Reflections after 31 Days without a Drink

Update: In September 2015, I began abstaining from alcohol and attending regular AA meetings.

When I started my alcohol fast, I was not sure that I’d make it a day or even a week – let alone 30 days. Those first few days were not easy. I struggled. The 5 o’clock routine of grabbing a drink was ingrained, and felt like it was etched in stone, but it wasn’t. With a great deal of self coaching, I got through it each day. Before I knew it, a week had gone by.

Over the past month, I’ve spent a lot of time reading and learning about alcohol as a drug, and alcoholism as a disease. The term alcoholism carries a great deal of stigma and it really shouldn’t – it is a disease that is caused by physiological and neurological responses to alcohol in a subset of the human population. There are a number of factors that are believed to contribute to alcoholism which include insufficient enzymes in the liver and brain chemistry, decreased numbers of dopamine receptors in the brain, and genetics. And yet, there is no single test that can determine whether a person is or is not an alcoholic.

When I began the exercise of a 30 day break from alcohol, I was concerned that I may be an alcoholic. I never declared that I was an alcoholic and I have not been to an AA meeting or to see any counselors on this topic – though I have discussed it in the past within the context of counseling. The truth is I really don’t know if my drinking was the result of habit or disease. I tend to think that it was habitual stemming from something other than physiological addiction. I base this on the fact that I did not have significant withdraw symptoms when I stopped drinking on June 24th.

I learned a lot about myself and my drinking:

  • I learned that I didn’t have to be a slave to booze.
  • I learned that I could find other things to do to relax and that not drinking gave me a feeling of liberty.
  • I learned that I have a lot more patience for my 5-year-old son when I don’t have booze in my system.
  • I learned that I sleep a shit-ton better without booze in my system.
  • I learned that I communicate better when I’m not drinking.
  • I learned that I can and do have a good time socializing with people (who may or may not be drinking) without drinking myself.
  • I learned that I generally feel better without drinking.

So, here I am after 30 days (31 actually) and I’m thinking that soon I’ll be ready to test the waters. I never said I was planning to abstain forever – though the thought has crossed my mind on several occasions. I would like to be a social drinker – someone who can have a few drinks with friends over dinner and not end up as a total mess a the end of the night. I would like to limit my intake to be with the recommended number of drinks per day for a man (2–3), but I do not want to be a daily drinker.

Time will tell how this plays out. It may play out well, or it may become a problem again. If it becomes a problem again, it may be an instant problem or it may become a problem over time. I don’t know how my body will react to the drink at this point.

What I do know is that if it becomes a problem, abstinence will decidedly be on the table for consideration – and that wouldn’t be nearly as horrible as I once thought.

Tomorrow is Day 30

Twenty Nine Days
Twenty Nine Days

I thought that my buddy’s 40th would be the hardest day of the 30 day alcohol fast. I was wrong.

Today is day 29 and has proved to be pretty difficult. I had a few meetings scheduled in Hampton and Norfolk, VA. The first meeting was relatively easy, but the second meeting was with a customer who quite frankly is challenging. I’ll leave the details out, but after two hours of circular discussion, we left having accomplished nothing more than showing our faces. I was pretty frustrated and knew that I’d be going out to dinner with my account manager. He was ready for a drink, and so was I.

Before heading out, we checked into the hotel. I told him I’d meet him in an hour. I had a few things to do and needed some time to decompress. I spoke with my wife and told her that I was really thinking that I’d gone far enough with this 30 day thing. Technically speaking, the last drink I’d had was the evening of the 24th of June. I could rationalize that I’d made it to my goal if I wanted to. Then I got a text from my buddy, Matt.

A Timely Text
A Timely Text

The text turned into a phone call and I told him that I was feeling a lot like I wanted to just go out and have a drink with dinner. Matt said to me, “I’m going to give you unsolicited advice. I don’t think that’s a good idea.” He reminded me that I’d made a commitment to myself to go 30 days. I realized that even if I could rationalize it, I wasn’t being true to myself and that I could really find another way to let the stress out.

