Reflections after 31 Days without a Drink

Update:  This is a post from another blog.  I migrated it to this blog because it’s an important part of my story.  This was posted just over three years before I fully surrendered and accepted that I am an alcoholic.In September 2015, I began abstaining from alcohol and attending regular 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.

25 is not 30

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

Update:  This is a post from another blog.  I migrated it to this blog because it’s an important part of my story.  This was posted just over three years before I fully surrendered and accepted that I am an alcoholic.

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.

Twenty-one

Bottles
Bottles

Update:  This is a post from another blog.  I migrated it to this blog because it’s an important part of my story.  This was posted just over three years before I fully surrendered and accepted that I am an alcoholic.

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.

An Important Call and an Update

crossUpdate:  This is a post from another blog.  I migrated it to this blog because it’s an important part of my story.  This was posted just over three years before I fully surrendered and accepted that I am an alcoholic.

Sunday night, I had a relatively long conversation with a friend about my drinking. My friend has been sober for quite some time after coming to the realization that he was an alcoholic. He told me that I was doing a good thing by taking some time off and offered that there might be some good in exploring A. A.

I admit that I’m highly resistant to the idea of A. A. for a number of reasons. First, I’m not sure that I’m an alcoholic. I do understand that many alcoholics are also unsure or unwilling to admit to the disease. I’m also keenly aware that there are people who have a habit of heavy drinking who are not physiologically addicted to alcohol. These people are generally classified as problem drinkers rather than alcoholics.

Secondly, as I have reviewed materials publicly available on the A. A. site and as I understand them, A. A. has a strong basis in religion and I’m not entirely comfortable with this. Six of the twelve steps make reference either to a higher power or God (Source: This is A.A. An Introduction to the A.A. Recovery Program):

  • Step 2 “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
  • Step 3 “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
  • Step 5 “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
  • Step 6 “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
  • Step 7 “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
  • Step 11 “Sought through prayer and mediation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to cary that out.

I’m sure that there are other benefits to the program, but frankly, I am not a man of strong faith. I am a firm believer in Free Will and personal responsibility. I cannot accept that a higher power is responsible for the direction of my life. As such, it seems very unlikely that I can rationalize working on this problem within the confines of the AA program.

Still, after talking with my friend, the I have not ruled A. A. out. He shared his story with me before asking to hear mine and he told me how A. A. is helping him. I know that the program has benefitted millions of people since it was started in 1935.

I truly appreciate him calling, in fact he was one of the first people to call me about this and that says something, because while we are definitely friends, we don’t particularly know each other well having only known each other for about five years.

My friend also recommended a book, Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism, which I ordered immediately from Amazon in paperback (my iPhone didn’t show it as a kindle book, but I found that it was available on kindle the next day – so I bought it twice).

The book was written in the 1980s, and so at first glance it might appear to be dated (it refers to BAL rather than the more modern BAC), but it is a fascinating read that discusses the science of how the body reacts to and processed Alcohol. I’m about a quarter through it at this point and looking forward to getting through the whole book.

In particular, there is a chapter dedicated to the discussion of problem drinking versus alcoholism. I’ll be very curious to read this and see if it informs me more about my own situation.

I can say that I’ve not had any significant withdraw symptoms. In the first three days, I had two migraines, but have been migraine free since then. At least one of those migraines can be attributed to a nightmare scenario at work. I have had the urge to have a beer at the end of the day, but this hasn’t been a compulsion or an overwhelming craving – and I have beer and bourbon (as well as other less desirable choices) in the house. So, if I really wanted to have a drink, it wouldn’t be that difficult.

Thus far, I have maintained true to my conviction to fast from alcohol. I set an arbitrary number of 30 days in the beginning because a month seemed like a goal that was not too short, but not to long and had meaning. Having said that, I am no longer counting down the days to my next drink – rather, I’m counting down to the day when I will decide what my next step will be.

It may be to have a drink, or it may be to keep going. I’ll decide that when the time comes.

4/30 Migraines

Migraines
Migraines

Update:  This is a post from another blog.  I migrated it to this blog because it’s an important part of my story.  This was posted just over three years before I fully surrendered and accepted that I am an alcoholic.

