Health & Wellness

What I learned from not drinking alcohol for 2 years

Two years ago, Andy Boyle, a Chicago-based web developer for NBC News Breaking News, decided to quit drinking alcohol. The 30-year-old, who is also a writer and standup comedian, had spent years in bars and comedy clubs, typically drinking a few beers every other night, and spending his weekends sometimes drinking to excess.

He finally decided to give up alcohol after the last night of a popular comedy venue in Chicago, surrounded by friends and his comedy idols. He realized he wanted to boost his productivity, avoid regularly getting sick and take charge of his weight. And that’s just what he did.

He shares the lessons he learned — and the benefits of his decision — with TODAY.

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Andy Boyle in December 2013 (left), and again in December 2015

Here's a short list of what I've accomplished since I stopped drinking:

• Lost 75 pounds.

• Bought an amazing loft condo.

• Finished a first draft of an advice book.

• Started exercising three days a week, then four.

• Went from a size XXL to size Large.

• Performed in three comedy festivals.

• Got an amazing new job.

• Finished multiple drafts of multiple television and movie scripts.

• Went from a 42-inch waist to a 36-inch waist.

• Went from hating myself daily to relatively enjoying myself.

A lot of this is what I externally accomplished — what I can show on paper. But I think that last one is the most important.

I've learned a lot in two years, so I thought I'd share that with you, in case you'd like to take a break from the booze cruise. Also, that's what I tell myself: I've taken a break. Maybe I'll drink again. Maybe I won't.

But overall, life seems to be a whole lot better for me because I took a break. Perhaps it could be for you, too.

What I've learned

1. You don't have to drink to have fun.

What a shocker! As someone who's been drinking since senior year of high school (sorry, Mom, we weren't just "hanging out" in the basement), most events in my life revolved around booze.

Almost everything does: Comedy shows, concerts, after-work functions, meetups, dates, conferences, dinner, museum tours. But guess what? The events don't change if you decide not to drink!

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You're still you. Maybe you're more "inhibited," but is that altogether terrible? I've found that when I hang out with folks who have been drinking, I start to feel the same way I felt — in terms of becoming silly, goofy, fun — when I was drinking too.

And I remember everything that happened during the events, which is always nice.

2. You have way fewer regrets.

Since I stopped drinking, I've yet to wake up and look at my phone, see something I texted, and go, "Ugh, wwwwwwwhhhhhhhy." I'm in control of my actions basically all of the time.

I think longer before I respond to something someone says. If I'm angry, it gives me more time to calm down. Drinking definitely helped my inner jerk come out a lot more often. Now I’m better at keeping the jerkier side of me locked up. It still comes out, sure, but at least I have more control over when that happens.

Andy Boyle
Andy Boyle lost 75 pounds after he stopped drinking alcohol two years ago.

3. People will judge the heck out of you.

This was the weirdest one to deal with. Many, many folks will give you attitude for not drinking. Here are a few things I've been told:

"C'mon, dude, just have one beer! It's not like you're going to meetings or whatever!"

"I can't trust someone who doesn't drink."

"You're not fun unless you're drunk."

"When you don't drink, it makes me feel bad about myself, which makes me not like you."

"I can't date someone who doesn't want to get drunk with me, sorry."

I'll bet I said some of these things myself, back when I used to drink — because when you're around someone who doesn't do something you like doing, you can be taken aback by it.

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I've had friends who've stopped hanging out with me because I don't drink anymore. I've had relationships end (or not even start) because of it. I have been sent screen shots of people I know talking smack about me to other people because I choose to not do a thing.

It's weird. But it makes you realize the bad relationship with booze that other folks must be having. And for that, I have empathy. And I hope they figure it out.

4. You sleep so much better.

I haven't slept this great since before high school. Man, it's fantastic. I could point you to all the studies that show how alcohol affects your sleep, but hey, take my word for it. This is the sleep I’ve dreamed of for years.

5. You get less sad.

I don't know if I have depression, but I used to get bummed out a lot. There were days when I wouldn't want to leave my apartment, or see anyone, mostly because I hated myself.

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I don't hate myself nearly as much as I used to. I'm generally OK with my life and who I am. Positivity is now my go-to emotion, even when something bad or terrible happens to me.

It's like I flipped this switch inside my brain: Instead of going to negativity, I try to find the reason something is positive. It's definitely weird to have this happen to me.

6. You develop more empathy for others.

A few weeks ago, this guy blared on his horn because I was crossing at a crosswalk and he wanted to turn, and he almost hit me with his car. Then he flipped me off and said some nasty words at me.

Old me probably would've stood in front of him, not moved, taken a photo or video of him, shared it on the Internet with the caption, "Hey, look at this jerk who tried to hit me with his car!" And I would have felt smug and wonderful about it.

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Instead, after an initial moment of fear and anger, I realized this dude was probably having an awful day. Maybe he was late for an appointment. Maybe he was trying to get to the hospital to see his son who has cancer. Maybe he didn't have parents as loving as mine and that's filled him with resentment his entire life.

Either way, that guy had something going on, and I wanted him to be happier. Then I felt weird, because my brain has been wired forever to be a jerk to anyone who wrongs me. But now? I generally jump to empathy. I like that.

7. You save so much money.

I bought a condo. I'd like to pretend as though it wasn't because of how much money I saved by not drinking and buying food while drunk, but probably one-fourth of my down payment came just from abstaining from booze.

Yeah, I know.

8. You get tired earlier.

It's pretty hard for me to stay up past 11 p.m. these days, even on weekends. When I was drinking, booze was a magical fuel that kept me going, trying to find a new adventure.

Now that I don't drink, I'm not constantly searching for adventure, trying to find one more fun thing that will fill the empty void inside of me. I'm content with what I've done for the day, and my body wants to go to bed. I dig that.

James Allen Kamp/Courtesy of Andy Boyle
Andy Boyle performing at an open mic in Chicago back in 2013

9. You become amazingly productive.

When you're not spending most of your free time at bars, you get a lot done. I read more. I write more. I learn more.

I spend more time working on bettering myself and my skills than I ever would have sitting at a bar, chatting with a buddy or two. I'm much less social than I used to be, but I'm also creating more art and failing a lot more than ever before.

In the end, I know I'm going to die. I'd rather there be a few things of me still hanging around after I'm dead, some sort of personal expression that others can enjoy. That requires me to put in the time to work on projects, and make something tangible and real for people to enjoy.

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That seems, now, like a better use of my time than chatting with some pals at a bar. That conversation may have been great, sure, but in the end, it dies with me and those people. If I can create a few things that last longer than me, it makes my life last longer. It means I mattered a little more.

I'm glad I haven't been drunk for two years. Sure, I've done a few shots of Malort (a terribly famous Chicago liqueur, it’s disgusting) with people who've never tried it. And yes, there was that one time a dude threatened to fight me if I didn't drink that shot of whiskey he bought to congratulate me on "being so funny" after hearing me tell jokes about how I don't drink anymore.

If you ever think, hey, this drinking thing isn't fun anymore, it's fine to take a break. I just quit. For me, it's been relatively easy, and I know it isn't easy for everyone. But just know I've found countless rad people who can have fun without booze. And you can too.

Good luck.

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