A break from my significant other: 10 weeks alcohol free. The aftermath.

As I write this, it’s been three weeks since I started drinking again. I had stopped drinking for 12 weeks in the end, of course (and as I have mentioned obsessively over the past few months) excluding my few days in Sydney two weeks into my journey.

It’s been a mixed bag going back on the wagon. I have to say I’ve been surprised by how quickly things have gone back to normal, but equally surprised by the things that haven’t.

I started drinking again when we went on holiday to the South Island, on a week’s ski vacation. It seemed the perfect time to start again, a kind of celebration of the achievement and a time for relaxation and a bit of a spoiling. The irony that I was going to celebrate 12 weeks of abstinence by recommencing alcohol consumption was not lost on me.

The first glass was poured with some trepidation at the Koru Lounge at Auckland Airport. A glass of frankly average sparkling white wine that I found far too acidic for my stomach. I drank less that half of it, and abandoned it. Once on the plane I ordered a glass of red wine, which suited my delicate constitution far better.

Although I didn’t manage an alcohol free day during the 10 days we were skiing, I also was more balanced in my consumption. Most days I drank only a couple of small glasses of red wine, adding a third if a mulled option was available (figuring the heat would reduce the alcohol content). To be honest, my stomach just couldn’t handle any more than that. On the nights where I didn’t eat enough, I really paid at about 2am, waking feeling nauseous, headachey and anxious.

All the old demons returning to haunt me.

I’d love to say that I’ve been completely well behaved over the past three weeks, but a friend’s 40th, then another’s funeral have given me a couple of occasions for over indulging. Although not in the way I would have in the past. In both instances I was very aware of how I was feeling, I made sure I drank water, and took myself home far earlier than I would have in days gone by. I never lost control, but was uncomfortable with being as intoxicated as I was, even though it was moderately mild.

So here’s where I’m at now:

  • I’m trying to follow Ministry of Health Guidelines – that is to say, two alcohol free days a week, three units of wine (300mls) per day, and a maximum of six units of wine (600mls) on a big night out. I’m measuring my pours and they’re about 150ml per glass. I try to stay under this amount earlier in the week, so that I can relax a bit more in the weekends.
  • I’m sticking to my poison – I can really only drink red wine. I’ve tried to drink white again, but the acid is just too much. Red wine is better for my constitution, plus I figure there’s a positive antioxidant argument to be made.
  • Recognising when I’ve had enough – this is a big one. I want to be mindful, but at the same time I want to be able to relax and enjoy myself on occasion. I like feeling relaxed, but not drunk. Two to three glasses of wine is generally enough for me, and I really need to be aware of how much I’ve had before I’ve had too much.
  • The guilt is real – My sister had a dream that I wrote a blog about feeling guilty for drinking. And I do, often. The main reason why I need to keep myself under control is that I feel crushingly guilty if I don’t. It’s just not worth it. The solution is to moderate the amount I drink, be mindful, and avoid the guilt.
  • Everything in moderation – I’ve written about this many times. The importance of taking a moderate approach to life. Including moderation. On this basis, I need to try to keep my negative emotions in check. To try to avoid beating myself up repeatedly, and instead learn from my mistakes and put them behind me. Having a glass of wine or two of a night is a moderate approach to drinking. As is ensuring I have a couple of AFD’s per week. Having a bottle or two a night is not, neither is drinking every day.


At this stage I haven’t yet had my liver tested (it’s on my to do list), but my weight is still down from where I started. I’ll give you an update on the final numbers soon.


A break from my significant other: 10 weeks alcohol free. Week 10 and 11

Day 64: Monday

This was supposed to be the beginning of my last week. Except I still have three weeks to go.

So. Very. Bored

Day 65: Tuesday

You’d think that by this point in The Great Non-Drinking Project of 2017, I’d have my head around actually not drinking for an extended period of time. But I don’t.

When I think about doing this again I feel really anxious. Although it hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, I have little desire to repeat it. Which makes little sense, and demonstrates how long it takes to well and truly break a habit.

