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.

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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 9

Day 57: Monday

I started my week by having coffee with my cousin, David. Dave is a doctor, which is useful when you need to find out stuff about your body. It’s also useful that he’s related to me, rather than me being his patient, so he can give me an honest, judgement free view of the world.

By “the world”, I mean what alcohol does to your body. And by “your body”, I mean mine.

We started off by talking about my elevated liver readings. This set the tone for the remainder of our conversation. Essentially, the elevated readings I’ve been getting are a sign of a fatty liver. But alcohol is only one cause of a fatty liver, not necessarily THE cause.

The reason you stop drinking for a while when you have such problematic blood results is that this helps to eliminate alcohol from the consideration set. You can then establish whether alcohol, excess weight, or any of a multitude of other factors is causing the damage.

Oh, and he made me feel much better about my 150 GGT reading. Apparently people with cirrhosis or hepatitis have readings in the thousands. So mine is positively moderate by comparison! But still not normal.

He also debunked another preconception I had about the relationship between alcohol tolerance and gender. I had always thought (and been led to believe) that men have a greater tolerance to alcohol than women because they are generally larger units. Not so.

When we drink, our liver produces an enzyme to break down the toxins we’ve ingested. How much enzyme is produced depends on how often and how much we drink. Therefore, size doesn’t come into it. It’s all about how your liver performs.

Essentially at the heart of all of this is that everyone’s different. Alcohol affects every one differently, and the longer term impacts are different for everyone. Which is not to say we should be complacent, but that a one size fits all approach doesn’t necessarily work.

When he’s talking to his patients about drinking guidelines he doesn’t discriminate by gender. He recommends:

  • No more than 3 standard drinks per day, with 2 alcohol free days per week for good health.
  • To prevent physical or psychological danger to yourself, no more than 6 standard drinks in one session

Probably the most telling was when I asked him how much he drinks. He doesn’t drink at all during the week, and when he does, it’s usually no more than 1-2 drinks.

He’s the third doctor I’ve spoken to who says much the same thing.

You have to wonder, if doctors aren’t drinking, doesn’t that tell us that it’s not especially good for us?

Day 58: Tuesday

Another day, another story on social media touting the benefits of drinking.

Recent bylines include:

“Drinking gin and tonics could help sooth hayfever symptoms, study finds”
(The Independent)

“BEST NEWS EVER: Drinking champagne keeps your mind sharp: Science”
(Huffington Post)

“This internship will pay you $12,000 to travel and drink beer”
(Esquire)

“Is alcohol good for you? An industry backed study seeks answers”
(New York Times)

And those are just the ones I managed to find again in 10 minutes while writing this post.

How on earth are you supposed to stay off the booze when every other story tells you that the stuff is good for you?!

Day 60: Thursday

Holy heck, 60 days. That’s a big milestone! If I were drinking that would be cause for a glass of champagne! Except I’m not, so I can’t. So I looked longingly at the bottle of champagne in the fridge, and opened a bottle of Kombucha instead.

*sigh*

Day 61: Friday

So this is weird.

I’ve started having dreams about going out and not drinking. Being at parties and not drinking. Being at bars and not drinking. Having people feeling sorry for me because I’m not drinking. Full scale anxiety dreams about not drinking.

I don’t feel anxious at all otherwise.

Usually my anxiety dreams stretch to walking into my old boss (complete bully) who I’ve mentally merged with Donald Trump, or your whole scale natural disaster scenarios. Generally tsunamis or tornadoes (something about things beginning with T?)

But drinking? Clearly my sub conscious knows something I don’t.

Day 62: Saturday

We had dinner with some friends tonight. Aside from the All Blacks losing their first game in I don’t even know how long, it was a really nice night.

And interesting, as these evenings so often are. We got talking about what I’m doing to congratulations all round (yay me!). Then the conversation turned to the drinking habits (or lack thereof) of others in the room….

Me: “it’s been nearly 10 weeks”

Friend 1: “I didn’t drink for 21 years”

Friend 2: “I haven’t had anything to drink for the last month, this is the first drink I’ve had”

Friend 3: “I took 6 months off last year”

Friend 4: “I’m taking 2 months off twice a year. Oh, and fasting 2 days a week”

As my 10 week effort withers like a joke without a punchline.

What I’ve learned this week: What does our liver do?

It’s probably worth going back to basics here. I know it’s taken nine posts, but I figure that the liver is a pretty important part of the overall alcohol equation. And I’ve never really taken the time to understand exactly what role it plays in my body.

