Is it even possible to go one month without alcohol?

The-Famous-Grouse-distillery-catThe Escape Artist got into trouble with Nice Guys last week…and this week I’ll probably be unintentionally irritating people with a drink problem.

As an aside, if ever you find yourself irritated by a blog post, its worth asking yourself why you are so over-invested in it?  Clearly the article touched a raw spot. But why?

The human brain has an amazing capability to bury our deeper issues and insecurities like a corpse under the patio. But denial only works for so long. We then tend to lose our shit when someone pokes our weak spot…even if its unintentional.

Today marks the start of Dry February where I’ve undertaken not to drink alcohol for one whole month. I’ve chosen February for obvious reasons. All I can say is thank God its not a leap year.

How does alcohol relate to financial independence? Well, you can burn a small fortune on alcohol. Thanks to taxation and high costs of the delivery mechanism, alcohol in pubs is ridiculously expensive. And in restaurants its even worse.  If you order a £20 bottle of wine you’ll be getting something you could have got for say £5 in a supermarket.

And then there are the second order effects: the kebabs, the taxis and the unwanted pregnancies….the costs can really add up.  This is The Aggregation of Marginal Gains. Not to mention the effects on your health and vitality.  Which I guess I did just mention.  Drinking makes us fatter….and people that are over-weight get promoted less and get dead more.

Pursuing financial independence requires overcoming advertising and marketing. In the early stages, going 36 hours without spending feels a bit like going 36 hours without eating food.  I’ve now got fasting sorted…I do a 36 hour fast roughly once a month. But going without alcohol for a month might be my toughest challenge yet.

That’s because we all have flaws and one of mine is alcohol.  If The Escape Artist were Superman, alcohol would be my kryptonite.  I know its rare to lead with an admission of vulnerability.  But to achieve greatness you must first acknowledge that you suck.

Someone-is-wrong-on-internetOne of the reasons I usually avoid arguments (especially online) is that most boil down to 2 clowns talking at cross purposes, blissfully unaware of their flaws and blind spots.  When people get emotional about things they care about (mostly themselves) insults start to fly.

The tactic of virtue signalling is used by clowns to signal that they are The Good Guy, thereby leaving the role of The Pantomime Villain for anyone they disagree with. These clowns indignantly pretend that they’re Mother Theresa and their opponent is BASICALLY HITLER.

Hilariously, there is an actual thing called Godwin’s Law which Wikipedia describes:

Godwin’s law asserts that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches one”; that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler or his deeds.

Promulgated by the American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990, Godwin’s law is now applied to any threaded online discussion, such as Internet forums, chat rooms, and comment threads, as well as to speeches, articles, and other rhetoric where reductio ad Hitlerum occurs.

Well guess what?…The Escape Artist is not Mother Theresa.  We are all clowns to some degree. I’d like to say that I always drink responsibly…but that would be a big fat lie.

Not only do I sometimes drink too much, I have other flaws as well. For example, I tend to use inappropriate humour.  But then you already knew that.  I could go on but I only have about 1,500 words to play with so can’t possibly cover all my other flaws in this article.

If you are British, then there are two excellent times to drink alcohol.  Firstly: Autumn / Winter.  What cosier way to get through those long, dark evenings than a log fire, a bottle of Rioja and a hangover the next morning? Secondly: Spring / Summer. God knows, we need to celebrate our little bit of sunshine and what could be better than a cold beer or seventeen in the garden?

Most people like clear and simple blog posts that confirm their pre-existing biases beliefs. But some things are complex and alcohol is a tricky subject.  Alcohol can be used with good intentions and effects (celebration, creativity) or bad (self-numbing).

To be a grown-up is to let go of dogma and false certainties. You need to be able to hold 2 seemingly contradictory concepts in your mind at the same time.  So here are 2 ways of thinking about alcohol:

  1. Getting drunk is great fun…let’s bang on some tunez and get good and drunk
  2. Alcohol creates serious problems. It allows you to hide from your issues and, in extreme cases, can kill people.

