82 Days Without Alcohol

Back in the spring of 2000, I got drunk for the first time. I tasted beer a handful of times before then, but I graduated to the next level of alcohol right before I graduated high school.

I still remember bits and pieces of that night. I was in DECA my senior year, along with 15-20 other students. From my point of view, they all belonged to the popular crowd. The cool kids. An elite club that I was definitely not a part of. Except for that night.

Discovering the powers of alcohol

We were in Columbus, Ohio for a business/marketing competition that weekend. One of the many things I do these days is I create and sell shirts, hats, stickers, and other merch to people in the custom car/truck scene. The category of the competition I was competing in was retail merchandising. Weird, I never thought I’d be doing something that’s sort of related to that.

I’m guessing the guys that smuggled the alcohol into the hotel rooms brought it from home, as I’m not sure how else we would have got it. I guess one of the older-looking guys could’ve had a fake ID, but who knows. I certainly wouldn’t have got away with buying illegal alcohol. I was 17 and probably looked like I was 14.

However the alcohol ended up in our rooms, I do remember walking around The Mall at Tuttle Crossing with everyone before the festivities began. A few of us (maybe all of us, minus our teacher) ended up in Spencer’s at one point. I remember a purchase being made there.

Later that night we were drinking out of one of those party helmets that holds a can of beer on both sides. Except we had a bottle of screwdriver on one side and a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 on the other. Sounds like gas station royalty.

There was a night club in the fancy hotel we were staying at that we ended up in. It had to be obvious we were drunk kids, but maybe things were more relaxed 19 years ago.

I don’t remember a hangover, but it would’ve had to be present the next day. All I remember is the bus ride home, and everybody asking why I never went to any parties during the past four years. Whether it was true or not, they said I was hilarious, and wild, and fun.

The cool kids thought that hanging out with me was a good time, and that I was funny.

How could this be? I was always shy, and definitely shy once I moved to a new school in 7th grade. During most of my education, I didn’t think anyone noticed me or cared to pay me any attention. I wasn’t depressed or anything, I just didn’t have those crazy high school party years like everyone talks about. It wasn’t until I started driving that dating or really hanging out with people started to become a thing.

People used to always say (I think they still do) that you shouldn’t waste your high school years, because they will be the best years of your life. When I thought about that cliché saying, that’s the only time I’d get sad or mad at myself. “Wow, the rest of my life is gonna be so boring. I’m gonna be a loser. All these kids figured it out and they won. They’re all gonna be rock stars or famous actors or marry supermodels or make millions of dollars. I’ll probably be working at this garden center 30 years from now, maybe Subway, I like their meatball subs. Oh well, maybe in my next life I’ll try harder.”

The shy kid becomes the party guy

Ok, so I got wasted with the cool kids, and then I graduated a month after that. Then it was time to finally decide on this college thing. I’ll write another post about my thoughts on college, but I eventually chose a local 2-year private art school.

The summer in between my educations, and during the college years, my alcohol intake started to increase. I was going to parties more often. And when I graduated college, I was still just 19 years old. A couple years later, I was finally legally allowed to drink this stuff. And it increased more.

Pretty much all of my 20’s was: drinking every weekend with my friends, drinking on vacations with whoever I was dating at the time, going on alcohol-fueled spring break trips, and drinking plenty of times when I’d go out to dinner with people. I think this is a pretty common path for a lot of people.

And when I say drinking, I’m not talking about one beer. I’m talking about binge drinking until I passed out somewhere, wherever. The more we drank, the better the experience… or so I told myself.

Looking back (I’m 36 now), my opinion as to why I drank so much, is because of that first time in high school with the rest of my class. I felt like alcohol was the only variable, so it had to be the reason they all liked me. It was liquid courage, and I quickly became the life of the party. Why would I give that up?

I could easily become friends with anyone in any situation. There was no awkwardness after a few drinks. In a crunch for time and need to get the party started faster? Simple. Just keep the beer in the fridge and upgrade to shots! (Never a good idea.)