Day 68: Friday

Rich started drinking again today. He’d always said that his non-drinking stint would last for the term. He’s been joking that he would have his first drink as soon as the kids finished school – at 3.30pm.

And as expected, he was in a cab on his way to have drinks with his friends at 3.40pm. I imagine first beer in hand by 4pm.

Things have just become more challenging.

Day 71: Monday

I made it through the weekend with my husband back on the wagon. He was pretty good all things said, certainly better than I’d expected. And credit to me, it wasn’t as challenging as I imagined it would be. So I built the drama in my head for nothing.

The thing that’s making the most difficult is that I miss drinking. It’s cold and wet and wintery and I would love a glass of red wine.

The irony is that now the finish line is in sight, I’m ready to chuck in the towel. I won’t, but I really want to.

Day 73: Wednesday

One thing I really haven’t touched on is my desire to be a good role model for my children.

Concerningly, my daughter especially is very interested in drinking, the culture that surrounds it, and finds it funny that we drink. She’s 13 now, and very close to being in situations that expose her to alcohol. Unhealthy situations.

It’s important to me that we start to talk about drinking with care. I’ve been especially careful through the years with any discussion about weightloss. I know I can be weight obsessed at times, but really don’t want to pass that way of thinking onto my daughter. In the same way, I don’t want my daughter to have an overly casual relationship with alcohol. Or my son for that matter.

I’m hoping that by increasingly my own mindfulness, I create a more positive drinking culture for my children. That they understand that alcohol can be damaging to health, and that it’s ok to refuse to drink, or even just to set boundaries.

Day 74: Thursday

Today I started reading about a local organisation called No Beers Who Cares.

Their premise is to encourage people to sign up to taking a year off alcohol. Which makes my 3 month stint look extremely modest by comparison. Their blurb says:

“What would your life be like if you took a break from booze for a while? 

No Beers? Who Cares! is an organization all about shifting attitudes around how and why we drink, and showing people that you can have a freaking good time without alcohol.

It’s not about giving something up, but seeing how much you gain.

When you sign up for NBWC you commit to giving up drinking for a period of time, taking charge of your health and happiness. While doing so you  become part of an incredible conscious community.”

Essentially, you join for a fee of between $99 and $399 per year, which gives you access to their community, newsletters, and discounts on their social events. If you go the VIP route, you also get a t-shirt and meditation course as part of the deal.

I’m guessing that somewhere in there is a support aspect, making this kind of like Weight Watchers for people who want to stop drinking, but don’t consider themselves alcoholics (or maybe they do).

So far so good. People who want to give the booze a significant break now have an organisation to do it with that isn’t AA. A community of like-minded people, without really nasty addiction issues.

Which is where this falls over for me. Where is the help if you do have addiction issues? I’m seeing loads on the site about social evenings and meditation and yoga, but very little about actual help to get you through.

This feels like cross-fit, and the Paleo diet, and rawfoods, and cleansing, and all the myriad of fads that are supposed to make us better people. Not drinking is being tied to some kind of moral and physical superiority.

Why is it that every new health trend is about cutting something out completely? And by preaching denial, aren’t we setting ourselves up for failure? Isn’t there room for balance?

I appreciate that it’s rich for me to take this argument on when I’m the one who hasn’t been drinking for quite a number of weeks now. And I guess I needed the time out to tell me what I already know – that a little bit of what you fancy is good for you. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

What I’ve learned this week: Breaking a Habit

I discovered when I stopped drinking that it takes about 8 days for the physical withdrawal symptoms to go, give or take, depending on how much you were drinking. That gets rid of any headaches, mood swings, energy fluctuations, etc.

But that doesn’t count how long it takes to break the habit of drinking. At over 70 days into this project, I can’t honestly say I’ve yet to break the “habit”. I would hazard a guess that writing regularly about drinking is keeping the subject top of mind, and is ironically preventing me from really moving on.

There’s a commonly held belief that it takes 21 days to break a habit. However, a very small amount of online research very quickly debunks that myth. The theory is a minimum of 21 days, rather than an exact measure. It appears (according to a 2009 University of London study) that the average time it takes for new habits to form is about 66 days or two months, with the range running from 18 to 254 days. It’s not exact, but it is a lot longer than we expect it should be. And forming new habits is the opposite side of breaking old ones.

