Update

No one likes a story with no end so I thought I would post an update.

 

So what has happened in the last 5 years?  Well, I passed my medical degree and I have worked as a few years as a doctor.  I have gone through a painful breakup as well as many other normal things.

 

In regards to alcohol, am I still abstinent?  Well the short answer is no.

The longer answer is, whilst I still do drink alcohol, my relationship with it is much better than it was before.  Let me explain why.  I used to binge drink and sometimes do this alone.  Living with my aforementioned partner for 4 years (who did not drink very much at all) helped “force” me to drink in a more “normal” way for a few years.  Now we have broken up and I am living alone, have I gone back to my destructive ways?  No.  There are a few reasons for this:

 

  1.  Age – I think a lot of people don’t drink as much when they are past 30.  Work, weekend plans and worsening hangovers temper a lot of people
  2. Experience – Even people who never want to stop drinking soon realise that it is harming their achievements in life as they watch the years slip away.  People who carry on drinking abusively often tend to be obvious alcoholics once into their 30’s.  Even those who cover it up realise deep down that they are unhappy about their relationship with alcohol
  3. Fitness – I have become a keen gym goer in the last few years (mainly weight lifting and some cardio) including periods where I have controlled my caloric intake in order to drop fat.  Booze is full of calories and affects how fit you feel, which help me stay away.
  4. Maturity – I am now 32 years old.  I no longer think that I am a funnier or more interesting person whilst drinking.  I care a lot less about what other people think of me.  This helps when going out as I don’t feel nervous and reach for a glass.
  5. The next day…. – As I have got older I no longer “just live for the moment” in the sense that I am aware that, no matter how great of a time I am having, it is a social event and I will wake up tomorrow.  I also know now that it’s much better to leave at the peak of a party and have great memories, rather than stay and watch the night slowly become less and less fun.
  6. Health – A few years ago I got heart palpitations after alcohol.  Enough said.

 

So how much do I drink now?  Well I have periods where I do not drink for a week or two then I will go out and have 2-3 drinks with friends.  I avoid “day drinking” and go for coffee instead.  Big events (stag, new years etc) I will have 4ish drinks spaced over 6 hours.  I roughly consume 10 units a week on average.  It is much easier to have soft drinks spaced throughout the night than it used to be.

I now view alcohol like my fitness.  There is no “start tomorrow”.  Life is happening now and every decision I make will be part of that life.  I also know that if my mental attitude changed, that I am still vulnerable to the ill effects of drinking too much, just as I did when I was younger.

Best of luck to everyone out there.  If booze ever starts to take up too much mental energy I plan to stop completely rather than fight to stay “moderate”.

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Why does me not drinking mean it’s not “fun” for you?

So some good news and bad news.  Good news is that I managed to get up and have a good day Tuesday!  Bad news is that, even with only 4 hours sleep under my belt, I still couldn’t get to sleep till 5am last night and thus promptly missed this morning 😦

Whilst this morning’s material was just lectures and thus I can still cover the material (e-lectures are heaven sent for the part time insomniac)  this still annoyed me.  Thus tonight I have resolved to only distract myself only with work if I can’t sleep (apart from this blog, ahem ahem).  If I have dead time in my day it might as well at least be spent getting my “In” tray minimized.

As well as not going in on Monday (the day was a write off) I also missed an evening lecture about expedition medicine, which annoyed me somewhat.  Now that I’m freeing up more time I want to start exploring interesting avenues my career (or spare time) could take and no harm done if it also improves the CV!  I know from my experience (and instinctively deep down) that one’s life is best when we fill it with exciting and challenging things to do and that it is by overcoming these challenges that we find fulfilment and happiness along the way.  Looking back on my first few blogs it was this feeling of lost opportunity when drinking which, maybe even partially subconsciously, upset me the most.

I could feel me putting myself out there less and less.  The time was needed to be spent going out, being hungover or doing work needed to pass exams.  It is this time which I will start to get back (once I’m back on a normal schedule) now that my energies are becoming less and less drinking focused.

