How one simple decision radically changed my life

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Let me preface this post by stating that my aim in writing this is not to judge anyone, hold myself up as some kind of perfect role model, or insinuate that I have all the answers—far from it! Everyone is on their own journey in life and I completely respect their choices. Rather, I’m sharing my experience to show anyone who is struggling with addiction that change is possible. I hope that my story can inspire others looking to make a change to take that first step and never look back.

“Today, the 26th of December, is the most important day of my life.”

Three years ago today, I made a decision that completely turned my life around: I decided to stop drinking alcohol for good. I was 40 years old when I made the choice to never again consume any alcohol—no wine, spirits, liquor, beer, nothing. Not a single drop. It’s been 3 years since I quit drinking and I’ve never once felt like I was missing out on something. I’m incredibly happy to be sober and proud that I’ve kept this promise to myself all these years.

I grew up in a family with an alcoholic father. My childhood taught me that excessive drinking is just a normal part of life. I was born in northern Finland, in the backwoods, where many people drink alcohol all the time—it’s simply how things are there. Almost everyone around me except my mother drank a lot of alcohol. Perhaps because of that, I also started to drink quite a bit in my youth. I began drinking at the age of 12 and continued drinking through high school, university, and onward.

In the years leading up to 2014, I had started to think, Is this really necessary? Is it really necessary to drink so much and so often? I wasn’t even feeling like I was having fun when I drank anymore. I wasn’t partying or having a good time. More often than not, I was sitting silently on my couch, drinking alone. I was drinking in order to get drunk—that was my sole motivation.

A long time ago, drinking had made me feel differently… 

I had imagined I was James Bond, sipping some whiskey at the airport lounge while on a business trip. I didn’t feel like 007 anymore.

…Now I felt like a man who compulsively downed whiskey shots after putting his kids to bed, pretending he was working on his laptop when in reality he was getting drunk and watching Netflix.

As 2014 drew to a close, I began to realize that I had become a loser. A pitiful man with no self-control. It struck me that I had to make a radical change in my life or things would get worse. I wasn’t consuming insane amounts of alcohol or living on the street—I had a family, I went to work, I made good money—but at this point I was drinking four or five shots almost every night and it had transformed into a person I didn’t recognize.

I began to notice that:

  • My drinking had made me a loner. I felt alienated from my family. I grew distant from my wife.
  • I got angry for no reason, completely losing my temper over insignificant things. I wasn’t able to handle pressure at all.
  • I had conflicts with the people around me, from friends and coworkers to complete strangers. I had no patience for anyone or anything.
  • My physical condition was poor.
  • My mental condition was even worse. I felt depressed a lot of the time.
  • My future seemed hopeless. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to succeed at anything.
  • I had no sense of confidence or self-worth.
  • I was struggling at work. I wasn’t able to concentrate or get things done.
  • Worst of all, I realized that by drinking alcohol I was placing myself at a much higher risk of falling seriously ill. Alcohol is, to put it bluntly, poison, and I was dosing myself with it daily.

I wrote all of these things down on paper and stared at the list for a while. Seeing my issues laid out in front of me like that, I was struck by the realization that alcohol was slowly and silently ruining my life. I knew I had to do something different.

My wife doesn’t drink alcohol. My mother didn’t drink alcohol, either. The more I turned these thoughts over in my head, the more tempted I was to follow their example and stop drinking entirely. It was the first time I had considered what it would feel like to simply not drinkthe idea gripped me and wouldn’t let go.

The tipping point came when my wife told me flat out that it was her or the alcohol. “You’ve got to choose,” she said. “Either you get treatment and stop drinking, or it’s over.”

Hearing that was the push I needed. My path was clear—I had to get help. And so on the 29th of December, 2014, I walked up to the doors of the Avominne Substance Abuse Clinic in Helsinki, took a deep breath, and went inside.

At first, I was ashamed.

Have I really sunk so low? I wondered. I wasn’t drinking in the street, stumbling around and causing trouble. I wasn’t homeless. I was a good person, highly educated, working for a big company, making good money. At the time, I was also starting my own business, just beginning to flex my entrepreneurial wings. Did any of that matter? Was I a failure for ending up in treatment?

