Note: I keynote on the concepts of transparency and honesty, right? Gotta walk the walk if you’re going to talk the talk, so here you go: My name is Peter, and I’m an alcoholic. Enjoy the read, and happy first anniversary to me. PS: If it happens to help you, well then, even better. This is what I learned. It’s not what anyone else learned. Everyone learns different things, and there are no “wrong” or “right” lessons. Finally, anything I’ve written here is shareable on any platform.
“The problem is that I don’t want a drink. I want ten drinks.”
-Leo McGarry (John Spencer,) The West Wing
I had my last drink on October 29th, 2015. Come to think of it, I had my last six drinks on October 29th, 2015. As of October 30th, 2015, I haven’t had so much as one drop of alcohol, by any form. Not in mouthwash. Not in cologne or antiperspirant. Not in desserts with the alcohol “cooked off.” Not one single drop.
I plan to continue not drinking for as long as I can, but as they say, right now, I’m just not going to drink today.
I learned a metric fuck-ton during my one year so far in sobriety. I also gained a surprising amount of insight into myself. I’m boiling it down into a few specific paragraph-long rules, because no one has the time or desire to read my word vomit for ten pages? And because there’s no point in not being honest, I’m not going to lie or sugar-coat anything. Here’s what happened. It’s not all pretty. But the one constant over the past five hundred twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes? I did not drink.
I decided to quit drinking for several reasons, none of which were exciting in the least.
I was boring in how I quit, though. There was no “holy shit, I’m in jail” moment for me, nor was I urged to quit by anyone. According to the entire world, I didn’t have any kind of problem with alcohol whatsoever, I just had to learn to slow down how fast I drank.
The problem is, they say “slow down how fast I drank” like that’s the only thing in my life that I do at warp speed. I mean, do you even fucking KNOW ME? I drink alcohol the same way I drink Diet Coke, which is all at once. Not because it’s alcohol, but because it’s in front of me. My brain simply doesn’t “do” moderation. Let me put it another way:
I only have two speeds: “Namaste,” and “I’ll cut a bitch.”
You know those people who have a pizza pie delivered to their home, eat two slices, and then put the rest in the fridge for tomorrow? What the hell is WRONG with those people? I don’t understand “leftover pizza.” For me, LEFTOVER PIZZA IS NOT A THING. It’s the same for anything for me, including alcohol.
Now that you understand that, you understand my main reason for quitting drinking, the reason that no one I talked to seemed to get: I simply can’t moderate like other people can. This is a huge benefit in so many ways – I’ve started and successfully sold several companies because instead of sitting down and thinking about the pros and cons like a normal person, I jump up from my chair and launch a company in six hours and have revenue coming in overnight, because I don’t know how to moderate. HARO went from idea to thing to multi-million dollar sale in under three years exactly because I don’t know how to moderate. ShankMinds went from an idea that I could possibly help other entrepreneurs to a full-fledged self-sufficient 150+ person private mastermind community in less than six months because I don’t know how to moderate. So there are tremendous benefits in not knowing how to moderate.
It’s the drawbacks that’ll kill you, though. Those are the things you need to figure out.
The surprisingly boring backstory:
This isn’t a “yeah, I was sneaking Jim Beam when I was six” type of story. In fact, it’s the complete opposite, so sorry in advance for the lack of excitement here.
I didn’t start drinking until I was in my late 20s. I never drank in high school or college. In fact, I was the complete opposite. To say I was “cool,” is a complete and utter lie. I wrote an editorial during my junior year of college for The Daily Free Press, Boston University’s student-run newspaper, entitled “Why I like staying home on Saturday nights.” It was a well thought out essay about how easy it was to get stuff done when no one else was around, how music sounded better, etc., and it went a tremendously long way in guaranteeing that I had absolutely no friends that year.
But yeah – I didn’t drink growing up, sans the occasional half-finished beer with friends when I was forced to. More often than not, I was nursing a Diet Coke while all my other friends drank.
I didn’t “drink” until around the year 2000, when I was running my own PR firm, and had clients who would come to NYC and expect to be taken out. Baseball season tickets only went so far in placating these clients, especially because they were season tickets to the Mets. So I’d take clients out, yet even then, drinking didn’t hold any major appeal for me. I’d have a drink or two, and bail out. With the exception of one night where an editor (with whom I’m still great friends) took me out and introduced me to one dollar shots, I don’t recall one time back then when I got anything remotely close to drunk.
