Default Zero Drinking

How I learned to love sobriety through a (slightly) flexible alternative to moderation.

Image of cup of tea on black and white background. Photo by Mukul Wadhwa on Unsplash
Photo by Mukul Wadhwa on Unsplash

It’s not you, it’s me

Rather like a doomed relationship- where you wake up one day, look at the pillow opposite and no longer feel a connection- I reached a point with alcohol where I no longer knew why I drank.

Drinking in Japan and Malaysia

Like all relationships, my relationship with booze evolved. After university I spent nearly seven years in Asia: first in Japan, then in Malaysia.

Drinking in Spain

I eventually moved back to Europe- to Spain, where attitudes to drinking are different again. Drinking is very often accompanied with food; in some parts of the country you’re even served a little tapa every time you order a drink. Binge drinking isn’t really a thing; Spanish people drink to have fun, not to get wasted. And again, in all the years I spent there, I never saw a single incident of drunken violence committed by locals.

Sobering facts

Seeds of doubt were sowing in my mind, and I wanted to do some research. Here are some of the most interesting things I discovered.

  • Of these admissions, almost a quarter were due to cancer
  • Over 70,000 were due to unintentional injuries

A Category Mistake

Exploring the idea of alcohol-as-a-drug a bit further:

The light bulb moment

My eventual breakup with alcohol came after a slow and steady decline in my drinking habits, driven by multiple factors. I had started competing in judo again after a long break, and as an athlete in my late thirties I was interested in various ways I could enhance my performance. I’d been doing intermittent fasting and seen great results, and also shifted to a plant based diet. I’d reached a point where I’d generally just have one or two beers maybe once a week- perhaps the odd cocktail- and after spending a fantastic and generally booze-free summer in Berlin, it was natural to take a serious look at the role alcohol played in my life and ask myself why I drank.

How I Did It: Cold Turkey

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear argues that behavioural changes linked to a change in your self narrative- your story about who you are, are more likely to stick than stories about who you are trying to be.

Dealing with social situations

The first big test- as it were- of sobriety was a friend’s 40th birthday party in Croatia. A bunch of us went out there for 4 days of pretty constant partying in the sun.

Handling objections

Of course, nobody should have any say in whether I drink if it’s not “problem” drinking: it’s up to me, right? But weirdly, it is one area of life where some people feel qualified and entitled to comment; perhaps because it’s so deeply embedded in our culture. If you opt out, some people find it a little disconcerting.

“Moderation” is kinda meaningless

A common drinking-related phrase that falls apart under any serious scrutiny is “moderation”.

How things have changed

One year on, here are the key things I’ve noticed, and which have changed since I ditched alcohol:

My New Approach: Default Zero Drinking

I am not ideologically opposed to having a drink, and I have had the odd drink in the last year and a half. I had a glass of champagne at New Year, for example. But it was a very intentional act and it felt good: I was doing it as a matter of choice, rather than out of a sense of expectation or ritual or because it’s “just what I do”. And I was totally OK with leaving it at one drink because I prefer the life I have now to the one in which alcohol plays a significant role. It’s like an old friend that I still see from time to time but don’t keep in regular contact with. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t be all that bothered if I never had a drink again. It was fun while it lasted, but I prefer this new way of being.

Creative director, consultant, speaker and judo player. I write about business, lifestyle, technology, and philosophy. www.tomhayton.com

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