So, the most important part of breaking a habit is to find new behaviour to replace the old with. Merely stopping drinking, and leaving a behaviour void, is a road to failure.

Here’s what I’ve done:

  • I generally would have had a drink at about 6pm or when I start cooking dinner. I’ve replaced my alcoholic drink with kombucha or another drink that I wouldn’t drink at any other time.
  • I have my daily drink in a nice glass, so it feels special
  • When we go out for dinner, I order non-alcoholic cocktails instead of wine
  • When I feel stressed, I go out for a walk, generally later in the day.
  • Alcohol was often used as a way to boost my energy levels late in the day. I’ve started making sure I have a healthy snack at about 4pm to make sure I have enough energy to carry me through to dinner time.
  • Lunch with friends is also a bit of a danger point. I’ve started choosing either alcohol free lunch locations, or have been up front that I’m not drinking – it’s amazing how often your friends will choose not to drink at lunchtime to support you.




A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 5

Day 29: Monday

Blimey, it’s been almost a month since I stopped. Except for Sydney.

It seems to keep coming back to that – except for Sydney.

I feel like a bit of a fraud, because I’d only been off drinking for 10 days before I went, then had 4 days of wine. Not a great deal admittedly, but enough. And being where I am now, it feels like I actually drank quite a lot, comparatively.

I think I need to add two weeks to this process, so I can honestly say I stopped for ten weeks. It does make things a bit challenging at the end, when I have two weeks skiing, which generally includes wine, but I think I just have to suck it up. Otherwise, it will always be 10 weeks minus 4 days.

So there we have it. I won’t start drinking again until 31st July. Which is a Monday, so realistically, it’ll be later that week.

Day 30: Tuesday

I was thinking some more about how I’m dealing with time out versus how Rich is dealing with it. I wrote last week about our fraught history with alcohol, but I think I was really skimming over the top.

Rich is coping very well with not drinking and doesn’t seem to miss it very much at all. He’s up early, sleeping well, charging through work during the day, no headaches, no insomnia, none of the things that have plagued me.

Except it is affecting him. Although he doesn’t think it is. Stopping drinking has taken away his relaxation mechanic. He isn’t noticing it, but I am.

This is a familiar story – he’d come home from work, tired and stressed, open a beer and the stress and anxiety from the day would go. The beer would give him energy, so his mood would lift. I’m sure I was doing the same thing, but my days are no longer as stressful, so I no longer have the same need for release at the end of them.

Rich still does. And from what I can see, he hasn’t really found an alternative that works as well. He’s taken to playing a world domination style computer game that allows him to at least switch off, then watching TV for a few hours does more of the same. But he doesn’t have the same spark in the evenings, post beer drinking.

I am worried that it’s affecting his desire to socialise with other people. Rich is one of those rare people who bridge the divide between extrovert and introvert, while I fall firmly in the extrovert camp. He can go either way – he loves the company of friends, but can easily retreat into his own space for weeks on end, and not find that problematic. I, on the other hand, need to see people daily. While we have organised a few social events, he seems less inclined to see people.

I’m not sure that he’s really aware of it. Given that I’m keeping this diary, I’m becoming accustomed to micro-analysing every aspect of my personality and my responses to people, situations and stimuli. I’m my own petri-dish. But Rich is a man very much on the lower end of the EQ scale, and is therefore not prone to self examination. The opposite could be said of me, I guess.

Self obsessed much?

Day 31: Wednesday

So while we’re talking about the socialising thing, I had an enlightening conversation with a friend today. We discussed catching up one night, and she asked if I was still off the booze.

Me: Yes

Her: Well, we might need to catch up for a walk then

Me: ?????

Apparently I have friends who are not interested in seeing me at night unless there’s wine involved. WTAF? I’m not really sure what to think about that. I have no desire to stop other people from drinking, and I really don’t see how my abstinence should be impacting anyone else’s ability to have a good time. My intention is not to highlight anyone else’s self-perceived short comings.

