monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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The honeymoon is ending.

Tonight will be six weeks since I stopped drinking and something weird has been going on…

It’s been a week since I blogged. At first I had nothing to write about & then I just could not be bothered. I would think about writing & then I’d just wander off and find something else to do.

Writer’s block? Nope – I don’t think so.

During the last week I’ve been thinking less & less about drinking & quitting. There might even have been a whole day when I didn’t check the Day Counting app on my phone! Rather than being writer’s block, I think ‘not drinking’ has started the process of becoming a little bit normal.

I know this feeling from other areas of my life: I discover something new, I throw myself into it & obsess about it endlessly, I contemplate every option & possibility, I start running out of new content, I think about the same things over & over, the novelty starts to wear off, I get bored, and it becomes ‘normal’.

‘Normal’ doesn’t mean it’s not important – it just means that it’s one of many important things in my life. Rather than celebrating 6 weeks of quitting – I’m a bit more excited by DAY 3 of my holidays! Three luxurious weeks to lounge around and do fun things (without hangovers, guilt or lethargy).

I’ve been catching myself getting distracted by the thought of going to the gym – so I’m going to shut the laptop, have another coffee and do that instead.

I guess being sober isn’t the destination, it’s the means of getting there.

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I don’t drink booze but can I eat it?

I was vegetarian for nearly 2 decades and, as far as vegetarians go, I was fairly flexible & pragmatic. I didn’t worry about micro-ingredients like fish sauce, oyster sauce, or gelatine (made from boiled beef skin). Gelatine is in heaps of desserts and avoiding oyster sauce or fish sauce means avoiding most Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese food (it was just NOT going to happen!).

I found that the harder I made the ‘rules’, the more tempted I was to break them. I chose to be pragmatic: if the dish didn’t contain any actual fish, chicken or meat (yes that includes bacon) then I could live with a squirt of fish sauce.

Last night I made a Kale & Goat Cheese Barlotto which made me think about alcohol in food (Barlotto is like Risotto but you use barley instead of rice). Here’s a very similar recipe made with faro grain:

http://www.veggieverymuch.com/diner/farotto/

The recipe called for a glug of white wine & I hadn’t considered alcohol in cooking. My first question was whether there would be any alcohol in the actual food: that was pretty unlikely after 50 minutes of simmering. The next (and most important) question was whether cooking with it or eating it would trigger any cravings.

I decided to test it. My partner had an almost-empty bottle of white wine in the fridge – I took it out, paused, looked at the bottle, smelled the bottle, thought about it, felt nothing, and poured it into the hot pot.  No drama – but it got me thinking about my boundaries, especially going into the festive season.

Would I eat flaming pudding desserts, rum truffles, brandy custard, or alcohol-flavoured food items like Rum & Raisin Icecream?

This might be weird but I want to distinguish between two layers of tastes and smells in alcoholic drinks. Using brandy as an example, there is:

  1. The flavour and aroma of the drink – that sweet aroma of prunes, plums, raisins and syrup.
  2. The taste and smell of the actual alcohol – that vaporised chemical smell which gives you a warm sensation in your lungs and a heady feeling as you breathe it in.

If there’s enough uncooked alcohol to trigger that warm, glowing, swimming sensation then my alarm bells go off (thinking about it is tempting). That rules out things like: Chocolates filled with brandy/schnapps; fruit preserved in alcohol; or cakes/desserts which have a fair amount of alcohol or liqueurs poured on them (OH NO – TIRAMISU?).  Those things are off my list and I’ll miss many of them.

The actual flavour or aroma of the drink doesn’t trigger much when it’s in food – it’s just another flavour in the overall dish. My Barlotto made with white wine is safe – it’s more likely to trigger my cheese addiction… but that’s a different blog (I can quit cheese anytime, I just choose not to – honest!).


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It’s not just me who needs to adjust

I was at some social events recently and friends where trying to push me into having a drink.  I was getting a bit indignant until I cringed and remembered (the many) situations where I’d done exactly the same.

At parties and nightclubs in my early 20s we’d always harass other friends into having some alcohol – or to be honest it was to have more alcohol not some alcohol. I particularly remember a night out in my mid-20s with my best and booziest friend – I’ll call him ‘Alex’ for this story.

We were an inseparable Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum pair at social events. He had the role of being hilarious and outrageous & I was the more reserved friend who fed him content and interjected with dry wisecracks. I was also the (comparatively) sober friend who had the responsibility of pouring ‘Alex’ into a taxi at the end of the night & subtly (or sometimes unsubtly) telling him when his antics were bordering on social unacceptability.

ANYWAYYY…  I was out with ‘Alex’ at some festival event sitting with a group of people. ‘Alex’ was in his hilarious drunk-but-not-too-drunk stage with everyone gathered around laughing.  ‘Alex’ noticed that another slightly older guy at the table was drinking Coke and he started the usual routine that we did amongst close friends… “Go on. You know you wanna!” etc etc etc

I knew that the guy was a recovering alcoholic – so I dutifully fulfilled my role of Content Moderator by kicking ‘Alex’ several times under the table. ‘Alex’ started making a big show about the fact that I was kicking him & drew everyone’s attention to the situation. Soon afterwards the other guy left. I told ‘Alex’ the situation later & he was suitably embarrassed – although he had the attention span of a drunk goldfish & returned to his regular antics.

