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  • James von der Lieth

Replacing Alcohol with a Better Environment and Meditation

The other day, I found the below private journal entry from 2015. It was interesting to see that despite much personal growth over the last 4 years, my relationship to alcohol hasn't changed much since this was written.

August 30, 2015

It's tough finding the impetus to give up drinking when you show zero signs of being an “alcoholic.” I’ve never ruined an important relationship because of drinking. My friends and family are not worried about me. I fulfill my responsibilities and promises to others. I never drink and drive. Sure, I’ve drunkenly embarrassed myself, but who hasn’t? How do you make the conscious choice to stop drinking when A. you’ve never hit rock bottom and B. drinking is the main focus of 20-30 year old social life? Even more difficult, how do you stick to this choice? Here are some of the reasons I can think of.

  1. Hangovers kill momentum. When I’m in drinking mode, I get hangovers. Hangovers interrupt other positive habit change. Good habits such as working out and eating healthy go right out the window for a few days with a bad hangover.

  2. My filter goes away when I drink. This makes me a lot funnier to the people that know me, but can make me come off as crass and obnoxious to strangers. Some strangers, beings the butt of my drunken antics, undoubtedly leave with a bad first impression of me.

  3. Drinking is tough to stop and be productive once you have started. I’ve never drank 3 beers and decided to call it a night so I could get some work done.

  4. Alcohol is bad for you. Its poison for your liver. Its bad for your skin. The moment you drink it your body tries to get rid of it.

  5. Drinking is great for periods in your life when you need to do something you don’t like (school, a bad job, etc). But once you have created a life that you are able to enjoy most moments, alcohol loses a lot of the appeal.

  6. Beer makes me tired. It could be because of the gluten, or it could be because alcohol is a depressant. Who wants to be tired in a social situation? I’m a natural introvert and I need to be an energetic mood to socialize.

  7. Alcohol is a depressant. Who wants to be depressed?

  8. Alcohol negatively affects your sleep.

  9. There are other role models in my life that gave up drinking and say it allowed them to do great things. Even George Bush came to the realization that he needed to give up drinking to become the president.

  10. My Mom went through life only having a few drinks each year and she had a prolific social life.

  11. Drinking costs a lot of money. I probably spent $3k on drinking related expenses last year.

  12. I’ve been mostly single for almost 18 months and I’ve never been on a date with someone I met because of drinking. Sure you hook up with a lot of girls that you would never when you’re sober, but it’s not fulfilling in any way.

  13. Even though I’ve never ruined a relationship, I’ve come pretty close. One of my best friends and I didn’t talk for a year because of a drunken fist fight. In college, my ex-girlfriend was repulsed when she saw me blacked out drunk and she broke up with me for a week.

  14. Drinking feels selfish. I'm not helping anyone else when I'm drinking. I'm a better man not drinking.

Mid 2015 to Mid 2019

Clearly, I didn't stick to this line of thinking and never quit drinking for good. The longest I've gone without drinking since 2015 was for the occasional month-long break.

Contrary to the stereotype, drinking at company happy hours actually made me far better at my job during this period. It allowed me to build relationships and create trust that empowered me to get my agenda done in the sober world. As a product manager, I had to lead by influence not authority, so connecting with people at a deeper level helped tremendously. There were some people at work that I would have had a really hard time connecting with without the social lubrication of alcohol on both sides.

There were also many days where my head felt like it was going to explode from thinking about so many things, multitasking, 100's of emails & slack notifications, and interacting with dozens of people. Drinking helped clear my mind and bring me back into the moment at the end of some rough days. Of course, there were still a few times where I said stupid things, felt myself a little too much, and negatively affected relationships. Once a year or so during this period, I let myself get too much out of control and did things I regret and would never have thought about sober. However, for the environment I was in, the good that came out of drinking far outweighed the bad. After-all, part of the fun in a startup environment is celebrating with your team after big milestones and hard work.

I don't regret drinking all for this time in my life.

