Just be chill about it

Gaz asked me one Saturday a few weeks back — as I ordered a vodka cocktail — whether or not I’d given up on the ‘not drinking’ thing. A fair question, given the ‘ordering a cocktail’ thing.

Sobriety was going really, really well. I had managed to get through several months without a drink, battling some immense cravings (which peak around ovulation, bizarrely) along the way. I ‘slipped’ on a couple of social occasions but was able to get back into it with ease. And then my brother died, and not only did I smash through a few bottles of red wine in a short space of time but it brought on a crisis. What am I fucking doing? Why can’t I just be “normal” and enjoy a drink with friends without getting utterly wasted? Why can’t I have a healthy relationship with this addictive drug (ha ha ha)? Am I going to end up like my brother?

It wasn’t pretty, and the more I thought about it the worse it got, and the worse the cravings got, and the more I felt useless and like a failure… a vicious circle of self-loathing ensued which, for someone used to self-medicating their problems with a glass or 5 of wine, potentially only had one way of ending. (Because only I could be so stressed about drinking that I need a drink to de-stress which causes me to stress about my drinking… & so on.)

So, I tried to be rational. I tried to think about what my “goals” were if I wasn’t going to be 100% sober:

  • Enjoy a drink on a special occasion, e.g. birthdays, celebrations etc, without it being “weird”.
  • Be able to order one drink and no more. Or, order a soft drink around people who were drinking without feeling left out.
  • Not put on the weight that I lost by giving up.
  • Not drink for the sake of drinking.
  • Most importantly, to not get into a cycle of drinking to ease problems, which worsens my anxiety and depression symptoms caused by PMDD, which causes me to drink more.

With these goals in mind, I have been able to concoct a vague plan, and ultimately relax about it. Relaxing calms the stressy voices which immediately reduces cravings. This, combined with the pressure of knowing what I have to lose if I regress (my sanity, my relative happiness with my body), and seeing the impact of sobriety on my mental health, means I have been able to better make ‘mindful’ decisions about where and when to drink. To just ‘be chill’ about it.

So far so I’ve successfully navigated a couple of birthdays, a weekend with friends, several games nights and other social occasions:

I have chosen to drink, and to not drink, in equal measure. I have interspersed water with wine. I have picked low alcohol ciders over double vodkas. (And I’ve got pretty drunk and felt like shit the next day, which served as an excellent reminder of what not to do.)

I am feeling OK with where I’m at right now. It might not last; I might lose my shit and drink far too much, or… I might go sober again. I don’t know. But it’ll do for now.

Is this it?

I have spent a large part of the past few weeks jumping from one ‘chaos moment’ to another (as per usual) and I was sat on the toilet recently wondering… is this it? Is this what adulting is about? Just about hanging on while you ride the waves of life?

I’m being melodramatic — I’m not having a mid life crisis — but after a few weeks of intense hard work (covering for a friend/dev at a local agency as well as doing my own stuff) AND housework AND kids AND pets AND volunteering AND all the other day to day thankless bullshit which we seem to have to do as grown ups, I can’t help but feel if I’m missing out on some greater truth: there’s something I forgot to do that makes all this fulfilling and worthwhile?

Tomorrow marks 3 months since I decided to stop drinking. I’ve had a bit of a wobble this month with some INTENSE pre-menstrual cravings for wine, which I seem to be missing quite a lot all of a sudden. I did resist, although had a shandy over the weekend. Gaz says it counts as alcohol and I know he’s technically right, but the ABV is barely above what can be legally classed as alcohol free and it certainly didn’t make me drunk so I’m giving myself a free ride on it.

A few people have asked me if I plan on staying sober for life and I don’t know the answer to that question. Now the novelty of being newly-sober has worn off I can see occasions where a glass of wine or bubbles would be lovely, but am I ever going to be the sort of person that can just have one glass? Having the willpower to not drink is one thing, but having the willpower to say no once you’re under the influence is a different kettle of fish.

I’ve completely lost my gym mojo again, despite having lots of goals in mind and the support of awesome sexy gym-going people all over my instagram. I’m hoping to get back into it next week once the work commitments back off a little, so feel free to give me a kick up the arse or a hearty nag. I need to not undo all the effort I’ve been putting in this year with blatant laziness.

Running seems to be back on the agenda though, with a 5k Race for Life with the ladies from Source (aforementioned agency) that raised over £1000 for Cancer Research as well as a potential PB of 28 mins 17 seconds although my Garmin reckons the course was 400m short. Either way it was well under 30 minutes which is something I’ve struggled with for a while.

I’ve got another upcoming half (the Piece of Cake trail half marathon), the Leeds Abbey Dash 10k booked for November and the Edinburgh Half Marathon in the calendar for next year, so just need to keep up the momentum.

