Sam Holstein

I’m 60 Days Sober and I Can’t Believe I Ever Started Drinking

I’m 60 Days Sober and I Can’t Believe I Ever Started Drinking

My relationship with alcohol is not like most people’s. For starters, I never drank alcohol in college. (I didn’t smoke pot, either, or do any other drugs — I was totally sober). I went to a few parties freshman year, but I didn’t find it tremendously fun to watch people stumble around like they were poisoned, so I spent nearly my entire college career just hanging out with people on their couch, watching TV, playing video games, and talking philosophy.

My desire to quit drinking stemmed from the fact that I was a heavy drinker in high school, albeit for a short time. When I had just turned 16, a friend of mine discovered his dad never noticed if he drank his dad’s vodka and then watered the rest down to raise the liquid level in the bottle, so we started experimenting with shots (we didn’t know how to mix drinks). Eventually, we noticed his dad didn’t notice if we just took his alcohol (yes, his dad had a problem) and we all just started getting drunk together on the weekends.

I have a couple of stupid stories from this time in my life — I went to my high school computer programming club drunk once — but it didn’t last very long. Eventually, I came home one night visibly drunk and my parents noticed. But they didn’t discipline me or ground me for eight months. They didn’t even punish me. My dad simply sat me down and told me this:

“If you start drinking now, you’ll never stop.”

Alcoholism (and other diseases of addiction) are age-dependent. You’re more likely to become an alcoholic if you start drinking as a child. If you start drinking as young as 16, you’re basically guaranteed to have some kind of alcohol problem in your life.

I was an ambitious kid with plans to take my startup to the big leagues when I graduated high school, so I decided right then and there that I would quit drinking alcohol until I was well above the legal age to drink, giving my squishy little child brain a chance to mature. 

My high school friends continued to experiment with throwing wild parties while their parents were away and giving themselves alcohol poisoning while I went to their parties, sober, and made sure no one choked on their own vomit. (Teenagers make bad decisions). After a few such parties, I started threatening to call the cops whenever I heard about them, and I stopped being invited.

And that’s how it was through the rest of high school and college. I attended no parties, no one invited me to them, I didn’t want to go anyway, and I mostly spent time with friends in one-on-one or intimate settings, either doing something productive like going to coffee shops together, or doing something unproductive like binge-watching TV. 

(Readers of mine know I do smoke marijuana, but I didn’t come to pot from the party scene. Since I’ve been 15, I’ve had a painful digestive chronic illness. When I was 19, a longtime friend of mine who did smoke pot said “Hey, you should try this, it might make your stomach feel better.” I hated the idea of “doing drugs,” but I had limited access to traditional medicine and was beginning to feel desperate for a solution. It took me a few months to get used to the notion of “doing drugs,” but marijuana worked, like a miracle, oh, believe me, you’ve never known as much relief as I felt when marijuana made me able to participate in life again, and I’ve been a regular user ever since.)

But after a few years of elective sobriety, I found myself a few months away from my 23rd birthday, seeing a new man after the destruction of a long-term abusive relationship, when I was offered a drink and thought “Sure, I’ll try drinking again.”

Let me tell you, the right time to try drinking again after six years of elective sobriety is not in a social group of people you barely know, with a man who’s giving off some red flags, after having just recently left an abusive relationship. It didn’t take long for a pattern of binge drinking to develop.

I ended up seeing that man for about eight months, which ended up being some of the most traumatizing of my life. (Oops). It would be an oversimplification to say it was the alcohol’s fault. Despite being a heavy drinker at the time, I wouldn’t call myself an alcoholic because I was in control of my drinking. I also think the terrible things that happened would have still happened even if I was sober. Hell, if anything, alcohol made everything else tolerable.

It made the next few years tolerable, too, as I dealt with the psychological fallout. I started seeing a therapist, and one of the first things I told him was “I drink orders of magnitude more than I should, but I don’t consider myself an alcoholic, because if I wasn’t suffering, I wouldn’t do it.”

I was right. As we progressed in therapy, my drinking naturally tapered off. Instead of spending every weekend hammered all the time, I started getting a little less hammered. Then it was every other weekend. Then it was a few times a month. Then it was only once every few months. At no point did I ever “Try to back off.” The progress came on its own as I did work on my mental health.

Alcohol became a “problem” in my life when I realized that even though I didn’t drink that often, I still had a habit of getting tremendously drunk every time I did. 

I put “problem” in air quotes because it’s not that I have an alcohol problem, it’s that alcohol is itself a problem.

Alcohol isn’t like marijuana, or any other drug humans use, really. Alcohol is uniquely dangerous. It has no medicinal value whatsoever, it’s highly poisonous, and it’s tremendously easy to manufacture.¹ No one has a good reason for drinking.

I don’t regret drinking to numb my feelings. It was the best I could have done at the time. Without alcohol, instead of being railroaded by life while drunk, I would have just been railroaded by life while sober. But I do wish I had been taught how to defend my own boundaries and stick up for myself so that I would have never been railroaded by life in the first place.

Our culture doesn’t make much space for that kind of growth. When I tell people therapy can be transformative, they look at me as if I just told them to get a colonoscopy. Our culture says “Hey, you wanna go out to a bar tonight? Forget about your problems?” It’s no wonder I continued my pattern of binge drinking years after my ex was gone. 

Pretty much every reason I’ve ever heard someone give for their drinking is a rationalization for dealing with problems in an ineffective way. Sometimes those people are like the old me and they genuinely don’t know how to do any better (speaking from experience, those people are the regulars), but most of the time, they know damn well what they should be doing. They tell me as much when they sheepishly drink in front of me.²

I’m over 60 days sober, but I don’t consider that a “milestone.” I didn’t accomplish anything. All I decided to do was quit poisoning myself. I don’t feel proud, I feel shocked I ever started.

Imagine a world where we didn’t poison ourselves to work through our problems. Imagine a world where we teach our children emotional skills, and imagine a world where we support our friends through troubles with an emotionally healthy attitude. 

Imagine a world where when we see someone suffering, we don’t hand them a drink, we lend them a hand.