Day 22: Monday
Once again the week gets off to a good start. I’m feeling really energised, so much so that I’ve taken to doing 20 minutes of yoga as soon as I get out of bed. Mostly it’s so there’s one less thing to do later in the day, but it seems to be getting the day off to a good start.
I asked Rich tonight how he’s finding it so far. He took a whole year off a few years back. We had been having some relationship difficulties at the time, due to a number of things, not least of which was the amount he was drinking.
When I met Rich, we bonded over our shared love of champagne, sashimi and big nights out. There were a lot of nightclubs, a lot of Verve Cliquot and a lot of trips to Japanese restaurants.
Unfortunately, my stamina was no match for my soon to be husband’s. Where I would collapse into bed in the early AMs, he could drink onto into the next evening. And become impossible to find. No amount of calling his phone would get him to answer it to let me know he wasn’t lying half dead (or completely dead) in a hospital somewhere.
This pattern carried on into our married life, into our new life in London, into our new parenthood, into our return to New Zealand. He would take days off work, forget birthdays and anniversaries. I would go to bed thinking he was in the lounge having one last glass before bed, only to hear a taxi pull up and the front door close at midnight when he decided to head out. It didn’t matter whether it was Saturday night or Tuesday night, he didn’t descriminate.
Finally I’d had enough. Our kids were getting older and it was getting harder to hide the days that he wouldn’t come home until dawn. He came home after a stag party at 9pm the night after the party itself. I didn’t let him in the front door. He slept in the garage.
The next day I told him he needed to leave, and suggested he get help. He moved out for a few days, and made the decision to stop drinking for 12 months.
His 12 months off were some of the hardest of our married life. He was angry with me, as he felt that I had made him stop. I was angry with him, and responded by going out more, drinking more, flaunting my drinking in front of him. I’m deeply ashamed of my behaviour and the lack of support I gave him during what was a really difficult time for him, and what I now recognise as being a period of alcohol withdrawal.
Although it nearly killed us, it also made us the incredibly strong unit we are today. It was the best thing Rich ever did, both for himself and his health, and for our relationship. And for our children.
That was an incredibly long-winded way to say he’s finding this break easy. He’s done it once, done it hard, and nothing can compare to that.
Day 23: Tuesday
I had a phone call this morning from a friend who’s a doctor. A GP to be precise, but she does many other things, gets involved in medical panels, is terribly, terribly clever. And a moderate drinker to boot.
We had a wonderful conversation about my sleep issues, and how they may directly or indirectly be linked to my wine cessation.
Apparently the same thing had happened to a friend of hers (who was also a GP, so knew when things weren’t quite right). She too had stopped drinking and stopped sleeping. The her periods stopped. She was roughly the same age as me (late 40’s if you must know), so she went off to have her hormones checked. It seems that menopause may have been triggered by removing alcohol from her diet. I say may have, because this is not a scientific study, rather an anecdote, albeit relayed to me by someone with a wealth of medical knowledge.
To elaborate, drinking alcohol causes estrogen levels to increase in women. High estrogen equals quality sleep. Reduced estrogen equals nights staring at the ceiling, fretting about the inanities of life. When you stop drinking, there’s a fair to middling chance that your estrogen levels could decline, leading to a decline in sleep.
Marvellous. So far, my periods haven’t changed, but we are less than halfway through. Less than quarter through if you mark post-Sydney as my actual start date.
The other bit of wonderful news is that since alcohol increases estrogen, and high estrogen is linked with a number of cancers, particularly breast cancer, it seems that drinking too much also increases the risk of cancer for women. Methinks I need to look into this quite a bit more, and potentially get my hormone levels checked. Will come back on this when I know a bit more.
Day 24: Wednesday
Another day, another amazingly clever and insightful friend, who I spoke with at length over a bowl of beef pho and some prawn rice paper rolls. She’s my friend that I never quite get enough time with. We’ve agreed that in future we need an agenda to get through all the things we need to talk about.
My friend has a unique approach to life. For her, social interactions (and everything else) are subject to a value assessment. She weighs up whether it’s worth staying on at the office after work to drink luke warm chardonnay with your work colleagues, only to have to get an Uber home, then another Uber back in the morning to pick up your car.
