Sober October. A silly phrase, and a delightful case of alliteration as well. What began as a personal challenge taken upon me and a good friend evolved into a series of interesting self discoveries. Not only did I uncover some problem areas in terms of my own perception, but I also revealed discipline that I had not previously thought I had the will to exhibit.
As a regular listener of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, I first heard of Sober October in September of 2017. Through stabbing at each other’s various practices of consumption while performing stand-up routines or travelling, Joe and a round-table of his comedian friends devised an interesting month-long scenario where they would refrain from these habits. This was initially driven by the alarming number of drinks that Bert Kreischer admitted to having on a given day.
The challenge also involved engaging in fitness activities, including attending a minimum number of yoga classes. This was all at the stake of the loser—or lowest-achieving participant—being forced to pay for a large reward for the rest of the group. As would be expected, a month of macho, yet fun-spirited competition ensued, and in the end, Ari Shaffir paid for the group’s travel and luxury fixings to attend an expensive sporting event.
As this challenge unfolded and I observed the progress of the participants, the gravity of its impact had not really occurred to me. It was clear that it caused a significant improvement in the weight and overall health of a couple of the guys, but that only seemed to be striking due to how overweight they were at the beginning. It was clear that they experienced the most change from a shift of practices than someone with more active and healthy habits, like Joe Rogan.
The potential benefit of taking upon such a challenge only hit me in a time of desperation back in September of this year. I began pursuing minimalism, and alongside selling, donating, and letting go of a fair number of items, I was trying to sort out and better understand my values and needs. Even though I was making progress, I detested that I was still leaning too much on generating happiness—more like ephemeral happiness—through consumption of substances.
For myself, these vices tend to manifest as drinking alcohol and eating junk food. Of course, these are not terrible things on their own, but I was certainly giving in more than I would like. In times of stress and as seeming partners for specific activities, these choices would make for quick comfort. It’s simply a fact that indulging must be done in moderation, and I wanted to improve these limitations in my personal habits. Not only would it benefit my budget, but my body would also feel better if I could cut back.
As such, after some helpful discussions with a friend going through similar frustrations, Sober October presented itself. It was the perfect opportunity. It was not a lifelong pact or a shift of consciousness where you would swear off something for good—rather it was just a limited period where something was off limits. Combined with the support of a good friend, a month seemed to be the optimal length of time for this type of experiment. Not so short as to be easy, but long enough to leave a lasting impression.
The beginning of October was a bit challenging with common reflexes contradicting what I had set out to do. I often like to have some white wine on a Friday night; soothing the strains of a long week at work. This eventually faded, as I allowed myself to snack a bit more when I really had an itch. I slowly began to decouple drinking from particular activities at home, and this presented itself most strikingly one Saturday evening.
It was the night of the Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov fight—the most anticipated MMA event of the year. I was amped. My friends and I used to always catch the important fights at our favourite local bar, and naturally, we would have beers. That had been the covenant, and for the first time in at least four years, I’d be watching the fights without a single beer. I’ll admit, I was bummed. It was tough to face. It felt nearly sacrilegious.
But after the first couple of fights, something strange began to happen. I was sitting there, without a drink, and was watching the fights, enjoying every moment. Who would have thought? I was reminded of why I enjoyed this experience, and it’s not because of the beer. It’s fights themselves and the excitement. The beer is only a bonus, and certainly not a necessary component. And if I hadn’t had a restriction in place, it would have been more difficult to be reminded of this fact directly.
It was truly this revelation that was the most valuable part of the experience. While we all have specific needs, we also have a plethora of things we think we need. The act of depriving ourselves of these things can help us rediscover our needs and separate our desires. While it’s great to enjoy alcohol and treats from time to time, it’s important to remember that these things are not necessary parts of an experience. This leaves space for what is truly valuable and can help us better aim our focus and attention.
Since the month has ended, I have chosen to drink more conservatively going forward, recognizing when it fits appropriately into my life. Sober October was such a success, I have now embarked on a new challenge to tackle the other half of my vices. I am now refraining from sweet and salty treats for this month—a No Junk November, if you will. With any hope, this too should help in the transformation of my habits in consumption. Try deprivation for yourself sometime, I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.