Which of these do I believe?  Both of them.  Its a question of balance and context.  I’m with Winston Churchill who, when asked about the risks of drinking, said that he’d taken far more out of alcohol than alcohol had taken out of him.

The Escape Artist is all about the good life. We’re not interested in deprivation around here, we’re interested in self-discipline.  So if you have your booze intake under control, a few beers or a bottle of wine from the supermarket each week is not a problem…financially or otherwise.

When I was young, money used to limit my alcohol intake. Life was simple back then.  If I had £10 for an evening out, the bus fare was £2 and beer was £1 a pint then my intake was naturally limited to 8 beers (subject to the randomness of the round system).

One of the interesting challenges of financial independence is that there is no constraint on your ability to get drunk. As long as I avoid 6 star London hotels and strip clubs (not a problem for me) The Escape Artist has an unlimited booze budget.  My wallet has much greater capacity than my liver. Also, there is no boss to tell me off if I get in late to the office.  This is yet another reason why it makes sense to have a job / passion / side-hustle.

By quitting your job, you in-source your self-discipline.  If you have a job and a mortgage to meet, you have no choice other than to get up and into the office. Freedom gives you choices which is why it can feel scary.

In practice, I doubt this is much of a problem for most people that get to financial independence early. That’s because we humans mostly run on habit…and if you’ve got to financial independence, you will have developed some deep-seated habits around self-discipline.

The truth is that my drinking is perfectly manageable but its also a deeply ingrained habit. I know this runs deep because, over the years, I noticed that my urge for a drink tends to spike up between 6 and 7pm.  For most of my adult life, this was an unexplained mystery.

Then one Saturday I was at my parents house and their grandfather clock chimed 6pm. My Dad jumped up and said: Right…who wants a drink?  I had a lightbulb moment, realising that over the years I might have been conditioned by my parents example to work hard and then relax with drinks in the evening.  This reminds me of Pavlov’s dogs where ringing the bell at mealtimes triggered the dogs to produce saliva.

By going one month without alcohol, I am looking to jolt myself out of a habit…to switch off auto-pilot and live intentionally…for a while at least. After that, my ideal frequency of drinking will be back to once or maybe twice a week.  I don’t want to give it up…but I do want to be able to take it or leave it.

How am I going to make this a bit easier?

1. Accountability

I have 2 motives in writing this article.  One is the usual making-the-world-a-better-place thing and the other reason is accountability.  By putting my goal out there, I increase the cost of falling off the wagon….thereby reducing the chances.  Feel free to ask me how I’m getting on as we go through February!

I’ve also recruited one of my mates to join me on the wagon for the next month. When it comes to community, online is good but real world is better.

2. Out of sight, out of mind

I usually keep a cold beer or four in the fridge for when I get back from the gym in the evening, When I open the fridge door, I see it beckoning to me. It tells me lies that I want to hear. It tells me that instant relaxation is at hand with no work required and no consequences. It tells me that I’m worth it.

Get thee behind me Satan!

I’ve just removed my booze stash from the fridge where I can see it and put it in a shut cupboard in our spare room.

3. Replacement

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhig cites research that suggests the trick to ditching a bad habit is not just to give it up but rather to replace it.

For example, I used to check my portfolio prices compulsively.  When I started a blog, I found a new habit that virtually eliminated my residual compulsion to check stock prices.  I started to check my blog’s page view stats regularly instead. By replacing a bad habit with a less bad one, I moved in the right direction along The Path.

If I feel myself cracking, with an overwhelming need to reward myself, I will be breaking open the Fruit & Nut chocolate….thereby replacing one treat with another.

4. Toughening up

tougher-up-cupcakeNo doubt some readers are thinking:

WTF is the snowflake banging on about? Its just a month without booze!  