A final thought on a comment a close friend (the same from the weekend, let’s call him and his fiancé, “Heathcliff and Cathy” from here on out) made to me.  “Come on mate, you can have a beer with your curry!”  Heath and Cathy had come round for dinner with me and my girlfriend the previous week.  We had provided the food and I had told him I was not drinking but to bring whatever he wanted to drink with him.  They turned up with some soft drinks and he had said, “Oh no, that’s alright, it’s no fun drinking when no one else is”.  Why is this often the case?  If we had met at a coffee shop and I had ordered tea, I’m certain that my choice not to drink coffee wouldn’t have stopped him from having one if he had wanted!  Why is it so common that when someone chooses not to drink that, through no fault of his/her own, there is often a small feeling hanging in the air that they are making everyone else not drink?

Even away from Laddish pub round culture, where if you say, “Oh no, I’m fine thanks Bruce, I’ll have a slimline tonic this round”, you might as well submit your application to be runt of the litter in writing, it’s still present.  In this example, a middle class, four person dinner party between close friends, I still felt like my decision to not drink that night was “spoiling” the fun.

As previously mentioned, I will talk to him before seeing him next and I’m sure he will be more supportive (he is a great guy, he just doesn’t understand the reasons for my choice) and I’m sure that as time passes he will stop caring and just do what he wants.  That said,I’m not totally sure that, when we both decide to meet in the pub after a long absence, if it will ever quite be the same.  Recognising common interests is one of the strongest bases for friendship between humans and for those who drink, it is usually a fairly strong interest.  I wonder, whether in the back of a friend’s mind, if they will ever completely forget, that in my hand is a slimline tonic and in theirs a pint of continental larger.

Slipping

So haven’t posted for a while and while I’m still doing ok things seem to have taken a turn for the worse life wise. Nothing has “happened” but after having a few days off last week as I was feeling under the weather I seem to lack any motivation to get anything done! This part of me, the part which has wanted to go and hide and be alone, has always been there. It is part of what, when combined with drinking and it’s after effects, could mean I would stay in this rut for a week or more.

In some ways it’s comforting to know that I can still fall into these bouts of lethargy as it’s nice to know that I’m really the same person without booze. However, it does leave me wondering whether this is going to be another problem I will have to address. The numbers of things one can find to distract themselves and procrastinate with in the 21st century leave me worrying that I’m going to have to start addressing this problem at the same time which feels like all rather too much! For now I know what I have to do, I have to get up early. Sounds simple I know, but I’m naturally a night owl. My sleep patterns slip into sleeping at 3am waking at midday and it’s easy to convince yourself that you will just sleep into 10am and then go in for a half day which inevitable doesn’t happen! So tomorrow I will just have to force myself to get up with 3 hours sleep at 6, have a full day and I should be back on track.  This is the plan for tomorrow!

From a drinking perspective I’m running into trouble too. I’m starting to think, “Oh, I just want to be normal, I can limit myself just like most other people do can’t I? Why should I have to deny myself this for the rest of my life?! I know loads of people who drink too much” (also doesn’t’ help that my flatmate is a binge drinker and most likely has drink problem). These thoughts are dangerous as I need to keep reminding myself that, whilst other people can drink moderately and think nothing of it, even the times when I have done that I would have always drunk more if other people were too. It also doesn’t help that a close friend (who I told I was quitting for a month due to an indulgent December) keeps saying things like, “Oh go on mate, It’s Saturday night and you can’t have curry without beer!” Next time I see him I think it’s time to tell him that actually I think it’s going to be a long term thing and that, even whilst he might not be able to understand it, I would appreciate it if he would support me.

Going to get back on track this week and won’t leave it so long till my next post!

Alcohol, the most destructive drug in society today

Two days ago I attended a talk titled, “Alcohol and its effects on Accident and Emergency departments”.  Considering my recent stopping drinking this was an interesting talk to attend and only served to reinforce my immediate decision.  The consultant talked of how £3 Billion was spent in the NHS each year treating the morbidity created by alcohol misuse.  He also mentioned that £30 billion a year is lost from the UK economy due to alcohol.

He spoke about how 30% of all A+ E admissions were related to alcohol and about how he felt that the UK was a country in denial, just like an addict, about its relationship with booze.  He cited that day’s Daily Mirror newspaper which had, on page 27, Prince Charles downing a pint and being admired for it and on the opposite page, a story of a woman who beat up her son’s school teacher whilst drunk.

Professor Nutt published a study in the Lancet in 2010 which found that, out of every recreational drug, that when self-harm and harm to others are combined, alcohol comes out top.  It is the most destructive drug in our society today.  The study can be read here:

http://www.fcaglp.unlp.edu.ar/~mmiller/espanol/Variedades,%20politica/drogas_Journal.pdf

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This, granted, is due to the large amount of social dysfunction and the scale of alcohol abuse when compared to other drugs.  While crack and heroin still beat alcohol when just self-harm is considered, alcohol does not lag far behind!

