Since I’d gotten hired by SoftwareCompany, my health had really gone to crap.
It wasn’t like I was going to die or anything. But I’d basically been eating out for three consecutive years: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On top of that, I’d developed a nice little minor drinking problem, spending at least two nights a week downing five or more pints, and another four evenings having a drink or two to “unwind.”
The only thing I did for my health, really, was continue to walk to work. The distance was only about a mile, though, and not a single universe exists where this is enough exercise for a grown man.
I blamed work, with the typical set of excuses.
Oh, I’m too stressed to exercise
At night, I just don’t have the energy.
I don’t have the TIME, dammit, the TIME!
The thing was, these reasons were all bullshit. I didn’t exercise because it wasn’t a priority, plain and simple. I’d let my life become dominated by work, and I allowed myself to become a pudgy pile of recent-college-grad geekdom because, well, it was accepted. When I’d go drinking with coworkers after another day at the office, we’d all forgive each other for being lazy sacks of shit and justify it. Of course, we all knew we were making excuses, but it’s not nearly as much fun to acknowledge the truth (we can do it, we just don’t want to) as it is to pretend that we’re helpless victims of the system.
Me: Corporate America is making us fat! It’s part of the goddamn Man’s plan — this way he can harvest our bodies more easily once we’re worn out.
Coworker: Right, we’ll get recycled as Soylent Green by Proctor and Gamble or something, thus completing the very profitable Circle of Human-Industrial Life. But they’ll call it something that actually sounds cute and tasty, like Hombre Grande Burritos or Big Jack Fries, which are actually made from guys named Jack.
Me: Right, all totally microwavable in minutes and found in your frozen food section.
I’d taste delicious.
One of the underrated parts of Your Money or Your Life is the examination of drug and alcohol use. Like I said a couple of pages ago, the book isn’t strictly about finances. It’s about taking control of your life.
Notice all of the passive verbs I used in the previous section to describe my weight problems and use of alcohol. I allowed myself to put on weight. I let myself get coerced into going to bars. These are not the words of someone who is actively making life choices.
But back to YMOYL. The author continually asks questions along these lines:
Would you feel the need to drink so much if you weren’t miserable from work?
I decided that I probably wouldn’t.
Then why are you doing it now?
At first I thought the author was being preachy. You know, like drugs and alcohol are Bad. Just Say No, and all of that. I could almost see Nancy Reagan hovering over Joe Dominguez’s shoulder as he wrote these sections of the book.
But the more I thought about it, the more I started to identify that drinking itself was an extension of work misery. After work, instead of shutting off thoughts about the office, I went out — with co-workers no less! — to talk about work and drink myself into a state of morose agitation, followed by an inevitably crappy night of sleep. This, of course, made the following day significantly worse, completing the negative feedback loop of alcohol-induced work suck which then obviously demanded additional drinking to further unwind.
Put another way, I was voluntarily a) extending my work hours by commiserating with folks from the office, b) extending the number of years I had to work prior to retirement by spending $100 a week out at bars, c) making my time in the office worse than it had to be by inflicting hangovers on myself and d) reducing my overall energy levels, making it difficult to engage in time consuming or rewarding personal projects. Or, for that matter, exercising.
As a part of my work-rehabilitation plan, I greatly reduced the number of nights out. Instead of heading to bars eight or ten times a month, I’d go out just once. If I wanted to see one of my friends, I’d convince them to just have dinner at our apartment. At first they thought it was a little weird but they got used to it.
Here’s the amazing thing.
After a month went by without drinking, I started to feel much much better physically.
Once my energy levels went up, I actually wanted to exercise again. It wasn’t something I had to force. I got a pair of jogging shoes, made it part of my routine, and ground out seven or eight miles a week. In addition I went to my new apartment building’s free gym and did some light weightlifting here and there.
Here’s the deal. Alcohol is an intoxicant. Your body (liver) processes it as the poison that it is. Of course, everybody knows this. But we drink it anyways because we’ve been told it’s necessary for social interaction.
It’s not. And if you’re anything like me, there’s a good chance that it’s holding you back from being happier. I think that we generally underestimate the negative effects that drinking has on our lives.
PS. Of course you’re like me. You’re human.