For the 3rd consecutive year, during the month of October I will partake in what is known as "Sober October".
I first heard about this challenge in 2019 while listening to the JRE podcast, which I used to follow to when I could listen to it without having to sign up to yet-another-paywalled-garden.
It boils down to force oneself to stay clean, fit, and focus on personal improvement.
As usual, together with complete sobriety typical of this challenge, I have added a few extra problems to deal with
- No sweets
- No treats
- Run everyday
- Cold showers only
- Stretch everyday
- Forego anger, and profanities
- Produce more content than I consume
While I don't party much, once in a while I like to partake in vices.
During the previous two Sober Octobers I have noticed a couple of things about my relationship with alchool and that of society towards sobriety:
First, I was happy to see how easy it is for me to abstain from drinking. Knowing as a fact that I'm lucky (or old?) enough not to require numbing my perceptions in order to find solace in life makes me happy; I hate depending on anything (person, possessions, contexts) but myself in order to comply with the world, and having no problem foregoing vices is a nice reminder of my innate strength, and my progress in self-realization.
Second, as the third week of the month approached, I found myself longing for the taste of certain drinks. More than alchool itself, or the feeling of drunkness, I was longing for the thirst quenching feeling that some kinds of liquors give. Namely, rather than cocktails to get a buzz I was (and probably will) long for IPA beers, aged whiskey, good wines.
Third, I found myself longing for certain "social set-ups", namely intimate dinners with small groups of friends. The best way to enjoy drinking is with people you love, in front of food you cook on a stove or on a fireplace. Depriving myself of these opportunities allowed me to explore how I interact with others when having nothing else to drink but water, and how my perception of social outings is shaped by alchool.
Fourth, people get pushy about alchool. Both me and my friends who are doing this Sober October challenge have been confronted by people who couldn't just accept us being temporarily sober. There have been plenty examples of weird interactions with drinkers, both friends and random passerbies: jokes, short bursts of anger or frustration, trying to trick one into sipping alchool by mistake, implying foolishness or having joined some sort of secret Muslim sect. I presume it could just be cultural (namely, European), because it all becomes much easier to digest for them if one implies some sort of religious penance undertones in this challenge: saying that one is avoiding drinks to please a religious relative makes it very easy for everyone to just accept it as a fact and move on. So much for secularity.
In closing: the more I avoid alchool, the more I learn to appreciate the most excellent sides of it. I like Nassim Taleb's precept of drinking only beverages that have been around for at least 500 years, and I believe it could be a nice indicator of the kind of stuff one should (with reason, and good friends) partake in.
Having followed the No S diet for some time, it's easy for me not to eat sweets.
What bothers me about this rule is that it's a bit of a hassle to have breakfast outside in southern Europe, where most of the available choices are pastries.
Fortunately I'm skilled in preparing myself protein-based breakfast, and having my coffee black. Cappuccino without sugar is not as exciting, though.
I love milk and oats, and when I say love i mean that I can easily get rid of half a kilogram of oats and more than a liter of milk in a day. I also love having yogurt after dinner, as a light treat.
Because October is the day of corporal and psychological self-inflicted punishments, I'm abstaining from these minor vices as well. The only treat I give myself is an apple, and yes I hate myself and life is pain.
This year's physichal challenge I chose for my Sober October 2021 is running.
I have started with the "From Couch to 5K" program around September to condition myself, running 3 times a week. As the name implies, it's a very gentle introduction to this sport and it has been excellent in teaching me both how much I hate it, and how good it feels to keep on doing something you hate until you understand its good sides.
Once October started, I began running in a fasted state every morning. The limit I set for myself was of 30 minutes, and as I became a better runner I moved the goal to running 5k every day.
I religiously log my runs (using Fitotrack, a running app that Respect Your Freedoms &trademark;), and I can currently (02021-10-12) run 5 kilometers in 00:30:25. My next goal is to be able to run this distance in 30 minutes, and it would be great if I could run it in 25 minutes by the end of the month.
After a run get in the shower, squeeze some soap in your hands, turn on cold water, wash yourself, done. Easy no?
The problem is that I have a visceral disdain for this practice: I wake up thinking of how bad it's going to feel, think about how uncomfortable it's going to be while I'm running, find myself fiddling around with trivial stuff in order to gain some extra time, and hate every second of it.
Yet, I religiously do it and come out of the shower a reborn man.
This practice gave me an interesting insight on pain, discomfort, and worry: just like it happens with pleasure in mammals where there's an higher dopamine spike when anticipating something enjoyable rather than during the pleasurable event itself, the anticipation of something dreadful is more distressing than the displeasurable event per se.
Thanks to this realization, I've found a few ways to enjoy cold showers (or, rather, dread them less): don't think about it, don't talk about it, don't complain about it, do it as soon as possible.
Moreover, instead of hyperventilating in a panicky way and letting emotions take control, I've began focusing on being as quiet and calm as possible, trying to find as much comfort as possible in distress. It seems to work, and the practice is becoming bearable.
More than something I dread, it almost became something mundane (as taking a shower is supposed to be); hopefully the more I focus on it the more pleasure I'll take from this practice, much like taking bathing in a cold river during a hot sumer day.
I am forcing myself to stretch my legs after every run, even though I hate it.
I'm clueless about running, so I just do what everyone does.
I dislike it, it seems like a waste of time, I'm not sure it will provide me with the superpowers everyone is talking about. I just do it and move on, maybe I will switch to 10 minutes of yoga which at least is a bit more interesting.
Maybe I just hate stretching because it gives me time to think about the dreaded cold shower that is coming right after.
For the month of October I'll try and refrain from getting angry, and swearing.
I failed already a couple of times, but it's getting easier.
While (I believe) I know how to be polite and use appropriate language, I'm prone to getting furious when frustrated.
Reading a wonderful book about classical stoicism by William B Irwine titled "A Guide to the Good Life: the ancient stoic art of Joy" helped me isolate, moderate and tackle rage.
Thanks to a few tips and tricks illustrated in this book, for the very first time in my life I could see anger arising in me and I could make it disappear.
I still get angry, and failed this test a couple of times, but I'll keep trying until the end of this month at least. It's interesting to note that both times I got angry I was driving, stuck in traffic.
For what concerns cutting obscenities from my speech, it all started with doing some research on how this kind of stuff uses a different neural path than that used to speak normally (which is partly why Tourette Syndrome is a thing).
As a note on this subject: it's not only surprisingly difficult to avoid saying obscenities during casual speech with friends, it's even complicated to notice its use. I need to do more research on this.
In the last years I focused more on trying to survive while minimizing monetary and psychological expenditures, and didn't focus as much as I should have on production.
For the month of October I would like to train myself to produce content on a regular basis, so I can get rid of all the draft projects that piled up on my hard drives and brain.
This will not only help me stop worrying so much about wasting time, but will also help me make the money I need to survive.
It's not the first time I promised myself this, and life always got in the way. Let's see who wins now.