The shame of it stung, but deep down I understood that I wasn’t any better or worse than the other people here. I needed help, same as the rest of them. And if this was going to work, I had to approach my treatment with an attitude of all or nothing—I had to commit to it 100% and make a real effort, otherwise nothing would ever change. This was my chance to revive my marriage, save my health, reclaim my self-worth, and take back my life. I had to give it my all.

I had been drinking alcohol for 25 years—at times quite heavily—so I knew that cutting it out of my life wasn’t going to be easy. I was going to have to accept all the support I could get, no matter how embarrassed I was or how much it felt like I was in the wrong place.

Only coffee for me anymore 🙂 Feels good after drinking alcohol for 25 years.

After a single day at the treatment centre, however, those feelings of shame evaporated. The people I met there were just like me—smart, successful, decent people; normal people who had jobs and families of their own. These were not the bums from the street I had been imagining. They were just regular men and women struggling with the same problem I was. Suddenly, things didn’t seem so bleak. I began to think that maybe this really was the place for me, after all.

Before beginning treatment at the clinic, I felt a bit uneasy about the whole process. I despise brainwashing of any kind and I was afraid that I would be putting myself at the mercy of some kind of religious weirdos there. My fears turned out to be unfounded—Avominne was nothing like that. The exact opposite, in fact. That first day at the treatment centre felt like coming home. I was surrounded by kind men and women all welcoming me warmly, encouraging me, telling me that I was a good person.

The energy was so positive there. Everyone was just like me—everyone wanted to make a change.

(I want to emphasize that I have nothing at all against religious people. My preconceived notions about what went on at these treatment clinics had me nervous about going, but of course, that was all nonsense!)

After my first day at the treatment center, I was really excited. I knew that this could lead to something great… and it did. Today, I’ve been sober for 3 years, and it’s been an awesome ride.

What has happened since I quit drinking? What has changed in my life?

  • I feel so much more energized and am more productive at work than I’ve ever been before.
  • I wake up early and I never have a hangover. Now I always feel great in the morning.
  • My self-respect has grown and so has my self-appreciation. I feel so much better about who I am as a person.
  • I’m much more social than before and nowadays I spend a lot of time with my kids. What’s more, I can actually focus on them now—when I used to drink, I couldn’t even keep my attention on them for five minutes.
  • I’m also much more involved with my kids extracurriculars. I drive them to practices, attend rehearsals, and travel with them when they compete. It feels great.
  • I almost never lose my patience anymore. It’s really amazing how much better I handle annoyances and stress. I’m a pretty fun guy now compared to who I was 3 years ago.
  • I rarely find myself in a conflict with anyone. Things don’t seem to bother me as much these days.
  • My physical condition is better now than it’s ever been in my life! I run 50 to 100 kilometres a week, and compete in marathons and races. Just recently, I ran 60 miles in 15 hours—a personal best.
  • The world seems so much brighter than it did before. I feel hopeful for the first time in a long time. My depression is gone and it’s like a weight has lifted from my shoulders.
  • I enjoy each day to the fullest now. I feel like I’m actually living my life, not watching it pass me by.
  • Incredibly, I don’t feel like drinking at all. When I see other people drinking around me I don’t feel like I’m missing something—I never feel the urge to go to the bar and order a shot. I don’t miss alcohol at all. I’m not dependent on it anymore and that feels wonderful.

Becoming completely sober was the best decision I’ve ever made. It doesn’t bother me at all knowing that I’m never going to have another drink. But simply avoiding alcohol was not the only goal—there were two other important factors motivating me to quit drinking for good.

The first one is my health. I have always wanted to live a healthy life, eating well and exercising a lot. To be truly healthy, I also believe that alcohol and cigarettes should be avoided. I’ve always had an appreciation and respect for this kind of healthy lifestyle, and I want to be able to show my kids how to live this way. For my own health and for my children’s health, complete sobriety is key.

I know that many people are able to have the occasional drink and be completely fine…

Some people can handle a small amount of alcohol without it turning into a problem and I totally respect that

…It works for them and that’s great.

But in my case, things are pretty black and white—I either drink a lot or I don’t drink at all. I’m the same with running. Either I run a lot or I never do. I’m not able to have a drink here and there, because that middle ground doesn’t exist for me. One drink turns into two drinks turns into three, and before you know it I’d wind up back where I started. For people like me, the best (and really the only) solution is to not drink at all.

