monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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A moment of regret.

It’s been a while since I had regrets about drinking.

It used to happen all the time. You know the sort of short-term regrets: Why did I do that last night? What did I do last night? I wish I’d stopped after the first bottle. God I wish I didn’t say that – I’m so embarrassed.

Those regrets used to happen almost every day for several years.

This one was different. It was triggered because I was feeling great. I had just been at a work event where I had been asked to do a completely unplanned workshop/presentation. I handled it easily. That’s what work has been like lately – I’ve always been a good performer but now it’s heaps less effort, stress and angst (and yeah – a tiny bit better).

Then I was thinking about my private life where I’ve really got into endurance running. It’s early days and my speed and distances are not amazing for a ‘serious runner’ – but I’ve had so much satisfaction seeing the rapid improvements happen. At the age of forty, I am stronger, fitter and faster than ever before.

And then. For the first time ever. I had a long-term drinking regret …

I wonder how good I could have been if I hadn’t wasted my time drinking?

Thud.

I’ve never thought about it before. I wasted a LOT of time, energy and headspace on alcohol. Hah! Maybe that’s why it’s called ‘getting wasted’. I wonder what I could have channelled it towards without alcohol?

Quitting has fundamentally started to change my life. I’ve had to work out what to do with my time. The things I’m passionate about have become clearer. And now, for the first time, I’ve had a moment thinking about the things I might have missed out on while I was drinking.

I know regret isn’t worth focusing on unless it helps me to get where I want to go in the future. I can’t control the past. I can never know what might have been. I was learning things what I needed at the time. I met lots of wonderful people back then. It’s never too late. <<insert more positive self-talk – blah blah blah>>

And yet I’ve got a bit of a nagging regret and a slightly flatter mood. It’s not overwhelming. It’ll pass and I’ll get over it. This is probably just what happens when sobriety meets a mild mid-life crisis?

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12 Days!

I just looked at my day counting app for the first time in almost 2 weeks! AND the only reason I looked at it was because I was creating a countdown timer for a 100km bike ride next month (I’ve got some training to do!).

More and more of my time is spent not thinking about not drinking. In the first few days and weeks after quitting I used to look at my day counter obsessively and countdown to milestones in the future:

  • By Friday I will have made 72 hours without a drink…
  • By the end of the month I will have gone 2 weeks and 2 days…

It’s so freeing not to have my day-to-day existence defined by the presence (or absence) of alcohol. It’s been largely replaced by new day counts looking forward to fun things in the future.

Now to get on my bike!


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Thou doth protest too much, methinks!

I think it’s hilarious (YET ANNOYING AS HELL) how some people react to change. I particularly love the way people turn positive changes into problems – because they’re not common or part of  ‘normal’ Australian culture.

When I sat on the couch, eating fast food, sucking back beer and gaining weight – it was all fine. No problems to see here folks! People said nothing, they made supportive comments, they made fun jokes… Take it easy, you’ve had a rough time, enjoy yourself, but you’re not fat, relax, you must have had fun last night, it’s Friday – time for beer o’clock!

But now – everything’s a problem…

  • I’ve quit drinking.
    OMG! Are you nuts?
    Isn’t a little bit good for your heart?
    Why would you do that?
    Can’t you just reduce?
    Urghh – you’re not turning into one of those dour teetotallers are you?
  • I’ve really been getting into long distance running.
    You’ll get arthritis in your knees and hips if you run too much.
    Don’t over do it.
    Be careful.
    Don’t hurt yourself.
    Should you run at night – is that safe?
  • People see that I’ve lost quite a bit of weight.
    Gee are you well?
    Don’t lose too much – you’ll get anorexia.
    You’ll look really gaunt if you lose much more.
    You’re really scrawny – there’s nothing on you anymore.
  • I am mainly vegetarian but also eat fish and seafood.
    How do you get your protein?
    Isn’t that boring?
    Don’t you miss bacon?
    What about iron – do you get enough iron.
    Why would you do that?
    Don’t you get mercury poisoning if you eat too much seafood?

For the record – by nearly all objective measures I am healthy. My weight is in the middle of the ‘healthy weight range’ and my body fat percentage is in the ‘fit’ range (not ‘underweight’ and not even ‘athlete’).

Exercise guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes a day on most, if not all days of the week. For the first time in my life I’m meeting this – in fact I’m enjoying it!

Nutrition guidelines recommend a high fibre diet which is rich in fruit, veges, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, low-fat dairy, oily fish and moderate amounts of meat. I do nearly all of that – just without meat. I was vego for 20 years and never had any problems with ‘iron’ or ‘protein’. Now I’ve added in some fish and made an effort to reduce fast food and sweet treats.

And well booze – I’ve written heaps about booze. Non-drinking is heaps healthier than my other option (OR the frequent binge drinking of people who make those comments).

I know some comments express genuine concern. If someone knows I had cancer relapses a couple of years ago and sees I’ve lost lots of weight – fair enough. Those comments don’t offend me, they are openly asking me if I’m OK.

