another alcohol hiatus

The last time I went without alcohol I waited until the end of the month to write about it, just in case I didn’t make it. This time I don’t need to wait – there’s no way I’m going back on the arrangement I’ve made with myself. I’m doing six weeks this time, the first three of which were super-easy; it was almost a relief to know that I wouldn’t have to be making any decisions about whether or not to drink alcohol. But this week, the fourth, things got a little testy. It’s not so much that I’m pining for alcohol, but more that I’m starting to feel a little dull and boring and that I should be having more fun and not being so serious. I hope dullness doesn’t consume me before the next two weeks are up!

The more I experiment with not drinking the more I realise that alcohol and health do not make good friends. Somehow, I used to be able to pull it off – eating well and exercising regularly all week, drinking to excess on a Saturday night, and then nursing a hangover with junk food and couch time all day on Sunday. As an example of what I mean by excess, I remember one afternoon my flatmate and I polished off a litre of white rum between us before going to town and drinking more. Sometimes I’d have such a good time while out drinking that the hangover was worth it. But gradually, incrementally, the fun diminished, rendering the hangover less and less ‘worth it’.

Us Kiwis really don’t know much about moderation when it comes to alcohol. Many of us, it seems, love to get completely inebriated on a fairly regular basis: it’s how we communicate and interact with each other, it’s how we hook up, and it’s also used as a guise for things more sinister. It would be great if we could find ways to unwind and enjoy ourselves without harming our bodies and our communities so much.

So why do we, as a nation, feel the need to get so written off? Is it escapism? Is the reality of our day-to-day lives so bad that we want and hide under a blanket of booze whenever we can, even though we know that the blanket won’t nurture and support us and will only leave us with a stale soggy hangover which makes our stark cold realities all the more difficult to deal with. The unfulfilling job, the loveless relationship, the financial stress, the physical discomfort of living in a body that doesn’t work properly because you haven’t looked after it: drinking won’t alleviate any of these problems and it’s quite likely that it will make them worse. We say that young people today aren’t responsible with alcohol, but how can we expect them to be when they don’t have any positive role models?

When I started this alcohol hiatus it was off the back of three consecutive boozy weekends: a reunion, a wedding, and a birthday. I felt gross. My skin was breaking out, I felt bloated and acidic and disgusting. If you’ve never gone for more than a day or two without drinking you’ve probably forgotten how it feels to not be constantly slightly hung-over. It’s like living with a food allergy – if you don’t completely cut out all of said food (gluten and lactose are common ones), you’ll never get to experience how good it really feels to have a body that functions as it should. That slightly headachy/nauseous/bloated/foggy/uncomfortable feeling is your new reality because your day-to-day habits cause it to be that way. But any habit can be changed, if you want to change it. For me, right now (at 6:00 AM on a Sunday morning without having had a drop of alcohol for a month), it feels more normal not to drink than it does to drink.

Why not come join me? It’s a beautiful world over here.

 

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My Dry August

I decided to give up alcohol for the month of August. I’m not a heavy drinker, but I do find that unhealthy habits tend to creep in when I don’t make rules for myself. Mostly I just wanted to see what it was like. I wanted to see what I would do in the instances when I would normally have a drink, like on a Friday evening when work’s done for the week, or at the end of a particularly crap day, or in a social situation where everyone else was drinking.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t drink during the last five or so days of July, so (technically) I’ve already done a month. But I won’t break my alcohol fast until the first of September, which happens to be a Sunday, and the first day of spring – I’ll drink to that! So how’s it been going for a month without alcohol? Surprisingly easy actually. I did choose the month of August for a reason though: it’s the last month of winter here in New Zealand, so there’s not a hell of a lot going on. I’m also finishing up at a job I’ve been doing over winter, and preparing to focus my energy on being an awesome personal trainer. So I wanted to have a clear mind and a healthy body so that I could get stuff done. Coincidentally, I also started this blog.

Usually, for me, when I make a decision that involves a lifestyle change, I will have mulled it over in my mind for quite a while first. When I start acting on the decision, my resolve is already set and I’ll unwaveringly stick with it. Making the decision in the first place can be the hardest part; once the decision’s been made then there’s no turning back.

So let’s talk a little bit about the way that I drink. I don’t drink beer or wine; the one exception to this is Stone’s green ginger wine, which I love (but have watered down with ice and lemon juice). Other than that, I usually reach for the top shelf: gin and tonic in summer (Bombay Sapphire all the way), whisky and dry in winter (Jameson’s or Canadian Club).

In case you’re wondering, I made this drink for photographic purposes and refrained from adding any gin.

Now, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite because I mentioned in an earlier post that I don’t eat sugar, so let’s break this down. There’s no sugar in the gin or the whisky – the sugar has become alcohol. There is some sugar in the mixer though. The tonic that I use (Schweppes – not diet) is 8.9 % sugar, and the dry ginger ale is 9.8 % sugar. As a comparison, milk is 4.7 % sugar – that’s from the naturally occurring lactose in it. As another comparison, coke and apple juice are 10.6 and 10.2 %, respectively. So I make myself a gin and tonic: I start with lots of ice, I then add the alcohol, then the juice of a lemon or a lime, a sprig of mint, then the tonic. By the time the tonic goes in the glass is already half full, so, 8.9 % of half a glass = not much really. The alcohol is doing as much harm as the sugar is, in this instance.

What kind of harm? Well, interestingly, the body metabolises alcohol in almost the same way as it metabolises sugar (the fructose part anyway, which is one of the monosaccharides that forms sucrose (table sugar); glucose is the other). The liver is responsible for breaking down both the alcohol and the fructose, and they both produce the same by-product: fat. Also, because alcohol is a toxin, the body has to prioritise the metabolism of it over and above many of its numerous other important jobs, which all have to sit on the back burner until the alcohol’s been dealt with.

So, have I felt any benefits from not drinking for a month? Yes I have. My digestive system feels clean and clear and healthy. Anyone who’s had a big night on the booze will know how corrosive and inflammatory and acidifying alcohol can be. Plus I haven’t had to deal with anything remotely resembling a hangover. Am I looking forward to having a drink tomorrow? Yes I am. I think my beloved is looking forward to it almost more than I am though. I promised I wouldn’t be boring, going sober for a month, but maybe I have been a little dull compared to my intoxicated alter ego.

I intend to make amends for that tomorrow.