So, I consulted the US National Library of Medicine. And these are the things you need to know (and that I needed to know):

  • The liver is one of the largest organs in our bodies, weighing around 1.4kg
  • It’s located in the right upper abdomen, under the diaphragm
  • It converts nutrients into substances our bodies need, stores said substances, then supplies it to cells when required.
  • It takes up toxic substances and neutralises them or expels them from the body. This enables it to remove alcohol from the blood stream.
  •  Along with vitamin K, it produces proteins that are important in blood clotting.
  • The liver is important in metabolic functions. It breaks down fat and converts it to energy.
  • It maintains the level of glucose in our blood stream, storing excess sugar as glycogen then releasing it as needed.

Seems like it might be kind of important.

 

 

A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 7

Day 43: Monday

After my minor breakdown last week, I decided it was time to take stock and think about the way I used to think about alcohol, the excuses I was making and the way I think now.

I wrote a post back in November that I called “The Wine Paradox“. In it, I bemoaned conflicting reports of the damage wine does, versus some evidence that says that moderate consumption may be beneficial.

Note use of the word “may”…

For the moment I’m going to leave aside the health benefits part, because from what I can see, the amount you should be drinking is really bugger all.

This is how the post opens:

“During the weekend I read a story in my local paper about how bad alcohol is for you. The author equated the carcinogenic impact of drinking with smoking cigarettes or asbestos. She said that “if we treated alcohol as we do other carcinogens, in terms of lowering our exposure to risk, we’d have no more than two drinks a year”.”

So far, so standard. Then I go on to say:

“The NZ Herald story basically said that the media were in denial about alcohol consumption and the issues it causes.”

I’m not one to bag the media, especially in our post-Trumpian times. But one of the ongoing frustrations I’ve had with my journey has been the judgement attached to any reporting of alcohol consumption. It’s incredibly difficult to find any information that doesn’t come pre-loaded with the opinion that alcohol is the devil. So I’m not sure the media are in denial about this at all.

The good news is that even in 7 months ago, I was thinking about the effect alcohol had on my past behaviour:

“Many of the most foolish things I’ve ever done have been a result of drinking too much.”

Then I throw all that out the window, and hurl myself into my cloud of complete and utter self delusion:

“…I know that I have my limits. Ideally, I try to have 2-3 alcohol free days per week (I try, I don’t always succeed).”

I almost NEVER succeed.

“I then aim to only drink 1-2 glasses of wine per night, outside of social occasions.”

You complete and utter liar! That is certainly the aim, but rarely is that the reality. God, woman, you’re a fantasist!

“Even at social occasions now I draw the line at about 4 glasses, generally consumed over many hours with food.”

Oh. My. God. There’s nothing truthful about this statement. A bottle of wine is 5 glasses. I know that I would rarely leave a dinner without the bottle being finished. And after the third glass, I stopped keeping track! So how the hell would I know whether I’ve had 4 glasses or 14?

Actually, if I’d had 14 I’d be pretty ill, so that seems unlikely.

And then I get sensible for once in this post:

Although I like a drink, I like to be in control of my behaviour and what comes out of my mouth. I also value my weekends, so don’t want to spend days in bed with a hangover. Being on the far side of 40 means I don’t bounce back the way I used to, so I need to be careful.”

Good Lord. How things have changed.

Day 44: Tuesday

I was thinking back to the weekend and how good it was to have dinner with other adults without wine.

I’ve realised that my abstinence doesn’t need to be limiting to other people or myself. That socialising with others can still be enjoyable without wine, and that I can be around other people who are drinking without that being problematic for me.

I’d always thought the wine gave me energy when I went out with other people, I now understand the people are the ones who energise me. The wine is just a pleasant side effect (or unpleasant, depending on who you’re with).

Day 45: Wednesday

Once again, I’m thinking about what my life might look like when this experiment is over.

You probably think I do this a lot.

You’d be right.

Actually, it hasn’t been too bad. Most of the time I don’t think about it at all. Only really when people ask me about it, or if I’m really tired, or in the weekends. Or if I’m writing this.

Weekdays I pretty much don’t think about it, during the day or at night. Aside from planning the blog posts. I guess I’m far enough into it now that it’s becoming second nature.

But back to the future planning. My friend Margaret sent me this piece of inspirational brilliance:

“I’m all about letting the low grade nonsense fall away to allow yourself to enjoy more of the good stuff, and about balancing all your money, time, and experiences for the net happiest life. So it may be that your best choice today is to drink 2 bottles of horrendous quality wine with friends and wake up with a terrible headache because the experience will be priceless… Or it may be the better choice to flag it because you don’t like them *that* much, and spend the evening at home with a movie, a glass of whisky and some great dark chocolate.  Or spend the evening with the kids introducing them to the best movies of the 1980s because they need to know this stuff, and a bowl of popcorn. Conscious choices not mindless habits…!”

