This all began in 2008 with snapping a photo of myself every day — a literal project of self-reflection. I wanted to continue to explore and challenge myself, but I was totally burnt out.

So, 2009′s project was simple — do nothing. Born out of pure curiosity after shaving my head, I decided to estrange myself from my barber and let my hair grow and grow and grow without a single buzz, snip or chop.

For 2010, I decided to do nothing again. Simply omit alcohol from my daily life. To question one’s actions once they become routine and habitual has always been fascinating to me. So, when I first conceived of this project there were some questions that I wanted answers to. What motivates me to drink? Will I feel healthier? Will I have more energy? How much money will I save? How will my attitude towards alcohol change? What will it be like to be the only sober one in a bar or at a party? Will my friends think I’m crazy?

However, in the end, I chose this specifically because I knew it would redefine me. Because I wanted the answer to one question. Can I do anything I set my mind to? This was a project about discovering the extent of my own willpower.

In the early months of 2010, abstaining came easily. A few friends were playfully determined to get me to slip up; a few months in, they seemed genuinely impressed and eventually gave up the teasing. To test my willpower, I didn’t not refrain from frequenting my old watering holes for the occasional happy hour; strangely, I felt liberated in the lack of alcohol in my glass. In fact, I found that the simple act of holding a glass full of liquid, occasionally sipping from it, was enough to distract me from the fact I wasn’t drinking booze.

For a split second I thought, I have conquered drinking! Then my rational brain jumped out of my head and slapped me in the face leaving the lingering sting of pride for me to contemplate. I had received praise from my friends — was this willpower fueled by my desire to prove to the world that I could do it? My rational brain did not stop there, it also showed me that sobriety doesn’t pay. Literally. For when it came to pitching in at the end of the night, I was paying fraction of that of my friends, if anything at all.

Dating was amazing. Amazingly weird. The project, of course, was a beautiful conversation starter and most of my dates found it fascinating. However, ironically, I seemed to pick my dates from the fermented part of Orange County as these women seem to love the drink. One girl in particular stated very matter-of-factly that my boozless-ness was definitely not going to stop her from enjoying a cocktail or ten.

It wasn’t until I was approaching the six-month mark that I, in fact, had any real trouble at all. Perhaps it was boredom with the project, the heat of a California summer, or just forgetting what it was like to relax and enjoy an alcoholic beverage — I don’t know what it was exactly, but part of me felt like maybe six months was enough. The desire only intensified as the six-month mark grew closer. What finally won me over? What kept me on the wagon another half a year? It was simple. If I ended it then, it would cease to be a 365 project. So, six months came and went and I was as dry as ever.

Exactly two weeks later I regretted that decision with every fiber in my being. After almost five years, my design studio had to let me go. I was now jobless. And I couldn’t have a drink for 169 more days.

Those early days without a job, after recovering from the initial shock, were vast open deserts of time. The long trek across the sands were filled with two thoughts: what the hell am I going to do now? and why don’t I have a large, frosty mug of beer in my hand? The only thing that helped me through those sands of uncertainty were some of the greatest, most treasured conversations I had ever experienced. You see, one day, a girl from across the country serendipitously sprung out of the sand and plopped herself into my life at exactly the perfect time. Our affair was bittersweet and full of a magical synergy; as we grew fonder of each other, the distance separating us seemed the grow in fold. As beautiful dreams faded to an ugly reality, one where we could not be together, despair found its way in to my inner sanctum. My heart panged and my desire to quelch the pain with that poisonous elixir I had sworn off, haunted me.

I persevered.

Later that year, I attended one of my best friend’s elopement wedding, at a vineyard of all places. This I took in stride, even when a month later I was a groomsman for that same friend at his actual wedding. Around this time a lot of my friends were having parties and get-togethers. It was somewhere in this sea of socializing that I realized that I didn’t really crave a drink when I was immersed in great conversations and surrounded by even greater people. But once home, once alone with my immutable thoughts, I wanted to take a blur tool and rub it over my mind. Months of sobriety seem to sharpen my memories and keep my mind active when all I wanted to do was shut it down.

Those last few months were rough, I even garnered a roommate who had a project of his own — documenting his life with a daily beer photo. As a distraction, I stepped up all the projects I was working on, went to many parties, socialized as much as I could and by happenstance began my return to the world as a fine artist. I can’t remember how I became standing in front of that old beat-up canvas, but I’ll never forget the brilliance I felt as I flung that brush and poured my soul on to it. I had forgotten the power of creation.

December was more melancholy than usual. However, as I dress and attended my friends New Year’s Eve party, a rush of exuberance flowed over me. I had already decided not to drink until the next night. Selfishly, I wanted my own event, and not share it with the birth of this new year. Contrary to what some thought at the party, it was not difficult to wait one more night.

So, on the night of January 1, 2011, after 365 days of absolute sobriety, surrounded by friends, I raised my pint of Newcastle in a toast and drank.

And it was glorious.

I had taken my first step off that infamous wagon which so many people ride whether by choice or necessity. I had gained a new respect for the drinks of intoxication. I had gained new insight into the strength of my own willpower and a greater understanding on why I will occasionally swing by the beer aisle in the grocery store. Ultimately, I had redefined myself and now have a slightly better understanding of who I am and what makes me tick. And that’s what makes these projects so incredibly exciting! Cheers!

“If you mean whiskey, the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pits of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.

However, if by whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the elixir of life, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a little spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man to magnify his joy, and to forget life’s great tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitifully aged and infirm, to build the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.

This is my position, and as always, I refuse to be compromised on matters of principle.”

Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr.

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