Calvin Anderson is one of the most respected and revered young poker players in the world but he is much more than that. He is a man of maturity far beyond his years. He has strong beliefs and values. He does not wither. He is resolute.
I caught up with Anderson because during his post World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winning interview, he mentioned that he had been feeling great after making a series of changes in his life, one of which was the elimination of alcohol from his life.
Now that’s a man I wanted to speak to.
So when did Anderson start drinking?
“I started drinking, probably around 18 years old, in high school when I was
with friends and it seemed like the cool thing to do. Then going to college, a lot of my friends drank and it was something that I did as a social thing. I drank here and there and I didn’t mind how I felt when I was drinking but it wasn’t even nearly worth it the day after when you aren’t feeling well and you are making bad decisions.”
So why did he drink?
“For the majority of my life I drank because people told me to and I thought it was the cool thing to do. Eventually, I came to the realization that it doesn’t make me cooler and it brings me down in many ways. Drinking doesn’t bring me anywhere near close to the things that I want to do in life.
“It’s not only drinking but also a lot of foodstuffs. I have recently made a decision to go vegetarian and am trying out raw vegan right now. The stuff they put in a lot of things just aren’t good for you long term. I am more interested in being completely conscious about all of my decisions and thinking clearly.
“I am obsessed with being in control of my own life and each time I put something into my body that makes me lose control—I don’t like that feeling. If I drink alcohol I don’t have that control. That doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t allow me to accomplish the things I want.
“My beliefs and the things that I want to do are not aligned with the average person. I am seen as an outlier in the poker world. I have done really well and people wonder why I am so successful—and this is one of the reasons why.”
What is Anderson’s life purpose?
“Wow…that’s a serious question. It’s something that I think everyone should be searching for. I was raised Christian, for the majority of my life, and recently I have been asking the reason why? I have looked into a lot of religions and it seems like I am more of a spiritual person. I have listened to a lot of Alan Watts’s stuff and he comes from the angle that the purpose of life is to enjoy life and to understand it’s about the journey. Enjoying life instead of worrying about life.
“So many people go to kindergarten, first grade, second grade, high school, college, then they want to get a job and all of a sudden they are 40 years old and they have a house, and everything they feel they want, but they realize they never really lived. They haven’t enjoyed life.
“I have a watch that says, now. There is no clock, just that one word. The purpose of me wearing this is a reminder for myself to enjoy the moment as much as I can, because time is only an illusion of this world. You can control the time that you are experiencing. We all experience time in a different way, so enjoying the moment as much as you can will allow you to live longer, be happier and get the most out of life.
“We only have this present moment right now. If you think about the future you are in an anxiety state, if you think about the past you are in a depressive state. If you think about the now you are in the present, and you can get the most out of every decision, and moment. You are living. There are so many people who aren’t living and surely that’s the purpose of life?”
Why did Anderson quit drinking?
“When you look at alcohol almost everything you see is negative. I am not for taking many drugs but if you look at mushrooms for example, you can take it to reach a higher consciousness for a short while but with alcohol you drink it—you get drunk, dizzy, you forget things, you blackout and you feel terrible all day—it doesn’t make any sense to me.
“Alcohol just seems like a business. It’s all over TV and it makes me really frustrated to see someone, I thought I respected, promoting something they don’t even believe in and is bad for people. If I get big, like that, I am never going to promote something I don’t believe in just for money. There has never been a positive for alcohol so I don’t need it.
“A lot of things are just in your head. If you eat something and have positive attitude thinking, it’s going to taste good; it generally does—because it’s in your head. Everything is mental. If you think a drink is going to make you feel good then it will. Being happy and positive about anything you do is important but choose those things wisely.”
Why does alcohol take over so many people’s lives?
“People can’t face their own fears. You can’t just fill a void with alcohol. If there’s something wrong with your life then fix it. Attack it head on. If you have a problem in your job the best solution is not to go home, get drunk and forget about it, because the problem is going to be there the next day. Figuring a way out of the situation, rather than thinking you are a victim, is the best way out of it.
What can they do to change?
“People have a choice. They control their lives. They are not victims.”
Some people get very lonely when they stop drinking alcohol….What’s your opinion on this?
“If the highlight of your life is only drinking alcohol I don’t know if they are the same type of friends I want to have. Since I started eating vegetarian I have met some really amazing ambitious great people at the restaurant I have been going to.
“If you surround yourself with people, who are striving to do very good things, then you will change for the better. If you are the smartest person in the room you are probably in the wrong room.
“I think spending time alone and realizing who you are is one of the most important things you can do. A common saying is before you want to love someone then learn to love yourself first. I wouldn’t be afraid of being alone. It’s nice to have company, but in the quiet, and the peace, it will give you time to realize a lot of things.
“Everyone is different though. The way you feel loved is different. There is a book called the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It was a big turning point in my life and in my relationship. My girlfriend and I read it together. Understanding what makes you feel loved will cure that loneliness and the answer is not alcohol. It’s something else, and it will be different for everyone. Alcohol will never be the answer to the gap you are trying to fill.”
People do believe that alcohol gives them so many benefits but it’s illusory, because over the long term its affects are terrible.
“That’s a big problem with a lot of people. They know the right answer, they know what to do, and yet they choose to do something wrong. It’s about standing for what you believe in, and doing what you believe is right, and not doing something you know is wrong because you have done it all your life. Taking action is a huge part of stopping drinking.
“It depends if you want to do better for yourself or not? If you are happy with what you have, or do, then fine. Understanding you have a choice, and that you can make decisions for the better is a thing that not a lot of people understand.”
Where did the decision to quit arise?
“In the beginning of the year, I made a friendly bet to not drink. We did it for a while but I didn’t want it to be for a bet. So I dropped the bet. I didn’t want to do it for that reason. I wanted to set an example and I feel a lot of people look up to me in the poker community so it was important.
“I can be fun, happy and be myself without drinking. People are afraid that if they have always drank in a social situation then they won’t be comfortable when they don’t. I don’t have that problem. So I just quit and I haven’t had a problem with it to be honest. Once you know that something isn’t good, and you don’t want to do it, and you have looked at it from every different angle, then why are you doing it?”
The poker world is a catered for the young: drugs, women, and alcohol—all the vices. How does Anderson deal with the peer pressure?
“I have a lot of friends that have the same beliefs as me, so it’s not so hard for me. It’s the same with my girlfriend. I am not afraid to stand—alone. Most of my friends know who I am and that I stand strong. So if someone is going to do cocaine or something like that, then they know my name is not going to be on that list.
“I feel like I am a teacher and a leader. I think it’s the way I was raised. I have never asked people to help me. I have tried to do things myself, and I have learned a lot along the way. I have a strong opinion on things, I am not the life of the party, I hang around with people who like to joke and have fun because I am quieter, but I stand strong on my beliefs.”
What advice would you give to other who would like to quit drinking?
“Look at your life. Step back, maybe meditate and think about what you want; what your goals are and if you think alcohol is in your way then slowly take steps to remove it from your life. Take baby steps, drink occasionally, or try to reduce it every night, and ease into it slowly so your body can adapt to it.
“If you replace all the time spent in the bar, spent drinking, getting bad sleep, waking up not feeling good—and if you spent that time doing self betterment things, imagine who you could become? People think they are in too deep and can’t get out. You are never too deep to get out. You have the right to be happy and have a good life. You are worth it. Make different choices.”