BUT most people say stuff like that because it challenges things which they’re insecure about. They problematise my behaviour in order to legitimise their own.

Thou doth protest too much, methinks. Shutteth the helleth uppeth!


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Throwing gift horses to the wind!

I saw my oncologist earlier this week – and GREAT! No new lumps or bumps on my ultrasounds and the cancer blood test markers seem to have plateaued/stabilised for the 3rd test in a row.

All the research says that alcohol doesn’t affect my type of cancer but who cares? Maybe it’s the combination of lifestyle changes which have happened since quitting? I’m more physically active, I’ve lost heaps of weight, I sleep better, I eat better, I’m less tense/depressey etc. It’s like alcohol was the log which was damming my river – remove the log and everything flows again.

I don’t care if good test results after quitting booze is just a coincidence, I won’t waste time looking this gift horse in the mouth. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.

Psychologically I’ve been curled up in brace position for the last year. 2012 was shit, 2013 was a year of dazed recovery, and I’ve still half-expected another recurrence.

It feels like I can relax and unwind. A lot of people with drinking problems write about anxiety and perfectionism (and the need to switch off their brains because they think too much). I’m a perfect patient! I’ve got buffers in place for all contingencies: hoarding my sick leave, working extra and accruing time, catalogued medical results, putting heaps extra onto the mortgage, checking treatment best practice guidelines, calculating how long we could financially manage if I was off work, setting targets, saving more… Not exactly relaxing.

It doesn’t just affect me, it affects my partner. He revealed after my appointment that he finds the build up to appointments really stressful and that he lost sleep the night before. It was a bit odd because this was the most relaxed appointment experience that I’ve had for years. I might purposefully relax a bit – both for my sake and his. He knows why I do things and the subtext.

We should increase the mortgage repayments (in case I get sick)
I should really hang on to my holiday leave (in case I get sick)

One of my longest and best friends happens to be in town for two weeks. I might take half a day off to do something fun… or even a WHOLE day! Wow – living life on the edge and throwing caution to the wind!


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Not nervous at all!

I’m about to head off to my oncologist for my latest 6 month blood test and ultrasound results.

OK I’m actually a bit nervous – but compared to this time last year I’m a picture of serenity. Last year I would have spent the last couple of weeks dwelling on the appointment and wasting time thinking about ‘what ifs’. I really enjoy the greater emotional stability which has come with sobriety – less extreme ups and downs and fewer of them.

So I’m heading off right now. My spidey-sense is clear – I’m not expecting any major dramas (I’ve already had some preliminary verbal reports from the ultrasound Doctor). Stable, unremarkable results is what I want! Then I might come home and treat myself to a short run before dinner and CHOCOLATE (I’ve gotta keep some vices).


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Obligations, hope and vanity.

Since deciding to stop drinking I’ve written about a three incidents which involved me either: almost having a drink; having a small drink (a single small glass); and getting drunk on my 40th birthday.

None of these situations have felt like a serious threat to my sobriety or caused much long-term upset. They’ve felt more like random bumps along the road.

Sometimes if I feel a bit morose, I contemplate the situations in which I would just give up and let myself drink. What comes to mind is a scene when a person is underwater and struggling to swim to the surface. They’re sinking deeper and deeper and starting to lose energy… And then there’s a point when they decide whether to give up and calmly sink or summon up the last shred of energy to swim.

The three scenarios which come to mind are:

1) If my partner died in an accident and I was home alone for my first night.

2) If I had a terminal illness and was getting close to the end.

3) In a zombie apocalypse scenario (I’m a pop-culture junkie) when I was temporarily holed up in a safe place.

As painful as it was to struggle with alcohol for several years, it was also healthy. I wasn’t ready to give up or be consumed by alcohol and I was always trying to struggle back to the surface. I still had a job, partner, friends, family, mortgage and cats which held me back from the edge of becoming a 24/7 drinker. My obligations to others where often a stronger motivator than obligations to myself.

The common link between my three scenarios is despair and a total loss of hope. I don’t have any horrendous trauma which I was escaping with alcohol. I’ve got a manageable, chronic health condition which causes high-level anxiety at times – but it’s not a deep, traumatic pain (more a pain in the ass). My drinking was a way of switching off my brain and reducing anxiety. For many years it was a fun habit which slowly grew until I realised it was out of control and no longer fun. I never lost hope about the future or that I could control my drinking.

Vanity is my last point – and it’s a mixed point. I knew that if my drinking got much worse that I wouldn’t be able to hide it from the people around me anymore. I’m vain and proud and I know it. I know that it’s probably not completely healthy to have quit alcohol completely solo – I still haven’t told anyone in the ‘real world’… but pride and vanity are a big part of what compelled me to stop.

So I raise my glass (of sparkling apple juice) to obligations, hope and vanity! I’m thankful for the people around me that held me back form the edge. Right now I feel like I’m lying on a beach in the warm sun after dragging myself out from an exhausting swim. Life’s good.