The key outtake (spot the ex-ad girl) is well considered quality over quantity. Quality food, wine, matched with quality experiences.

In the interests of not re-destroying my already compromised liver, I’m not going to take her advice on the “2 bottles of horrendous wine”, and instead take the less is more approach.

So, rather that buying three $20 bottles of wine a week, I’ll aim for one $50-60 bottle. Something amazing that I’d want to linger over. Something that I’m ok with just having a glass of. A bit like choosing one square of super dark, rich, hand crafted chocolate, over a family sized block of palm oil infused milk chocolate rubbish from the supermarket.

My husband’s says I’m just trying to hang onto the budget. He may be right.

Day 47: Friday

So once again we hit Friday and the wall. Tired, grumpy, needing wine.

Day 48: Saturday

It’s Richie’s birthday so we went out for dinner with the kids. No wine, of course, just virgin cocktails, juices and water all around.

Halfway through dinner I confessed that I’m getting bored with not drinking. I can honestly say that if I wasn’t writing about it, I would have chucked it in by now. Guess I knew I needed something to keep me honest. Damn it.

Rich said he felt the same way. He’s only got three weeks to go, while I’ve given myself another two. What was I thinking?! That decision is really feeling like salt in the wound.

Having said that Rich doesn’t get a release from the pressures of his work day, I can now see the same thing is happening to me. Although it’s not really a release valve that I need it’s a treat. Wine was always my reward for a good day’s work.

So where do I get that now? Kombucha and sparkling water, while both acting as perfectly decent placebos on most days, just aren’t up to the job on the days where I really need it.

Because there’s nothing like a cold beer after a hard day’s work in the garden. Or toasting achievement with a glass of champagne. Or just sitting quietly with a beautiful glass of red and a book in your most comfortable chair. It feels like a treat.

I really miss it. I feel like I’m missing out. I feel like my work is not being rewarded any more.

Day 49: Sunday

I call this week birthday week. My husband and my son’s birthdays are three days apart. Then mine and my daughter’s are two days apart. But that’s another story.

Normally I’d have the extended family from both sides for dinner, drink loads of wine, cook and basically exhaust myself. Be left facing loads of dirty dishes, feeling like I hadn’t had a chance to speak to anyone and more than a little intoxicated.

Today we had everyone over for brunch. I made sweet and savoury brioche, and loads of coffee. I spoke to everyone, didn’t feel overly stressed and hardly had any dishes to do afterwards.

And I didn’t get drunk. Or have a hangover the next day.

The only sad part was realising I don’t see my sister much any more. Her husband said the same thing, to which she pointed out “well, they’re not drinking at the moment”.

Although I could be grumpy with her and say that doesn’t make a difference, it really does. That’s a big part of the reason for brunch instead of dinner. We could have gone out for dinner and avoided any real effort at all. But we didn’t want to because we’re not drinking.

I’ve been meaning to organise a catch up with my friends for weeks. But I haven’t because I’m not drinking.

We’re not really arranging to do anything at night because we’re not drinking. Seeing people during the day is fine, but although we are quite capable of seeing people without wine, we don’t really want to. Seeing people with wine is just far more fun.

What I’ve learned this week: Socialising

I recently read a story by   discussing the challenges faced by non-drinking Muslims in the UK, in trying to build relationships and integrate into what is a drinking culture. She talks of Muslims struggling to gain promotions, being held back in their careers and their personal lives because they do not drink:

“When socialising is done over a glass of wine, those who don’t drink may miss out on nurturing friendships.”

Socialising without alcohol is probably the most daunting part of giving up/having a break from drinking. I have friends who are drifting away because I am merely having some time out! I can see that if this change were permanent, there may need to be an acceptance that some people may no longer be part of my social circle at all.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it takes time before you’re ready to spend time with people who are drinking when you can’t. Eventually though, you become accustomed enough to going without that you can still be a scintillating conversationalist without needing an alcoholic pick me up.

The Robert Street Clinic has a fantastic list of 13 ways to socialise without alcohol. My favourite is:

“Break the inhibition cycle: It’s important to remember that you don’t need alcohol to go out and meet new people – and once you’ve got used to being the life and soul of a party without having a few drinks, it’ll become second nature.”

