What happens when you stop drinking?
The truth is, I’ve wondered what happens when you stop drinking for ten years. Or at least, it was ten years from the time I knew I was going to have to make a change until that change was finally made.
When you start out to make any major change in habitual behavior, it’s natural to look for resources from those who’ve gone before you and have come through it successfully. And there is no shortage of material available from scads of helpful souls who have left a kind and thoughtful trail for the rest of us to follow, if and when we should ever feel ready to pursue it. Their stories of what to expect are consistent: better health, more energy, more money left in your pockets and better sleep (at least after a while) among other things. I found all of those things to be true for me, too. But I also began to change in other ways I wasn’t necessarily expecting. I thought I’d share those here, for the benefit and/or comparison or discussion of anyone else evaluating their journey.
Just what happens when you stop drinking alcohol? I imagine the experience is somewhat unique to each person. But these are some observations on my own experience so far. In no particular order, here are seven ways I changed after I stopped drinking that I wasn’t necessarily expecting.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking, #1
I Stopped Paying Attention to Things That Didn’t Make Me Feel Good (Even If I Liked Them)
Choosing to stop drinking alcohol was a commitment to a more positive, empowering lifestyle. As I began to get more vigilant about cultivating a more positive and proactive mindset, I became a lot more aware of how I was feeling moment-to-moment. This included when I was reading certain things, seeing certain things, and listening to certain things, many of which I had enjoyed up to that point. After a while, I came to realize that some of what I was feeding into my awareness wasn’t really serving me very well, and needed to go.
Put The Book Down
This first really sank in when I was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico this past February. I’d purchased a book by Fox Sports Radio host, Colin Cowherd. I specifically bought the book to take with me on that vacation (I’ve enjoyed Cowherd’s work on ESPN Radio for years). In that book, he offers essays in the form of what you might call “rants,” which is consistent with how his radio show sounds. I’ve always enjoyed his on-air work and his book was good. Or at least, the part of it I read was good. But as I was going through it, I became aware that although I agreed with much of it, I found myself feeling more and more agitated.
I remember talking with my sweetheart, Caroline, about it. I wanted to feel good while I was on my vacation and even though Cowherd’s writing gave me a chuckle here and there, I didn’t like the negativity and it felt like it was sticking to me. So I put it down and started reading “The Art of Living” by Bob Proctor. Almost immediately, my physiology changed. It felt empowering, positive, relaxing, and hopeful.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
I’m not picking on Colin Cowherd. I love his work and have for years. It’s not him. It’s me.
Shortly after getting home from Cabo, I stopped downloading Cowherd’s podcast and quit listening to other programs where there were constant complaints and griping. I stopped reading novels about murders and crimes. I’m not saying I’ll never read them again, because I enjoyed, for instance, the Alex Cross novels for a while and work by people like Jefferey Deaver. But for now, I just don’t want that kind of darkness in my awareness. There is enough of that in everyday life. I’m no longer interested in feeding my mind anything that doesn’t make me feel good.
I don’t care if that seems “goody-two-shoes.” I confronted the same feeling when I quit drinking. You can do what you like. I want to feel good.
Social media exposure has been another massive shift. When you change a major habit like drinking and decide that you don’t want to do that anymore, you start becoming a lot more aware of Facebook posts of people posing for drinks or saying, “Yahoo! It’s the weekend! Let’s get smashed!” or any other number of things. The more I saw things like, “It’s wine night with the girls” or buddies proudly sharing how they were “getting drunk at the game,” I would just start clicking the Unfollow button that says “stop seeing posts but stay friends.”
I then began to notice how much people were constantly complaining about sports, politics, the person who parked at the shopping mall, the idiot in line at the grocery store and all other manner of whining and griping that, once again, was just bringing me down. I didn’t necessarily want to see these things but it doesn’t mean that I don’t love those people just the same. So I employed “stop seeing posts but stay friends” process again.
On the occasions I do open up a social media feed, I now see the updates from groups I’ve chosen to follow, or personal development mentors and teachers with positive, empowering things to say on a daily basis. I’ll let everyone else slug it out on how stupid they feel the government is without me.
No News Is Good News
I don’t watch CNN or any other National news. Frankly, I don’t understand why anybody would? It seems to me that the major events that are going on in the world and in my community end up finding their way to me anyway. Everyone talks about them. There’s almost no way to avoid something major going on.
