I’ve been unwell. So unwell that I’m not quite ready to talk about it. I’m glad to say I’m much better now though and have been reflecting on the experience. And I’d like to tell you about my little alcohol ‘experiment’ which happened whilst I was ill.
When I was poorly, I would’ve done or tried anything to feel better. Magic pill? Giant injection? Diet of gherkins? Yep, anything. And so, in my fug, I began to wonder if perhaps alcohol might be the answer.
Readers will know that I had my last ‘proper’ drink on Christmas Day 2017 and I’ve been vocal about how much better I feel without booze in my life. I’m evangelical about it. It’s become my ‘thing’. And so why, when I was poorly, did I (briefly) turn my back on that, and what was the consequence?
Picture the scene: I’m lying on the sofa, several weeks in to feeling ill. My body had shut down and I wasn’t functioning terribly well. I felt dreadful. I’d tried healthy eating (and discovered woman cannot survive on blueberries alone), I’d tried self-care (there are only so many Himalayan salt baths one can steep in) and I’d tried meditation (this you might be surprised to learn actually helped a bit and I still use the Calm app, daily). I was a (not) walking paragon of healthy living. And yet I still wasn’t feeling better. So, one afternoon, I impulsively poured a glass of white wine. I drank it and poured another half glass. I can’t say I especially liked the taste; whereas I once relished its crisp dryness, now it just tasted sour. Indeed, the smell of it made my stomach churn – or was that all the blueberries?! Still, the ritual of selecting a nice glass, ceremoniously unscrewing the cap (not quite the same as the pop of a cork, eh?) and hearing that familiar glug-glug-glug of liquid into the glass washed away the rising sense of inner-guilt I was battling thanks to my impending betrayal of the alcohol-free life I’ve been such a proponent of. I drank.
I’d failed. And I failed again the next night too.
Why? Why did I break such a long alcohol-free streak? The honest answer is: I just wanted to feel something other than the way I was feeling. I wanted to temporarily lift myself away from that, float away on a comforting wine cloud, even just for an hour or so. I wanted an escape. I guess that’s the thing about being alcohol-free, everything is so real one hundred percent of the time. Your feelings, emotions, physical and mental being are all experienced in full twenty-first century technicolour. Wine flicks the ‘off’ switch for a bit, allowing you to sink in to the sofa and step off the hamster-wheel. Feeling ill? Fallen out with someone? Working too hard? Kids challenging? Self-medicating with alcohol allows you to momentarily stop and forget, or at the very least, dull the edges a bit.
So why am I telling you this? Well, instead of seeing my blip as failure, it’s actually turned in to a real positive. Those glasses of wine were 33 days ago and not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips since then. That slip in resolve allowed me to experience my old life and the feelings that alcohol brought with it and, having had such a long period without it, enabled me to draw direct comparisons between quality of life with, and without, alcohol. Here’s what I’ve found:
- I’m still an ‘all or nothing’ person. Those few glasses of wine immediately reignited my desire for more. The internal ‘should I or shouldn’t I have a glass of wine tonight’ narrative came back with a vengeance. And I’d forgotten how much time you can waste pointlessly arguing with yourself. Cut out the booze, you also cut out that daily internal battle, freeing up so much brain space for other, more worthwhile, things.
- No matter how little you have, alcohol still has side-effects. I may have only had a couple of glasses, but my God, I felt awful the next day. A dreadful night’s sleep was followed by me being cranky and grouchy the next morning. At a time when good sleep was something I most needed, the self-enforced lack of it was really stupid. And don’t even get me started on the guilt.
- A couple of weeks after the alcohol was out of my system, that familiar rosy glow and lightness of spirit began to return. I began to feel better. I was taking pleasure in simple things again. Alcohol definitely dulls your senses and depresses your mood.
- If you drink to escape, you never will. Drinking might temporarily take you away from your problems, but they’ll still be there in the morning. And facing them with a hangover is ten-times worse. Sobriety makes us face up to life. It’s unfiltered and unrelenting and so finding your natural place in the world as you – not some alcohol-induced pastiche of you – is perhaps one of the most rewarding things you can do.
- Alcohol isn’t the truth drug: sobriety is. The often-recounted ‘the truth comes out when you’re drunk’ is nonsense. Drink and you’re kidding yourself, you’re avoiding facing up to things and, frankly, talking a load of rubbish. Stop drinking and you start actually dealing with people and things with clarity and honesty.
- The short-lived escapism found in a drink absolutely is not worth losing the incredible benefits that sobriety brings.
So there we go, lesson learned. I’m still never saying never when it comes to alcohol. But this episode has reinforced that, at this time, I neither want nor need alcohol in my life. Facing each day without the vaseline smear of a drink to soften the edges is this forty-something’s act of rebellion. Cheers!