Without it, I felt like the shy kid that no one wanted to talk to. When I was drunk though, I was best friends with everyone. People seemed sad if I couldn’t make it to their parties. Every holiday became a drinking extravaganza. Drinking games were the norm. Weeknight drinking became typical. The relationship arguments started to be more common. The hangovers were expected, but you just waste a day eating terrible food and being lazy, then you’re ready to do it all over again.

I felt like it was my way to always feel included. Something I rarely felt growing up. I had a great childhood, and I’m super lucky to have the family and friends I have. I love them all. I enjoy being the introvert and solitude is relaxing to me. But I “had to break out of my shell” after college, and alcohol was part of my personal recipe. It was the main ingredient most of the time.

And when I talk about what people thought of me or how I was viewed, I’m sure most of what I’ve said in this post are just false assumptions, and it was all just in my head. Another great example of how we are usually our own worst enemies.

Had they never made a big deal about me drinking and being fun, or if they shamed me for it and made me feel worse, I wonder if I would’ve had a different outlook on alcohol. I wonder if I would have never drank again after that night. I wonder if I would have been more casual with drinking in my 20’s and 30’s, you know, just a cocktail with dinner, or a couple beers at the game. I wonder if I would have drank even harder. I wonder.

But I’m not really blaming them, that’s just what growing up is like. I know that everything I’ve ever done was my decision. And everything I chose back in the day, I don’t regret it, because that’s what I wanted at the time. And every decision has led me to where I’m at right now, and I love life. I’m glad it all happened the way it did. They were all pieces to my puzzle. It’s how I had to learn.

We all need to take breaks, but is that enough?

So let’s bring this up to speed, after that insanely long intro. It’s January 2019, and a few days ago (1/21/19) was day 82 of no alcohol.

I started writing this on that day, and day 86 just began right now as I’m putting the final touches on this novel of a post. But selecting that specific number wasn’t at random. I was born on 8/2/82 and my web design business is called Eight Deuce, so any chance I get to make a big deal about the number 82, I do. Plus I also deal with procrastination, so that’s why I didn’t put this out Monday like I planned. Anyways…

I’ve done these stints before where I see how long I can go without drinking. I’ve done a month before. I’ve done 50 days before. I forget if I’ve done 100 days, but I know I did 90 days last year.

I stopped in mid-December 2017 and made it all the way to St. Patrick’s Day 2018. I planned this though. I had just moved downtown and I wanted to go out with my friends. I wanted to live this proper city life, which just had to include drinking like an animal. I mean, what better day to get back out there than doing it on this drinking holiday? Well it sucked.

I mean it was a great day/night of partying. Of course I blacked out, which was becoming more and more common. But the next morning was awful. I puked, which I’ve done many times over my alcohol career. I took a video of myself basically lecturing myself about how dumb I was to drink like that.

I even wrote something in my notes app on my phone, explaining how shitty I felt in that moment, hoping I’d read it every time before I was going to drink. This is one of the first times I’ve read it since then. I didn’t plan on sharing it, but here it is, unedited:

“Alcohol is a huge crutch. So many people have no idea what to do without it. It’s the vice of the unconfident. If you can stand up to others and put your ideas and thoughts out into the world without needing alcohol you are one of the brave ones. The weak rely on poison. Be strong. Give in, in moderation, if needed. But there’s never a time when it’s really needed. You went 90 days without alcohol and life was fine. You can do another 90 days. Or maybe 900 or even 9000. But even if it’s only 9, that’s ok too. Do whatever works best for you, even if it’s the occasional drink. But just remember, nothing feels as bad as hugging a toilet and wasting a day or two being hungover. Time is running out and wasting it being wasted is disrespectful. You’ve been given this one amazing life to do everything you’ve ever wished to do. Don’t throw it away like an idiot. You were meant to share your stories and inspire others to be better. If you can’t take care of yourself, then you’re just a hypocrite. You have a lot of life experiences, share them with the world. There’s no shame in having an alcoholic past and a non-alcoholic future. Fuck the haters. You’re not doing it for them. You are the only one who has to live your life 24/7. Be happy with what you see in the mirror.”