Around 2001 I discovered running, and unlike several running clubs I’ve been a part of, I’ve never been able to drink all night then run a race the next day. (I still don’t know how some people can do that. I’d be dead by mile two, and they’re putting in their personal best on a half-marathon.) So once I sold my agency in late 01, I went back to my preferred Diet Coke.
Somewhere around 2003 I discovered wine. Specifically, I discovered wine.com and their case discounts. I fancied myself somewhat of a wine snob, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. I discovered one great vintage, Penfolds, if I remember correctly, and would buy caseloads of it, and invite any date over to my apartment to “sample this truly unique vintage I discovered.” Pathetic, I know.
By 2005 I was online dating, and my my drinking was continuing. I was also traveling a ton, and had earned my first two perks of frequent travel: free upgrades to the free alcohol in business class, and a membership to the Continental President’s Club lounge. And again, it wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t affecting my work, I wasn’t doing anything stupid. But I did notice I was drinking faster than other people. Not “more,” but “faster.” So I’d try to make a conscious effort to drink slowly. And that would work fine – for the first drink. As soon as the effects of the first drink hit me, however, “slowly” went out the window.
How could I slow down my drinking? Well, as I learned, I couldn’t. I could go really fast, or I could stop. So I stopped. But I stopped with a caveat.
“No thanks, I’m training for the marathon” became my mantra. I could kill two birds with one stone: I could stop drinking, and train for a marathon! In April of 2006 I quit drinking to train for the New York City Marathon in November, and ran the best race of my life – a 3:58:03.
I hadn’t drank in five months. I ran the marathon and broke my four hour goal. I didn’t go right home and crack a beer or get fall down wasted. In fact, I waited – I remember it perfectly: I waited until the following Wednesday. I invited a friend over, and he and I had a few drinks. I woke up the next morning with a headache the size of a mountain.
Lesson One: “If you assign an end date to the act of quitting something, that’s not actually “quitting something.” It’s “stopping something for a period of time.”
For the next few years, I’d try to moderate by making sure that I’d schedule races in such ways that I’d be training for something at least four months out of the year. When I was, I was untouchable. You could dunk me in a pool of vodka, I wouldn’t have a sip. But when I wasn’t training, the alcohol flowed, and it was easy to drink.
Problem was, I wasn’t “quitting,” I was “stopping.” And my stops always had a start date to look forward to. I just called them something else – I called them races.
Finally, fast forward to late October, 2015. I came back from a business trip in Thailand. I was jet-lagged, something I never get. I was cranky. I was bloated, puffy, and couldn’t sleep. Let’s be honest: I was fat, I was less productive, I wasn’t happy. And I could trace it all back to alcohol.
Moderation had failed.
I looked in the mirror at 3am and didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. And that’s where it stopped. I said the words out loud to the unknown reflection in the mirror: “No more.”
I bought a one-year membership, non-refundable, to New York Health and Racquet club. It became my church. If the sun was rising in the sky and I wasn’t on a plane, I was at the gym. Anger or bad days, which would have ended in a drink or six, now ended in another hour on the bike. Lifting became fun – Or at least a release. The muscles, and the lack of fifty pounds of fat – Added bonus.
Landing after 14 hours in business class without a hangover? That’s kind of nice. Not feeling judged? Even better.
So I don’t know how long I’m not going to drink. All I know is this: I’m not going to drink today. Tomorrow, I’ll know the same thing. That’s it.
Lesson Two: If you’re reading this and asking yourself “Do I have a problem,” YOU’RE the only person who can answer that question. Absolutely no one else can.
In early 2010, I confided in someone I was dating that I thought I might be drinking a bit too much. I’ll never, ever forget her reply. She actually rolled her eyes at me: “Oh, don’t be an idiot. You don’t have a problem with alcohol. If you’re so concerned, just drink less.”
I was floored. I was actually voicing a concern I had, and she dismissed me. I remember sarcastically thinking, “oh, is that all it is? Wow, thanks so much, honey. Can’t believe I never saw that before. Fuck me, right?”
Could she have been a little more compassionate, or to put it another way, a little less of a bitch? Sure. But in hindsight, she wasn’t wrong, per se. She just wasn’t right.
See, in her mind, which is a normal, everyday mind, it actually is that simple. It’s just not drinking, or not drinking that much. So she wasn’t wrong. She just wasn’t right about me. Normal people can “just not drink that much.” People like me? We can’t do that.
You can ask fifty people if you have an issue with drinking, and get fifty responses. The only one that matters is yours. If you think you have a problem, get involved with solving it.
