monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking

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After quitting: can you be cool and sober?

So it’s 3 ½ months since I quit drinking.  It’s an experience which feels like it’s taken ages – but in reality it’s a fairly short period of time. I’ve been reflecting on some of the different stages I’ve been through:

  1. Day 1: The miserable decision – I reached a stage of being so miserable about my drinking that I made a decision that I would quit – permanently, without hesitation or conditions. It was a profound experience and I still can’t explain why (compared with so many previous attempts) that I just knew that this time was for real.
  2. The first couple of weeks: The initial detox – for the first week or two I felt strung out, anxious, jittery, headachey, brittle & on edge. It wasn’t like a dramatic detox scene in a movie but it had me pretty preoccupied. I wasn’t tempted to drink but alcohol still dominated my thoughts. I remember compulsively checking a phone app to see how many hours it had been since my last drink during this phase – it’s been 85 hours now… it’s been 88 hours now… by the time I wake up it will be 96 hours.
  3. The first month & a bit: Endless questions  – After my body started to calm down from the physical addiction, my mind started to ask a lot of questions like: how will I deal with social situations?; what if there’s booze in food?; how will I tell people?; what will I do with all this spare time? etc…  Again – my attention was still on alcohol and what I’d given up.
  4. The last couple of months: embracing new routines – by this stage alcohol started to fade into the background, I wasn’t thinking about it all the time & I started to lose track of how long it had been. I threw myself into doing things to replace the void. Fitness & rebuilding my body has preoccupied me – admittedly I’ve been a bit fixated.  I’ve also focused on visually reinventing myself – I’ve lost weight & I’ve bought new clothes with my alcohol savings (Ummm ‘cos my old pants were falling down). I’ve felt really good about my appearance & even had a new haircut to top it off.  I know it’s superficial stuff – but it reflected the changes which were happening inside me.  Almost every day someone makes a comment about my weight, that I look younger, that I’m looking really fit, that they like my shirt and I admit that I’ve enjoyed it.

And now I feel like I’m getting close to a new chapter – it’s not here yet but it’s in sight.

I suspect I’ve got a bit of internal stuff to do as well as external stuff. I was a  particularly geeky kid – and by my late teens, alcohol had become part of a new, edgier me. Pushing boundaries, risk-taking and ‘swimming against the stream’ were intertwined with alcohol (and sex, drugs, piercings, tattoos, where I lived, what I ate, who I hung out with etc).

Recently I was in a situation where I told some cool & edgy people that I don’t drink. I felt like I have to justify that I’m still cool & reassure them that I’m not a member of the local Lutheran temperance committee.  Part of me even wanted to tell them that my drinking was so hard core that I had to quit (but that’s really lame). Even at work when people joke about getting drunk, I still join in and don’t mention that it’s been months without a drink.

Can you be sober – and cool?  As I see it there are 3 options:

  1. I could start doing some bizarre extreme sports or try to be hardcore in a different area
  2. I could give up trying to be cool and edgy and just be comfortable with myself
  3. Decide that it’s counter-cultural to be sober in a society which celebrates excess alcohol

Or maybe it’s a bit of all three?  I probably will need to replace some of the thrill and relaxation which alcohol gave me, get comfortable in my own skin, and get used to pushing against the pressure to drink.


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Beyond triple digits…

Last week I spent day 100 having an ultrasound done (yay for day 100 but boo for ultrasounds!).  I don’t have the formal ultrasound report yet – but the verbal report was that it looked OK and is just a boring, run-of-the-mill lump.

I’m so relieved!

I feel like I’ve really built up a lot of momentum with goals and plans for 2014. Another round of surgery would have thrown everything up in the air.

So now, after more than 100 days being sober:

  • I can run a half-marathon distance (21.1km or 13.1miles)
  • I just ran a 5km personal speed record on the weekend
  • I no longer wake up feeling guilty, hungover or nervously checking to see what I posted on Facebook the night before
  • I’ve saved heaps of moneyl
  • But I’ve had to use lots of savings to buy a whole wardrobe of new pants which fit me…  because I’ve lost 9kg (almost 20pounds). 

No regrets, no second thoughts, no temptations… I’m staying sober.

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This post isn’t about alcohol – it’s about the other ‘monkey on my back’.

I felt a lump a couple of days ago.  It’s in the same area as my previous surgeries and tumours.  It’s a small, round lump in the middle of soft tissue – like a pin head or one of those shiny metallic cake sprinkle things.

My first reaction was that I would wait until my next Oncology appointment.  But then I realised that’s 5 weeks away – and then by the time they organise an ultrasound and I got the results it would be another couple of weeks.  Soooo… 7 weeks fixating, poking and prodding is gonna drive me nuts.

This morning I made an appointment with my GP for tomorrow. I’ll ask him whether I should have an ultrasound done. That way I can have it done before my oncology appointment.  Then, if need be, they can organise a biopsy.

Urghhh shudder… Man I hate needle biopsies – trying to lie really still for 40 minutes while someone slowly inserts thick horse needles into you and takes tissue samples of lumps. They freak me and afterwards I feel really wiped out and need to sleep.  At least with surgery you’re unconscious.

I can feel myself emotionally getting into brace position and my anxiety levels are getting to about 5 out of 10.  I tend to be a fairly Vulcan, logic-driven person but I know I’m a bit upset just because I keep thinking about it and getting distracted by it.

Tonight I’ll have to tell my partner about the lump.  He’s all excited today because his holidays just got approved (we’re planning a big trip in the middle of the year). So the conversation tonight also throws a bit of doubt on our trip. This stuff always causes so much uncertainty – I actually think uncertainty is THE worst part.

But I’m jumping ahead – it could just be surgical gristle or scar tissue (but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there a couple of months ago).