We’re all different. So some people will find a month on the wagon isn’t even a challenge, but for me this is going to be hard.

So it looks like I’m gonna have to go back and re-read The Inestimable Advantages of Hardening the Fuck Up.

Meanwhile…enjoy February and have a drink for me!


Further reading:

  1. Get Rich…Fast
  2. The Inestimable Advantages of Hardening the Fuck Up
  3. Financial coaching

25 comments

  1. Over in Australia, 5 PM is ‘wine o’clock’.
    A month without alcohol is something I should definitely do; but not yet.🤪

  2. Entertaining post! But don’t encourage me to control my drinking right at the same time that I decided to build a whiskey vault in my basement a la https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfeH7ZNPo2U

  3. Grummandriver · · Reply

    I gave up smoking 28 years ago by taking my last pack and putting them in the freezer. It gave me comfort to know that they were still there if it all got too hard.

    Like that you’ve tagged this post as kittens

  4. Best of luck! I did four alcohol free weeks last year (or was it the year before?). While I enjoy a drink at home, I didn’t find it terribly difficult to give that up temporarily. For me the problem was drinking with friends at their homes or the pub – yes, yes, there’s much smug ‘advice’ to the extent that you don’t need alcohol to enjoy yourself socially, but I really didn’t *want* to give that up. If memory serves I just started experimentally not drinking at home and happened to not socialise with anyone I’d normally drink with for two weeks, which got me to two weeks totally alcohol free. I then decided to explicitly try for four weeks off and actually declined/postponed some invitations to socialise so I could make it through to the four week goal.

    I should probably do another four weeks off, but there have been a few friends’ birthdays lately and again I didn’t *want* to not drink at them. I think there’s a birthday-free patch coming up in March so maybe I’ll give that a go.

    Will you be writing up your experiences when the four weeks are up?

  5. Christine · · Reply

    Good luck TEA! I have done a no booze month a few times. Can I recommend adding a sports goal at the end as this is further motivation to eg. Improve a 5k run time and gets you out to do some intervals when you would rather kick back with glass in hand. Also the most interesting part I find is that the urge is strong and resistance hard but only for a moment, then it passes and you wonder why you ever wanted a drink. That and the fact that – shock – you can actually have a really good time at social engagements without a drink which was an amazing revelation to me!

  6. ” Then one Saturday I was at my parents house and their grandfather clock chimed 6pm. My Dad jumped up and said: Right…who wants a drink? ”

    I am glad you mentioned this example. In my mind, after reading Manhood and understanding of hour childhood development can develop the adult mind, I look at my parents and look at myself and around my friends and relatives and noticed we are in many ways essentially half of our parents combined each, in our habits, practices, values, predilections, emotional issues and struggles. And then if you look further, their parents probably passed on some of these to them. Part of the heritage i suppose. I am fortunate not to have drinking alcohol passed down but I picked it up and recognize as a social tool. But perhaps we can try to improve our social skills to not need alcohol for such an effect.

    Hope this alcohol-free trial will be successful!

    FIREplanter

  7. You can do it!

    I am 19 days in to a 28 day Clean and Lean food plan, with zero carbs or sugar allowed. Which means no booze….as well as no milk, bread, chocolate, crisps or any of the other cruxes that I usually rely on to get through the day – especially at prison camp.

    The first week was miserable, but I have learned to get pleasure from things other than chocolate and wine. I’ve also lost 7kg, upped my exercise and in many ways just learned to harden the f*ck up. Your blog posts have been keeping me going too – there are definitely parallels between pursuing FI and changing your health habits.

  8. El Prudente · · Reply

    Good luck and I am sure you will succeed. Similarly I am a habitual alcohol consumer and it’s a habit I quite enjoy. I didn’t think I could ever give up, even for a month or two, for the simple reason that I didn’t want to. However I managed 3 months without even a sip about 4 years ago as part of a weight control effort. I now give up for a month every now and again just to remind myself that I still have the willpower. Initially I found a Becks Blue or Coke Zero worked as a 6 o’clock substitute.