With this thing that we’ve created called “the news,” in my opinion (and with no offence intended to many of my colleagues who work in this area), I believe we have perpetuated a self-fulfilling prophecy of demanding calamity and so that’s what we get served. When we are offered stories of gentle, soulful and good things, ratings numbers drop. Or at least that’s what we’re told. But we chase ambulances, slow down to gawk at accidents, and line up to judge and point fingers at celebrities gone awry, politicians gone bad, or any other number of insidious things. And so we keep getting more of it. I don’t want it in my eyes, ears, soul or spirit. So I don’t watch, read or listen to it if I don’t have to.
As a clear example, this recent American election process has been an embarrassing tidal wave of toxic emotional sludge. It’s a no-win. And there never will be a win, in my view, until we can begin to realize that we are manifesting exactly what we’re getting. It frustrates and saddens me, and when I feel that way, I’m likely to pass my gripes only to someone else. And so the virus spreads.
I can only control me. And I don’t want to be poisoned by the victim-based and accusatory actions of others.
If we want change, we can start by switching channels. Or as Bob Proctor might say, “Move to a higher vibration.”
What Happens When You Stop Drinking, #2
I Care a Lot Less About Pro Sports
For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed cheering for my favorite sports teams. In particular, I cheer for the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Miami Heat. I used to enjoy NASCAR racing and the odd PGA golf tournament too. But don’t find myself spending time watching any of those things much anymore. I view it as entertainment and little more. If I’m not feeling entertained by it, I turn it off.
The other thing that I’ve become aware of that I don’t want to be associated with is the disgusting behavior of so many people that go to and watch sporting events. It reminds me of the “pack mentality” behavior of a group of people drinking alcohol. And in fact, a lot of the ignorance you might experience at a large amount of sporting events is fueled by alcohol: angry people raging at other angry people, hanging their hopes on things that are completely beyond their control and wishing for multi-millionaires to give them some sense of fulfillment as they compete as part of a process to make billionaires even more money.
Follow the Mob?
Now, I grant you, that’s a pretty cynical attitude. But go to just about any sporting event, up to and including children’s hockey or soccer or whatever sport they’re involved in, and take a look around. The behavior is often reprehensible. People, as individuals, seem to be smart and mature and capable of making decent decisions. But put them together as a group and let one or two of them start acting ignorantly, and the rest of them seem to decide that it merits the same ignorant behavior. It’s disgusting.
Again, it reminds me of alcohol consumption. If a couple people decide to make drunken fools out of themselves, then a lot of other normally “right-thinking” people decide it must be okay to do the same. I should know, because I did it more times in my life than I care to admit. But it’s not okay.
In an environment like a hockey, baseball or basketball game, it’s a horrible example that we’re perpetuating inside our culture, showing our children that we can just decide to show up and be ignorant because we “paid for a ticket.” I’ve heard professional football games are even worse. I’ll take people’s word for. I have no interest in going.
The question I can’t stop asking myself as I observe this is, Why do we care so much? Why should I rely on a sports team, or anything else, to give me anything other than a form of entertainment? Why should I be tying any part of my identity or sense of fulfillment to the performance of a sporting team or certain individual?
I can already imagine the comment from “Angry Sports Guy” saying, “You don’t understand.” But I do understand. It used to be I thought that I should live and die with every up and down following my favourite teams. My belief was that you should feel the losses extra-hard so that you can experience an even greater high when you’re celebrating the wins.
When I was in grade school, a rabid Tigers fan, I actually wrote an essay called, “Why I Hate the Toronto Blue Jays.” I shudder at the thought. Guess what eventually happened? I grew up. I don’t want to hate anything anymore. And to tie up part of my energy hating a professional sports franchise? That’s silly and juvenile. Just turn it off.
Go Leafs Go?
I still enjoy watching the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games, but there’s a reason for that. It doesn’t matter that they’ve been terrible for a long time and that they will likely not win a championship anytime soon, if ever. I like it because my youngest son likes it. He and I enjoy sitting and watching it together. We cheer when they score and laughing and shrugging our shoulders when they don’t (and when you cheer for the Leafs, the second thing happens a lot more than the first).
