I did “One Year, No Beer.” Here’s what happened.
What if you didn’t like your life anymore?
I didn’t. At the height of my twenties, I was one of the healthiest, most vibrant people in my community. I was cocky, too. I was always “on one” and knew zero strangers. But depression and “life” had other plans, and those two forces don’t care too much if you don’t like those plans. The mantra of my 29th year of life became “the taller they are, the harder they fall.”
I had lost a long-term relationship. I lost a lot of myself with it. After that loss, I stopped working out and eating well. I stopped searching for ways to grow in my career. I lost focus on what was often in front of me. I would show up at my business but not be passionate, and because of that, it began to stagnate. I no longer planned ahead. I had begun avoiding challenges that I used to thrive in, and I started skirting by with mediocrity.
Personally, I had picked up a new habit of regular visits to bars and restaurants and drinks with friends. I dated women I shouldn’t have (not all of them, but some.) I sank into recreational and prescription drug abuse. Anything strong enough to make me not feel my life, but not enough to return me to the ether I came from. Things got bad, but not forever.
I did better with dating and drug usage, but drinking never went away. I would catch myself on a Monday, wishing it was Wednesday night. On Thursdays, I counted the hours until “happy hour” and the weekend.
“I haven’t always been this way.” I would say to myself, and I was right. I didn’t need to live for the weekend before. My weekends and weekdays used to blend together, and I was excited, regardless of the day it was. I wanted to be that again. I wanted my life back.
Was it possible to get back to that? Was drinking preventing me from doing that? If so, then I needed to try something drastic.
So, I struggled with my depression and distraction for another year. It wasn’t all a bust. In that year, I stopped using drugs and went to therapy. I entered a relationship with someone who truly did want the best for me. I read books on quitting alcohol. I was making progress. After a weekend of reading The Easy Way to Control Alcohol by Allen Carr, I knew using alcohol was one of the last true barriers between me and the life I wanted.
So, on February 4, 2020, on a lakefront patio during sunset with great friends, I had my last drink. “I’m going to stay sober for one year,” I told my girlfriend on the way home, and I meant it.
So, what happened next? Things that have nothing to do with alcohol.
I became entirely financially independent.
More evenings at home meant more time to think about “what to do now?” Drinking less saved me a fair amount of money. I eyeballed a Dave Ramsey book on my shelf that I gave up on years ago. Why not try now? I started paying off all of my debts. Credit cards, student loans, anything with payments, I got rid of all of it. I sold things I didn’t need and bought a “beater” car in cash. Over eleven months, I paid off nearly $70,000 in debt. I’m almost ashamed of that amount, but not really because it taught me the real value of things, which does not involve money.
I still have that beater car, but I also have a classic truck that I love and paid cash to restore. I left my cheap apartment and moved into a house with a big yard for my aging dogs. It was well worth the extra cost each month that I could finally afford. Today, I use cash for big expenses. I’m not worried about a recession or the dogs needing surgery, or a crisis around the bend.
I was sedating myself with alcohol. When I stopped, I was able to see how the things that mattered to me were at risk because of my debt to things and people that didn’t matter. My foundation had cracks. Finances were one of them, but not now.
I gave away all my things.
And I made room for what mattered.
I donated over 90% of my possessions. I started treating them like substances and asked each thing, “What do you really do for me?” If it didn’t have a good answer, It was donated or sold. Beyond a couple of bikes and skateboards, two vehicles I own outright, and a couple of musical instruments, I only keep the basic essentials for living.
I didn’t realize how much time and money I spent storing and taking care of things that didn’t even bring me joy anyway. It was easy to ignore before, but not when I was awake, aware, and aggressively taking back the life I wanted.
I found my family again.
When my brother went off to college, we lived very different and separate lives. Even when he moved back to town, we were more like same-blooded strangers. Back then, I could tell you I had a brother. I didn’t know what he was up to or who he was dating.
Right now, I can tell you a lot more than that.
Because right now, I have MY brother. I have a new sister-in-law, but I call her “Sis” They don’t just have kids. I have two amazing nieces; one who can skateboard and beat her dad and me at golf, the other is batshit crazy but insanely loveable and woke up the other day asking for Uncle Jeff. I have a new nephew, and you can’t stand how cute he is, especially when we both have matching man-buns. I could go on about my parents, but just know that I see them more than I ever thought I would, and I savor the long hugs and nostalgic laughs when we tell stories to the kids.
I changed my mind.
Building a stronger mind was the most crucial piece of what changed that year.
I can go along with “people drink to ease stress.” But I can’t go along with easing the stresses that you could have solved. I can’t go for dulling the suffering that you could alleviate if you believed in you.
Drinking reduced my stress, but I still had a stressful life, filled with anguish and pain between drinks. Instead of dulling my senses, I could have been focusing sharply on what caused my stresses and making those things better so that after enough focus and work, I could have a life that I didn’t have to escape from.
I couldn’t see that until after I had stopped. But when I did, the world opened up to me again. I could choose the easy path and distract myself from the hurt, or take the hard path, look in the mirror and start fixing my problems at their core. Or at least trying and failing valiantly, if only to pick myself up, stronger and more experienced for having failed. If I chose the hard path, the worst-case scenario was coming out stronger. This thought made me feel safe to fail. Trying to fix my problems no longer seemed so impossible. So I chose that.
And it worked.
I became strong enough to face hard truths about myself, which made it easy to let go of people who didn’t want the best for me and not be bitter about it.
Without the distraction, it was easier to enjoy fitness again. I ate like I actually mattered and got back in shape. I somehow even made the Quarterfinals in the 2021 CrossFit Open, despite a terrible neck and shoulder injury.
When I gave up drinking for a year, I had no choice but to give up ruminating. I began to practice gratefulness for what I had that day.
I make more. I create more. I give more love than I ever have, and I finally feel worthy enough to receive it.
I set out to be sober for 365 days. I did that, but it was nothing like what I expected.
“One year, no beer” wasn’t about quitting alcohol. It was about discovering the things it kept me too complacent to find.
I did the Sober Year. Today is day 457.