Lesson Three: Replace the time
Just because you’re not drinking anymore doesn’t mean the time you used to spend drinking disappears. If you don’t replace that time with something else, it sits there mocking you, like the raven, perched upon the chamber door. If you you replace the time, you don’t think about it. And the benefit of that? You get to do something else you enjoy.
For me? It was the gym. And while you could say I was simply replacing one addiction with another, I don’t really care if I was, because it worked for me. In a year, I dropped close to 50 pounds, I’m more muscular than I’ve ever been, and I dropped an HOUR off my half-Ironman time. That’s ridiculously huge.
When I was drinking, I wasn’t going to bed early, thus I wasn’t waking up early, thus I wasn’t going to the gym early. Now I go to bed early, get up ridiculously early, and am part of the “door club” of people who are first at the door of NYHRC waiting for it to open at 5:30am. It’s just as addictive as a dirty martini, and much less detrimental.
Lesson Four: Replace the sensation
Let’s face it – Alcohol makes things better. But technically, it’s not the alcohol – it’s the dopamine, seratonin, and adrenaline that does that. Alcohol just increases the amount of those chemicals we have, and the speed at which we produce them. So find other things that do the same. Running. Exercise. Skydiving. Speaking in public. Chess. Whatever. They’re out there. Find them.
I’ll tell you – When I’m at mile five of a six mile run, and “Non-Stop” from the Hamilton soundtrack comes on, and I sing at the top of my lungs on the last mile… I don’t know any drug or drink that can beat that feeling. Find you replacement, and soak it in as much as possible. Make it a craving. And to those who say I’m just replacing one addiction with another? Again, I agree with you. Yeah. I am. So what? Did you know that the sport of Ironman has the highest number of recovering addicts of any sport? Makes perfect sense. Why chase one addiction at a time if we can chase three? Again, I’m fine with that. It’s not unhealthy. Quite the opposite.
Lesson Five: Talk about it with people that matter, and no one else.
I don’t care how strong you think you are. You can’t do this shit alone. Talk to someone. Talk to a group of your peers. Go to AA meetings if you want. I’ve gone to some. Very cool people there. Whatever you choose to do, you gotta talk to someone, (but this is key,) someone who understands. People with regular brains don’t understand the whole concept of not being able to moderate. (See my conversation with my ex-girlfriend above.) Find someone who understands you and who you can trust, and spend time with them.
For me, it was my friends DR and KK – Not only did they get me, not only did they relate, but they’re also runners – 4am runs with them became what used to be 9pm drinks. And it’s awesome. Thank you, guys.
Online works wonders, too. Check out the Reddit “stop drinking” sub. It was a game changer for me when I found that. People from all around the world, people just as normal, just as messed up, just as human as us, all coming together for one simple purpose – We just don’t want to drink.
Lesson Six: This absolutely DOES NOT take away from ANYTHING else about me.
This was a huge lesson for me. Just because I decided that I wanted to stop drinking didn’t take away from anything else about me. Initially, I felt like a complete failure in all aspects of my life, until I realized that thinking that was completely idiotic. My issues with moderation didn’t take away from who I was, what I’d accomplished, what I’ll continue to accomplish, or anything else. In that sense, it’s no different than breaking a leg. Just because I broke my leg and got treated for it doesn’t mean that suddenly I’m a bad father, or a terrible businessman, or undateable. Not at all. It simply means I broke my leg, and needed to fix it so I could walk again.
Same thing with drinking. Some might even say it makes me better in every other aspect of my life, because I know myself that much better than I did before. To thine own self, be true, indeed.
Lesson Seven: There’s nothing wrong with saying no, with not going out, with going to bed early, as much as you want. Quitting WON’T negatively impact your business, your personal life, or anything else you don’t want it to impact.
My biggest fear when I quit drinking was missing out – Missing networking opportunities, missing parties with people I should be meeting. You know how often that happened?
It fucking didn’t.
You know what did happen, though? My networking actually went through the roof, because I started having early breakfasts with people who really mattered – guess what – They weren’t out partying the night before, either. (See bonus lesson below.)
Lesson Eight: You’re going to think about it. A lot.
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about having a drink. But you need to understand – that’s different than craving a drink. I have maybe only had seven or so actual cravings for alcohol. They all came on the heels of a bad day, or bad news, or some kind of stressful situation or an argument. And they were all placated with a workout or a talk with a friend, or both. Sometimes two or three workouts and talks in the same day.
