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.

 

 

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A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 8

Wahoo! Halfway through.

5 weeks of not drinking AT ALL! Yay me. And yay Rich. Nice work us. Almost 7 weeks in total, excluding 4 days in Sydney after the first 10 days (actually 7 weeks for Rich, because he didn’t go). I’m paying for that by adding on an extra two weeks. Boo!

So where am I at?

Up front I set a few goals, and I figured, in the interests of keeping myself on track, it would be worth checking in and seeing how I’m getting on. To refresh my and your memories, the goals were:

  1. Giving my liver a break – this has been translated to “getting my liver back in shape” after a reasonably irregular reading.
  2. Lose some weight – my weight had been piling on as the alcohol volume was creeping up.

At the beginning that was about it. Since then, I would also add:

3. Have I saved any money?
4. How does my skin look?
5. How do I feel, compared to at day 1?
6. What have I learned so far?

This post is primarily a summary of where I was versus where I am now.

  1. GIVING MY LIVER A BREAK

My liver has been a bit of a challenge for a few years now. There are two measures identified as important in blood tests, which are used as indicators of a liver under duress.

  • GGT (Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase)
  • ALT ( Alanine Amino Transferase)

It is important to note here that the presence of these enzymes do not indicate that alcohol is the definitive cause of any issue, as there are a number of other possible causes (hepatitis, fatty liver from weight gain, etc).

Here are my results:

Normal 5-May 22-Jun
GGT <50 154 105
ALT <45 76 45

The great news is that my ALT levels are already down to normal levels. Meanwhile, my GGT levels are still twice as high as desirable. That said, if I had liver cirrhosis or hepatitis, this reading would be in the thousands. Not ideal, but not disastrous. It’s coming down.

2. LOSING SOME WEIGHT

Wow, talk about oversharing! I am the last person to publish my weight in a public forum, but I guess I’m a big girl now! Plus photos to make it all the more real (not nude, I have limits).

First the numbers:

1st May:     68kg
23rd June: 65kg
Total lost:   3kg

I haven’t taken any other measurements, but I can tell you that my jeans are fitting me better. I would also say that at 68kg I was the heaviest I have been in my life other than when I was pregnant, which is horrifying, especially on my 160cm height. So where I am now is a significant step forward.

I’ve set my goal weight at 60kg, but if I can get down to low 60’s I’d be a happy girl.

Now to the pictures (eek!). The left side is from May, the right is this week:

The jeans are the same. I think my face looks thinner. Certainly I’m smiling, which always looks nicer.

3. HAVE I SAVED ANY MONEY?

This is difficult to measure. The majority of alcohol purchased was from the supermarket, so is not split out on my credit card bill. So this is not perfect, but we can take a guess.

I have included restaurants and bars, taxis, food shopping and anywhere else we were likely to have been drinking. The comparison is for two months prior to this project, versus the past two months.

March-April Spend:  $6009.89
May-June Spend: $4245.14
Savings: $1764.75

ie. A CRAPLOAD OF MONEY!

Holy hell, how much were we spending?! The May-June spend, to be fair, is 5 days short of a full month, but even allowing for five days, we’d still have saved $1500. Over the course of a year, that equates to over $10,000.

The savings have come from not drinking (of course), no taxis, less eating out. I’m blown away by how much that is.

4. HOW DOES MY SKIN LOOK?

More photos. Be warned, these are make-up free selfies. Without the amazing lighting and “make-up free” look of celebrities that somehow manage to exclude foundation and mascara in their definition of “make-up free”.

I think I’m more frightened of posting these ones than the full body shots.

I don’t think there’s any difference. The lighting is a bit rubbish in the second photo, but other than that I look pretty much the same. No miracle cure there then.

5. HOW DO I FEEL COMPARED TO DAY 1?

I actually felt pretty good on day 1, because I was excited about what lay ahead. As the week went on though, there are a few quotes that sum things up:

“Feeling very tired and a bit grumpy. All the energy I had has disappeared. “

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

“..interesting to note at least two times when I lost focus, and nearly poured myself a glass without thinking about it.”

“I feel really tired and scratchy as all hell.”

“Another average night’s sleep, followed by waking with a headache.”

“Once again I was just wrecked. So tired I had to have a sleep mid-afternoon.”

It’s quite heartening to read this. Because that’s not how I feel any longer.

  • My energy levels have readjusted throughout the day. I am motivated during the day, I wake easily and without headaches, and am achieving far more than I did when I was drinking.
  • My moods have stabilised, I don’t get the same levels of grumpiness I did on the days I didn’t drink. On the whole I feel more balanced, less prone to anger, and more positive.
  • My sleep is still broken and I wake once a night. But this could be due to any number of factors other than alcohol. It could just be my age.
  • I no longer accidentally reach for glass of wine, but I still need the placebo of a replacement drink at night to underscore the end of the day. The kombucha is good for me, but I would like to break the cycle of needing a glass of something.

6. WHAT HAVE I LEARNED SO FAR?

  • I have had a problem with alcohol. No matter how much I want to deny it, the realisation has dawned that while I am not an addict, I am a problem drinker. 15 units of alcohol per week is healthy and normal. Heading upwards of 20 is not.
  • Energy levels take a hit during the first couple of weeks, but given time, you’ll find you have more energy during the day than you’ve ever had
  • Sleep patterns will also reset themselves, once your body readjusts to being alcohol free
  • Socialising is the most challenging aspect to this project to date. But it isn’t insurmountable. I wrote down a few tips to help myself get by.
  • Mindfulness is going to be essential to my long term health. A lot of my drinking behaviour was happening on autopilot. I need to think before I reach for another drink and set limits for myself. I need to reprogramme my behaviour around alcohol.
  • The amount of alcohol you can safely drink is a lot less than I’d thought. Drinking less than 3 units per day (around 300ml wine) with two alcohol free days per week is considered best for health, while drinking no more than 6 units in one sitting is considered best for personal safety (being it physical or psychological)
  • Our relationship with alcohol is as ancient as we are at an evolutionary level. It’s always been there, even when we were apes. There are few societies on earth that do not have psychoactive substances at the heart of their culture, and often of their religion. While it may be an excuse, we can cut ourselves some slack about wanting a drink occasionally.

Five more weeks to go. Wish me luck.

Although I think the next five will be far easier.