It’s a form of entertainment that we can enjoy together and we have fun talking about it with other friends and fans. That’s the wonderful part about sports: enjoying the community of it. But I would hate for him to see me yelling at the television or throwing things around or going into a funk over something that I had absolutely no control over. And yet that’s what seems to be acceptable behavior in our culture fueled in many cases by, you guessed it, our old friend alcohol.
I will always consider myself a fan of the Tigers, Leafs and Heat. They’re a part of who I am. But I don’t live and die with sports anymore. And you know what? I’m no less happy. Quite the opposite.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking, #3
I Changed What I Was Eating With Very Little Effort
What happens when you stop drinking? You’re a lot less interested in feeding yourself other kinds of poison.
It used to be fairly common for me to pick up fast food or eat out on a somewhat regular basis, especially when I was with my two boys. I would view it as a “treat” to go out and get ice cream or to go to a fast food restaurant.
As time went on after I stopped drinking and I began to get more in touch with my body and how it was feeling (which I think became a lot more possible after I got alcohol out of my system), I became more aware of how I was feeling after certain behaviors. I realized I was letting some of my good habits deteriorate over the weekends when I was with my kids and that we were a little bit more prone to going to a fast food place or stopping for some donuts or going out for ice cream. I found I didn’t feel very good either later that day or the next day.
Pizza, I noticed, was one particularly bad offender. It was not at all uncommon for me to go and grab a pizza, especially on a Friday night or at a busy time, for the boys and me to gobble up. But I soon realized that almost as quickly as I ate a couple of pieces of pizza, I didn’t feel very good. I honestly felt a bit sad about that for a while, but then it actually got pretty easy to choose other things when I knew I’d feel better, and that it’d be better for the kids, too.
Once that awareness kicked in, my habits started to change.
Brown Bags & Coolers
Instead of relying on fast food places, I started being a little bit more diligent about having sandwiches packed, fruit on hand and extra water bottles around. I would even get teased by other parents at the arena when my boys were playing summer ball hockey. It often worked out that my youngest son would play late in the morning and my oldest son a couple hours later, which meant that we would often be there over the lunch hour.
I got in the habit of packing sandwiches and other snacks and carrying it around in a little cooler. Many of the other parents would go to a nearby pizza place and grab a “hot and ready” pizza or some other kind of fast food. My boys and I enjoyed many times sitting out in the nice weather between games, having a little picnic with a cooler full of stuff. We felt better, felt less rushed and actually spent less money overall.
I keep track of the money that I spend each month by category and then total my receipts. I’ll enter the numbers into a spreadsheet so I have an honest idea of where my money is going. One column is for what I call “food and groceries.” But starting earlier this year, I began breaking out the receipts into a different column to see how much I was spending on those little fast food stops. I took those receipts out of the grocery column and put them in a new category and was shocked to see how much I was spending even in just little bits and pieces. It adds up to a couple hundred dollars pretty quickly.
More Fridge, Less Freezer
Before I knew it, I was in the habit of buying better foods and planning a little bit further ahead so that I didn’t feel rushed and I didn’t get caught nearly as much out and about with nothing to eat. I began living more out of the fridge, and less out of the freezer. And another funny thing happened: I thought it was going to cost me more money to do this. But it ended up costing less.
As we ate better foods at regular times, we were not as prone to looking for or craving other snacks at other times. And the difference between spending a little bit more on good foods at the grocery store as opposed to fast food stops here and there was actually quite eye-opening. The other added benefit was that it didn’t take long for my body to start recognizing that it preferred not to be taken, say, to McDonald’s. Next thing I knew, I was having a salad with all kinds of different things in it for every lunch and getting to where I quite look forward to it and actually feel almost a sense of distress when I didn’t have that to eat, because I’d know I wouldn’t feel as good for the rest of the day.
I’m not suggesting I’ve become a model of how people should construct their diet. Far from it. I still have several poor habits I’ve not yet changed. But I eat a lot better than I used to and it wasn’t all that hard to do after I got alcohol out of my system. I look forward to the continued evolution of the process, for the sake of both me and my kids.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking, #4
I Became a Lot More Aware of Places I Did Not Wish To Be and Started Avoiding Them
What happens when you stop drinking? You notice some there are certain places you just don’t want to be in anymore.