If people want to drink, so be it. I’m not here to judge. I’m just doing this because I need to do this for me. Not anyone else.

Another friend (one who doesn’t mind that I’m not drinking), sent me a link to this great piece about “Bad Questions to Ask Someone Sober”. Anne T Donahue is an alcoholic, now four years sober (yay her!). I especially liked her response to the statement “I could never quite drinking”:

“..if I am making you uncomfortable by not ordering a beer or whatever, that really isn’t my fucking problem. It’s truly not. I don’t care. I think it’s weird that you need me to drink so that you can have fun, because I don’t remember ever asking anyone not to drink to help me have more fun. It’s not my job to make someone feel comfortable about their choices when their choices have nothing to do with me. And I’ll say that while 95% of everybody I know truly don’t care what I do or do not partake in, the 5% who’ve been bothered are people I have absolutely no desire to be around. It’s not my job to make them feel okay about who they are or what they’re doing. It’s up to them to figure out what their issues are.”

What she said.

Day 32: Thursday

I keep thinking that all the literature I’m reading doesn’t quite apply to me.

The majority of the commentary available online targets alcoholics, addicts, problem drinkers. I was never a problem drinker.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Every day that fable is being broken down. I’m starting to recognise that I do not have a normal relationship with alcohol. That the volume I was drinking was moderate to heavy at best.

That I may not have fallen into the category of “alcoholic” but I more than likely fall into “problem drinker”. There was nothing mindful about the way I’ve been drinking.

I’d justified my drinking by looking at everyone around me. Surely all my friends couldn’t have issues with alcohol. But I think that’s the thing. I’d normalised the amount I was drinking, and using my social circle to justify what I was doing to myself.

I don’t want to sounds like I’m judging my friends either. After all, they will continue to be my friends. I have no intention of abandoning the people I hold most dear because I’m choosing to rebalance my decisions.

On top of that, this realisation is making me understand how much of the literature does apply to me.

It’s a little frightening being this honest with myself. It makes me feel more than a little sick. Still. A least I’m moving forward and making change.

Day 33: Friday

I caught up with a former employer this week. Within minutes he was telling me a story about a big night out he’d had that culminated in his drinking shots on his own.

So. Gross.

Feeling quite wholesome now.

What I’ve learned this week: Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a lot less than you’d think. Or at least a lot less than I’d ever thought.

In New Zealand the Ministry of Health defines a binge drinking episode as being more than:

  • 4 standard drinks for women on any single occasion
  • 5 standard drinks for men on any single occasion.

Bearing in mind that a standard drink is 100ml of wine or 330ml of beer (at 4% alcohol. Most premium beers are 5%+). Five beers in an evening seems like a not insignificant amount, but given the average wine pour is 150ml, a binge night is less than three glasses of wine for women.

Which is a lot less than you’d think.

It’s also worth reading this piece taken from the synopsis of the BBC’s science show, Horizon. They followed identical twin doctors, using the UK NHS’s daily limit alcohol guidelines:

  • Men should not regularly (every day, or most days per week) drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day (in NZ 3 units, with two days alcohol free)
  • Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day (in NZ 2 units, with two days alcohol free)

One twin drank to the above guidelines – 3 standard drinks per day for a month. The other saved his weekly allowance to drink in one sitting. 21 standard drinks.

The assumption was that drinking moderately on a daily basis would be less harmful than saving it all up for the weekend. And to be fair, the immediate damage was significant:

“But when we looked at all the readings we’d taken, he’d clearly been in a dangerous state the night before. He was actually at his worst a few hours after we’d gone to sleep, when the level of alcohol in his blood was, according to the text books, enough to put him at danger of death.”

They also found that despite not drinking all week, the damage being done in the weekend was not being repaired during the 6 days off.