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It does make you wonder what society would be like if alcohol had always been illegal or didn’t exist.  Less of the anger, depression and lonliness seen in the faces of the hungover going to work?  Maybe no shiver of fear, discomfort or sadness when you pass a busy pub or bar after 12am on a Saturday night.  During the talk I felt slightly like I had spent my whole life living inside a crack house and was, for the first time, starting to stick my head out the door and seeing all the normal, happy people who didn’t need to drug themselves every day to make life “fun”.

If alcohol was still illegal I’m sure I never would have worried about it. If it was perhaps illegal to sell, but not illegal to brew on one’s own property, I’m sure I would be fine.  You would drink when you visited a vineyard, or mad Uncle Geoff who brews ale in his bathtub, but the lack of ready supply would mean that it was only ever an addition to proceedings, a treat.  But instead we have the situation where this drug, which if discovered today would be illegal and most likely classified as a class A drug, is ubiquitous at all adult (and adolescent!) social functions.  This ever present crutch is used to celebrate, to commiserate, to relax, to mellow, to agree, to laugh and to mourn.

For me personally the week has been going off without a hitch.  Without drink I have become much keener at my work and in fact am a bit scared of my weekend, as I’m worried I will get bored!  I have realised that now I really need to start planning activities, as you can’t just fill your free time with drinking and sleeping.  Much healthier in the long run I’m sure, but I need to be less lazy about organising my social life and do it!

Yesterday I went to the gym and within the first five minutes on the treadmill I felt great.  What a perfect way to release those tensions and burn off those stresses!  It’s also the only way I have of doing that now without booze!  This weekend I will have to try more of the same.  Exercise lots to stave off the boredom, which I think could be my undoing if I’m not careful.  Whilst I feel positive and good about what I am doing at the moment, it also feels like I’m the only vegan at a Roman banquet.  I like all the people around me, but I can’t help but feel like I should really be at a different dinner party!

The hardest part is yet to come

So here I am on day 7.  This time last week I would be shortly heading out on the evening described in my first blog, Day 1.  I got through the weekend fairly easily and am currently about to attend an out of hours guest lecture on the effects of alcohol on Accident and Emergency departments.  This new interest of mine in extracurricular learning could be explained as being a by-product of the same burst of proactivity to change that gave me the imputes to stop drinking.  It could also be because now, without my subconscious addict telling me to go home (so that, lo and behold, when I had 3 hours to kill before bed there was time for wine) I have evenings to fill!

I have felt the need to exercise this week building up inside of me also.  It is currently too icy to cycle at the moment so my usual hour of cycling a day has been replaced by an hour on the bus which has left me itching to start regular exercise again.  This, combined with my not drinking, should hopefully mean that over the coming weeks and months I will start achieving a level of fitness I have not had since my teens.  One step at a time though!

In my web surfing on my day 1 I came across a quote, which was from AA I think.  It was “the hard part is not getting sober, it is living sober”.  This is true in my case, not because I find life hard when I’m sober, as the quote may have originally been intended (if anything I felt more out of control of my life when I was drinking, time was elastic and was always running out) but because I can already hear the voices of doubt in my head saying things like, “look how easy it was for you to quit, you don’t really have a problem” and “stop for a while, but there’s no need to stop forever”.  Alas, alcohol abuse, like most things in medicine or life, is not black and white.  There is not diagnostic criteria or genetic tests one can run to confirm it.  How much easier it would be to address these voices if you could go to your GP and be told, “Yes, you have alcoholism I’m afraid, you probably caught it from your recent holiday to Thailand”.  Alcoholism is a scale, roughly estimated using psychological addiction evaluation and patient history.

I have just finished Augusten Burroughs memoir “Dry” and the type of drinking behaviour he engages in in the book I could never compare my own drinking too.  I have never woken up in the morning and started drinking or have had that constant nagging voice in my head demanding a drink (when sober for a length of time).  However I know that alcohol was harder for me to stop than most other things.  Ask me to give up chocolate, fine.  Pasta?  Tricky as it’s a staple in my diet but easily done. Alcohol?  It took a conscious effort to actually start over several weeks, stretching into months.