When the waiter asked if I wanted anything from the bar, I asked for ginger ale with some bitters. ( Yes, technically bitters contains alcohol, but technically non-alcoholic beer also contains alcohol. The amount of alcohol in a few drops of bitters diluted with 10 oz of ginger ale is negligible so I’m not counting it just as I didn’t count the .05% ABV of the NA beer’s I had last weekend.) I enjoyed my dinner – She Crab Soup, Steak, Fries, & Spinach with the pecan pie at the end, and had a good conversation with Bob. I didn’t need the drink. While I might have liked to have one, I really didn’t miss it.

Some might call it providence. Some might call it chance. Some might call it bad timing. But Matt’s check-in came at exactly the right time for me.

Tomorrow will officially be 30 days without drinking. I don’t know if I’ll have a drink tomorrow, the day after, this weekend, next week or in a year a this point. I do know that I’ve made some very positive changes in the past 30 29 days and I’m happy that I made the decision to cut out booze for a while.

I’m also grateful to have good friends who have supported me on this journey. You all know who you are and you’re the best.

25 is not 30

Having a Laugh with Schwinger
Having a Laugh with Schwinger
Photo by Marvin Joseph

Calculations have never been my strong suit. When I announced my plan to go on a 30 day alcohol fast, I didn’t look at the calendar. Today is July 20th. Day 25. It’s also my fraternity brother’s surprise 40th birthday party with the boys.

When I first realized that I would be 5 days shy of the 30 day goal, I panicked. How the hell was I going to get together with my old crew – a crew with which I’ve got many hours days years of drinking history — without taking a drink? Early on, I discussed it with Mrs. TKD and even she said, “Maybe you should give yourself a break on that day.”

I thought about it. I admit it sounds like the wise choice. Why set myself up for failure? What would one day hurt? I’d be close to 30 days – a number that was arbitrary anyway. And I could pick it back up again on the 21st. Maybe extend an extra day to make up for it?

All of this was rationalization.

When I started this, I recognized that I’d been putting it off for a long time because there was always “the next big event” and I was stymied the Fear of Missing Out. I recognized that there will always be something on the calendar that would normally involve a drink or two six and that I needed to just commit.

Roundstone-by-Andrew-Spell-sm
Roundstone, by Andrew Spell

And so, I made the commitment and announced it to the world.

I’m sticking with this commitment today. While I would love to share a cold one with buddies today, or enjoy some of the fine rye whiskey I bought to commemorate my friend’s joining LONLYBNO (league of no longer young but not old), today is not the day. Today is day twenty-five.

25 is not 30.

Dropping the Weight of an Elephant Stone

Why am I posting “Elephant Stone” on Steady.org? Three reasons:

  1. This song fucking rocks!
  2. When I hear this song I feel awesome!
  3. I’ve broken through the plateau on the weight loss front!

I knew it was just a matter of time. I knew I was doing the right things. I knew that cutting out booze had to have a positive effect on my weight. And yet, the scale kept saying otherwise. (As a man who holds a degree in English, I know better than to trust numbers.)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been stuck. Right around 231. Up then down, up then down, but never down below the 230 mark. I started taking measurements because I was determined to find a way to keep myself motivated.

In the back of my mind, I had a nagging feeling that my body’s stubborn refusal to drop weight had something to do with the amount of training I was doing to get ready for my MS Ride. Now I feel like that has been confirmed.

Yesterday, I weight in at 229. Today I weighed in at 226.6. I’ve gained ground against the reversal that I suffered last fall and winter. I’m back to where I was a year ago! And I’m gonna keep going.

Here’s what I think was in play with the scale not budging:

  1. I was training hard, which meant that I was building up muscle as I was burning fat. Muscle weighs more than fat. The math is simple here.
  2. I was drinking a lot of water and (more importantly) a lot of electrolyte fluids – Salt makes the body retain water. So, as I was working to keep myself hydrated and doing so with drinks meant to replenish salt lost in exercise, I was likely retaining more water than I would have liked.
  3. This week, I’ve relaxed the pace of my training. I was pretty much forced into recovery for two days after doing 108 miles over the weekend. I have taken two rides this week, one on Wednesday and one today. Both have been relatively low intensity and relatively short. Today’s ride was more intense and longer than Wednesdays, but it wasn’t an all-out effort.