These are my tips:

 

  • Find different times of the day to socialise. Go for a walk with friends or catch up for lunch, brunch or coffee. Times when alcohol does not feature in the equation.
  • BYO. Decide what you’d like to drink instead, and take it with you. I always take a bottle of kombucha and some fizzy water. This avoids tap water bring the only non-alcoholic thing on offer
  • Choose venues with great cocktails. Chances are, if they’re known for their alcoholic cocktails, their non-alcoholic cocktails will be pretty banging also.
  • Fool a few people. My friend Mel, when she was in the early stages of pregnancy (not being able to drink, but not ready to tell people she was pregnant), always had what she called “pretendy drinks”. Looked like wine, served in a wine glass, actually apple juice. Zero alcohol beer would work the same way. Having a glass takes the pressure off having to discuss your drinking status with others, but keeps you on track.
  • Know when it’s time to leave. Invariably, in a party situation, once the booze flow becomes a torrent, you’ll suddenly start experiencing deja vue. “Didn’t I just have this exact conversation a few minutes ago?” Because drunk people repeat themselves. Repeatedly. And think they’re really funny, when they’re just really drunk. And tell you how much they love you. It’s best to go home before this stage of the evening. Trust me, they’ll be too drunk to notice you’ve gone.
  • Enjoy a hangover free morning. This is the best part of not drinking. Waking feeling rested and clear of head. Able to exercise without feeling like you might be sick. And realising how little you miss drinking.
  • Enjoying the clear memories of a fun night out. When you haven’t been drinking you’ll remember the conversations. You’ll remember who was there and who you talked to.
  • Treat yourself. Give yourself a reward for not drinking with all the money you’ve saved on booze and taxis. Then you’ll have a lovely physical reminder of why what you’re doing is important, rather than a hazy recollection of alcohol fueled craziness, tinged with the creeping suspicion you may have offended someone.

 

 

A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 6

Day 36: Monday

We’re at the end of a long weekend, and another spent at Waiheke. It has been a stunning couple of days. Very warm and sunny, especially for early June. Lots of walks had, the kids had a great time with their little cousins, all very relaxing.

Our times at Waiheke, as I may have mentioned previously, are invariably punctuated by drinking. A rose or bloody mary at lunch (or 2 or 3), then wine from 6pm. Richard’s parents have enough self discipline to set rules around when drinks start and finish, so it is rare that we start drinking at lunch time and carry on into the evening.

But it has been known to happen.

This time, of course, there was none of that. At least, none from our side. The rest of the family (excluding kids, we’re not complete animals) continued as usual, which to be honest was welcomed. And from what I could see, it didn’t affect our dynamic at all.

Everyone was accepting of what we are trying to do, and supported us in our endeavours. To be honest, I didn’t really miss it at all.

Day 37: Tuesday

So, this is supposed to be the halfway mark. Except it isn’t, as I explained last week. I was going to do a full check in, with photos, looking at weight, size, skin, liver count and so on, but it probably is more sensible to push that out until my new halfway mark, at the end of week 7.

For what it’s worth:

  • I’ve lost just under 2kg
  • The bags under my eyes are less pronounced (photos later
  • I’ll talk to the doctor about another liver test tomorrow

I’d like to tell you I’m saving a fortune, but after roughly a month, I’m not seeing a demonstrable difference, so I think I need to analyse the numbers a bit more closely. I don’t feel like I’m spending more on food, but who knows.

Day 38: Wednesday

Haha! After writing yesterday that my weight had dropped by just under two kilogrames, I woke this morning to find another 500g had disappeared JUST LIKE THAT!

Friends keep commenting about how much weight I must be losing, but I hadn’t really been seeing it so far. I mentioned early on that I’d rejoined Weight Watchers, so I am watching what I eat, and exercising daily, but not obsessively so. The main change has been removing alcohol from my diet.

I feel like my clothes are fitting me a bit better, but that could be wishful thinking. It’s probably time to take some more photos (I took some at the beginning of this, but haven’t posted yet) and see what’s really happening. Once again, I think I’ll wait until my new halfway mark.

Day 39: Thursday

Rich and I had another conversation about what our drinking habits might look like when we finally start again.

I’m a bit worried that I’ll do what I did post-pregnancy. I distinctly remember a phone conversation I had with my sister when I was about 38 weeks pregnant:

Me: ” You know, I think I could easily never drink again”

Bec: “Me too”

Fast forward 6 weeks or so….. actually, I was breast feeding then, so it wasn’t that bad, but it’s fair to say I certainly wasn’t abstaining for very long after giving birth. The volume kept heading upwards too, as the years have passed.