Her view – it’s not.
You’re hanging out with people that you like well enough (or sometimes not), you drink more than you should, and the wine is bad, and on top of that, you’ve spent a fortune on Ubers only to find yourself back at work on a Saturday morning because you had to get your car.
You could have gone home, made yourself a beautiful meal, opened a decent bottle of wine and had a glass or two, which you’d enjoy. Next day, you have your car, you don’t have a hangover, and you still had a lovely night. Better value.
I think I need to add value to my assessment of what my future drinking pattern looks like. Maybe fewer bottles, better quality? Getting better at saying no to potentially average nights out?
Enjoying the flavour of a glass of wine, rather than drinking because of the alcoholic effects.
Day 26: Friday
So far, I haven’t craved a drink on the whole. Every so often though, it sneaks up and catches me unawares.
I was surprised, Friday evening, when I caught the ferry out to Waiheke. I found myself looking forward to getting on the ferry, and feeling relaxed, because that’s how I always feel when I’ve been rushing to get there, and then I’m there, and then I can stop.
Except I was looking forward to the glass of wine that facilitates said relaxation.
It was very strange getting on the ferry and not going to order a drink. It’s become such a part of the whole experience, the ritual of going away for the weekend.
I bought a can of Diet Coke instead (which I NEVER drink) because it made me feel like I was having something unusual, and punctuated the trip with a drink. I also had some almonds, but I’m not sure they’re as important.
Day 27-28: Saturday – Sunday
We cleared a big hurdle this week. We had guests out to stay at Waiheke without alcohol. It made for a quiet weekend, but it was pleasant and relaxed. It was also nice for us all to wake up Sunday morning hangover free, particularly with four kids running around.
I hasten to mention that although none of us were drinking, that decision was made by our guests. We did not force it upon them!
It was interesting to consider just how few friends we could invite away without drinking. Many just wouldn’t want to spend that much time with us in what is effectively a dry zone, which is understandable. God knows I’ve been guilty of avoiding dry friends in the past!
What I’ve learned this week: Mindfulness
The incident on the ferry mad me realise how much of this journey is about my mental attitudes to alcohol, not just my body’s reaction to it. About how big a role it plays in my life, how often it features in the memories I hold dear, the holidays, the dinners with friends, the stressful times, the enjoyable times. How emotional it is for me.
There is no other item of food that I’ve imbued with as much emotion as alcohol. I don’t fret at the thought of never being able to eat pasta again (although that would be sad). I don’t feel that a catch up with friends just wouldn’t be the same without cheese. I don’t consider soup to be an essential part of every ski trip.
But I have done that with alcohol. And on many other occasions too numerous to mention.
It’s becoming apparent to me that mindfulness has an incredibly important role to play in my future relationship with alcohol.
One of the main things I’ve learned about mindfulness is that it’s important not to judge the emotions you’re feeling, but rather to observe and accept them. I think the same is true with drinking.
I think it’s important to be mindful of what you’re drinking, how much you’re drinking and why you’re drinking.
My goal is to be able to drink a glass of wine because I like the taste of wine, rather than because I’ve attached an emotional response to it. Not to use it to facilitate relaxation, social interactions, sleep, or any of the other myriad of reasons I’ve used in the past, the last being “because it tastes nice”.
A quick google search reveals a world of resources to help those interested in mindful drinking. An article called The Art of Mindful Drinking says:
“It’s all about awareness and experiencing what you are doing,” agrees Marc David, MA, a nutritional psychologist and founder-director of the Boulder, Colo.–based Institute for the Psychology of Eating. “Enjoying powerful substances like caffeine, sugar and alcohol doesn’t have to be bad, as long as you are aware if it hurts or hinders you.”
In New York, you can take Mindful Drinking classes (not so much), while in London, a story by Metro reports that drinking rates are declining amongst younger people, a trend which is influenced by mindfulness:
“In pubs dotted around London, young people are practising something called ‘mindful drinking’. The idea behind it being to change one’s attitude and emotions about alcohol, perhaps by stopping drinking altogether on a night out, or just cutting down. But either way, learning to drink what you want to drink instead of what you perceive to be socially acceptable.”