I’ve had two migraines since I stopped drinking. I had one the first day that I didn’t have a drink and again yesterday. Last night I was in bed by 8:30 and the only relief came after sleeping. I woke this morning at 6:00 with no immediate headache, but as I’ve been up I’ve felt a bit of a tightness in my left temple. This is normal on the morning after a migraine for me, and I’m hopeful that this will subside. It usually does.

I’ve been generally migraine free for a few months. There was a time when I got a migraine three to four times a month, sometimes more often. With that in mind, I’m positive that not drinking has tripped a trigger to induce these migraines. My hope is that this is a temporary problem.

Day 3 – Time On My Hands

2 Days and Counting
2 Days and Counting

Update:  This is a post from another blog.  I migrated it to this blog because it’s an important part of my story.  This was posted just over three years before I fully surrendered and accepted that I am an alcoholic.

Surprisingly, so far, giving up booze has not been as difficult as I expected and I take that as a very good sign. One of my chief worries was that I was becoming physiologically dependent upon alcohol. It’s probably too early to tell, but so far, that does not seem to be the case.

Last night was night two of not having any alcohol and it went well. I had a meeting with some of the other folks involved with my community association. We typically have a beer or two while talking over things. I showed up with water, and I was alright with that. The other folks had their beers and I had my water and I was not jealous or irritated by it.

With that said, I am finding that I’m having very vivid dreams that involve my efforts to avoid alcohol for 30 days. Last night, I dreamed that I was at a party on a beach. I was drinking something non-alcoholic in the beginning of the dream. Then I sat down in the sand and a can of beer was next to me. Instinctively, I cracked the beer and took a drink. Immediately I was aware that I was breaking my streak and I was upset with myself.

When I woke, the dream had been so strong that I questioned whether I’d kept my commitment to myself.

A good friend texted me last night with the suggestion that I change-up my routines – perhaps take the family out to a movie, or go out to dinner, anything to change-up the evening routine. I think that’s a good idea. And I’m putting together a list of things to do. So far it includes:

  1. Get out on the bike – while it’s summer and I’ve got light, there’s no reason why I can’t get out for a quick spin in the evening.
  2. Go to the Pool with Mr. Grey – again, there’s no reason why going to the pool with my son shouldn’t be a regular part of the routine.
  3. Go to the movies with the family – this is probably not going to happen weekly because there are only so many movies that are appropriate for a five year old, but when it does, it will be a fun time.
  4. Run errands – Yup, the mundane, but necessary things in life have to get done.
  5. Read books that have spent far too long on the bookshelf (physical or virtual) – there are tons of books and magazines that I have lying about that need to be read and I’ve got the time.

Speaking of time, I remember going to see Collin Hay last year and he spoke frequently of “Giving up the Drink.” One thing he said, was “when you give up the drink you have a lot of time on your hands” and it’s true.

Best to make good use of it.

Circling the Drain — Taking 30

Countdown to 30 Days
Countdown to 30 Days

Update:  This is a post from another blog.  I migrated it to this blog because it’s an important part of my story.  This was posted just over three years before I fully surrendered and accepted that I am an alcoholic.

For some time now, alcohol has been more powerful in my life than I would like. There are occasions when I can drink a beer or two and that’s it, done, no more. But more often than not, it doesn’t stop at a few. And, worse that more often than not has become nearly a daily occurrence.

I’m drinking to excess daily. I don’t know exactly how I got here, but pretty much every day ends with drinks as I’m cooking dinner and that extends into the night until I put Mr. Grey to bed. When he goes to bed, I’m usually just drunk enough to fall asleep in the bed with him, and that’s what ends the drinking.

This cannot continue. While this hasn’t impacted my ability to function in my job or in my life, I recognize that it’s a problem.  I recognize that it will impact my life — sooner or later. I haven’t hit rock bottom, but I’m circling the drain.

It’s time to break the cycle.

I’m worried that I’m biting off more than I can chew.  But I’m committed to taking 30 days off from booze.

I expect it to suck. I expect it to be challenging.

The 4th of July is next week, normally I’d have a few beers. I have business meetings in two weeks where I’d normally have a drink or two at happy hour. My MS Ride comes up in 3 weeks, and I’d normally have a beer or two after the ride. There are likely to be family events and get together’s with friends where I’d normally have a drink or two. And I’m publicly stating on the Internets that I’m not drinking for 30 days.

Today is day one. I’m planning to make it a habit to write about the experience each day, not only to keep track of how this goes, but also to keep myself honest.