Reflections in a Pint Glass

Tomorrow will end the second of week eliminating alcohol from my diet for thirty days. Starting May 14th, on my 29th birthday, I set out to accomplish 30 goals by 30 and carefully decided to set this as my first despite the objection and criticism of a few friends. Don’t get me wrong, most responses I got were positive but tinged with the rebuttal of “… so you’re not going to drink on your birthday? Why don’t you just start that goal the next day?” That type of “why not start it the next day/week/year” thinking is exactly what inspired me to accomplish what I’ve previously put off.

With my personal values as guide points, I’m setting off on this experiment to change my perspective. As I look at life through a new lens, I’m excited to grow from asking myself new questions. Why is alcohol associated with celebration and comradery in our society? How are my routines altered by removing alcohol from the equation? Do my personal values gain or lose from this experience? What reactions does my temporary abstinence get from others? What can I take away from this to improve myself?

Reasons I decided to go for 30 days without alcohol.

  • Financially, alcohol value vs. cost ratio for me.
  • My relationships and experiences find a stronger foundation with less alcohol.
  • Alcohol serves as a force multiplier in the negative direction of my overall health.

After reading Your Money or Your Life  (YMoYL), I took a value vs. cost evaluation of all things in my life that were costing me money or time. After looking through my Mint.com spending history, I noticed a couple hundred bucks* I had been spending each month in the “Alcohol/Bars” category, not accounting for the beverages that might be hidden in the “Grocery” or “Restaurant” sections. As YMoYL instructs, I took a month’s bills, finely categorized them, then evaluated each on a basis of “Does this bring me happiness and is it something I want to spend more or less money/time on?” The answer was emphatically "NO!” I found that adding more money to this monthly expense subtracted progress from my goals. 

In college, in the Midwest, in a fraternity, some of friendships in early adulthood had a strong basis on the parties we went to. Being out of that scene for six years, I had evolved to building my friendships on shared values and interests. But the easy social enablement of “let’s go for a drink” not only detracted from the variety and intensity of experiences that I shared with friends but also hit my wallet harder than sharing a walk or going for a sail. Sometimes a few drinks act as a social lubricant to lower inhibitions for dance or karaoke. If you’re convinced that alcohol plays a key and irreplaceable role in your nightlife and party scene, I urge you to try out Day Breakers,  a morning dance party where the only substance available is coffee and great music! I’ve never had as good of a time at a club than dancing my face off among tons of great people at 8 a.m. before work.

Alcohol not only costs me money, it costs me time. The human body takes over one hour optimally to process a drink**. For me, that tends to mean after I crack a beer, I’m not doing any exercise for at least an hour afterward. So not only am I taking in extra calories, I’m blocking myself from burning them off too. It’s a force multiplier against one of my core values: Living a healthy and responsible lifestyle. There are times, of course, when after a dinner with some wine I have still safely ridden my bike home, or I’ve welcomed the summit on a long hike with a quick nip of whiskey before beginning the descent. To say alcohol is equal to sloth is an overstatement, but I would like to spend my time on things that make me more efficient and productive, rather than less.

So, how has it been going? I have not ostracized myself by adopting this goal, at least not to my knowledge. In the past week, I’ve found ways to substitute the drink on the couch for an evening run or deep dive into a book. My social life has been altered to sharing bike ride and cooking instead of sharing a drink.  I attended a wine tasting party equipped with a wine glass filled with my alcohol alternative. I met with friends at bars and beer gardens, and I opted for water instead of hops. When I tell people what I’m doing and why, I'm sharing with them not only my commitment to my values, but also my drive to build relationships deeper than a pint glass

* A "couple hundred bucks per month" - if you do the math is about two $5 beers, five nights per week in CA. It doesn't take much to add up to real $$ down the tubes.
** Supporting this claim is a page on Brown University's website detailing the affects of alcohol and many other drugs.