February 09, 2019

Sobriety Musings: My History With Alcohol and What I've Learned in 39 Days Sober

My history with alcohol and what I've learned in the last 39 days without.

Holy smokes, have I been a lazy blogger! I didn't realize until just now that it's been over a week since my last post. I had no idea what to really write about, so I thought I'd give an update on my "Dry 2019" personal challenge (no alcohol for the entire year).

It feels kind of odd to call this "sobriety", because when I hear that word, I immediate think of an alcoholic who is in recovery. However, when I looked up the meaning of sobriety, it read: "The act of being sober". Haha! So, I looked up sober, and it's simply: "Not affected by alcohol; not drunk".

So, by definition, I am in sobriety. Sober.

When I started this personal challenge, I didn't think of myself as an alcoholic; when I picture an alcoholic, Frank Gallagher is the first thing that pops into my mind, haha. Of course, he is on the extreme end of the alcoholic spectrum. Since I was nothing at all like that, the term alcoholic didn't seem to apply to me.

Is there a spectrum? I've come to believe there is. Stone cold sober is at one end, and Frank Gallagher is at the other (Frank is a character on the show Shameless, if you've not seen it). For the first week of sobriety, I wondered exactly where I fell on that spectrum.

And honestly, I still don't know. I was never physically dependent on alcohol (and I'm grateful for that!). However, I've been thinking... for me to want to have thought of this challenge, alcohol had to have played a pretty important (negative) roll in my life. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing it!

Today, I am 39 days sober and counting. Being sober for this long has given me some "Aha!" moments about my use of alcohol. I'll try and sum up some of it here. First, some background:

I had always been what most people refer to as a "social drinker"--having a few drinks at parties, basically. My first drink was when I was 17--apple pucker schnapps (ohhhh, how gross when I think of it now!)--and I didn't drink again until college. I lived in a dorm, and like most freshmen, we had parties fairly frequently.

I got married a couple of years later, in 2003, and then pregnant a couple of months after that, which meant no drinking for a long time. Nine months after having Noah, I was pregnant with Eli. So, I had gone pretty much two years without drinking at all.

Once I was done having kids and parties were few and far between, I didn't drink much. In 2009, my friend Renee and I started a wine club for our girlfriends, where we would meet once a month to sample several different types of wine. I was NOT a fan of wine at the time, but I liked the idea of trying different kinds to see if there was one I liked.

Eventually, I really started to like it--the "acquired taste" that drinkers tell non-drinkers will happen if they continue to try it. Once I started to enjoy it, I began to include it in my diet regimen. I would save my Weight Watchers points for a 5-6 oz glass and a piece of chocolate nearly every day. It was never a problem.

Then, in 2014, my anxiety got REALLY bad. I was getting several not-so-nice comments on my blog, and just the thought of writing a blog post made me feel sick. I wrote a whole post about it: Freeing Myself of the Anxiety from Social Media. That post explains it in detail.

Anyway, I got in the habit of pouring a glass of wine when I sat down to write a blog post. It wasn't unusual to finish the bottle of wine by the time I was done writing (believe it or not, writing a blog post, even a very simple one, takes me several hours--I have been working on this one for three days now, hahaha). The wine quieted the anxiety that was sure to skyrocket when I clicked "Publish" on my post.

Since then, I've gone back and forth from drinking a lot to not drinking much at all. For most of 2017, I hardly drank anything--I was very happy after my bipolar diagnosis and starting the proper bipolar medication, and I had no desire to drink at all. (I do want to mention here that bipolar and addiction go hand-in-hand; it's rare to find someone with bipolar who doesn't have an addiction of some sort--alcohol, food, drugs, shopping, gambling, sex, etc.)

Toward the end of the year, however, I had a lot of emotional stuff going on (mainly from worrying about Jerry and some other family stuff) and I used alcohol to relieve the stress. I found that when I drank, I could numb the uncomfortable feelings for a while. I didn't think of it as a problem, because I wasn't dependent on it, I wasn't day drinking, and I wasn't getting "drunk". It just made me feel happier for a few hours.

Sometime in 2018, I started drinking more out of habit than anything else. When working on the house for days on end, I'd have a few beers while sanding, painting, sawing, etc. Or I'd pour a glass of wine when I sat down at the end of a long day.

And even though I wasn't getting drunk, I would wake up in the mornings feeling crappy. I'm clearly not 21 years old anymore, and the older I get, the side effects of drinking get worse (I've listed the details in this post). I decided that I should probably quit before it became a "real" problem.

Even though I wasn't physically addicted, I found it so hard to quit! I hadn't realized it, but somewhere along the way, it became a significant part of my life.

