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.
  • Β 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.

 

 

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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.

10 weeks alcohol free: am I mad?

A few weeks ago Richard and I decided it was time to have some time off the booze. I have basically never taken more than a week off in my adult life, aside from when I was pregnant and I’m not sure that really counts. Well, it does, being important for a healthy baby and all, but you know what I’m saying.

Our reasons are simple:

  1. My liver needs a break. I had a poor liver reading at the doctor a year or so ago, and I really haven’t done anything about it. Now she wants to see me again, and I’m terrified of what she’s going to find!
  2. We’ve both gained weight. It’s crept up over time, and admittedly, I could exercise some more and eat a bit less, but it’s pretty clear that wine is a big contributor
  3. Our daily consumption is creeping up. We can manage one AFD a week, but not many more. We’ve tried to not drink during the week, but usually fall over about Wednesday. So we need to reset.

Essentially, we need a new normal. I have no ethical objections to a glass of wine a night, but for us it’s always more than a glass. I’d like to be the person who can go out for dinner and stop after a glass or even two.

The exception is that I’m heading to Sydney in a couple of weeks to catch up with some girlfriends. I have already explained to my lovely husband that there is NO WAY I’m not going to drink while I’m there. I have my limits!

So there we have it. Ten weeks stretching in front of me. I’m worried I may be insane, so I’m going to write about it (as I do), then you can decide if it’s a good way to go. I’ll be interested to see whether I actually lose any weight, sleep better, feel better, have better liver function. I’ll let you know.