However, more surprisingly, at the end of the month, tests found that both twins had similar levels of damage done to their bodies. And the results have lead to the NHS reviewing their guidelines:

  • Both twins had significant inflammation to their livers to almost the same extent (around 25%).
  •  Blood tests showed they both had increased systemic inflammation which is commonly elevated in patients that are extremely unwell
  • Both of their bodies were reacting to the increased alcohol levels as if they were fighting injury or infection
  • Endotoxin levels were higher in Xand (the weekly binge drinker) At binge drinking levels acetaldehyde damages the gut lining which leads to bacteria leaking into the blood and being circulated around the body. This is cause for concern as it has the potential to permanently alter your body’s immune response. The prolonged presence of endotoxins in your bloodstream can also eventually lead to alcohol hepatitis (liver inflammation).
  • While bingeing is significantly worse, moderate drinking of 21 units a week was not safe either as the twins’ liver tests showed inflammation levels similar to those seen in cirrhosis patients. 

(Source: NZ Herald)

A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 4

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.”




A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 3

Day 15: Monday

Another week goes past. I’m starting to feel like things are getting on track. I’m still feeling tired, but I’m putting that down to a weekend in Sydney and a few late nights. The good news is my moods have stabilised, and, aside from the allergic reaction, I don’t seem to be experiencing any negative effects from drinking wine over the weekend.

On the rash, I am freaking out a little (ok, a lot) because while I was researching the impact of alcohol on moods for last weeks post, I came across an article explaining how some heavy drinkers experience extreme itchiness when they stop drinking. Mental Health Daily says:

“Some people have reported that they experience intensely itchy skin during withdrawal. The itch can feel almost like a rash in regards to severity and/or like bugs crawling all over the skin. The cause of this isn’t fully understood but one theory suggests that it’s the result of the central nervous system reactivating itself via nerve endings after being numbed by the alcohol for an extended period.”

Oh. God.

Day 16: Tuesday

I keep thinking that I’m not that heavy a drinker. My week pre-abstinence went something like:

Monday: AFD (alcohol free day)
Tuesday: Could go either way, but generally AFD
Wednesday: 1 glass of wine (about 150ml)
Thursday: 2 glasses
Friday: 3 glasses
Saturday: More than 3. Depending on whether we’ve gone out for dinner.
Sunday: Still the weekend right? So 3 glasses

So all up, if I’m being kind to myself, around about 14 glasses of wine a week. Except a standard glass is 100ml (according to alcohol.org.nz). So on that basis, I was drinking 21 standard drinks a week. Terrifyingly, the Ministry of Health guidelines say:

“2 standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks a week….and at least 2 alcohol-free days every week.”

I’ve been miles off! I guess at least I was getting the two AFDs (mostly) per week. No wonder my doctor keeps freaking out. Crikey, it’s not much though, is it? On the basis of two days off per week, that’s an average of just over a glass of wine per day at my pouring rate.

Day 17: Wednesday

It turns out I’m likely not allergic to wine, but to Dove Body Wash, which I was using at my friends out. Quick google search and voila! Dozens of entries complaining about having the same problem. Will need to reassess when this project is complete, but I’m breathing a sigh of relief.

Day 19: Friday

I caught up with an old friend today. I’d met her through work, back in the day, and she has had her own battles with the booze. Her self proclaimed issue is an inability to stop once she’s started.

We talked quite a bit about what I’m doing, and she shared her own experiences. She’s stopped drinking for a few 6 month stretches to get herself back on track and has now realised a few life lessons, which I want to talk about more as this diary progresses.

A big one was about recent research talking about learning moderation over abstinence. I’ve talked about this concept in my blog before, so this is something for me to mull over in the coming months. The general thought is that we are social beings and that life is not black and white. We live in the grey. All or nothing is not necessarily an answer – sometimes a drink is a nice thing to do, and that’s fine. It’s knowing where the balance is that’s the tricky part. I’ve asked her to send me the research and I will definitely be sharing it. I think this is an important concept, and it needs a great deal of thought.

The second area we discussed was knowing your poison. My friend was a wine drinker, but was finding the alcohol content too much. So she’s switched to vodka with mixers. Nice glass, same volume, less booze. She’s finding she’s better for it. Instead of drinking three 150ml glasses of wine and being really not very sober, she can drink three vodka/sodas of the same size and feel pretty good. And most importantly, clear headed in the morning.