After typing all of that out again, I still agree with that. I was proud of myself for going 90 days, and I felt like I threw it away in one night. I definitely cut back on the frequency of my drinking over the past few years, but when I did drink, the quantity was rarely less than overboard.

When I decided to give it up for that 90-day period, it was just to prove it to myself that I could do it. I knew I could if I just made it a priority. So I did, and I did.

This current “let’s see how long I can go without drinking” challenge has no end date in mind. But it was certainly initiated after a shitty night.

What happens in Vegas…

I was in Vegas for the SEMA Show back in October/November. I’ve been out there for this car show the past five years, mainly just to party with my friends. I used to lie to myself and say that I had to be there because I’ve been into that shit forever, and I have a business in that world, but I didn’t have to be there. I work for myself, I don’t have to do anything or be anywhere unless I really want to.

So it was Halloween night and one of my friends was out there for a different event. He was going to this costume party and said I should come through. He explained the event and it sounded epic, I had to go. Good think I packed my costume!

The party was going well. Lots of people, but it was still a relatively small private event, and then we found out it was an open beer. This always sounds like a good thing at the time. It’s never a good thing for people like me.

And then we had a table in the VIP section, which means bottle service (lots of liquor). Another thing that seems badass when you’re there, but always turns into a shit show. Which it did.

There were big name bands and we were right by the stage. It was crazy… for the hour that I remember. The next several hours, I was time traveling (blacked out).

I woke up sometime around 5am, in this empty lobby area of the casino, just outside the club. I was sitting at a table, and no one was in sight. I think I was still drunk.

Anyways, I stood up, still wearing half of my costume, and I reached into my pockets. It’s that thing you do when you wake up after a long night of drinking: make sure you have your keys, your wallet, and your phone. I’ve done this dance hundreds of times.

I didn’t drive to the airport, so I left my keys back in Ohio. So those were safe. I felt my wallet. A sigh of relief. But I searched all of my pockets, and no cell phone. Instant panic attack.

I looked all around the table where I passed out. I looked all over the room I was in. I went back into the club that I thought was closed, but one VIP section was still going strong, likely fueled by all the drugs that move around these places. Still nothing. No phone anywhere.

I took the escalator downstairs and asked the lost and found desk. No one turned my phone in. I went back upstairs in the empty casino area, which seemed more like an abandoned hotel ballroom. I looked everywhere, and the depression was setting in. Plus my hotel was a 90-minute walk from where I was, and I had no way to get an Uber or a Lyft without a phone, and I guess I didn’t want to leave bad enough to drop a bunch of cash on an old school taxi. All of this on top of being dead tired. I didn’t know what else to do.

So I found a quiet corner, laid down, and went back to sleep.

I’m not sure what my plan was. Maybe I’d wake up and miraculously find my phone. Maybe someone turned it in. I guess at a minimum, I’d have more energy after a nap. But I was really hoping I’d just wake up and realize this was all just a bad dream.

Good morning sunshine

Instead I woke up to a security guard nudging me with his foot, explaining that “you can’t sleep on the casino floor.”

Obviously I got right up and explained the situation, but it didn’t matter. After one more quick look around, and another failed attempt at the lost and found, I made the long, early morning walk of shame, from Planet Hollywood back to The D on Fremont Street.

It’s November 1st, and here I am, wearing half my costume, walking down the Vegas Strip, yelling at myself for how stupid I am. I never thought that losing a phone could lead to so much self-hatred. It’s just a phone, but it held a lot of my life inside of it. I think you’d probably be just as pissed. I’m a big advocate for minimalism, and this dumb mistake was making me more angry at how much we value physical things and material objects.

Funny thing, this actually happened just over a month into my social media detox. The last time I posted on my personal Instagram or personal Facebook was near the end of September, and I said I wanted to go the entire month of October without posting on either of them. And I succeeded. I actually deleted the Facebook app from my phone and didn’t reinstall it once. I browsed around Instagram occasionally, and only made a couple posts on my business accounts. But that was totally out of character for me.

