I first wrote about this three years ago when I had just given up alcohol. At that time, it was part of a burgeoning asceticism. I had given up meat, most of my possessions, and moved hours away from all my friends.
The reasons I gave up drinking back then are different from the reasons I continue not to drink now - three years later - so I’ve updated this post to reflect my current philosophy rather than my old one. Life changes, and I’m getting more and more okay with that.
About six years ago I started to change my relationship with physical things. Up until that point, I think my aspirations were pretty typical of a middle class college student: graduate, get a decent job with a big company, save money, buy a house, retire at 65, etc., etc.
I began to realize that these societal artifacts didn’t really matter to me. Over the course of the next three years I quit my internship with a big company, got rid of (almost) all my possessions, spent a summer living in my car, moved to a tiny one-room apartment in Chicago, sold my car, and eventually gave up meat and alcohol. I pretty effectively downsized my life and my footprint.
Since then, I’ve reintroduced many of the luxuries that I chose to live without back then. One thing I’ve realized in the three years is that you don’t have to live at the extremes.
What do you mean by that?
I used to believe that things were black or white: that eating meat was bad; that buying things was wasteful; that drinking alcohol was unnecessary; that belief in god was pointless. These decisions were binaries, so it was easy for me to push myself into one category or the other and pursue that ideal completely.
I don’t know how that changed - meeting my future wife, Laura probably helped - but over the course of the past three years, I’ve come to learn that I can be happy without living completely in one extreme or the other. I’ve started to loosen up about eating meat (I’m back on fish now), I own a bed, I have an extra bedroom in my apartment, and I have money saved for retirement. It took about three years to remove things from my life, and in about three years I’ve brought many of them back.
So why not drink?
That’s not to say I’m not still a bit of a minimalist, and not drinking is still one of the excesses I choose to skip. I also own only three pairs of pants; I wear pretty much the same thing every day; my fiancee and I are having a quiet wedding with just our parents and brothers; I don’t eat meat. There are plenty of things I do that are a little weird.
The truth is that many of these things are just habits now. They started off as philosophical “truths,” but now that I’m used to them, why change things?
For example, I’ve thought about having a beer a few times in the past year. It wouldn’t kill me, but would it add anything to my life? I don’t know. Would it make it harder to wake up and run the next day? Probably. Everybody solves this equation when they have a beer, but I’ve had a hard time justifying the option to partake.
I’m three years in and I barely miss it
The first few times I said “no, thanks” to a free beer at a party were weird, but I got used to it pretty quickly. I thought social settings might make me more nervous without the natural lubricant, but my experience has been pretty much the same as it was before. In many ways it’s better because my head stays clear, I don’t get tired as quickly, and I’m better at remembering names at parties.
It’s easy to add up the other pros too. You save money when you go out to eat, you save empty calories that you can spend on something better for your body, and you maintain higher cognitive power.
I can’t say that I’ll never have a drink again in my life. I probably will. I’ll probably relax more and more of my self-imposed “rules” for life as I learn to live in a happy gray area, but I’m not there yet. There’s still a part of me that likes knowing I can do without things that most people claim they can’t.