Once I stopped drinking, I noticed that there were locations where, when I looked around, I realized I didn’t care for the energy I was picking up from a lot of the people inside. I’m by no means trying to suggest that you can paint everyone with the same brush, but in years before I started drinking, I would look around at some of the other people that were standing in line to get more alcohol with me, and I would think, “I don’t want to be like this. I’m not like that, am I?”
But alcohol had such a hold on my routines and habits that I had a hard time breaking away from them. After all, alcohol really does not help you process feelings. It helps you bury them. That’s not a very healthy psychological place to be in the long run. You end up delaying discomfort and actually (and ironically) creating even more of it.
Once I clued into this, I started to become a lot more aware of the vibe and the overall energy at a lot of fast food places and discount department stores. I began to avoid them. And the less I was in those environments, the more sensitive I became to how profound the energy shift was when I would go back into them again. People barking and snapping at their kids. People complaining about every price that they saw, bitching about a lack of service, griping about the government. The victim mindset perpetuated.
No, “Everyone” Doesn’t Do It
I began to associate following the crowds into those kinds places in a similar fashion to how I viewed what alcohol does: just because “everyone” does it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do. And, in fact, once you step out of that circle, you’ll realize that not everyone, in fact, does do it. Many don’t, and are much happier.
To contrast that, I started going to a local food mart that sells a lot more high-quality foods. And I admit that I was afraid to do that at first because I feared I wouldn’t be able to afford it. But at the discount grocery store around the corner that I used to go to, you would constantly run into cranky people, tapping their toes thinking the service wasn’t quick enough and just generally being miserable. But at the other place, where you pay just a little bit more, people roam the aisles more leisurely, look up and say hello, talk to the staff and seem willing to wait a few minutes for their products in line. It’s an entirely different energy.
There’s nothing stopping the energy changing at the discount place either. But that’s up to the people inside of it. The whole scene makes me realize that, when you’re strapped for cash, you’re not only stressing over your finances, but you’re struggling to swim in a sea of emotional poison as well, in a lot of cases. That’s a tough thing to break out of, and is a separate subject for some other time.
I’m Not Buying It
The other byproduct of planning ahead a little bit more and not being out and about buying things as much is that you take yourself out of the consuming and retail buying mindset. You start to become more present, realizing that you already have what you need and you don’t need to keep reaching out to acquire and have other things to try to “make yourself happy.” After all, that’s pretty much what role alcohol plays for many people who consume it on a regular basis. They are trying to either create a feeling of happiness or diffuse or mask a feeling of unhappiness. A lot of retail spending and eating certain foods, it could be argued, serve the exact same purpose.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking, #5
I Got Stronger By Trying to Get More Flexible
What happens when you stop drinking? You get stronger. If you want to.
I’ve been a member of the same gym for over a decade. I love going there, and like anyone else, I have my routines. But in the year after dropping alcohol, I became less interested in working on how I looked and more interested in working on how I felt. After a short time, something interesting happened. I began to feel better and as a result I started looking better also.
I decided I wanted to feel more flexible, energetic and able to sustain my energy for longer periods of time. Those goals were (are) reflections of who I want to be in a grander sense. So I started doing more aerobic work, stretching and yoga-style workouts. Eventually, I moved into boxing-type exercises like skipping and hitting a heavy bag. I don’t like the violence of a sport like boxing but after watching films like “Creed” and “Rocky Balboa,” I got the idea that what they were doing sure looked like a good workout. So I tried it and quickly got hooked.
I now do much less resistance work or lifting of heavy weights. Despite that, I got stronger and more muscular. I gained more energy, lost a little bit of weight and noticed I had gained even more confidence. As Sean Vigue of Sean Vigue Fitness suggested during our podcast discussion, it has become more of a lifestyle for me. I don’t have to get motivated. I find that if I don’t do it, I miss it quickly. Maybe that’s its own addiction? Hmm.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking, #6
I Developed An Insatiable Appetite for Learning
I’m now spending every moment I can expanding my knowledge and getting training through books, courses, audio books, podcasts, and in any other way I can. If I am in the car between appointments during the day at work, I’m trying to learn something. Same thing if I’m making dinner, or taking out the garbage. I use that time to learn something.
