In a radical lifestyle experiment and self control challenge I spent over three and half months completely sober in Medellin, Colombia. In these +100 days I experienced meteoric personal development in multiple dimensions. I also partied with some of the coolest, most interesting and sexiest people I've ever met.
As you can see I was not a monk during my sober trip. I went out and socialized 3-5 times a week with people who were drinking and partying. This article will cover uncommon motives for my sobriety, the lifehacks I employed to keep up with the drunks around me along with the unexpected (and sometimes hilarious) consequences. This article is more for lifehacking socialites, personal development junkies and self experimenters than it is for recovering alcoholics. The ultimate message I hope to communicate is that the sober life can be orders of magnitude more fun than the intoxicated life. There's a lot of references here to Colombian culture and the adventures I've had in this lovely country but I think anyone anywhere in the world considering a sober social life will find a lot of actionable information here.
Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires may have bigger parties, but the home town of Pablo Escobar, Medellin has to take the title of #1 vice city in this hemisphere with its:
- Legalized prostitution
- Constant festivals
- Reggaeton fueled nightlife
- Abundance of high quality, ridiculously affordable cocaine
- Intoxicatingly beautiful women
In Medellin something that's really common to see is:
5:00PM - 7:00PM People start drinking beers.
10:30PM - Midnight They do some cocaine, double up on shots of Aguardiente or rum and hit the clubs.
1:00AM - 3:00AM While quiet intoxicated they will go for round two of cocaine and begin hitting the after hours clubs and bars for more hard liquor.
4:00AM - 8:00AM Bed time is pretty common Thursday-Sunday.
People go hard here. So do I.
Objectives: Why Sobriety?
I've always had a pretty healthy relationship with alcohol. I never had a DUI, unplanned pregnancy, ruined friendship or drunken brawl as a result of intoxication. In Podcast #24 Biohacking Boozing I explain my strategies in depth for minimizing the negative impacts of alcohol on my system. I adore wine, craft beer and premium triple distilled vodkas, I'm a former nightclub promoter, socialite and a big aficionado of the art of pickup so suffice to say me and liquor mix very well. So why go completely sober?
Continuity of Lifestyle, that's why! To quote the rapper Drake: I want this shit forever man.
A quick scan of my Facebook wall reveals that many of my old friends who were once so much fun to socialize with are getting fat, married, pregnant or are just in a real hurry to become boring adults at alarming rates. I don't subscribe to this philosophy that you get about a half decade in your 20's to party, hook up with hot chicks, do crazy shit with your friends and then live the rest of your life in quiet desperation.
For me age is not a number, it's a mindset, a robust mindset: I want to be able to transition robustly to whatever age mindset is going to serve me best in the moment. In the same day I can philosophize like an thoughtful, well read old man, make juvenile jokes like a child with my friends, handle business like a grown man and then party with girls till the early hours of the morning like a hormone crazed youth.
The people who know me best think of me as a workholic, a health nut and an intellectual; I work 7 days a week, the prevailing passion of my life for the past 10 years of my life has been business, my lifestyle is digitally quantified for discipline, I take scheduled breaks every few hours from my work to do pushups and pull ups, my diet is very strict, I'd rather go hungry than eat crappy food.
I'm 28 now so at my age I could probably drink socially 3-4 times a week for the next decade or so while still being very healthy and productive, but inevitably I'm going to have to sacrifice either my lifestyle or my health if I continue to drink. Sobriety is the lifehack that allows me to continue my multiple personality, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde lifestyle as long as I want.
Mindset Control. One of the most common qualities of people who are successful and happy is a high degree of mastery over one's emotions.
Drawing your emotional state from within as opposed to from external stimuli. Alcohol, with the possible exception of coffee, is probably the most commonly used stimulus we humans employ to change our state; to relax, to summon confidence, to socialize, to fall asleep, to speak our second languages, etc. By abstaining from this crutch in the highest pressure emotional situations I'm exercising and building robust emotional muscles.
It saves A LOT of money. An informal audit during my time in Central and South America revealed that, like most travelers I was spending 40%-60% of my budget on booze. Back home when I lived in downtown Denver I would spend as much as $800/monthly on my social life.