Reaching the finishing line in a 55 kilometer ultra marathon in Lapland, Finland, in 2016, with a finishing time of 7:15. – this wouldn’t ever happen in my “previous life”.

The other motivator in my journey to sobriety was my innate sense of competition. I’ve been competitive since I was a kid, always needing to show the world that I’m capable and that I can succeed if I work hard enough. I wanted to prove to myself and everyone around me that if I decided to quit drinking, I could make it happen. That stubbornness and determination helped push me to become, and stay, sober.

A long time ago, I believed that people who had to turn to a treatment center  for help were some kind of losers and that winners are able to handle everything by themselves.

Now, my feelings have completely changed. I now know that those who seek help when they need it are the real fighters and winners, and the losers are those people too proud to ever step inside a clinic. Those are the people who will never be able to change.

A lifestyle one-eighty like this requires a lot of work and a lot of commitment—not everyone can make the transition easily. But I have met people—men, women, young, old—who were in much worse situations than mine, and yet they still managed to turn their lives around. Anyone can do it, no matter how hopeless things may seem at the start.

The change has to come from within, and it begins with the understanding that you are 100% responsible for your own life. You are the one who decides which way it goes. No one is going to make the change for you. Nobody is going to come to your door and knock the drink out of your hand; no one will carry you to the clinic. You have to initiate the change yourself by recognizing that you are the author of your own story. Your actions are your own.

This requires humbleness without humiliation.

You need to lock eyes on your goal, work hard towards that change, accept the help offered to you, and fully commit to the process by pouring all of your time and resources into it. If you do this, it is absolutely possible to achieve anything.

For me, going three years without alcohol has been surprisingly easy. Since quitting, I’ve never once felt the desire to have a drink. It might not be so easy for everyone—and, indeed, there may be times when I will struggle in the future—but I believe that my conviction and commitment to my goal will carry me through the rest of my life. My actions are my own, and I am in control of them.

When it comes to business, the same concept applies. You have to understand that you are responsible for your own success. Reaching your goals is a matter of focus, will, and determination.

Too many of us complain and find excuses for why we can’t succeed, wasting their time justifying their failures without actually taking action. If you have a burning desire to succeed in business and achieve lofty goals, know that it’s entirely possible—but success starts with you. Hitting those targets requires a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of dedication, and you will not make it if you are not completely committed. You must be ready to sacrifice your time and invest your money along the way.

According to Social Security Association research, if you look at 100 people over the span of 40 years:

  • 1 is going to be rich.
  • 4 will be well-off, earning a comfortable living.
  • 5 will end up just barely scraping by.
  • 36 are going to die.
  • 54 will be financially dependent on relatives and others around them.

Think about that—only 5% of Americans will thrive off their income.

Being an entrepreneur might not be easy, but getting into that 5% is completely possible. All it takes is hard work and dedication.

If I want to stay in good shape by running, for example, no one is coming to drag me off my sofa and take me to the track. I’m the one who has to force myself to get dressed, put on my shoes, and head outside. The weather may be cold and rainy, it might be early in the morning, but it doesn’t matter—I know that once I’ve run 20 kilometres, I’ll feel satisfied that I’ve accomplished something.

Taking care of my health is entirely up to me, much in the same way that my business’ success is. Looking after my health, succeeding in my career, taking care of my family—these things are all important responsibilities that belong to me. Knowing that I am responsible for making them happen motivates me to keep moving forward.

My sobriety is an important piece in this puzzle, and a crucial step in the journey towards my goals.

The past three years have been incredible, and I’m hopeful that the coming years will be even better. I feel very thankful and happy for everything that I have—although, as a competitive guy, I will always be challenging myself to aim higher and dream bigger. Raising the bar for myself year after year keeps me humble and stops me from getting too complacent. 🙂

If you feel like sobriety is something that could improve your quality of life, I wholeheartedly recommend taking that step. I’ve never regretted it for a second, and I don’t think you will either.

I want to thank you for reading my story till the end, and wish you every success and happiness in the coming years! All the best for 2018, friends. Keep your chin up, look to the future, and go for it. Never give up!

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Marko Pyhajarvi

Highly experienced business author, speaker, coach and consultant living in London, UK. Addicted to endurance training and trailrunning. Live your life to the fullest.