The nice thing is that even with my heightened anxiety I have no desire to drink… Nada,  nix, not an iota!

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These testing times are not so testing

Oh yeah – day 90 came and went a couple of days ago.

Nothing major to report. I needed some blood tests done and my GP (General Practitioner) also added Kidney/Liver Function Tests and Full Blood Counts onto the list.  Yayy – all my general health tests are perfect!

My ‘Total Cholesterol’ result has never been bad but now it’s GREAT. And my triglycerides (other type of blood fats) are so low that we don’t want them to get any lower.  That’ll be thanks to the alcohol cessation, weight loss, exercise and not eating heaps of salty/sugary/fatty crap when I’m drunk. It’s nice when you get confirmation that unseen things are quietly changing ‘under the hood’.

At the end of March I’ll have my next cancer tests done.  I’m not rationally expecting quitting alcohol to have an impact – but I admit part of me hopes to be pleasantly surprised. My head knows that alcohol intake isn’t associated with my cancer – so it’ll continue to do whatever it wants (Note: alcohol does cause or make many other types of cancers worse however).

If nothing else, quitting alcohol has reduced the anxiety that I experience in the lead-up to getting tests.  I can already notice that I’m starting to think about my March oncology appointment – but it doesn’t dominate my thoughts/moods as much as when I’m feeling hung-over, tired and moody.

92 mornings ago I called into work sick after getting some iffy cancer results.  That was the last hang-over I’ve had & I wouldn’t go back there again. Being sober is so much smoother and easier (well… after the initial withdrawal symptoms settled down).

Cheers without beers!

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Keep it in the family…

Urghhh. This stuff runs in families.

Now that I’m on the wagon it’s hard not to get holier than thou… but my brother really needs to sort his shit out.

I’d consider myself as always having been a functional, binge drinker. By the end I was drinking (large amounts) nearly every night of the week but I was sober during the day… although I was hung-over and running at reduced capacity.

My brother’s drug and alcohol usage impacts more strongly on his relationships, work and legal issues.  I just found out today that he’s been charged for driving under the influence and has a court date soon. And sadly – that’s only a small part of the story and it could have been much worse.  I’m cranky at him – he has a family custody hearings soon. Could he pick a worse time to look dysfunctional? And it’s not the first time he’s had police or legal problems.

At first glance we seem very different: I’m gay, live in a big city, went to university, drive a fuel-efficient small car and have cats. He’s straight, lives in the country, never finished school, drives a truck and has kids from a couple of former relationships.  I was always the more academic, ‘goody goody’ older brother who never got into trouble – and he was the run away, problem kid who struggled at school and got into trouble with the cops.

As I’ve got to know him better in our 30s I’ve discovered some similarities like shyness and anxiety.  It gets expressed very differently but the feelings and situations are the same.  My anxiety makes me work even harder and feeds a perfectionism streak (if only I anticipate everything better and work harder – then I can control it). I think his anxiety makes him avoid situations or act out.  And I think that for both of us getting pissed was an escape from anxiety and a way to switch off an overactive brain.

We had a few conversations a few months ago where he revealed situations which make him get anxious to the point of a panic attack.  I didn’t expect it from such a rugged guy but it was similar stuff that I experienced when I was younger – speaking in public etc. I couldn’t avoid situations like that because of my work – so over time it’s become less of an issue and now I don’t give it a second thought. My brother has been able to avoid it and has actually passed up promotional opportunities so he didn’t have to do it.

I’m considering having a big talk with him.  He might be the first ‘real life’ person that I tell why I’ve quit drinking.  I love him – but it’s hard not to transfer my own crap on to him (or to tell him to stop being a dickhead).

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Blast from my past

Something happened a couple of days ago which made me physically remember one of the worst parts about secret drinking – the fear of being found out.

Even though it’s only 12 ½ weeks since I quit drinking, it feels like years. That’s probably why this situation caught me completely off-guard.  My partner was baking some cakes yesterday and told me that the recipe needed some sweet nut-flavoured liqueur to drizzle over the cake. A friend had given us a bottle of a nut-flavoured liqueur a few years ago – and an almost full bottle should have been in the drinks cabinet… Should have been.

I was standing closest to the drinks cabinet when he told me the recipe. My stomach sank, my pulse started racing, I felt a bit light headed and anxious. I had no idea what to expect when I opened the cabinet – had I drunkenly polished off that bottle? Would it be almost empty? I kept thinking ‘How unfair if I was found out now after I’m finally on top of my problem!’ and ‘How would I explain it if it was empty or missing?’.

As luck had it, it was only 1/3 empty.  Not empty enough to raise any eyebrows.  I’d probably been saved by my irrational sugar phobia (sure I sneakily swigged spirits to increase my buzz – but I avoided the sickly sweet drinks… ‘cos they might give me diabetes!).  I would have only ever had a couple of little swigs when everything else was running too low.

The whole incident ended up being a non-issue but it reminded me of the way things used to be. I used to spend a lot of time and energy feeling on edge – replacing bottles, worried the empties would get noticed in the bin,  working out when to buy replacements, how to get replacements back in the house and cabinet without being seen, keeping the levels in the bottles the same. Now and then, when I hadn’t had time to cover my tracks, a situation like yesterday would happen which would cause that anxious, sinking feeling in my stomach when I thought I might get found out.

The event reminded me that I still have to replace a bottle of Bacardi. One of the emergency tricks I used when I couldn’t afford to top up a bottle or get to the shops, was to top up clear spirits with a little bit of water. One bottle of diluted Bacardi is the last physical reminder of the way things were.

Gee it was a lot of effort, planning and headspace.  Gee I don’t miss it.  Gee I’m glad I quit.  I should come clean about my drinking but for now I’ll just keep focused on being sober.