On the other side of the alcohol fast

I have seen and soaked in the light at the end of the tunnel!

Giant hand

My husband and I went alcohol-free for 43 straight days. It started on February 1 and ended, fittingly enough, at a St. Patrick’s Day party (in case you were wondering about the random number). Together we do this fast annually.

Despite not being a heavy/binge drinker (less than 2 – 3 beers a week if that), I slogged through this year’s second annual alcohol fast. There were many moments that reminded me of how prevalent alcohol was in my life. Especially my social life. I didn’t go out much during the fast. Without alcohol I just didn’t feel like it. Why put myself in the path of temptation, right? Not that it was considerably easier to avoid at home… At the end of the week, my husband and I like to sit back with a beer after dinner, talk, laugh and let the absurdities of the work week slide away. One Friday night my husband and I were playing music that we liked for each other and halfway through the night I paused and blurted out, “I miss beer. Are we crazy for doing this?” The few times I did go out with friends, including to attend a Super Bowl party, involved people who were light drinkers so there was no pressure to drink. It was still hard but we survived and even had a really good time.

Now that I am free to drink again I am feeling a little anxious. A little hesitant to start again. Maybe even a little guilty…

You see, during this year’s fast, a friend invited me to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting with him. He thought that maybe I would appreciate and benefit from the solidarity. I was nervous – not knowing what to expect. But I found the meeting to be very powerful. Somehow. Some way. Not sure why. It seemed like a straightforward enough formula. Just people meeting everyday and talking about their experience with alcohol recovery. There were no counselors or other “professionals.” It was a meeting for alcoholics – run BY alcoholics. And yet, this simple act of gathering with others and talking is helping a lot of people cope with alcohol addiction.

Listening to their stories made me think about my own relationship with alcohol. They didn’t seem so different from me and yet I am not an alcoholic. (Yet?) But I realized then that the only reason I can do these alcohol fasts is that at the end of the 30 days (or however many days I decide to abstain) an ice-cold beer is waiting for me. It’s not forever. Not even close. That is not the future that these people see. If you told me I couldn’t have alcohol ever again, I don’t know how successful I would be. I just don’t know if I could give up something forever… not willingly anyway. And now that I’m drinking again I feel a little bit like a coward. Even though I know their battle is so very different from mine.

Ultimately, I am tremendously ill-equipped to grasp the struggles of recovering alcoholics. I could try but not without coming off as patronizing or just plain stupid. There are people out there with problems bigger than my own. And I walked away from that meeting immeasurably moved but also feeling small and petty. And a little silly for thinking that my few weeks of abstaining had some sort of meaning in the larger scheme of life. But I’m not sure it has to. Maybe it’s enough that it has meaning for me…

We don’t have an understanding of addiction. Let alone a solution for recovery. We try a hundred different ways including acupuncture and for some people it works. But for others it’s back to square one.

As for me, I will continue to abstain for a few weeks every year, in the hopes of learning something – maybe about myself – maybe about others. And I encourage you to do the same. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Anything really that you think you can’t live without. You will learn so much about yourself – good or bad. Maybe, like me, you already have…

What would you give up temporarily if you were to embark on your own experiment?

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The light at the end of the sober tunnel…

You know when Jennifer Love Hewitt on her show, Ghost Whisperer, talks about heading towards the light? And how warm, beautiful and great it’s going to be? Well, believe it or not, the end of my 30-day alcohol fast wasn’t quite that simple (or glorious). But let me start from the beginning…

Day 1 to day 12: Pretty much sucked. I’m not going to mince words. It really sucked. I was restless. I didn’t know what to do with myself. All I could think about was having a drink. I was also dreaming about drinking. It was social drinking withdrawal. I was even dreading the weekend – which is when the urge to drink hits the hardest!

Day 13 to 18: I became sullenly resigned to the experiment. I was starting to see the benefits but was still pretty salty about it. Grudgingly, I was sleeping better – feeling a bit more alert and less sluggish. I even felt thinner (even if the scale wasn’t showing it).

Day 19 to 28: I was finally in it to win it. I was getting the hang of it. Mentally I was no longer yearning for a yummy pint of beer or glass of wine. I was like a normal functioning member of society! (I said “like”… I wasn’t drinking that much before). 😉 I could also talk about it without hyperventilating or sobbing.

Day 29 to 30: As I was thinking about where I was going to have my first drink to break my fast, I started to feel a little anxious about getting back off the wagon. It was a struggle to stop depending on alcohol socially (and emotionally) and I was feeling pretty good so why get back on? Why am I throwing away this newfound feeling of wellness? Will I go right back to previous habits? What about all the money I will no longer be saving?

Cheers!

I had my first drink three days ago with a great group of friends… I was excited to be back… BUT I did end up having beer spilled on me, a sick feeling in my stomach and the worst night sleep in weeks! Ack! Remind me again why I jumped off my healthy wagon?

Overall, the drink fast was a great experience. I learned a lot about my relationship with alcohol. Mostly that I was starting to depend on it a little too much.

That I was actually drinking more than I realized…

That if I go without for a really long time, I’d be okay…

That life is possible and pretty good on and off the sauce…

And though there is no way to calculate the money I saved, I know I did save some and I am treating myself to a bicycle – at last.

Moving forward I plan on continuing to drink but cutting back a lot — maybe even reserving it for special occasions only — treating drinking as a bonus in my life rather than a requirement.  I am also planning on doing my alcohol-fast annually. Just as a way of getting me back on track and shaking things up.

Will you join me next year? How did your drink fast go?

How to deal with your non-drinking friend

As you know, a group of us are going alcohol-free for 30 days starting February 1st. There have been a variety of reactions to my plan ranging from a congratulatory hug to visible recoil. It is pretty interesting to see them and get a feel for other people’s relationship with alcohol.

But let’s not forget that drinking has a huge social component to it so here is how you can deal with your alcohol-free friend (whether her sobriety is temporary or permanent):

1.  Do not talk her into having a drink.

2.  Do not treat her like a social pariah or like she’s lost her mind.

3.  Do not give her the “head tilt – I’m so sorry” look every time you see her.

4.  Do not hide your alcohol from her or flaunt it in her face either.

5.  Do not explain to her why you would not give up alcohol.

6.  Do ask her how she’s feeling and provide encouragement.

7.  Do continue to invite her to your parties and get-togethers.

8.  Do treat her like nothing has changed.

9.  Do buy her a juice or soda if she’s at a bar with you.

10.  Join her. You might be surprised at what you will discover about yourself.

It’s not hard. It’s not weird. And  you will help your friend accomplish something good. If you’re on Twitter, follow along and provide support with the hashtag #dry or #drinkstrike. You can also leave a comment here or on my Facebook Page.

Below is the list of intrepid individuals joining me in February:

1.  My husband, Warren
2.  My sister, Mary Jane
3.  My friend, Joylette
4.  Danny Stewart
5.  Lisa Byrne
6.  Shonali Burke
7.   Vanessa French
8 .  Michelle Nguyen
9.  Krista
10.  Jeff (aka) Malnurtured Snay
11.  Danielle Ricks

It’s not too late to join us! February 1st  is only TWO days away… Are you ready?