  9. Thanks this was a great post. One suggestion that may help you is to think of the whole experiment in a positive light. Think of what you may be potentially gaining by not drinking, such as better sleep, giving your liver a break, losing weight, more energy to exercise and greater mental clarity as well as saving money. This makes the whole month a positive experience. If you really want some motivation think of a cause or political party you despise and tell yourself you will donate a significant amount of money to them if you drink! Best of luck!

  10. Living Cheap In London · · Reply

    Good luck TEA. On the flipside, I’ve been brewing beer at home for a few years now… it’s an exercise in patience as it takes time to make & more time to be optimum to drink after that. You’d think that having lots of beer at home would be a recipe to an expanding waist line, but overall i drink less & have lost weight for a few reasons:

    1. Awareness of how much tax you pay on booze in shops/pubs vs how cheap it is to make yourself (no VAT or duty on ingredients), so i spend less overall.
    2. You don’t want to simply slam all your hard work down your throat in one drunken session: one takes time to enjoy the beer more.

    Next week i’m brewing a Baltic Porter: it won’t be ready to drink until at least September…..

  11. “to switch off auto-pilot ” hit a spot with me. I have a glass of wine or two after dinner while watching TV. Relaxing and enjoyable. But the habit seems to be ingrained and had been pondering switching a cup of tea or two. Thanks for writing about this.

  12. It’s a good idea to get a liver function test every so often, either from your GP or an independent testing house (e.g. medichecks.com). The thing to look for is the GGT value. Ideally it should be below 41 (men) or 26 (women). It is looking like the best predictor for all cause mortality and the two ways of keeping it low are reduction of alcohol intake and reduction of carbohydrate intake. Forget cholesterol!
    http://vernerwheelock.com/286-is-there-an-alternative-to-cholesterol/
    http://clinchem.aaccjnls.org/content/53/5/940.long

  13. Great post, love your honesty.

    “The truth is that my drinking is perfectly manageable but its also a deeply ingrained habit. I know this runs deep because, over the years, I noticed that my urge for a drink tends to spike up between 6 and 7pm…before supper.”

    That is exactly the same for me. Always has been. The trick I’ve been using to try to reduce is to make a mixed drink every night, say a vodka tonic, but to just put way less vodka in it. The ritual of having the drink is still there which is part of the allure, but the drink is really weak. I’m basically just trying to trick myself.

    Good luck!

  14. Cheers! Oh, sorry, I mean have a 0.0% Heineken this month 😉
    (all joking aside, smart move. This month probably only has winners at the end).

  15. I made a similar decision to cut down last year. I found investing in some posh teas helped me to reduce booze intake. Putting on the kettle after dinner has become a ritual which has replaced opening a bottle.

    This all has the added bonus of making getting up and out for a run on weekend mornings less painful than it used to be with a with a low-grade hangover.

  16. Good luck on your challenge!

    I grew up in a Baptist house with zero drinking. I was taught that drinking was The Devil and that it was evil. Then I went to college and changed my tune. 🙂

    My approach is everything in moderation. I honestly could go a month without drinking because I was never too crazy about it, but I know many people like a beer after a long day.

    I think it’s healthy to step back and remember how life is without substances (including things like caffeine!). Now, if I had to do a coffee-free month, I’d be in real trouble.

  17. Good luck TEA, but I’m afraid I’ve absolutely no intention of joining you! I don’t drink anywhere near what I once did, but I wouldn’t want to live without some of the pleasures you outline above (a glass of Rioja on a winter’s night, a cold pint of lager on a summer’s day – bliss!) I like the idea of self discipline though and “training yourself” in the hope that you can effect some positive long lasting change, something I’d like to do on food!

  18. Firstly, so cool your parents have a grandfather clock, did you grow up with it?

    And I think I have the opposite afflictions, addicted to chocolate but can skip the wine (although free champagne did cause me fail dry January…..but free….champagne).

