatorade bottles full of 40% spirits—rum in one hand, vodka in the other and no chaser. The smell of cheap vodka still makes me gag.
Though I eventually moderated my teenage excess, it would be 25 years before I quit for good, on January 15, 2022.
I drank heavily but never identified as an alcoholic, never let it ruin my life, never needed rehab or AA. So why give up a good thing?
You don’t need to stop drinking alcohol
Nothing I say is intended to convince you to stop drinking, or even cut back. All I can do is share how being alcohol-free these last 18 months has gradually but dramatically improved my business and life.
I built my first business in university and got hooked on entrepreneurship. I jumped in and out of the nine-to-five world for fourteen years, but every time I was chained to an office I dreamed of being the captain of my own ship. So, I got good at tendering my resignation.
Sometimes I had financial runway and a plan. Other times, just a wild impulse. My early business building followed a pattern: a week of celebrating my new boss-less status and major productivity. Then, waking up late and quitting early. Feeling overwhelmed, taking a nap and experiencing creeping panic. Drink and stay up late. Repeat.
In those days it was obvious how alcohol was blocking my business success. But eventually I quit smoking and got my drinking “under control.” I found my future wife and bought a house. All was well, right?
But is being a responsible drinker and an entrepreneur ever compatible?
I started to ask: should I quit drinking?
When the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown came, other people got hysterical about toilet paper. I headed straight to the liquor store for boxes of wine. I made it a habit to pour myself a glass or three of cheap red every night (you get used to it).
Then something interesting happened: Alcohol… stopped working.
No more did I feel the same warm embrace I did at age 15—it just made me sleepy.
After two years of this, I took a solo Airbnb trip to escape new-dad responsibilities, read and get into a case of delicious craft beer. But halfway through the third can, it hit me: I wasn’t enjoying it; I was only there drinking so I could avoid my work and life. I poured the rest down the kitchen sink and decided I was done(ish).
In the last year and a half, I’ve touched alcohol three or four times. Once to excess—three drinks in Mexico last April. But each time it served only as a reminder: Yep, I’m over it.
So how did I do it?
How I stopped drinking
Inertia and addiction kept me drinking long after the relationship was dead. Then a book landed in my lap: This Naked Mind by Annie Grace.
First, it laid out all the science: Alcohol slows your thinking, and was probably causing my low mood and marital bickering. Constantly poisoning my body weakened my immune system and explained why I got sick every few months. It was messing up my sleep and my workouts. It causes cancer, but even worse, bad sex.
Now I had all the rational reasons to quit. But what I learned from beating cigarettes years before was that you need to engage emotion, too, which the book did.
It helped me see that alcohol wasn’t relieving my stress, but creating it. Much of my anxiety and lack of enthusiasm for my life and business was simply daily withdrawal symptoms.
I realized that alcohol didn’t create fun; it killed it. Be sober around drunk people and you’ll see what I mean. I felt completely ready.
So I let it go.
I still hang out with friends who drink. I still go to bars, still keep wine and beer in the cupboard for guests. And there’s no temptation, because I realize now that for 25 years I was living as a half-man, asleep at the wheel, foggy in the brain, tired all the time, cranky and tempestuous.
What was I really giving up?
I saw major benefits from quitting alcohol
There was no overnight awakening or angels’ trumpets, no sobriety committee waiting to give me a medal.
I felt no different the day after I quit drinking. But weeks later I started to notice changes, mainly in what was not happening.
Before, I would have a drink after work, feel sluggish for the rest of the night and engage in some horizontal Netflix.
Now, I have the energy and enthusiasm to enjoy my post-work hours, whether that means cooking for friends or kayaking alone. It’s like I have more hours in the day. And we canceled Netflix.
Before, I’d go to bed and wake up around 3 a.m. with gnawing anxiety and a need to pee, before rising hours later, groggy and dreading the day.
Now I sleep through the night, wake up easily at 6 a.m. and feel excited for what I’m about to do with the day.
Today I have no fewer problems, but I have twice the energy, 10 times the enthusiasm for life and a virtual absence of anxiety, self-doubt, mood swings or any of the nonsense that I now know was caused by constantly poisoning my brain chemistry.
My business became successful when I quit drinking
These life shifts are great, but hands down the most noticeable change has been the night-and-day transformation of my business.
Even as a moderate drinker, I approached work with low-grade anxiety and dread. That energy bled into the client experience.
Before, it was often “I don’t feel like working today” (pout face), frustration with clients, panic about where the money would come from, low-energy sales, doubt, fear, depleted energy and a frazzled nervous system.
Clients can sense whether your business is built on this chaos or enthusiasm and joy.
A few months ago, I had a call with a client who signed up for a three-month program. But days passed and her invoice wasn’t paid. Old me would have been demoralized, certain that she had a change of heart. I’d get angry and complain. Maybe I’d even send a passive-aggressive email.
But to my surprise, I noticed no anger. No panic. I felt certain of a great outcome. My email to her was supportive, compassionate and firm. She paid the next day.
Carrying this calm energy, I’m magnetic to my coaching clients. They want to be around my vibe. They’re getting better results, and they tell their friends. More good people, money and opportunity flow to me. Virtuous cycle, anyone?
The old me had a business that was in survival mode—desperately chasing clients, trying every flavor-of-the-week marketing tactic and seeing little traction.
New me works far fewer hours but is way more effective. I’m more selective about clients and I can charge more. Hey, I’m even having fun now.
All I had to do was kick off alcohol’s lead blanket.
Should you stop drinking alcohol?
If you love drinking, don’t stop. Find happiness whatever way you can!
But if you read this and saw your own shadow in some of what I said, I hope this gives you the curiosity to start questioning the habit.
The accepted wisdom is that “responsible” drinking is normal and harmless. But you know that buying into popular narratives will never get you where you want to go.
You are the captain of your own ship.
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