I’ve cut my television cable bill way back. Reason being, I find that when my kids are not around (on evenings when they’re with their mother) it hardly even occurs to me to turn the television on. But I used to sit around and watch the TV with a mug of beer beside me. I would prioritize it. Now, I’ve become a relentless, insatiable learner, perhaps to a bit of a fault. I have acquired a rabid appetite for pursuing anything about which I’m curious or think that I can apply to improving my own journey or that can help me with my goals.
Where Was This Desire When I Was at School?
In my school-aged days, I used to not want to study. Now, I get bummed out when I reach fatigue or realize I need to shut down for the night. I usually haven’t come anywhere close to quenching the thirst I’ve acquired for more knowledge.
This change has actually become a little bit of a challenge. It all becomes a little much and leads me to feeling a bit overwhelmed. There are so many books I want to read, courses I’d like to take, podcasts I’d like to listen to and exercises I’d like to do. I could probably make a good argument that a little bit more time unwinding would be good. Watching a movie or TV show would actually be a very necessary thing for me. I usually only allow myself 10 or 15 minutes of that and then I get too antsy and I’m up and about again. But I find it interesting that I am so fired up about acquiring more knowledge and upgrading my skills. I’ve always been a curious seeker, but I don’t remember feeling quite this same way before.
What happens when you stop drinking? You want to make up for lost time and learn everything you can.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking, #7
I Gained Clarity on My Life’s Passions and Have Begun Relentless Pursuit of Them
I’ve gone from a sense of having almost run out of time and being too old, to just barely having begun the journey. I feel like I’ve got some runway in front of me. But also a sense of urgency to get going while the going’s good. Because of that, I’m trying to take better care of myself now. I want my mind and body to be capable of sustaining my efforts a bit deeper into my life than they might have if I’d kept to my original path.
I’ve begun relentlessly pursuing my dreams and passions. I believe more than ever that they can and will come true. Indeed, many of them already have.
Understanding What Matters Most
I’ve become so much more clear about what my values are and what I’m passionate about. What’s really important to me is more clear. I’m a lot less interested in chasing after things that other people have or that I always thought I’m supposed to have. As a result, I’m pouring much more energy into things that I am passionate about. Some examples are my Podcast, my music, my writing, speaking. It’s also fun to share what I’ve learned with anyone who’s interested. In general, I try to be around more creative and positive thinking people more of the time.
I am now much more patient, both with myself and with everyone else. I’m more able to allow myself to let certain things go. I still have those automatic thoughts that pop up. You know, the ones that say I’m not doing well enough or that I should have more money or a fancier car or a bigger house. But then I realize, “Oh, you don’t really care so much about that.” I know that I care about doing things more than having things.
No More Regrets
I now understand that once I get to the end of my days, I will want to look back and see that I’ve given my best effort into sharing my creativity and doing something that was true to who I really was. And I do feel anxious about pursuing that, however I now have much more patience and a sense of calm and a willingness to allow the situation to unfold because I know that it will, however it’s supposed to. Change can take time. Altering your paradigm and your thoughts and habits can take a while. But that once it clicks, you’re off and running.
I know this to be true because I’ve now done it. I did it by kicking the routing that regularly included alcohol. I’ve done it by going through divorce and forgiving everyone involved, including myself. I’ve been re-scripting my life and finding a better way. When I look back on those experiences, I feel certain I can improve upon my current circumstances as well.
What happens when you stop drinking?
Life gets a lot better. That’s what.
What Ways Have You Changed?
Have you been able to change a major habit? What was it, and how did you change? Please leave a comment below and share your experience.
About the Author
The founder of No Schedule Man Brand Media, Kevin Bulmer is a certified life & executive coach and keynote speaker who specializes in mindset and strategic marketing. Kevin is the producer and host of the momondays London inspirational event series and host of the podcast on heart-centered entrepreneurship, “Journeys with the No Schedule Man.”
Day-to-day, Kevin helps heart-centered entrepreneurs find their “REAL” success so they can feel free to live and work happy. His overarching purpose is to uplift through a shared example of continual growth.
For life coaching online and ongoing strategic marketing coaching & support, join Kevin’s online coaching membership service, My REAL Success Pass. To work with Kevin directly, apply for 1-on-1 coaching, hire him to speak (virtually or in person) for your group and/or book a private workshop or group coaching session.