Day 20: Saturday

To date this week, my need for a drink really hasn’t surfaced. I’m quite pleased with how little I’ve really needed it, bearing in mind it’s been less that a week since I was in Sydney.

I have to say though, I’m not really ready to spend much time in any environments where there is significant amounts of booze. And I can’t go near anything masquerading as alcohol without alcohol.

I was in at the supermarket and a man was sampling Italian zero alcohol beer. I gave it a go, because, you know, why not?


So that was a bad idea. As soon as I tasted the beer, which really tasted like beer, I wanted an actual beer. Not one with zero alcohol.

I’m staying the hell away from that stuff.

What I learned this week: Sleep

Sleeping has been an interesting journey for me so far. Before I stopped drinking, I used to sleep much better when I had an alcohol free day, than I did after a couple of wines. When I stopped altogether my sleep packed up. Now I’m finding that although my energy levels have come right during the day, my sleep patterns are sporadic to say the least.

Many alcohol help sites talk about issues with insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns during the first month or more of abstinence. Hearteningly, they all say that eventually the body’s natural circadian rhythms will reestablish themselves, once the body is completely free of the influence of alcohol.

The website verywell.com says:

“People in alcohol recovery take a long time to fall asleep, have problems sleeping through the night, and feel that their sleep is not restorative. Lab studies show reductions in deep sleep and abnormalities in REM sleep in persons with more than a year of sobriety.

‘Sleep has a reputation among the recovering community of being one of the last things that fall back into place for an individual,’ said David Hodgins, professor of psychology at the University of Calgary.”

The reasons behind sleeplessness are outlined by alcoholrehabguide.com:

“Alcohol suppresses certain neurotransmitters in your brain which cause you to feel at ease after drinking. When you quit drinking, the neurotransmitters are no longer inhibited by alcohol. This results in hyperexcitability – the reason why withdrawal symptoms affect you differently from alcohol consumption.”


A break from my significant other – 10 Weeks Alcohol Free: Week 2

Day 8: Monday

Wahoo! I got through the first week without caving. Trust me, I had my moments.

Energy levels still down quite a bit, but I think a result of a lousy night’s sleep. Both of which lead of general grumpiness and short fuse with my children. Not really ideal. The worst bit is that out of body feeling where you can see what you’re doing, but you do it anyway.

Catching up with friends today got me back on track. Felt much more rejuvenated. Funny how much other people help.

Day 9: Tuesday

So good to have slept well last night. My energy levels came right in the evening, and I slept until the alarm went off at 6am. Feeling really good this morning, no headaches, energy and motivation levels high.

I’m not sure I can call it a trend yet, but I think I might be through the worst. So it’s taken me 8 days to get the residual alcohol out of my system. A good learning for the future.

I went for a long walk with a friend today who gave me some sage advice. She said (and I quote) “…it’s about finding what YOUR healthy relationship with alcohol is. Everyone’s healthy is different.” What she means is that for some people, not drinking at all during the week and then relaxing in the weekends works best. For others, drinking a glass every day with no real exceptions (that is, no going out and drinking a bottle on Saturday) is a better alternative.

I’m not sure what my long term plan looks like yet. Hopefully I’ll have it worked out in 9 weeks time (not that I’m counting…).

Day 10: Wednesday

Today was concerning.

This morning I had my annual check up with my doctor. Last week, in preparation for this appointment, I’d had blood tests to assess my liver health. The results were not good. Generally ALT levels are supposed to be under 56. Mine was 157 today. This time last year it was mid-90’s so it’s gone up, quite a bit.

The doctor was pretty happy when I told her that I’d stopped drinking for an extended spell. She’s made a note for another test in 3 months time. Depending on how that goes depends on whether I need to have an ultrasound to check for excess fat around my liver.

I asked her about why she thought this may have happened. She said it was almost certainly due to my holiday week away with friends, after drinking quite a bit every day. However, the best analogy we could find was comparing it to picking the top off a scab – if you keep picking at it it’ll never heal. Likewise, if you never have a break from drinking, you never give your liver a chance to heal.

