This was the first challenge in the 30 Challenges to Enlightenment “obstacle course” I started last month.

From June 13th to July 12th I did not consume coffee, alcohol, cigarettes or other kinds of mood or consciousness-altering substances. I wanted to share my experience and encourage you to try it and once again discover what real caffeine or alcohol feels like.

I expected not drinking coffee to be much harder than it was (and was the reason I was initially putting off trying out this course — I thought I would never be able to do it!), but somehow I avoided getting the worst of the effects of caffeine withdrawal, which are brutal for some people — yeah, guess what, coffee is still a drug. I still drunk decaffeinated coffee and tea and ate small amounts of chocolate, so it didn’t quit caffeine completely, but even so, it was a difficult but fulfilling step for my body which had been used to taking in more than one coffee every day for more than a decade. Avoiding caffeine also helped with the 72-hour fast I did during the same period.

Alcohol was easier. You also save crazy amounts of money by not drinking, though going to weddings is much less fun. Actually, the whole thing about not drinking alcohol is that it makes it obvious how socially acceptable the consumption of a drug with the express purpose of making socialising less awkward is. It’s all a bit mind-bending: alcohol is one of the most individually harmful and society-disruptive of all drugs known to man (and in some countries like Britain it even tops these lists, though there are claims the methodology behind these studies is flawed), yet everyone’s favorite depressant is by far the most socially acceptable substance to consume — to the point it’s frequently considered impolite to turn down a shot of raki or similar.

See this video, “our love for alcohol is bizarre”, for more on this topic.

What would happen if we all suddenly gave up drinking alcohol for a whole month? I suspect nobody would leave their apartments, at least at first — what would be the point? And then, like a society in detox, we would find out that alcohol isn’t necessary to have a good time after all. Just try going to a party and dancing without having drunk anything. Force yourself to. It won’t take long before it just feels great dancing sober among drunk people, and part of this pleasure will be derived from you knowing that you’re sober.

Now, tobacco… I didn’t even miss tobacco. Whenever I smoke, which is kind of seldom nowadays, I’ve almost always had something to drink first. No wonder I didn’t want to smoke. Not touching tobacco for a whole month made cigarette smoke smell even worse. Why are we doing this to ourselves again?

Giving up other substances wasn’t really a problem because I don’t have any habits formed around their consumption. So that was a non-issue.

My biggest takeaway from this experiment was the sheer power of the drugs we are addicted to. Our tolerance is astounding. Give up caffeine for a month and go drink a freddo espresso. I mean, drinking a decaffeinated coffee while I was doing this challenge did suddenly start feeling like what drinking a normal coffee felt like when I was addicted, so you understand, after a month of abstention, a normal double espresso really, truly felt like what it essentially is: a double shot of the world’s most popular stimulant. And, of course, it felt great. I don’t want to get used to this sensation and get hooked to coffee again. So what I’m trying to do now is switch every day between coffee and tea and not drink more than a certain amount per day. I haven’t formed a new habit — yet. We’ll see how it goes.

As for alcohol, I also want to say that drinking one beer or a glass of wine every day, e.g. with lunch or dinner, makes no sense — unless it’s good quality beer or wine, which, let’s face it, it usually isn’t. I think it’s better to treat alcohol as the powerful drug it really is and drink a lot when you want to drink a lot and avoid it completely the rest of the time. This way you don’t end up getting used to it (and you avoid the slippery slope of always-looming alcoholism in all its various flavors). You get the best of both worlds: you don’t end up spending too much for no real reason and get to enjoy being sober.

The only thing you need is self-restraint.

NOTE: I realise I speak a bit slowly, so you can try speeding up the video a little!

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