So, in November of 2018, I started thinking about going for a full year without drinking in order to see if I felt better. I was hoping for less mood shifts, better sleep, less anxiety, no depression, and several other things. I could have chosen 30 days, or 90 days, or some other number, but I didn't think that was enough time to truly see what sort of role alcohol played in my life.

In order to make sure that I would stick with it, I announced here on my blog as well as on my personal Facebook page. I thought announcing it to my friends on Facebook would be the easiest way to explain why I wouldn't be drinking if we go out or have a get together or whatever. And I have to say, if I hadn't been so public, I certainly would have quit within the first week!

The first few days weren't bad, simply because I was excited about doing something new. However, the next few weeks were very tough! Here is what I learned:

Negatives:

  The main reason I would drink (other than in social situations) was to relieve stress and/or anxiety. In sobriety, I am still having a very hard time finding other ways to relieve stress and relax. Maybe one day, I can be one of those people who exercises, takes a hot bath, or drinks tea for stress relief, but I'm not there yet.

  I found myself substituting food for alcohol. I may not be consuming calories from alcohol, but I definitely made up for that with food. (I'm doing better with that now, for the past week or so--eating a planned snack and sticking to small portions).

  I find myself feeling like something is missing. I'm sure this will go away with time, but because drinking while in particular circumstances had become such an ingrained habit, it's going to take a while to feel fulfilled while sober. It's no longer an option for quick stress relief. And God help me when I get on a plane to travel in a couple of months! 

  When friends post photos of them drinking, I feel like I'm missing out. Like I said before, though, I think I'm just romanticizing the idea of it rather than the act itself.

Positives:

  My quality of sleep has improved drastically. I don't wake up during the night anymore, and I can't explain how huge this is for me. I used to wake up multiple times a night, tossing and turning. Now, I sleep for about six hours and even though that isn't the "ideal" eight hours we are told to aim for, my body is well rested because of the quality of sleep.

  I have a lot more energy in the mornings. Instead of waking up to my alarm and then dreading getting out of bed to start the day, I usually wake up between 5:00 and 6:00 (my alarm is set for 6:00 on school days) and I have no problem getting out of bed right away.

  I've been more active in the evenings. I find myself feeling antsy after dinner and the anxiety starts to build, so I have been working on any sort of project I can think of to keep my mind and body occupied. I have been organizing several areas of my house, and I really like how "neat" everything is when I am done.

I even made a pretty fun wall clock (it's a chalkboard!) and I'm working on a cat "hotel"--Hotel Catifornia (Jerry's name for it, haha). It's not as big of a deal as it sounds--it's literally just an old book shelf that I painted and cut windows in. Basically a slightly-glorified triple story cat bed. I will post pictures when I'm done with it.

Here is the wall clock I made, though. It's about six feet in diameter!

huge chalkboard wall clock


  Sex. (Mom, if you're reading, skip this part). Wine was always my go-to for feeling sexy and getting in the mood. I've never had much of a libido, and I was so sure that quitting drinking would make it non-existent and sex would be boring. However, I found the opposite to be true. For some real TMI, I will just state that orgasms are much better and last longer. 🙈

  I've mentioned before that I used to get super bloated sometimes for reasons unknown (and that is why I experimented with intermittent fasting). Since I stopped drinking, I haven't gotten that uncomfortable bloated feeling even once! This is the most significant change for me. Alcohol didn't always make me feel bloated, which is why I never put two and two together. But now that I haven't had any issues with severe bloating, I don't really think it's a coincidence.

  Finally, and this may just be a coincidence also, but my appetite has decreased (as of a couple of weeks ago). I eat breakfast (toast with cinnamon raisin peanut butter) and then I don't eat again until dinner at four or five o'clock. I don't have any cravings--how weird is that?! Even when I'm physically hungry, it's hard to choose something to eat because I just don't have a big appetite.

Unfortunately, I haven't made progress with my weight, but I think that's because I was substituting food for the alcohol for the first few weeks. Now that I'm no longer doing that, I hope to start seeing some of the 35 pounds I gained last year come off.

  I'm really happy about the example I'm setting for the kids. I'm not anti-drinking (in moderation), but I want them to see that it's okay NOT to drink, too.



So, it's been 39 days and this is how it's going so far. Per the suggestion from about a dozen readers, I got the book This Naked Mind. I'm about 3/4 of the way through it, and I really like it!

After a couple of chapters, I even got out a highlighter--something I never do--and highlighted things that stuck out to me. Maybe I will write a review when I'm done with it. I do find it to be very repetitive, however, so I'm having a hard time finishing the last little bit of it. Even after this year is over, I don't think I'll ever see alcohol the same way again, thanks to the book.