Lifehack: As a reward to myself for my self control about once a month I will go to the mall and spend a fraction of the money I've saved on an item of really fashionable clothing, every time I get compliments on the item I let them know it's a gift from sobriety.
When I did drink I did it because I'm a genuine connoisseur of liquor. The popular booze in Colombia is pretty terrible; the two popular beers Club Colombia and Aquila are basically fermented toilet water. Crappy rum sometimes flows in the streets like rain and Aguardiente, a sugary clear, hard liquor with the personality of a $40 hooker with fake double D-breasts, can actually be bought in a plastic bag and apparently only mixes with three things Coca-Cola, ice or more water.
You don't need to wake up very many times with the left over licorice taste of Aguardiente in your mouth to swear off drinking. Sure you can get imported spirits but they are prohibitively expensive, Chilean vino is actually more expensive in Colombia than Panama. With my sophisticated tastes, this made it a whole lot easier to say no.
The Challenge. As a novelty junkie and perpetual promoter of my own Nueroplasticity I'm always in search ways to challenge myself.
Partying sober you face two challenges:
The external challenge that everyone compliments you on, staying sober while surrounded by booze. This one is actually significantly easier since you get some much social validation for it.
The internal challenge of drawing state from within, becoming playfully creative, creating the party in your own head first and leading those around you to it.
What they say is true, the first few nights or weeks out are the most difficult, but the challenge doesn't go away completely, I still consistently have moments where I really want to drink but that desire is met by a strong, internal voice that assures me: I don't do that. I like to think this is what psychologists call a core level identity change. I'll be honest, my ego got quiet attached to the accomplishment of being able to socially compete while dead sober with those who were fueled by copious amounts of liquid and white powder confidence.
I list this one last because it's so obvious. Alcoholism kills 10% of men who die of cancer, it took down the Mongol empire and it killed my grandfather (a rocket scientist who worked at NASA in the 60's and 70's who was one of the engineers directly responsible for sending men to the moon). For someone already very energetic and healthy like myself, it has to be more than a placebo affect that I really do feel better and cleaner off booze. On the other hand, I begin Podcast #24 by saying that: If there's anyone who can say that alcohol has actually made their life better, it's me!
When I did drink it was quiet rare I would actually feel hungover, because my antioxidant intake is so high my body does a good job of blocking booze from turning into acetaldehyde. I believe that with proper preparation moderate consumption of certain types of alcohol can be pretty close to a neutral health impact, so health was a relatively minor factor in the decision.
You could fill a library full of books full of logical reasons to abstain from alcohol but all that logic crumbles in a moment when a sexy 22 year old girl wearing a mini-skirt in a bar asks you to take a shot with her. I knew if I wanted to commit a serious sober trip while enjoying life like a lush it was going to take more than the standard health and financial reasons. My secret weapons for titanium solid will power the face of drunken pleasure: fear and social validation.
The Fear Trigger. Fear is consistently one of the top performing human motivational factors. Anytime I'm tempted to drink (with my lifestyle, almost every day) I let my imagination play out a couple of worse case scenarios:
- I mentally revisit a couple of my worst hangovers, times I just went hard with Patron shots, Manhattan cocktails, vodka bottle service or whatever. I feel that sick sensation in my stomach. I imagine that stupid unproductive head space we've all been in after a long night.
- The self-anger of checking my bank account and seeing that I have blown a bunch of money partying.
- For about 5 years I was one of those people who would smoke cigarettes when I was drunk. I've gone a year and a half without a cigarette so I imagine myself relapsing and smoking. I think about how heavy my chest and lungs used to feel after a night of smoking.
- I imagine myself getting drunk and making an idiot out of myself.
- I imagine myself failing to accomplish my goals in life because I'm a drunk.
- I think about all the awesome sober experiences I've had that I might have missed out on.
As much as I enjoy booze the fear trigger kicks in and I pass on the drink.
