What is ten years? Ten years is two presidential elections, two leap years, two summer Olympics, and two winter Olympics. Ten years is ten Thanksgivings, ten Halloweens, and ten New Year’s celebrations. Ten years is 3652 days. Ten years ago today, when I was in eighth grade and thirteen years old, I made a bet with my cousin David.
For context, here is what the world was like ten years ago: George W. Bush was president. The first iPhone was still two years away. MySpace was the dominant social networking site. You could rent a DVD at Blockbuster. AIM was a part of life. Hurricane Katrina hit. YouTube was founded. Lance Armstrong won his seventh Tour de France. “Hollaback Girl” was the most downloaded song of the year. The sixth Harry Potter book was released, while the fourth Harry Potter movie came out. Among all of this, I made a simple bet.
At the time, I loved Mountain Dew, so much that I had upwards of four cans a day. David challenged me to go ten years without drinking a single soda, because he didn’t think I could do it. The wager? $5. Why stop at carbonated drinks, I asked, and soon caffeinated beverages were thrown in as well.
The bet began as a stubborn crusade. David had challenged me, and I wanted to beat him. I was thirteen, and ten years was a laughably absurd time span for a bet. I still remember those first days so clearly, when I craved a Mountain Dew more than anything in the world. It didn’t seem possible that I could make it ten years, so early on, I wasn’t aiming for ten years, merely the day I was living. At first, it was all about beating David. He and I were three years apart, but fiercely competitive, and as much as I wanted a soda, I hated losing to David more. In truth, that’s as simple as it was at the start.
Slowly, imperceptibly slowly, the bet became something more. As days turned into months, and months turned to years, it stopped being about David, and it was all about proving to myself that I could. One day at a time, I kept myself in check, and no matter how much I wanted a soda, I refrained. The longer I went, the more I had invested. Soon, I was drinking only water, milk, and juice. What began as a stubborn challenge became a quest of willpower that changed me.
Over the past ten years, I went from being a kid in middle school to an adult in the working world. The bet was by no means my driving force, but it has been perhaps the only constant in my life between then and now. Frankly, I’m a bit sad the bet is coming to an end. In some ways, it has been a shield, and in others, an identity. I’ve been telling people about this bet for ten years, and thousands of people have heard about it. It’s the kind of story that makes for easy conversation at parties and social gatherings. Still, despite the longevity of this bet, it remains a story of individual days, one by one.
Shortly after the first year, I bought a Dilbert, page-a-day calendar, the kind where you rip off each day individually. Seems silly, but with a bet over ten years, you need some way to congratulate yourself for the little victories. I started writing the number of days it had been since I drank a soda on each page of the calendar, and when I’d tear off every page, it served as a reminder of how far I’d come. Nine years later, I’m tearing the final page. I have always been a deeply sentimental guy, and writing this to you now, it all feels very surreal. In some ways, I still feel like I’m that 13 year old kid, but in other ways, it feels like that life couldn’t be further from mine today.
You can never know the full effect of any action, that’s something this bet has taught me. When this all started, I just wanted to beat David, but making that choice to give up soda, something everyone around me drank without question, it sparked something bigger. I began to question things that other people took for granted, and that inquisitive essence has never faded in me. This bet, and the choice to restrain myself, has impacted so many of my choices since then. Alcohol, in particular, was a huge turning point for me. I chose not to drink, knowing that it might mean becoming a social outcast, because I wasn’t ready. Despite the urging of so many friends over the years to share a drink, I have never had even a sip of alcohol.
You might expect that after years spent sober, I might despise drinkers or hold drinking with some negative connotation, but that’s not true. My views toward drinking have morphed considerably over the years, and while I have seen alcohol used in negative ways, I’ve also come to associate it with celebration and joviality. I never grew to hate or judge drinkers; I sought only to understand before making my own choice. In many ways, I feel like abstaining has helped develop me in other ways I might never have explored, because socializing sober for someone as shy as I used to be is a tough task. I’ve never felt that I needed alcohol to be happy, and that’s something I’m very proud of. I didn’t want to drink for the sake of drinking. I wanted to drink on my own terms if I ever did choose to drink, and that’s what this bet has afforded me.
And now, the question so many have asked me over the past ten years: when the bet is over, what will I drink, or will I ever drink? People have been giving me recommendations and advice for this day for the past ten years. So many have said they thought I was crazy or tried to get me to quit, and lots more have given me drink suggestions. A vocal minority has suggested that I keep on the teetotaler path. So. What am I going to do? The answer will probably surprise many of you.
I have no desire to have soda by itself anymore, but as far as caffeinated and alcoholic drinks go, I’m going to try them. I am going to try things I have never tried. I’ve thought quite a bit over the last couple of years about what I would do when this day came, and in the end, the decision came down to a single question: why wouldn’t I drink? I’ve always found that, if you’re honest with yourself, it’s much easier to be honest with others, and this is something that took me years to be honest with myself about.
Yes, I have never needed alcohol to be happy, but the truest reason why I haven’t ever drank is because I have been afraid of who I might become if I do drink. I have feared losing control. In my estimation, the reason behind a choice is just as important as the choice itself, and fear alone is never a good reason. As of today, I have gone ten years without drinking a single carbonated, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverage, and I am closing the door on a journey that saw me grow in ways I could never have imagined. I owe a great deal to this bet, but it is time for me to say goodbye and welcome something different and exciting. I am going to try some new things, because I want to. After ten years, I believe I’ve earned that right 🙂