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 Shelina Zahra Janmohamed 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.