It was around that time that I formed a rule never to pressure anyone into drinking (unless they were a very-best friend of course). Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I hope most people have developed similar rules.

It also makes me think that I may have to tell some best friends, like ‘Alex’, that I’m not drinking anymore. It’s probably best to do it before they come back to town for a visit & are standing on my doorstep with a few bottles of wine. After 20 years, we might both need a bit of time to adjust and develop new routines.


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Measurable changes

There’s nothing existentially profound in this post – just a couple of new and positive changes since I quit booze. And yeah – I’m a boy so changes which can be measured in numbers by gadgets are cool!

The first change is the most important – my blood pressure. For the last couple of years my blood pressure has crept up & was a few clicks away from being officially ‘high’. That’s too high for someone in their late 30s & it’s because of alcohol.

This week I checked my blood pressure several times & the readings were between 105/70 to 114/70 – which is PERFECT!  In fact it’s officially in the ‘Optimal’ category.  Yayy for good blood pressure – now I can eat salty snacks without nagging trepidation!

In case someone’s reading this and doesn’t know much about blood pressure the recommended blood pressure categories are below and there’s also a link to a decent info page.

Image

http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Blood_pressure_explained

The less important, but noticeable change, is how much quieter it is at 4.30am when the garbage truck empties our recycling bin. Ahhhh – gone is the deafening cling, clang and occasional shattering sounds of falling glass!  This week I didn’t wake up at all.

Our recycling bin was only half empty – so I had room for the hoards of old cardboard boxes which lurk under our house (a by-product of too much internet shopping).

So it’s a win for my heart and a win for the environment.  Gee – I wonder how much greenhouse gas was created to make the thousands & thousands of glass bottles I’ve bought over the last 2+ decades?


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4 weeks: Only just begun

I just wrote an entire post and then deleted it…

I just can’t share some things at this stage, even in an anonymous forum. This whole situation comes with such an overwhelming layer of shame and embarrassment. I’m setting boundaries about some details – how much I drank, sneaky techniques, how I covered things up etc…

Partially I don’t want to write about them so it doesn’t seem like a pissing contest with other sober bloggers about ‘who was the worst drunk’.

But the main reason that stops me is the thought of people I know in the real world reading the post. I’d like to imagine a future where I am ‘out’ to my friends about my reasons for not drinking – and I might even want to share my blog with them.  Not everyone needs to know every bit of embarrassing minutia – withholding some details gives me some control over how, when and where they’re shared.

If this post is actually being read by a “real world” friend in the future – please know that it’s really sensitive, I really trust you, and at the time I wrote this I feel incredibly vulnerable.

With time I hope ‘it’ will become less embarrassing, more normalised and less emotionally potent. My head knows that many, many people go through similar things – with alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, gambling and a whole array of other compulsive/obsessive behaviours. My head also knows that the accompanying isolation, shame and stigma usually make things worse or get in the way of recovery.

And as much as my head knows these things, it’s going to take my heart a while to catch up.  I keep reminding myself that I still have my training wheels on.  Tonight is my 4 week anniversary, and while I don’t want to diminish my achievement, it’s really just the beginning.

 


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Getting off the beaten track

If alcohol is a form of self-medication then maybe it’s like proper medication – you stop taking it when it’s no longer needed.

Apart from the taste and fun physical effects of alcohol, the other reasons why drinking played such a big part of my life was because of:

  • Context – when I was young(er), alcohol was just a normal part of the social contexts which were a key part of my life… parties, pubs and clubs!  I went out all the time and it was just “what you did”.
  • Social anxiety – I was a fairly shy and quiet when I was younger. When I was in social situations alcohol always helped make me more extroverted, louder and more sociable – especially in the pubs, clubs, parties I lived in.
  • Stress Relief – as I became older, drinking became a way to switch off my brain chatter and forget about work stress. Eventually it took more and more alcohol to make my brain shut up (which is when I started sneaky drinking and began questioning whether I had a drinking problem).

This stage of my life doesn’t revolve around parties and nightclubs anymore. On the occasional times that I do go out I feel confident and comfortable and I rarely get socially anxious. Gone are the days when I wasted energy worrying about what people thought about me.  Of course I still think about it but it’s not as important as it was, and if it is, it’s only because the person is important to me.

After an exhausting ‘burn out’ experience in my early 30s, I now set much stronger limits around my work. I’ve turned down the dial on my perfectionism and can better manage boundaries and reactions to stressful situations. Work is fairly stable and not particularly stressful at the moment. And yeah – the avalanche of medical appointments, tests, scans, needles, surgeries, drips, and treatments which happened in 2011/2012 have settled down.

The end result is that I don’t have a lot of major stress in my life at the moment.

So… maybe I’ve been self-medicating problems which no longer exist?  If that’s the case – then I’ve been walking around in circles stuck on a well-worn track which was formed by habitual drinking.

Now that I’m halfway through my fourth week I feel more clear-headed and I realise that I don’t need to drink to escape anything. I suspect that I’ve been drinking to escape the stress, shame and guilt associated with my own problematic drinking… which is circular logic and really, stupendously dumb!

It’s time to get off the beaten track and have some fun.