Have a go-to – something you can do, someone you can talk to, when a craving hits. Insofar as thinking about it? It doesn’t go away, but it does get a little easier. At least in my limited experience. But hear me: It never goes away. I don’t imagine that if I stay away from alcohol for “X” days, I’ll be “cured.” I know I won’t be cured. Again, back to the writing of Aaron Sorkin.
Lesson Nine: Document everything, and learn to trust the data.
I used Quit That!, a program for the iPhone, that tracked metrics from the second I quit. I can tell you that on a bad day, taking a quick look at my phone and seeing a streak of over 100, 200, or more days, at least for me, is a pretty strong “snap out of it” moment. Ain’t no way I’m gonna break that streak. Data doesn’t lie. Men lie, women lie, children lie. Data doesn’t lie. In the end, seeing the streak helps. To quote from House of Cards, “Fuck the Zero:”
Friend of mine has a quote – “Hang around a barbershop long enough, and you’ll wind up getting a haircut.” Same thing is true. I stopped going to the one restaurant I always went to drink. (It went out of business three weeks later – I don’t think the two are connected, but that’s some messed up shit regardless…)
My “let’s meet for drinks” became “let’s meet for coffee.” And those who wanted to meet with me had no problem with the switch. I still go to Morton’s Steakhouse from time to time, but it’s for a dinner meeting – not a three hour hangout at the bar.
I told the few people I’d drink with regularly that I was stopping, and probably wouldn’t want to hang with them at a bar anymore, but would be happy to hang with them in other places. As expected, I haven’t seen them at all in a year. Speaks volumes for the friendship, or lack thereof, huh?
Lesson Eleven: Truthfully? No one gives a fuck whether or not you drink.
This was the hardest for me to learn, but once I did, it was freeing as hell. NO ONE CARES. I go into restaurants now, or go to the occasional industry event and order a Diet Coke.
Number of times I’ve been judged by people for not drinking: None.
Number of people who’ve asked why I’m ordering a Diet Coke instead of a Vodka: None.
Number of business opportunities I’ve missed because I wasn’t drinking: None.
Number of times people have thought less of of for not drinking: None.
Number of times people have even noticed: None.
Something to remember: People tend to not give a shit about what’s going on around them unless it impacts them. Once I realized that no one cared whether or not I was drinking, it didn’t matter to me who knew. All that matters is that I’m not drinking. And I’ll tell you – the few times over the past year that I’ve seen someone over-indulge at an event? I’ve offered a small prayer that they do what’s right for them when the time is right for them, and also, I’ve let out a small sigh of relief that it wasn’t me.
Bonus Lesson: Your work life, home life, and everything else is going to improve exponentially, whether you want it to or not, and not because you quit drinking – But because you realize you’re working on improving yourself.
It’s almost the end of 2016: My revenue is up, my speaking gigs are up, my productivity is through the roof, book #5 is done and with the publisher. None of this was planned. It just happens when you’re not fucking EXHAUSTED all the time. Caveat: Your Instagram feed is going to include a LOT of sunrises, and you’re going to be happier. This might cause you to lose some followers. Totally worth it, though. (Yes, I’m being funny.)
So there you go.
So yeah… I don’t drink anymore. 99.9% of the time, it’s awesome. .01% of the time I wish I could be like everyone else. But you know what? I can’t. So I accept it, and life goes on. I can still do everything else in the world, and a lot of those things I can actually do better because I’m not drinking.
Would it be fun to have the option to get shit-faced some day when I really need to? Sure. But you know what’s more fun? Waking up the next morning without a headache, and without worrying if I did something stupid the night before, because I know that I don’t have the ability to have four drinks and just go home.
Not drinking has made me a lot more chill, too. Honestly? 99.9% of the shit out there just isn’t worth getting upset about. I’ve learned to relax, and take it easy just a little bit more. I’ve also stopped judging. No one judged me when I quit, why should I judge anyone else whether or not they do? Do what you love, work really hard at improving yourself whenever and however you can, and try to be kind to an animal if you have the opportunity.
We’re all on this spinning rock together, and we should all do what we can to make it a good ride. That’s it. That’s all we really have. Want to talk more about it? I’m always happy to listen, grab a cup of coffee, or just Skype. Seriously. Email me. Don’t wanna? That’s cool, too. Whatever you do, whether you drink or not, whether you sniff blackboard chalk, or run ultra marathons to get your high — Just know that if you want to change something about you bad enough, you will – but only when you’re ready, and not a moment before. One year ago today? I was finally ready.
Thanks: DR, KK, MS, KS, DL, AV, HS, JR, RR, PD, TE, SF, RS, ET, NA, IS, NS, DR2, LM.