At least I’m not being completely lazy…

Is it time for another coffee yet?

Orange & Lemonade Pt 2: 5 weeks

It’s now been about 5 weeks since I decided to stop drinking for good.

I am sleeping better. Aside from a couple of weeks of intense drinking-frenzy dreams where I got completely smashed off my face (in the dream, that is) I have slept solidly every night since I stopped drinking. My sleep cycles have gone back to normal and I don’t feel tired all the time.

The puffy dark circles under my eyes are mostly gone. Partly because I’m sleeping better, and partly because I’m not in a state of perma-dehydration.

My weight is slowly dropping. I was able to wear a pair of size 12 jeans again this week, which I’ve not been able to do in 12+ months, since I lost a huge chunk of weight initially. I’d convinced myself that my drinking was not to blame for weight gain because I moderated input and calculated calories but this was completely ignoring the science behind alcohol consumption (in simple terms, when you eat & drink, food is stored as fat so your liver can prioritise dealing with the poison you’re voluntarily taking into your system). Ignorance is not bliss, after all.

And most importantly: I’ve not had a single anxiety related episode despite going through the tail end of one cycle and another complete cycle. What this basically means is that I was worsening my own PMDD by constantly drinking (despite often doing it to self-medicate the symptoms themselves!)

It’s not a huge surprise, alcohol is a known depressant, but what is surprising is just how much difference it makes being completely sober. The scale of change in my symptoms is massive. I can’t attribute this entirely to drinking/not drinking — my circumstances are more stable, and I’ve implemented strategies to better cope with workloads and stress — but is a massive help.

I am still INCREDIBLE HULK ANGRY in lead up to menstruation, but angry on its own is a hell of a lot easier to deal with than angry AND anxious/paranoid.

In the space of 5 weeks I could have easily consumed 1-2 bottles of wine a week, and the equivalent of a bottle of vodka on a ‘going out weekend’ – of which there has been a couple. So in 5 weeks I’ve “missed out” on approximately 10 bottles of wine and 2 bottles of vodka.

Except I’m not missing it at all.

Orange & Lemonade

Yesterday lunch time I went out with Gaz’s team from work for an unexpected light lunch. It’s the kind of situation where I’d usually indulge in a “cheeky” glass of wine or a cocktail (or two) because a) unexpected social interaction mid-PMDD-monster-times and b) who doesn’t love to break up the day with alcohol?

Except I ordered orange juice & lemonade. It was lovely: a little tart; cool and refreshing.

If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know that I decided to stop drinking last week. No more attempting moderation, no more weeknight wine, and definitely no more binging on 12 or more double shots of vodka on a Friday night. No booze, none, nada. It’s been a long time coming.

After a couple of years of trying to bring my intake under control and ultimately failing — because “I needed a drink”, “just one more”, “I’m under a lot of stress” — I realised that the only way for me to control it was to not drink at all. Not only that, but to never drink again.

Alcohol is quite literally a poison that I have voluntarily taken into my system time and time again, to the detriment of both my physical and mental health, and yet I hold on to it like a crutch… a lifeboat for the days I feel like I’m drowning. For what purpose or benefit? None that I can think of.

When trying to moderate, there’s always that choice: do I have one? Can I risk two? Is today a drinking day or not a drinking day? If I have one glass today does that mean one less at the weekend? What is a moderate amount of alcohol anyway? If it takes me a bottle of wine to get drunk where some people might need a glass, does that justify drinking a whole bottle? What about two?

And that generally leads to eating a little less at lunch to ‘save up’ calories for the drink later, skipping a meal altogether because you know it’s going to be a heavy night, and before you know where you are you’ve consumed more calories as liquid than food. Add that to waking in the morning having forgotten chunks of an evening, general brain fog that is a perma-hangover, disrupted sleep, weird twitches and persistent dehydration… it’s not exactly a boatload of fun I’m opting out of.

If I were the sort of person who could have a glass of wine and then stop, this wouldn’t even be an issue. But I’m not and never have been. I am not an “in moderation” person when it comes to anything in life. Give me all or nothing!

I still dominate the dance floor when I’m out (I can’t dance but that doesn’t stop me). The conversation, jokes and “banter” still flow easily. I still act like a prat, make loud/rude jokes and generally behave inappropriately: because I have never needed alcohol to do that.

The questions — because when you go from notorious pisshead to completely sober there will always be questions — are easily answered honestly: I am concerned with my drinking and have decided to stop. No, I am not pregnant. No, I don’t need you to stop drinking in front of me. Yes, I can be designated driver.

And so back to lunch… around the table, some order diet cokes, some order white wine, and now it’s my turn to choose. Except I don’t drink now, so there is no choice, no anxiety over what I should do. No rationalising what I should consume, when or how. No justifying excess consumption. I just don’t drink.

Orange & lemonade, please.