So as some readers may know, and others probably don’t, I’m 34 years old. I’m no spring chicken, but I look better, feel better, have more energy, and think with more clarity than I ever have.
I feel better than I did when I was eighteen, largely because of a massive shift in mindset. One result of this shift has been an absolute removal of sheer recklessness and self-sabotaging behavior from my life. This is, of course, subjective, as I do many things that could not, by anyone’s standards be called “safe”.
My favorite things in life have a statistically high element of danger. Boosting off of the lip of a 30-foot step-down on my Downhill bike. Squatting and Deadlifting heavy weight on a weekly basis. Watching the speedometer surge into triple digits with 300 angry horsepower under my right foot. Cooking with fire. These activities have risks, yes. I’ve been in many hospital beds as a result of my Downhill bike, paid thousands in speeding tickets over the years, and given myself injuries in the gym. But lately, the risks have been far more calculated and thought out.
But the most notable behavior that I’ve changed is one I haven’t simply altered. I’ve removed it altogether.
The consumption of alcohol.
I labeled myself as “straightedge” during my high school years. I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and didn’t do drugs. When things really started to go downhill in my life during my sophomore year of college, I started to reconsider, as all of my straightedge friends had “broken edge” and started drinking. I had my first mixed drink a short time later, and by the time I turned 21, I was fully immersed in drinking culture.
My social life revolved around the chemical, meeting friends and dates at bars, drinking beer and talking about nothing until past last call at least a few nights a week. I started driving after I had a few drinks, then a few more, then a few more. “I know my limits” I thought. One night, I drove after six beers and a date gone wrong. I got a flat tire and drove the rest of the way home on the rim, sparks shooting from the bare metal contacting the road, a prime example of “drunk logic” in action. When I was inevitably noticed by the police and pulled over, the officer simply laughed at me and let me continue on my way, thinking I wasn’t drunk, I was just stupid. In reality, I was lucky.
The years rolled by, and it only got worse. I was using alcohol to fall asleep every night, drinking at work meetings in the afternoon, having a beer with dinner, and partying hard several nights a week. I had a large group of friends that all engaged in the same debauchery, making my actions all the more easy to justify.
When I moved to a rural ski area in 2009, the problems compounded and intensified. I made some new friends in the area. They knew all of the local bar’s staff, and would be allowed to stay and drink until dawn. There was no law enforcement presence. It was a routine occurrance to drink WHILE driving, wreck cars while drunk, laugh about it, and be right back at the bar the next night.
And I was front and center. Drinking was just “what I did” to celebrate, comiserate, or simply because it was a Wednesday.
One night in late 2012, two friends and I were bar-hopping. I was trying to impress a waste-of-time skank I had just met by proving that I was the most party-hard motherfucker in town. Before I knew it, the next morning had come. I was passed out on my porch, covered in vomit and piss. My car was stuffed into a ditch at the end of the driveway, the front bumper ripped half off. I didn’t know how I had gotten there, and after sobering up, decided that maybe I should slow down on the drinking a bit.
I tapered off of alcohol, drinking rarely over the next year and a half. I had started pointing myself in the right direction, getting into the gym, getting away from my poisonous friends who’s actions I used to justify my own. My ex girlfriend got a DUI. Once the fog started lifting, I saw who I actually was when I drank, and I fucking hated him. He was irrational, impulsive, stupid, weak and overly-emotional.
By April of 2014, I almost never drank. If I did, it was one or two, and then I was done. It was what most people would consider a “safe” level. But old habits die hard. I found myself at a friend’s house one night. I had just made the decision to break up with my girlfriend at the time, and was discussing my reasons for doing so. One vodka mixer turned into four or five, and by the end of the night, I was more or less screaming and blubbering to him about my problems. Out of habit, I figured “I’ll be fine”, got in my car, closed my left eye, and drove home through one of the most police-patrolled neighborhoods I’ve ever seen. He didn’t try to stop me.
I actually got home safe and without incident, but again, this was yet another wake up call. I didn’t get a DUI or kill someone for any other reason besides luck. My behavior was disgusting, horribly dangerous, and stupid. That’s the last time I’ve been drunk. The rest of 2014 was peppered by the occasional beer or bottle of wine in the comfort of my own living room. When the year drew to the close, though, I had a fresh perspective.
“I don’t need this. I want to do so many things in my life that are incompatible with alcohol. I hate who I am when I drink, and don’t want this person to be a part of my personality any longer”
I decided to stop drinking for 30 days. This was an absolute breeze, so I upped it to a year.
I went to the beach in May. I couldn’t remember what I did on vacations before alcohol. They always started the same way, by ceremoniously stopping at the distributor for three or four cases of Corona, which would usually last a few days. Driving past this traditional “first stop” felt bizzarre. On these trips, I was always photographed with a beer in my hand. I would wake up hung over, drink on the beach, drink at dinner, and party all night.
This year was the first time that I was able to simply enjoy the company of my girlfriend (on our first trip together), read some excellent books, and spend the vacation as it was intended, as a relaxing getaway.
The summer turned into fall, and I had grown accustommed to simply ordering lemon water anytime I went out. My girlfriend jumped on board and more or less stopped drinking as well (since I’ve known her, she hasn’t been much of a drinker anyway). Having avoided the culture for so long, I went out to some bars with a friend of mine, and was surprised at what I witnessed in that environment while sober.
Loud, dumb guys stumbling around and falling into other loud, dumb guys, then starting fights with them. People passed out in corners. A guy who had visibly pissed his pants. A girl standing on the sidewalk with no shoes, covered in some unidentifable liquid, screaming at the top of her lungs at a person who was not there. Obese women being talked out of jumping into a patch of bushes from a 20+ foot balcony. And vomit. Lots and lots of vomit.
I didn’t feel pity or sadness. It was more of a sense of relief. I never had to be one of those people again, or interact with them in any way unless I deliberately entered that environment for some (admittedly pretty dark) entertainment.
It’s been 398 days since I’ve had any alcohol. I don’t foresee the need to ever re-visit the substance in any way. Sure, I can’t deny how delicious and flavorful a good wine is. Sipping a crisp, cold IPA is great way to relax on a hot afternoon. But none of this really does much to offset the ugly, dark side of things that everyone has horror stories about.