Day 11-14: Sydney

As I mentioned in my introductory post, my one exception to 10 weeks alcohol free is my trip to Sydney. A chance to catch up with some old friends, which always requires wine.

So, long story short, I did drink this weekend. Not in an excessive shots-at-3am kind of way, more a glass of wine with lunch, then more than a few at dinner. Probably averaged about 5 a day over the 4 days. Quite a bit when you put it in writing.

The unexpected happened. I came out in a rash all over my body. On my arms, chest, stomach. As it went it moved up to my ears and along my chin line. Thank God it never made it to my face! It was itchy as hell, and impossible to get under control. I went to the chemist and got some hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines, which helped somewhat. Then I consulted Dr Google.

Fearing the worst, I started by checking whether a flu jab could elicit this kind of reaction. Apparently not. Then I googled whether wine could give you hives. And it can. It’s not uncommon. It’s generally more likely to be caused by red wine (which I was mostly drinking), but the specific cause is vague. It could be an allergy to the alcohol, the fruit (although I’m not allergic to grapes) or the sulphates.

It’s never happened to me before, although I have been known to get a flushed face from drinking wine, which is apparently a related symptom. I’m not happy.

What I learned this week: Mood swings

As you can see, I’ve experienced my fair share of mood swings over the past 2 weeks. Although, thankfully, I now seem to be past the worst.

Mental Health Daily says that alcohol increases the neurotransmitter GABA (linked to relaxation), decreases glutamate (an excitory neurotransmitter. When we don’t have it we relax even more!) and can increase dopamine (which is a feel good hormone). So when we stop drinking regularly, we can struggle to relax and we don’t get those happy, buzzy feelings we’re used to getting after a glass of wine at the end of a tough day.

The mood swings we may get are (Source: Mental Health Daily):

  • Mood swings: Most people can expect some sort of mood swings during their withdrawal. One minute you may feel deeply depressed and hopeless, the next you may be optimistic about the withdrawal process. Understand that changes in mood such as feelings of anger, sadness, apathy, anxiety, etc. will all gradually stabilize.
  • Agitation: Many people feel agitated during the first few weeks of withdrawal.  Do your best to manage this feeling by getting some light exercise and/or practicing relaxation exercises.
  • Anger: Anger is typically a result of our inability to relax and in part due to the fact that the brain is sensitive during withdrawal. Neurotransmitter levels have not recovered to baseline and this may make you more prone to anger outbursts.
  • Irritability: Withdrawal from alcohol can lead to irritability as a result of changes in GABA functioning. When you have adequate GABA, you are able to keep calm and don’t get bothered by minor things. Insufficient GABA can lead a person to feel irritable and unable to stay calm.

A break from my significant other – 10 Weeks Alcohol Free: Week 1

Day 1: Monday

A few weeks ago Richard and I decided it was time to have some time off the booze.

Anyway, day 1. So far so good. Although to be fair, I’m writing this at 1 in the afternoon, so it’s hardly been a challenge so far. It also helps that we’ve been away on holiday for the past week, and have basically had far more to drink that we should have, every single day. So I feel like the break.

I’ve started all enthusiastically, have done yoga this morning and been for a 5km walk. I’ve also signed up for Weight Watchers, in an attempt to lose some of the weight that’s accumulated. I figure that I might as well go the whole hog.

First challenge hit at about 10.30am, when I spoke to my mother about my father’s birthday dinner tomorrow night.

Me: “Mum, you know I’m not drinking, right?”

Mum: “Well, that’s your problem. It’s not really an issue for me.”

Me: “Good, just wanted you to know”

Five minutes later…

Mum: “You know, you could just have one glass of wine.”

Me: “Mum, it’s only day one! Can you please give me a chance?!”

8.30pm: Feeling very tired and a bit grumpy. All the energy I had has disappeared. Time for a cup of tea and bed.

Day 2: Tuesday

Didn’t sleep very well last night, which was a surprise. I’d thought that no wine would make for an amazing sleep, but I’m guessing that a week of hard out drinking with friends at the beach is having it’s impact now I’ve stopped.

Also woke this morning with a headache, and feeling a bit sluggish. Like having a hangover, but without the fun bit the night before. Stink.