It turns out not drinking, while partying is an amazing attention magnet for the social validation we all crave so desperately. A nightclub or singles bar is an excellent case study of our need for social validation;
- Women spend hours getting ready in front of the mirror and here in Medellin many millions of pesos on surgically augmented breasts and asses.
- Men will spend half their paycheck in a few hours in a bar, buy expensive cars, watches and trivial stuff to impress people.
All for spikes of social attention they get in these environments. As soon as you announce your sobriety to the other social animals in this kind of place you become the center of attention for between 5-25 minutes. In the past I used to expend a lot of energy making jokes, break dancing, buying rounds of drinks or generally making a scene to attract this kind of attention.
In the beginning I would try to explain at length the complicated and abstract reasons for my sobriety, this lead to some interesting discussions but when I was dealing with someone a little more shallow (85% of the people you meet partying, let's just be honest!) or a high energy group this line was golden:
I don't drink because you don't put cheap gas in a Ferrari (Espanol: Yo no tome liqour porque no pones la gasolina borrata en un Ferrari).
Something that is annoying, entertaining and simultaneously a great case study of social dynamics is people's constant attempts to get me to drink. You would think that people would respect your healthy lifestyle choice but they really don't... One weekend over a bottle service table somebody's girlfriend was getting aggressive with me, shoving drinks towards my mouth. I had to deftly insult her to get her to stop actually. I got my shirts soaked in booze multiple occasions... Once, a particularilly clever Lithuanian girl snuck booze into my bottled water when I went to the bathroom. Another group of people celebrating a birthday would just not take no for answer to their shots of Aguardiente...
Lifehack ...So I pretended to take a shot but actually just threw the liquor on the floor, in a dark nightclub surrounded by drunk people you can pretend to enthusiastically take a shot but actually just throw the liquor over your shoulder. Nobody ever notices, just make sure nobody is directly behind you!
Leadership and Social Roles. One of the first things about sobriety is that you realize how retarded, intoxicated people are, in particular men. In the very beginning it's easy to swear off even going out and socializing because you feel so detached from the people surrounding you, but this is actually a personal growth opportunity in disguise. It goes something like this:
- Disgust with how obnoxious drunk people are. Especially guys, by the end of your 1st or 2nd night out you will be about ready to commit Gendercide of the single male population in your city.
- Amusement at the stupid antics and behavior.
- A cocky feeling of superiority over the intoxicated people around you.
- Realization that you can say and do ridiculous things that you normally couldn't get away with. You begin to stop filtering yourself.
- You relearn to be silly, playful and self amused.
- You take leadership, you frequently find yourself the Capitan of a squadron of drunken chicken. When everyone else is being indecisive and none-committal about a plan, you risk your social capital by authoritatively promising an awesome night and deciding on the destination.
- Increased risk tolerance in your social life along with acceptance and even enjoyment of connecting with intellectual subordinates.
What to drink? Bottled water with a green tea bag in it. I haven't figured out how to NOT look and feel awkward while socializing without a beverage in my hand so I always begin my night by ordering a bottled water from the bar. I carry a packet or two of green tea which I insert in the bottle water conspicuously, in front of other people always:
- It immediately shifts the group's conversation to why I'm drinking green tea instead of alcohol.
- People inevitably ask what I am drinking which feeds back into the beneficial social validation part of the sober party experience.
- Green tea contains caffeine and flavonoids; the caffeine makes you energetic and flavonoids make you more creative and articulate. So you can bring the party!
- It's cheap! Here in Colombia bottled water costs about 5000 COP ($2.50) at a nice bar.
- In case security at the venue thinks I'm putting drugs in my beverage they can just ask my friends.
Initial Reference Experiences. By now I'm totally accustomed to partying sober but in the beginning there's definitely something missing. It's important that you get some good initial reference experiences with partying sober:
- Line up some fun parties to go to with your friends so you can feed off the group's energy.
- Hang out with people who, while maybe not completely sober like you, have a naturally positive social energy.
- Maybe avoiding going to a big intimidating club alone or in a small group.
