15 Months Without Alcohol
I had my last sip of alcohol on December 31, 2020.
I had my last sip of alcohol on December 31, 2020.
There were several things that led to my decision. The first was a dinner that made me ask myself the question, “What role does alcohol play in my life?”
Anthony and I visited Miami in November 2020, and we had dinner with Matteo and Alex, the co-founders of sleep fitness startup Eight Sleep. At dinner, they didn’t ... drink. I was taken aback because this was the first time I had met people my age who opted out of ordering a bottle of wine at dinner. They told us they stopped drinking in 2019, and their personal and professional lives had benefited immensely.
I was intrigued.
When we got back to our hotel, I listened to this podcast episode in which three founders and an investor explain their decision to abstain from alcohol. “Start with a week and focus on how well you feel when you wake up in the morning,” Matteo says in the podcast. “To me, that was the No. 1 reason — how well I feel on Saturday morning, and I can really maximize my weekend.”
I thought about this for an entire month, but it didn’t stop me from drinking. And then when I woke up hungover with a massive headache on Jan. 1, 2021, I tweeted this:
The response to this tweet was enough to solidify my decision to quit cold turkey. People cited clear thinking, more energy, better sleep, and an overall increase in life satisfaction.
It was a weird time to be sober — I mean, we had all just undergone a year of lockdowns. You’d think something strong on the rocks would ease all the uncertainty in the world. It turns out a lot of people thought that, and it ended in tragic ways.
A new study reports that the number of Americans who died of alcohol-related causes increased precipitously during the first year of the pandemic. The study found that the number of alcohol-related deaths soared, rising to 99,017 in 2020, up from 78,927 the previous year — an increase of 25 percent in the number of deaths in one year. Young adults ages 25 to 44 experienced the greatest increases in alcohol-related deaths in 2020, rising nearly 40% over the previous year.
Forty percent is not a statistic — it’s a crisis. Yet here’s the harsh reality: As startling and disturbing as the figure is, it’s also not surprising.
I have never had an alcohol problem, but in 2020, I realized that we were visiting the liquor store far more than ever before. That’s because the liquor store was the only business on our block that hadn’t been forced to shut its doors. (Liquor stores were considered “essential businesses.”)
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t using alcohol to self-medicate. I was using it to summon my creativity. I had just left my job at Fortune, and I was now working on The Profile full-time. I did my reading during the day and reserved the writing for the night when I could have a glass or two of wine to get “in the zone.”
In other words, I genuinely believed that drinking had the power to unleash my creativity. I had convinced myself that when I was buzzed, I was a better writer. One time when I was working on a longform feature, I was stuck on it all day until I had wine that evening and banged out a 4,000-word draft in a matter of two hours.
This is not uncommon for people who do creative work. We’re all familiar with the “alcoholic writer” trope. (Think Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, David Carr, Hunter S. Thompson, Aaron Sorkin, and many, many others.) Drinking is not a problem until it is. You can look at many of these writers as creative savants who were able to produce masterpieces under the influence, but I think they were able to do it in spite of it.
At just 30 years old, Hemingway was the most famous writer in the United States. In October 1954, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his mastery of the art of narrative.”
But he was also a heavy drinker and often used alcohol as a temporary reprieve from his loneliness. Toward the end of his life, Hemingway underwent electroshock therapy twice, but the treatment affected his memory, and his writing began to suffer immensely. He reportedly could not write more than a single sentence in the course of four hours. In 1961, Hemingway's life came to a tragic end when he shot himself with a shotgun in his Idaho home.
Of course, not all of us use alcohol for the same purpose and not all of us use it irresponsibly. But I urge you to be aware and reflect on the same question I asked myself in 2020: “What role does alcohol play in my life?” It may be a social lubricant, an escape from reality, or a way to celebrate life events.
It may not make sense for you to quit altogether, but for those who have quit, I’ll always remember what Synthesis founder Chrisman Frank told me: “Still haven’t met anyone who has quit drinking and regretted it.”
If you feel comfortable, share your stories on this topic in the comment section below. Note that I might synthesize your collective wisdom (anonymously) in a future newsletter edition.