Caught up with my friend Anna.

Anna: “Shall we have a drink?” (She means an alcoholic kind just so we’re clear)

Me: “Sorry, I can’t. I’m not drinking for 10 weeks. It’s day two”

Anna: “You could have just one glass”

Seriously? Twice in two days? At this rate, I’ll have been asked if I can have just one glass 70 times by the end!!

Family dinner was a revelation. Firstly, that I can have fun with my family while they’re drinking and I’m not. Secondly, that no one harassed me about drinking sparkling water all night. Thirdly, that I didn’t cave in to temptation.

It was interesting to note at least two times when I lost focus, and nearly poured myself a glass without thinking about it. Need to watch that.

Day 3: Wednesday

Slept brilliantly last night. Felt like I was getting a cold this morning, still a bit headachey and really tired after not getting to sleep until after 10.30.

Thought about a comment my daughter made: “Do you promise not to be grumpy when you don’t drink?”

Clearly this is a thing for me…

5.20pm: This sucks. I feel really tired and scratchy as all hell. Normally I would have a glass of wine and try to get my head back to getting food ready for my family’s dinner. Instead I’m going to have a cup of tea. It’s hardly the same thing.

Day 4: Thursday

Another average night’s sleep, followed by waking with a headache. WTF! Goes to show how long it takes for your body to readjust to life without wine.

On the plus side, my energy levels are pretty good throughout the day. I’m feeling really motivated and achieving a lot more that I usually manage to in a week.

But then, when I get to the end of the day, my energy levels are crashing unbelievably. Clearly my body has become accustomed to using alcohol to fuel me into the evening. Every night this week I’ve been in bed pre-9.30pm!

Day 5: Friday

I wanted a drink SO BADLY last night. It’s not even the weekend yet, but the thought of another 9 weeks stretching in front of me, is daunting to say the least. I held my ground (yay me!) and drank a bottle of kombucha instead. At least I had something in my hand.

This morning I feel like a pile of poo. I’m bone-crushingly tired today. Have a friend who wants to walk at lunchtime, and have to work this afternoon, and really don’t want to do anything except go back to bed. Can’t wait for alcohol to withdraw it’s presence from my body!

Had French colleague offer me a bottle of zero alcohol beer. He can’t for the life of him understand why I would give up for any period of time. But he can’t understand vegetables either, so there we go. I don’t really see the point in replacing an alcoholic drink with one that looks the same, but is booze free. In the same way that I don’t understand vegan sausages. If you’re going to stop, just stop!

Day 6: Saturday

Slept so well last night, but still had a headache this morning. I’m worried that going to Sydney next weekend and drinking will take me right back to where I started. Maybe I can practice moderation instead. She says hopefully.

Day 7: Sunday

Once again I was just wrecked. So tired I had to have a sleep mid-afternoon. On the plus side, I managed to stay awake until 10pm, the latest night so far this week.

What I’ve learned this week: Energy

The hardest part about researching the effects of giving up alcohol is the definition of heavy drinking. Most websites are targeted at people who are alcoholics, rather that people like me who probably have imbibed more than they should have, but are still considered “normal”. However, I have been surprised by the impact abstinence has had on my energy levels this week.

According to Stop Drinking Alcohol:

“You need to remember that your body converts alcohol to sugar, and in turn, this sugar becomes energy. Since you’re no longer drinking your body no longer has access to the sugar rush from alcohol, and you will likely experience a dramatic drop off in energy until your body becomes acclimated to an alcohol free lifestyle.

Most people find that it can take 2 – 4 weeks before their energy BEGINS to returns to normal. Perhaps even longer if you’ve been drinking heavily for many years.

The quickest way to reclaim your natural energy is to ease yourself back into eating a healthy diet and getting some good, old fashion exercise. Get some sunshine, too, as Vitamin D has a great many health benefits.

Also, make sure you aren’t replacing alcohol with caffeine-laden or sugar-filled drinks that will only temporarily spike your energy levels, and then leave you more tired than before. Instead, get in the habit of drinking water with every meal.”