The Catalyst for Quitting Alcohol

You learn a lot about yourself by traveling alone. For the first 3 weeks traveling solo in Bali, I lived cleanly. By not drinking much, I lost body fat and put on muscle. Without any social pressure to drink, I just didn't feel the need to. I'd rather get up early and surf or workout. I was meeting plenty of people stone-cold sober.

Canggu attracts people who are trying to be the best version of themselves. In Canggu, it's more common to hear someone say "Let's grab a juice or coconut" than "Let's grab a drink". In my first 3 weeks here, I had a couple of nights where I indulged in a few beers with new friends, but it was pretty light and controlled.

Then I left Canggu to meet my best friend in Cambodia for 4 days. Out of habit and excitement to see each other, we started drinking on the 5 hour taxi ride to Siam Reap to catch up. From there, we had at least 20 beers that weekend. It was like a controlled science experience. After, 3 weeks of living cleanly, I could feel the stark contrast of trashing my body on my physical body, thoughts, emotions and spirit. My skin felt terrible, I felt bloated, lethargic, and dumb. We didn't really meet any interesting people that weekend either.

Not to mention, we both made poor drunk judgement calls in a 3rd world country, where we were very lucky nothing bad happened. If our luck had been different, it would have been my "rock bottom" moment. We both couldn't wait to detox this poison from my system and get back to living clean again.

Cambodia is a Prime Example of How Drinking Keeps People in Their Place

The impoverished people in Cambodia have two rulers. Ubiquitous reminders of these rulers tower over villages every kilometer on the main roads.

The first is the obvious. The "Cambodian People's Party" that has maintained their power for over 30 years through ruthless violence and intimidation. In fact, it's an open secret that their leader, Hun Sen, was heavily involved in one of the largest genocides in history as a commander in the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodians don't dare mess with the government. They call themselves "capitalist" but there's a reason most countries other than China stay away from doing business in Cambodia. For example, to be a tour guide, you must pay the government $4000 USD for a license and tell the 'official' version of history.

The other ruler is hidden in plain site. In fact, Hun Sen heavily endorses this other ruler. Not only will it bring in $100's of millions of tax revenue on the backs of his people, he also knows it's no threat to his power.

Speaking at the opening of the new Heineken Plant ceremony, Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen said the CBL expansion project reflected the growing demand for beers in Cambodia and would reduce the kingdom's dependency on beers imported from other countries. "The company pays the taxes of more than 100 million U.S. dollars per year, which partly contributes to increasing the government's tax revenue," he said.

You can't drive through a village without seeing the omnipresent reminders of beer and government fear. Those are the two drivers of what keeps the Cambodian people in their place.

It's a cycle of repression. Go to your crappy job. Spend whatever extra money you have on Angkor beers and whatever other poor decisions come from drinking. Wake up groggy the next day and stumble into work. Do it all over again to stop your hangover.

Alcohol doesn't inspire revolutions, enlightenment and paradigm shifts. Alcohol isn't like other drugs that make you question your reality. Alcohol just dumbs you down. No one wakes up from a night of drinking with a moment of enlightenment about their reality.

It's not just a Cambodian problem. This is what keeps millions of people all over the word trapped in a life they need to escape from.

So why do we poison our bodies with alcohol?

Here are the reasons I've drank over the years:

1. Add more excitement and serendipity to life

2. Blow off steam

3. Live in the moment

4. Connect with people

5. Get out of my head

6. Clear my head

7. Meet new people

8. Social Pressure & Drinking Environment

9. Celebrate

10. Poor Self Esteem

Replacing Alcohol with Better Environment and Mediation

I believe the feeling alcohol gives me can be replaced by a series of lifestyle changes:

  • Place yourself in a better environment with people who share your values (1, 4, 7, 8, 10)

  • Meditate (2, 3, 5, 6, 10)

  • Workout Consistently (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10)

  • Use the Law of Attraction to attract the people you want in your life (4, 7, 10)

  • Live a more exciting life and take more calculated sober risks (1, 3, 10)

I'm an entrepreneur, consultant for tech startups and VRM's, investor, STR owner, writer, and a digital nomad.

I blog about the lessons I'm learning on my journey to live a financially free 💸, healthy 🏃 and location independent life ✈️

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