Sobriety is a double edged sword in dating. There's a couple of obvious benefits:
- Sober men in bars or nightclubs are a rarity. Sober men in bars or nightclubs who are actually fun, confident and socially intelligent are even more rare. You are an instant high status novelty, which can make you more attractive (but it can also make you seem unattainable, which is a problem, more on this below).
- On the other hand, lots of women party sober, 20% - 30% in my experience (debatably the better 20% - 30% of women). With your powers of observation not retarded by alcohol you will notice which girls are sober, you can point out your rare commonality to build rapport with them.
- It saves a ton of money. It probably cuts the hard monetary cost of dating by 60%.
- It's way easier to remember names and personal details.
- Alcohol is an undeniably effective stimulant of serotonin and dopamine along with the corresponding confidence, humor, dance floor antics, sexy energy and good memories. Sometimes after a long day of work 'Sober Jonathan' just could not bring the social energy to his interactions to make magic happen like 'Pleasantly Intoxicated Jonathan' could so consistently.
- In dating interactions more often than not the woman will follow the man's lead. I had a few dates that I'm pretty sure would have gone better if her BAC was above .00% but she didn't feel comfortable drinking while I was sober. The dating lifehack for this situation is that I would tell her a particular bar had really amazing cocktails or beer or whatever and that I wanted to experience them vicariously through her. The only booze I tasted during the sober trip was that left on the lips and tongues of the girls whose exotic company I enjoyed.
If you need further motivation to experiment with the affect of sobriety on your dating life, checkout these videos, the content isn't pornograhic but it's definitely R-rated and hilarious!
They say that when you starve one addiction another one takes it's place. While an equally self destructive vice didn't present itself this maxim did ring partially true during my sober trip:
Caffeine consumption, may have gotten a little out of hand; I found myself drinking a one liter bottle of green tea a day in addition to a cup of premium Colombian coffee.
Chocolate, my dark chocolate habit got a little crazy. I had chocolate at least 6 times a week, usually while I was working.
Workaholism, 8-9 hours a day Monday-Friday and 4-7 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Nothing out of the ordinary for me.
Socializing; I found myself especially driven to go out and socialize 3-5 nights a week. Quite frequently I would be up working in my office by 8:30AM after partying till 3:00AM or 4:00AM. I could tell I wasn't as productive as I should be due to lack of sleep.
Speaking of newly acquired addictions, my most recent is Coach.me for iPhone, Android and web browser. This App quantifies the consistency with which you practice winning habits. Coach.me adds a dimension of social pressure by making your checkins to a habit visible to the other people who practice it. They can encourage and give you props on your progress, don't let them down! There is a habit for sobriety:
As you can see I don't checkin to the sober habit every day because honestly it's not that great of a challenge to me on a daily basis but maybe for a recovering alcoholic it would be a good idea! Connect with me on Coach.me, I've got some seriously wacky and empowering habits, I also sporadically leave notes on my habit checkins with funny ancedotes.
I've found that the App gives me 3X the motivation to consistently practice habits that in the past were a major challenge for me!
Piracetam, the Smart Drug that Beats Addiction
Increases Dopamine along with the corresponding perception of reward and arousal from natural stimuli:
- Social Interactions
- Physical Contact & Sex
If you do Piracetam within a few hours of socializing you will NOT feel like drinking booze. This smart drug has been shown to help those suffering from alcohol and methamphetamine addiction. On the Wikipedia page there are 6 different studies linked where Piracetam helped people with alcoholism issues.
Social Media Challenge
I'm a notorious social media narcissist but I'm going to suggest something seemingly counter intuitive to those of you who are inspired by this article. Don't brag about your experiment with sobriety on social media until you've made it at least 10-14 days sober.
Why? There are three different studies which authoritatively demonstrate that bragging about your goals (in this case sobriety), actually demotivates you from accomplishing them. This is especially obvious on social media every January 1st when you see all kinds of New Years Resolutions to finally get serious about loosing weight, writing a book, quitting smoking or whatever.
So after you've made it 10-14 days let me (and the world) know what kind of adventures the sober life entails for you. When you do use the hashtag #YouDontPutCheapGasinaFerrari and let us know in the comments below.
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