Alcohol or Algorithm II

Up before 7am – a cup of tea made, the bed stripped and sheets in the washer before 9am. Out to the shops before several of them were open, and it’s a Saturday!

What’s going on?

18 months without drinking is what’s going on… Who’d have thought it? Not me that’s for sure. Least of all when I wrote this blog on New Year’s Day 2020.

Still (as subsequent reading has helped me realise) the signs and signals were there some while before. Five years ago in fact:

And then more recently:

So how did we get here? Two books, some Lego, a flower and a podcast…

Book one, by Simon Chapple, spoke to my cultural background as a middle aged British bloke; and dealt with my conscious mind:

Reading this led me to book two, by Annie Grace, which gave me stories, science and neuroscience; this dealt with my subconscious mind:

To get through the first days in early Jan 2020 (and it sustained me through the onset of the pandemic and more) I bought myself a Lego ‘clock’ which I converted into a day counter:

Coming up to three months…
At the turn of the year I gave up counting.

The flower is the carnivorous pitcher plant. It lures unsuspecting insects in search of a pool of delicious sweet nectar. Some varieties have a gentle slope which invites you in. Indiscernibly the insects passes a point of no-return. And then ‘plop’, into the drink and a sticky end.

The argument is we’re all inexorably wandering down the enticing slope of the pitcher plant with alcohol. It’s just a question of whether we’re meandering, or marching purposefully.

Finally, regular reinforcement as been helped by a podcast series, which is so culturally different for me (largely American, deeply personal life stories, mainly from women) that I find it incredibly powerful. It gets through my residual subconscious resistance to the reality of alcohol:

In sum, it’s a bit like when I quit smoking; thoroughly disgusted with myself after smoking three packs (and drinking a skinful) at a wedding in 2001. I’ve not had a cigarette since. I think I’d just had enough – and reminding myself of quitting smoking certainly helped on the odd day I’ve fancied a drink since 2019.

I can’t see myself going back though; and this week has given me a couple of reminders why.

Heading indoors to a pub (for the first time since lockdown) on Monday to celebrate a friend’s birthday, I arrived to find tequila shots already on the table. I smiled and said:

“Sorry chaps, I’m still not drinking.”

A few disappointed and incredulous looks, but people are getting used to it now. I ordered a low alcohol Erdinger and settled in for the evening.

Two and a half hours later it was getting on for time to leave. A half-hearted shout went up for “One more beer?” Everyone was tired, we’d had a good laugh and it was a ‘school night’ so there were mumbles of “Not for me”, “I’m good” etc. But then the inevitable happened in the ‘world of men’… someone pressed the group into “one more”. Another shot of tequila. I smiled and said I’m off.

As any heavyweight boxer will tell you (if they still can) it’s the late-career, late round punches that do all the damage. Into our fifties at past 11pm on a Monday night, we have no business doing shots. That’s a younger man’s game. I’m glad to be out of it.

And so to this morning. Bright, alert, healthy, happy, well-rested and ready for my day. And the only explanation (and it takes a year for the brain to rewire, the chemicals to rebalance and the urge to hit the alcohol ‘kill switch’ and turn your mind off to pass) is the absence of alcohol from my life.

Turns out it’s no loss at all.

Always?

I have a reminder on my iPhone which pops up every Monday at 8am:

But today not so.

I feel fine. Changing the clocks back must have helped… The sun is shining and despite travelling up and down the motorway for 14 in 36 hours; and a highly unappealing day ahead – I do feel fine!

Why? Here’s a clue…

I just have to go back to this post to find out. In the words of the meerkats: “simples”.

Alcohol or Algorithm?

  

On an exceptionally relaxing family break (with the in-laws last week) I had an epiphany; floating for the first time in my life in a hot tub…

If I feel like I have no time… if I’m often tired… if work (as Aristotle predicted) is “absorbing and degrading my mind”… and there’s no way out until my middle 50s… what’s the solution? 

The solution, requires a lot less C2H6O in it. Yes alcohol is terrific: a mood enhancer, a relaxer, a taker away of social inhibitions – it helps me (in the right circumstances) to be the life and soul of the party; or at least not a party pooper.

But alcohol is also rubbish: a low grade tranquilliser, a duller of the senses and a bringer of a fuzzy mouth and an even fuzzier head. And there’s the alcohol rub – it leaves you doped, dulled and dozy, and at times downright poorly.

I came to me, as I lolled in that hot tub – at this stage in my life and work, I haven’t got enough time to be regularly tranquillised, dulled and fuzzy; still less to be feeling below par. 

The opportunity cost of pouring that glass of red or a cheeky prosecco is a welcome numbness; but also a decline in judgement, self-control and useful activity… 

I begin to graze the fridge and sweetie cupboard, as my expanding waistline testifies. And since starting my new job I’ve been more and more attracted to the tranquillising effect… and that’s not good.

So the antidote to less time; is to consume less C2H6O. 

A weekend into my new regime, more jobs were getting done, more of the things I know are good for me – reading, cooking, washing, learning languages, domestic innovations, getting to bed earlier, exercise, cups of tea, hanging out the washing, sitting in the garden.

This week at work, I have carried all before me, with a combination of good cheer and industriousness. As well a packing in 10 hour days and a stack more exercise.

Not that most of this wouldn’t have got done before; but I’m far less tired, I haven’t eated half a kilo each of cheese and chocolate en route and I just feel better.

And so to the second half of my epiphany – if less alcohol is one good move, on what should I spend the time and energy dividend? I’ve bought a book on Machine Learning and algorithms to see what computer science and coding can offer a modern life… 

A life is, after all, just developing our own ever-improving Bayesian algorithm: as we see more, do more and learn more. Assuming we’re not sleeping off a heavy night that is.

But I’ll not be saying no to booze full stop. Oh no!

When there’s a fun to be had; people to enjoy a drink with and a reason to celebrate – bring it on. It’s just the routine quaffing I need to tackle. 

Or as my new Machine Learning book suggests:

  • If Situation = Social|Drink
  • If Situation = Kitchen|Don’t

The simple question is Alcohol or Algorithm? 

If there’s no good reason to be drinking, I’ll be trying not to – so I can have more time for thinking and learning and doing new stuff.