By: Nick Villers
Being sober is punk AF.
That's a statement 21 year old me would've never thought I'd say while slamming PBRs playing sweaty basement shows in a hardcore band. Yet here I am 13 years later realizing the truth in it. In a society where alcohol's importance is engrained starting at a young age, drinking being a right of passage, and a chapter into adulthood, its punk as fuck to go against the "norm".
If you enjoy yourself some 5 o'clock cordials, dope! You be you. You're still awesome and I want to hang out with you. This is my reflection what I've learned over the last year and this is for me.
Why Did I Start?
The first thing you start considering when you quit drinking is why did I even start in the first place? I started in high school at the ripe age of 16 with my friends. Yearning for social acceptance, wanting to fit in, wanting to experiment, the idea of waiting until the age of 21 felt like an eternity. On top of that, our society and the media didn't help either. They were fuel to the flame. The late 90s/early 2000s teen movies, MTV, beer commercials during football games, the social norm of "you can drink when you're 21" being treated as if you climbed the top of Mount Everest, growing up in a state where it embraces a drinking culture, all compounded on one another in my subconscious. Drinking was the "normal" thing to do when you turned 21 so we thought, why not now?
Do I regret drinking?
I don't regret it. There were a lot of great memories and experiences it did give me. In the early years it helped push me outside of my comfort zone and expanded who I thought I could be. Hell, I met my future wife and all of my closest friends through drinking. Not that alcohol is the only thing that brought us together, but it was definitely a pillar cemented in our relationships. I wouldn’t change a thing and all of it has led to who I am today.
What makes alcohol scary is how deceiving it is.
From 16 on, I drank in social circles, through college, playing in metal bands, work events, and did it because it was just the “norm”. You perceive it’s what everyone does. It’s what you’re “supposed” to do. If you didn’t do it, it felt “weird” or “wrong”. You have years of alcohol being a friend, reasons to celebrate, something you looked forward to, then…BAM. You wake up in your mid-30s trying to drink as if you’re watching worn VHS tape reruns of your early 20s. For years I sensed I had issues with grey area drinking but didn’t want to face it.
But this is normal right? This is what we’re supposed to do? If I quit drinking who will I be? What will people think of me? I don’t want to be seen having a “problem”…
Then the pandemic hit.
After one of the most challenging year’s we experienced as a society, I sensed a shift in myself. Optimistic and positive by nature, I found myself thinking more negatively about things. Drinking became an unhealthy outlet and escape for stress. I wasn’t happy and felt shackled in a vicious cycle. I became riddled with crippling anxiety, more so than I ever had experienced my life. I felt like I was watching my life pass me by and I was numb to it. What was crazy is I had so many great things in front of me - my incredible wife, a supportive family, a career I love, an amazing core group of friends, the list goes on. Yet this was my mental state. I had finally hit my breaking point.
It hit me. We only live once.
We literally experience each year we are in one time. One! You can never go back. In a blink of an eye I am now in my 30s and in another blink I will be in my 40s, 50s, 60s, and so on. Time is so precious and is our most important commodity. I realized I didn’t want to look back on this part of my life and regret not living it. This is not how I wanted to live my life.
So I decided to punch a one way ticket on the Alcohol Free-way. On this trip, I’m beyond grateful for my wife Pudge. She decided to go on this AF journey with me and I am truly the luckiest man alive to have a support system like her. Doing it together has made this journey that much more fulfilling. She is truly the greatest thing to ever happen to me.
Quitting alcohol has brought all positivity and productivity into my life.
The fears I developed in my inner dialogue before quitting were squashed immediately as I experienced positive effects almost immediately: I had the greatest night’s sleep since I was 15, my anxiety diminished, my stress levels balanced, I wake up with the birds on weekends at 6:00am ready to take on the world… It has been almost overwhelming how much good has come into my life. I’ve accomplished more in my personal life than I have in years. Because I took alcohol out of it, I have time on my hands.
In the last year I’ve:
Learned how to build a website.
