My journey on the way to quitting alcohol and cigarettes. Meditation.
In the winter of 2013, I migrated from New Delhi to London partly so I could live away from home. The reason I wanted to leave home was so I could smoke (cigarettes) and drink (alcohol) in a guilt-free manner, as and when I pleased. It was a successful move I made, from the viewpoint of the former me. The former me was unwaveringly addicted to nicotine and loved how carefree/confident he became after a few drinks. I was 23 at the time, and was simultaneously addicted to my fitness routine. Four times every week, without fail.
When you’re at that age, you’re oblivious to any potential health problems. You’re literally the king of your world, kicking on little to no sleep and still breezing through your workdays with an incurable hangover. I survived, in fact thrived this way for close to a year. By this point, I had been an addicted smoker (15-20 a day) for 6 years. My alcohol consumption was also on the rise, as I was constantly looking to escape the negative emotions associated with work related stress. It was spiraling down to a point where I couldn’t sustain a 5-minute conversation with anyone without the thought of a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other. The dual-devils were my crutches in social situations. In times of positivity, times of negativity, times of anxiety, stress, jubilation, and celebration – I needed a Classic Milds cigarette and a vodka tonic. My only saving grace through this chronically unconscious period was my regular exercise routine, which ensured a timely supply of endorphins (and possibly kept me alive).
I rose one morning and realised that I couldn’t possibly sustain this lifestyle. I needed desperately to let go of my vices. I just didn’t know how. Nor did I ever think that I would be up to the task. I literally thought that I would die a smoker and a borderline alcoholic.
As any rationally sensitive person in my position would do, I began researching. And the first place I logically chose was the Internet. I found a trove of data surrounding consciousness and meditation to rid oneself of any bad habit (not just the ones I had). I decided to give it a shot, based on basic tutorials I encountered on Youtube.
At first, I was reluctant. The idea of sitting down aimlessly for 20 minutes seemed mindless, pointless and extremely overwhelming. Especially as, like most unenlightened beings on the planet, my brain was inundated with a million unsolicited thoughts every second. They seemed unstoppable and never-ending. But I convinced myself that it was either this or professional, medical attention. I chose the former. The method of meditation I chose to explore was mindfulness, where one sits cross-legged on the floor and tries consciously to funnel his attention on the breath. Inhale, exhale, 20 minutes. I targeted a 21-day routine, at the end of which I would evaluate how I felt with regard to cigarettes (not alcohol) and chart my future progress plan. This was the 1st of February 2014.
Fast-forward 21 days to the 22nd of February, where I was holidaying in Chamonix, France with some friends on a ski trip. I distinctly remember smoking my last cigarette. Never will I ever forget it. Here’s what happened. The 20 minutes a day for 21 days made me so overtly conscious of my immediate environment, so unconsciously happy (for no tangible reason whatsoever) and so confidently assertive in all situations that I put my foot down on the 22nd of that month.
Mindfulness meditation promises to strengthen your pre-frontal cortex, the executive decision making centre of the brain. This lies toward the front of the brain and aids you in rejecting oily food because you know it’s detrimental to your health. If done regularly, meditation makes this effortless. My smoking level was on a steady decline through these 21 days, and it culminated to the point that I only thought of a cigarette when I saw someone else light up. That was it. End of the road (or the beginning of a new one, if you will). I haven’t looked back since. Not a single incident of falling prey to craving. Life’s been amazing.
At the time, I had decided against letting go of alcohol, as I knew it would exert too much pressure on me. Thereon, I was only a drinker, and a happy one at that.
I felt profoundly cleaner and fresher, with an optimistic outlook to and zest for life. My stamina and strength in the gym skyrocketed. My lungs exploded with oxygen, yearning for me to push them to the limits of human capacity. I made the most of this new life, engaging in every physical activity possible. Life seemed perfect!
I would drink on the weekends to the point of oblivion, and that steadily crept up into the weekdays too. The positive impact of meditation was constantly on the rise, but so was the negative impact of hangovers. What I was essentially doing was this – I was training my brain to become more conscious in dealing with daily activities on one hand and opposing that by descending into the unconscious, every time I consumed alcohol. I was using alcohol to escape the thoughts of the real world (positive and negative).
A year went by this way, and I was holidaying in Brussels, Belgium on the 3rd of May 2015. I was hung-over from the previous night and woke up that day to an order of waffles and a crisp, delicious Belgian beer. After my standard 20-minute meditation, I consumed the entire pint, laid the glass down and felt miserable, like someone was sucking all my energy out and I could do nothing to restrain it. It was by far the most disgusting, despicable, paralysing and coma-induced feeling I had ever experienced. Out of the dreary dredges of my despair, I logged onto the Internet and randomly landed on a website called 30daynoalcohochallenge.com. After having viewed its contents, I decided, with a heavy heart, to take a 30-day break from alcohol. I tore out a sheet of paper and wrote down the numbers 1 to 30, with space for a small tick next to each day. I made myself accountable. It was a snap judgment.
Doubling my dose of meditation through the 30-day period, it was the biggest personal fight of my life. I took it a day at a time, an hour at a time, a minute at a time. The biggest challenge was interacting in social situations. Not just because I wanted to enjoy myself despite the lack of alcohol, but because alcohol, in most societies of the world, is embraced as a legally accepted form of de-stressing. Entire cultures and sub-cultures have been sewed together on the consumption of alcohol. Any and all social events involve its consumption, and in varying forms. From beer and wine to whiskey and vodka, in their diverse concoctions.
That 30-day period was an uphill battle, one in which I clutched onto a glass of ice water or a soda in social gatherings.
I championed the 30-day challenge by placing the last and final tick on the sheet of paper, signaling successful completion. I was elated and unbelievably high on life. I didn’t ‘need’ alcohol anymore and had proved it to myself. On day 31, I woke up fresh as a daisy, and decided there and then to indefinitely extend my conscious living. I decided to quit alcohol altogether.
Today, as I write this on the 18th of January 2016, it’s been over 8 months that I haven’t touched alcohol. What’s better is that I don’t crave it anymore either. I meditate every single day, for 20-minutes, and that’s all I’ll ever need to feel fulfilled. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my demeanour over the past 8 months. I sleep like a baby every night, waking up as a newborn child every morning, poised to attack the day with 100% of me, not me hiding behind the veil of a cigarette or a vodka tonic. I’m completely detached from the need for those crutches, and instead rely on something so much healthier – meditation. My fitness level, once again, has soared, and I can guarantee that will only improve with age. I feel less stressed about life, and experience true liberty in my thoughts. I have complete and total control over my life now, because I am conscious to every single moment. I choose to mold the next moment in the exact way that I envision, and I owe it all to meditation – to a super conscious way of being, living and breathing. Onward and upward!
I do not consider alcohol to be evil, and I certainly don’t believe that everyone should give it up. But I do urge you, ever so humbly, to give meditation a chance. Persist. Endure. It will improve your life and every aspect of it. Believe me, I’m a test subject! Get started today!