I’ll write a whole post about that detox soon, but it was weird to have gone that long without posting anything, and now the device that was commonly used for most of the social postings is missing, actually preventing me from posting.

To make a long story a little shorter, I did everything I could from my laptop back in the hotel room. I tried finding it with the Find My iPhone app, filling out a lost and found report, asking people to call my phone occasionally to see if anyone would answer, etc. Nothing.

I tried to see how long I could go without a cell phone. It was hard, mainly because I didn’t choose this path. I had an old iPhone at home, so I thought, let me just make it 2-3 more days here in Vegas, then I’ll be able to use my old phone once I arrive.

Nope. Couldn’t do it.

I only lasted about 40 hours without a smartphone before I cut my losses and moved on to the next one. I went from a tired iPhone 6 that I had for almost three years, to a brand new shiny iPhone XR.

One of the only things that made all of this better was the fact that I had 99.9% of everything backed up on iCloud. After an hour or so sitting at the Genius Bar in the Apple Store, all of my content had been downloaded and I felt normal again (when you have 30k photos/videos, it takes a minute). I can’t stress it enough, back your shit up.

The 0.01% of content missing from the switch was whatever photos and videos I took that night at the party. I personally don’t remember most of it, and I have nothing documented to remind me. It’s like it never happened. I scroll through my phone now, and there’s exactly 47 hours of nothing between my taco dinner before the party and my celebratory Chipotle dinner after getting my new phone setup. Like I went to sleep for two days and woke up in a new life.

Maybe this is a new life…

And that night was the last time I’ve consumed alcohol. Oh yeah, I also lost money playing poker two nights before that, and I was drinking then too. Alcohol ruined this entire trip. I mean, I did, but it’s because I thought adding alcohol to the mix would have enhanced the experiences, not destroyed them. I always think it will help. Oh well, you live and you learn.

So that’s a crash course on how alcohol affects me. How I fell into it at the end of my high school career, and how 19 years later, I still haven’t learned my lesson. And those are just two stories. I’m sure over time, I will explain plenty more drunken escapades that happened between those two major events.

Although, talking about my failures is never fun. I really hated writing the Vegas story, maybe because it’s still somewhat fresh. I still feel stupid. I’m better than that. But I get caught up in the moment and one drink turns to two which turns to six and leads to my brain going to sleep while my body still has more plans. Maybe someone else will learn something from all of this.

The big question that people keep asking me is: “So when are you gonna drink again??” And of course I have no idea. I don’t have an end date. I told myself I wanted to go at least 100 days. But after I made it two months, I said I should aim for six months. Now that it’s been almost three months, I told myself, “wouldn’t it be cool to say something down the road like, ‘remember 2019, that crazy year when I didn’t drink any alcohol.’ ”

Maybe I’ll make it over a year. Maybe I’ll go forever. Maybe I’ll drink next weekend. I have no idea. But if I was to bet money, I’d say I won’t drink at all this year, and I think there’s a strong chance I’ll never drink again. I really don’t need it in my life. It doesn’t lead to anything positive for me. I don’t run to it when I’m sad or depressed or mad, like others do. I work for myself and don’t have to put myself in situations where I used to always drink. I rarely ever drank alone. So many reasons why it’s probably easier for me to quit than most people, so I’m putting it to the test. I think I can permanently eliminate it from my life, but only time will tell.

If you love beer or wine or mixed drinks or whatever, good for you. I’m not trying to stop anyone from doing what they enjoy. Hell, I’ve been vegan for over two years now, and 99% of the people I interact with don’t eat that way at all. Everyone is free to do whatever they please, it almost never affects me. If you know how to “drink responsibly,” then have at it. Moderation doesn’t work well for me in most areas of my life, I’m more of an all or nothing kind of person. And alcohol certainly falls into that category. I don’t know, maybe I have faulty wiring (I keep saying that phrase after I heard Henry Rollins say it during a couple interviews).

Regardless, I will be continuing this sobriety experiment for the foreseeable future. Feel free to join me if you think you’re ready for a break.

Photo taken in a small random bar, down one of the many alleys in the Red Light District in Amsterdam. September 2018.