    I’m thinking now is a prudent a time as any to stop watching my portfolio all the time… maybe I should replace it with blog obsession?

    1. Wow….wonderful set of comments this week…thank you everyone

      Interesting how many people have wished me good luck….I totally appreciate the sentiment but if I flunk the challenge and blame bad luck, you have my permission to shoot me 🙂

      p.s. Ms ZiYou – Yes, I grew up with the clock which is one reason why I suspect the conditioning may run deep! And yes, now is a good time to stop portfolio gazing. All the best.

  19. Survivor · · Reply

    Mmmm, a powerful Rioja/Malbec on a cold winter’s night, toasty ……funny about habits though, my parents barely drink at all, so we ‘kids’ can’t blame then for that too 🙂 yet all their progeny use it as a crutch to some extent when stressed. It’s interesting as you say that people are so quick to point out your faults with stuff like this, yet it somehow escapes their attention that they’re off their face half the time on prescription painkillers for example. They can’t/won’t see that for most, it’s just a different way of escaping anxiety for a while.

    Reminds me of the old joke though: Who’s an alcoholic? – Someone who drinks as much as you whom you really don’t like…….

    An interesting experiment is whether it’s habit or alcohol dependency – not enough to get at least a buzz would suggest the former – a recent visit to a friend with a difficult teenager exposed me to an alcohol-free beer. It was a compromise buy to catch a break from nagging & I tasted it because the last one I tried was an age ago when Kaliber came out in the UK marketed at drivers – back then it really didn’t impress & I thought it’d never take off because they couldn’t get it to taste Ok. But, the new experience was an eye-opener, it was tasty & actually not immediately obvious there was no alcohol in it if you hadn’t known – which proves that it was possible after all to make a nice, alcohol-free beer …..but, it was in Germany though.

      1. Ahh, sorry Dude, I wasn’t paying that much attention at the time ….. you could just try them all though, in the name of science & it wouldn’t even break your pledge if it happened in February 🙂

  20. FIRE-Rino · · Reply

    Great post.

    I stopped over Summer 2016 for the same reasons, habit, a controlling habit. I rarely if ever got fall over drunk, but I had a much too regular habit. So I stopped for 2 months, but a school reunion had me back on it shortly afterwards. After that I quickly found I missed the amazing sleep, clear head, and extra Wonga in the pocket! I had a few more fuzzy head mornings, and finally decided that drinking was completely retarded and counter to everything I want to achieve, notably live long enough to enjoy my savings!. So I just stopped, that was early Dec 2016. I don’t fret over it, but I really doubt I will every have a drink again. When you take your head out of the sand and see just how conditioned we are from a young age to consume booze its pretty scary, and we pay dearly in so many ways, not least with our health.

    Try Heineken 0%, seriously refreshing. Or if you like a craft beer try Piston Head Flat Tyre NAB, very good. The pleasure of an ice cold one, without the fuzzy head, bonus!

  21. I’ve just finished reading The Power of Habit. Good luck with Feb Fast. Having just spent a week in Samoa drinking cocktails, I should do the same, but I can go weeks without alcohol normally. My Achilles heel is sugar so the rest of Feb my focus is on reducing that.

  22. I do Dry Jan every year and find the hardest part it to be breaking the habits involved with alcohol rather than that actual alcohol itself. In the evenings I’d find myself missing the sensation of holding a glass, swishing the ice around a bit and taking sips throughout reading an article or watching tv. Replacing this with soda water & lime, a drink complicated and slightly bitter to encourage sipping helped immensely.

    Like you I also had to remove the temptation of beer in the fridge. Somehow a warm can from the cupboard just isnt as appealing after a day in the office.

    As for the alcohol free beer, most tasted too sweet for my liking. I found the best of the bad bunk to be the Budwiser black can variety.

    Good luck!

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