Rich doesn’t seem to be very worried about new habits at all, but I am. I feel like what is the point of having done this if I’m just going to slide back into old patterns?

Current thinking is:

  • Try to follow the Ministry of Health guidelines (no more than 10 drinks per week)
  • Don’t drink on school nights (Sunday to Thursday)

The not drinking school nights is because I’m really loving the amount of energy I have during the day. I’m charging through more, I feel more motivated, I don’t get to the end of the day and feel like I’ve been wasting time. It’s a pleasantly unexpected side effect.

Day 40: Friday

I am so bored with myself.

I came home tonight after a day sampling sausages for some good friends. I’d been on my feet all day, it hadn’t been as busy as I would have hoped, and I was tired. I just wanted to pour myself a glass of wine, put my feet up and relax in front of the TV for the evening.

But no. No drinking for me. No drinking for me for another 6 weeks!

Seriously, this really sucks. I feel like the fun has been sucked out of my life. We hardly ever go out at night any more, I never feel silly, or super relaxed. Or just drunk. Because being drunk is fun! Not being really drunk, but a little bit drunk is fun.

And this isn’t fun.

I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs, I eat healthily, I exercise regularly, surely I’m allowed one vice! I know that the wheels had fallen off lately, and the discipline has gone sideways, but for GOD’S SAKE, I can’t do this forever!

Sorry. I don’t mean to shout. I’m just annoyed.

Day 41: Saturday

I didn’t cave. I was very controlled and didn’t drink last night. It helps that there is no wine in the house, and hitting the liquor cabinet felt more than a little extreme.

I also felt considerably more rational about what I’m doing. I needed to remind myself that my doctor had an overt expression of relief on her face when I said I wasn’t going to drink for three months. Which means my liver is not as healthy as I have been deluding myself that it is.

We went out to a friend’s house for dinner tonight, which was great. It made me realise that I can be around people who are drinking without drinking myself, and still have a good time. My enjoyment of the company of others is not dependent on booze. Even better, my recollection of the night is sharp, and I won’t wake with a hangover in the morning.

Plus we could drive both ways, no Uber required.

I need to keep reminding myself of the little things.

What I’ve learned this week: Why we drink.

I was interested in why we, as humans, feel the need to drink. To be intoxicated. I know it feels good, but then it feels bad, so wouldn’t we just not? After all, alcohol is poison, we are highly evolved, mostly clever beings, wouldn’t we just stay away from it?

Is there something at an evolutionary level that makes us like alcohol, despite it’s inherent dangers?

Robert Dudley, who is a professor of biology at UC Berkley and author of the book Drunken Monkey, says our love of alcohol can be traced back to our evolutionary ancestors need to find food. More specifically, the need for monkeys to find fruit which is ripe. Ripe fruit gives off a distinctive alcohol smell, especially in tropical climates, which is a strong identifier for when fruit is ready to eat. Given the short window that fruit is ripe for before becoming rotten, it’s best to eat as much as you can before it gets eaten by others or before it runs out. Luckily, alcohol stimulates appetite, another evolutionary advantage.

To quote Dudley’s opinion piece in the Huffington Post:

“..the psychoactive effects of alcohol, as contained within sugar-rich fruit pulp, may have evolved to let hungry primates more efficiently find and consume scarce calories in the forest. This is part of our ancestral sensory and behavioral baggage that is retained into modern times. We even obtain health benefits from low-level alcohol consumption relative to either abstention or high levels of drinking.”

Anthropologically, alcohol has been part of human culture for millenia, playing an important role in communal life, socially, spiritually and emotionally.

Although it is very difficult to find non-judgemental information about how alcohol affects our brain and what part that plays in our liking for it, I eventually found out that alcohol stimulates cortex, hippocampus and nucleus accumbens, which are responsible for thinking and pleasure seeking.

According to howstuffworks.com,

“Alcohol affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters…Alcohol increases the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. GABA causes the sluggish movements and slurred speech…At the same time, alcohol inhibits the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Suppressing this stimulant results in a similar type of physiological slowdown. In addition to increasing the GABA and decreasing the glutamate in the brain, alcohol increases the amount of the chemical dopamine in the brain’s reward center, which creates the feeling of pleasure that occurs when someone takes a drink.”

So dopamine appears to be pretty key for making us want to drink. We drink, dopamine is released, we feel good. Until we feel bad in the morning.

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.

Mindfulness

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?

Why not? BECAUSE I REALLY WANTED A DRINK AFTERWARDS!!

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.”