My gut tells me that because of this, I’ve continued to burn fat without adding significantly more muscle this week and I’ve flushed my system of excess fluid, while remaining hydrated. Of course, I’ve also kept the calorie intake in check and haven’t had any booze.

All in all, today feels like a winner!

Twenty-one

Bottles
Bottles

21 days.

It’s been 21 days since I publicly resolved not to drink alcohol for 30 days. Three weeks in to the exercise and I’m feeling great. It hasn’t been without challenges, but over the past few weeks, those challenges have diminished.

Rarely do I find that I’m thinking about taking a drink at the end of the day, and when I do, it passes quickly. I haven’t had any headaches since the first week. My sleep has continued to improve. I get a full night’s sleep most nights, with only the occasional need to get up for a bathroom visit. I am finding that I wake a lot earlier on my own, because I have to pee. But I feel rested and pretty much ready to get out of bed.

I expected my weight to drop significantly. That has not happened. I suspect this is because I also kicked up my training for my MS ride at the same time. As a result, I believe I’ve dropped pounds in fat but put them back on as muscle. I’ll take muscle weight over fat any day.

I’m significantly more present and available to my family. The irritability seems to have passed. I find that I’m more in tune with Mr. Grey and communicating better with Mrs. TKD. I’m increasingly hopeful and happy about things, with a new sense of freedom.

So, I’m headed into the next week and I’ll have some decisions to make. On day one, I was pretty sure that if I made it to 30 days, I’d have a drink on day 31. Now, I’m not so sure. There’s a part of me that’s still looking forward to being able to have a beer socially, but there’s also a part of me that’s afraid of not being able to do that – not being able to keep consumption in check and throwing away several weeks of positive change and energy.

It’s a healthy fear.

Fourteen Days — Feeling Liberated

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 11.00.39 AM
Two Weeks

Fourteen Days!

It’s been two full weeks since I made the decision to give up alcohol for 30 days. Not only that, but it’s been two full weeks since I had a drink. Yesterday, I noticed that I was not thinking about having a drink at the end of the day. This wasn’t the first time in the past two weeks where I didn’t have a strong desire for a drink after work, but it was the first time that I noticed that I didn’t have that desire. I can only describe that feeling with one word:

Liberating

I felt free. I feel free. Free to do things that I couldn’t do before.

I never drove after drinking, that was a cardinal rule. Consequently, if something came up after dinner which required getting behind the wheel it usually had to wait. Or, I’d ask Mrs. TKD to run the errand for me, which wasn’t fair to her. Last night, when I wanted to have some ice cream, but found that the freezer was empty, I went out to the store. Remarkably simple, but wonderfully exhilarating because I could actually do it.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched as books and magazines piled up around me, unread. Who has time to read when you’re busy knocking back a few beers? I didn’t. Since I’ve started this, I’ve read more in the past two weeks than in the past two months, and not just blogs and internet feeds, actual books and magazines. As I’ve mentioned I’ve been reading about alcoholism, but I also have read Orion and Fast Company. There’s a great article in the current Fast Company about Digital Detox. You should read it.

I’ve also found time to listen to some podcasts. In particular, I like to listen to Mac Power Users, Buddhist Geeks, and Tara Brach. As I was listening to Buddhist Geeks last night, I heard about something that I think will be useful. The guest was the creator of the app Lift and they were discussing how Lift can be useful for forming habits.

Now, I’ve been using Lift on and off for a few months and I do find it useful, but what really caught my attention was a discussion of Headspace. Headspace is an app that is designed to help people learn to meditate. Learning to meditate has been on my list for quite some time, and I’ve tried a few different methods, but ultimately, I’ve always failed to make it a practice.

Headspace gives ten days of guided meditation to you in the app for free. After that, you can repeat the 10 days or purchase additional guided meditations. I’m giving it a try, and I will let you know how it goes. I’m hopeful that in conjunction with joining the habit called “Meditation” on Lift, using Headspace might actually help me to get into the practice of meditating daily.

So, the theme of today, two weeks in is freedom. I’ve found that by giving up alcohol, I’ve gained freedom to do more of the things that I want to do, when I want to do them.