I started my own creative brand, Cold Coffee Creative.
Continue to play drums but way more and WAY better.
Built my YouTube channel.
Learned social media marketing tactics.
Started writing and reading poetry again.
Started writing music articles for the first time since college.
Got back into writing synthwave music for my synthwave project, Days of July.
Started fishing. (I still have a ways to go with this one).
I'm not listing these things to boast but to share the productivity and mental capacity I've gained by not drinking. I’m confident I wouldn’t have done most of this if alcohol was still in the picture.
Most importantly, I’ve been able to live a fulfilling life with my wife and create meaningful memories with my family. My wife and I traded in breweries and sitting at home with drinks for being outside, exploring the country, metal shows, art shows, foodie restaurants, and most recently…fishing. SO much fishing.
I’ve regained an appreciation for the little things in life.
Although there have been more positives than drinking ever brought me, there have been challenges and learnings.
What I’ve learned since I quit drinking...
1. There are a lot of “firsts” when you quit drinking.
You don’t realize how much alcohol is incorporated into your life until you quit. There have been so many “firsts” not drinking:
First dinner at a restaurant not drinking.
First football game not drinking.
First social event not drinking and how to be social sober.
First vacation not drinking.
First birthday not drinking.
First stressful life moment not drinking.
And so on and so forth…
I see these triggers as a “ghost car” similar to doing a time trial lap in a racing video game. As you live in your new life in a new direction, you see your past self going the other direction. Like a reflex, your brain will say, “hey you should get a beer!” Because that’s what you programmed it to think for so many years. But these feelings pass and I’m grateful they have been more of a curious observation vs “oh man, I need a drink”.
2. You have to learn to sit with your thoughts.
It was another “first” realizing how much you use alcohol to “destress” and not have to think about thoughts. I learned quickly that although eliminating drinking vastly improved my metal state and ability to manage stress, I had to put in work to find healthy ways to process my thoughts and feelings. I noticed if I didn’t find ways to have a healthy work/life balance or channel my thoughts I would become irritable because I’m sitting there literally just thinking. Being creative, being active, and finding hobbies have been a godsend mentally.
3. We live in a drinking culture.
One reason I struggled to quit drinking for years is because of the fear of what others would think. Drinking in America is a societal norm. It has been eye opening being on the outside looking in. It’s been crazy to experience not drinking in a drinking society. Strangers assume you drink, social events prioritize alcohol and lack alternative options, tourism built around drinking, commercials promote “organic” alcohol as if it’s healthy, alcohol’s influence in television/movies, advertisements - athletes, billboards, podcasts… it’s unreal! The good news is the awkward moments of not drinking or saying no to drinking in a drinking world have been few and far between and are manageable. It’s been enlightening gaining this viewpoint after years of being enriched in the culture myself.
4. People are incredibly supportive.
I had fears of what others would think of me. What would happen to the relationships I’ve built with others for so many years, many of which were built within drinking? I’m happy to say the support has been incredible and again, almost overwhelming for the love and positivity received. I’m grateful I have the greatest family, friend, work group in the world. They’ve treated me no different and we just do what we do best. Be there, support one another, and love each other.
5. I'm the best version of me.
I had a fear of who I would become when I quit drinking or if I'd still be or have "fun". Quitting has brought out the best in me and I haven't changed! The things I like about myself have only strengthened. Regaining an appreciation for the little things in life has made things simpler and less complicated. This makes life a lot more fun when there's less stress by eliminating alcohol from your life.
We are capable of anything and everything.
This year has taught me how powerful we can truly be, even in the face of our biggest adversity. Regardless of how dire something may seem, no matter how insurmountable things feel, you can start new today. You have a choice. I learned to not live in the past but acknowledge it. Learn from it. The past does not define you. You define you. Every day is the first day of the rest of your life. It can be a beautiful thing if you want it to be.
To be comfortable in my skin and just be in control of who I want to be has been freeing. I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned over the last year and look onward to the next.
Here’s to being punk AF. Here’s to being alcohol-free.