I don’t know where I am on the scale which stretches between “drinks too much once a month” and “chronic alcoholic, drinks daily”, but I do know that I am on it.  And this means I am going to ignore the voices and carry on with my experiment of living my life sober and comparing the evidence, as objectively as one can, to see if my life improves or not.  I suspect it will.  To steal another quote, “nothing bad ever happened to anyone by them not drinking”

How long does it ACTUALLY take to recover from a hangover?

I woke up at 8 am today after seven hours of peaceful sleep and it got me thinking.  It’s no new discovery that you wake refreshed after a night without booze. Alcohol disturbs your natural sleep cycle which means that the quality of sleep you get when intoxicated is much lower than the quality you get when you’re sober.  Previously, if I had been out on Saturday night, I would only just now be dragging myself out of bed (at 1pm) and not looking forward to doing anything today.  In fact, I would be WANTING today to be over as quickly as possible so that I wouldn’t be feeling like total shit.  How crazy is that?  To be wishing for one of my two free days a week to be over so that I could stop feeling the affects of “having fun” the night before.  That horrible low, lethargic feeling after drinking which can only be cured by a good night’s sleep.

But is one night’s sleep all you need?

I, now on Day 5, only feel that now I am actually in touch with how my body is feeling based on it’s normal physiological needs (such as tiredness, hunger, activity levels etc).  Before I think I only really had two settings.  Those were hungover (1 day) and post-hungover (1-3 days where you try to recover your sleep patterns and get back on top of things).

I had never appreciated before this “post-hangover” time, which, like a hangover, was a massive waste of life and time.  Taking that previous example, if I had been drunk on Saturday, recovering on Sunday and then back on the wards on Monday I would have most likely either A) missed Monday or Monday morning to catch up on the quality sleep I didn’t get on Saturday night or B) Have gone onto wards and spent the whole day looking forward to getting home so that I could lie down and vegetate.  How crazy is that?  What a way to start the working week!

The recovery time from drunkenness takes longer as you get older.  Also, as you age, in general your leisure time diminishes.  I still, like many people my age, was creating this situation where I was spending more and more time each week not enjoying myself, all due to thinking that “relaxing” on Friday and Saturday evenings was required to help me recover from having had a tough week.  Which had been BECAUSE I had been drinking the previous Friday and Saturday!

This is before we start discussing that, for me, drinking wakes me up, so I can’t hear my body saying “It’s 12.30am, go to bed.” So I stay up till 6 am!

So in conclusion, where it may only take a day or two for your body to recover from a nights drinking, I think it can take your mind UP TO A WEEK to rebalance itself, readjust and to start to feel POSITIVE again!

This morning, awakening the earliest I have on a Sunday without an alarm for a long time, I even felt like going for a run.  My body, like last time I stopped drinking, is starting to feel strong.  My mind, instead of feeling low and wanting to give up, is now feeling like it wants to get up and go!

Then I looked out of my window and saw it was snowing so I watched TV instead.

One step at a time! 🙂

Day 4

Short post tonight, as I’m pretty tierd after having played dinner host to two friends.  My girlfriend and I cooked dinner followed by animated games of Articulate, Cluedo (Clue in America) and Uno.  All in all a very grown up and middle class night.  Asda’s finest “rose, cranberry and grape seltzer” was on hand, along with copious amounts of ginger ale, although, funnily enough, no one else drank.  As previously mentioned my girlfriend is so unbothered by booze that she will only accept it politely when offered and my friends said that if no one else was drinking it would be no fun (what a healthy attitude!).

Earlier in the day I had met up with another friend.  She’s had trouble in the past with depression and alcohol abuse, but has not drunk for a few years. I told her my worries and admitted to her some of the more embarrassing stories of my nights of excess.  I don’t quite know what I expected, but she seemed to just listen and didn’t treat it like a big deal at all, at which I felt slightly let down by.  Maybe it’s a good thing though.  Maybe it’s a good that instead of some huge shift from normal, not drinking is actually so unimportant in affecting day to day living that is doesn’t require a huge “chat”.

I will likely continue to post for the next few days as I start to get more comfortable in my new skin.  I will then probably only post when I’m feeling like I need to reinforce my decision, or have something interesting to say.

Thanks to all of you who have read, commented or started to follow this blog, as knowing you guys are out there is a big help 🙂

For now, here’s to day 5!