I realize that the musings of 39 days of sobriety isn't exactly super insightful, but as part of this experiment, I wanted to document any changes I notice in sobriety along the way. I certainly don't feel like one of those people who is clearly "high on life" and is practically bursting at the seams with a sober, happy existence, sans alcohol--maybe that will come in time, who knows?--but I have definitely noticed some very positive changes. Hopefully there is more to come! :)

(Several people have asked if I will drink again when this experiment is over. It's way too early for me to say! Right now, I'm just committed to a year.)

I'm going to try to post a few times this week. I really don't want to get in the habit of only posting once a week or so. I'm very nervous about posting this, because it's such a personal thing to share, but I'm sure there are people who probably have a lot of the same things going on. It's always nice not to feel alone!

Have a great weekend, Friends!


20 comments:

  1. First of all that clock is amazing!!!! Holy Cow you are quite the DIY'er!!

    Secondly, I too love my beer for your same reasons. One beer after an extremely stressful day just takes the "edge" off. Other than that I am a purely social drinker. I have no interest in taking a break like you but, I think its interesting with some of your physical and mental changes you are seeing so far.

    I am surprised the posts take you so long to write...ha! They seem to just flow so easily that I figured you just sat down and the thoughts came flowing out like water?!

    Take care, Keep on being you!! ;-)

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  2. Well done, sounds good so far. For me the sleep improvement is key. Enough good sleep means being able to do stuff in the morning and also not eating to compensate for being tired. I stress eat unhealthy food mostly so just sorting out stressful situations as soon as possible is one help. I try to keep everything in perspectivebut there is always something to worry about. Some cough to get over. Some school thing for the kids. Oh well. Never give up.

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  3. The clock looks awesome! I am REALLY look forward to the full before-and-after renovation photos. This post on the early days of your sobriety was very interesting, thank you for sharing it.

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  4. Thank you, thank you for another transparent post. It's what keeps me coming back time and time again (6+years now!). I love the thoughtful evaluation of this challenge you've given yourself. Thank you for your time and authenticity.

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  5. I love your posts! Keep being real and sharing! Keep up the work you are doing on being the best you, you can be!

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  6. Congrats on your decision and for a good 39 days into your choice! Since alcohol is a socially acceptable neurotoxin, we often are conditioned into including it in our days/nights without much thought, unless it should become a problem. Excess drinking over the years has definitely landed some extra weight on my bones! Good luck on your journey and THANK YOU for sharing!!

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  7. Love the clock! What a fun idea! Thanks for sharing this update on your "sobriety". Coming from a family who has a history of alchololism, I find this very helpful to read. Although it's different for everyone, I can see how so many mom's become easily addicted without being aware of it.

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  8. Katie, I just want to say how grateful I am for all that you share with us--especially after realizing what it costs you in time, effort and anxiety. You are truly enriching many lives!

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  9. I NEVER comment on blog posts...ever! But, I have to tell you that I am so thankful for your transparency and willingness to share just about everything! I look forward to your posts and, even though, there's a lot about our lives that is different, I ALWAYS find something to relate to when reading. I have no doubt that it is terrifying to put yourself out there, but you should know that, your readers (whether they comment or not!) are thankful for an honest and open "community" (because that's what you've built here -- I hope you know that.). Here's to an alcohol free 2019 AND a 35 lb loss for us both!

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  10. This is so interesting! I love that you always report your findings to us. And I already told you on Instagram lol but I love the clock!! Great job on everything you’ve accomplished!!

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  11. This is yet another amazing, thoughtful, helpful post. I had to give up alcohol 20+ years ago because it became a migraine trigger in any form (wine, beer, cocktails). Yes, I've missed it at times....I loved margaritas and dark beer....but for the most part, I don't give it a second thought when out for dinner and everyone else is ordering drinks. The decision to feel better always triumphs over any thought of ordering alcohol. It seems as if you were, in fact, more dependent on alcohol than you realized, and it impacted your health and well-being more than you realized. These are really important observations. I'll be interested in whether you continue your alcohol-free ways once your year is up. But even if you don't, I'd bet the ranch you will moderate your intake if you do drink again, knowing how it affects your sleep...and everything else (LOL).
    Again, this is a fabulous post. I believe it will inspire others for whom alcohol is becoming too much of a 'go to' for anxiety and stress.
    Have you ever thought of selecting some of your best blog posts and creating a book?

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  12. Very insightful post. Your positives and negatives were very interesting...and they definitely rang true! I admire you for your willingness to commit to this challenge and for working hard to find ways to better yourself! Also, the clock is just the bomb. :)

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  13. This was so insightful! Thank you so much for sharing.

    And the clock?!? AMAZING!

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  14. Love the clock! And I have been sober since NYE as well. The band trivia night fundraiser was tough with everyone drinking around me. A few other social events it was tough to pass on alcohol. One really harrowing drive home in snow I walked in the door and all I wanted was to have a drink to steady my nerves! I've never been a heavy drinker, but I know it is calories I don't need as my weight has gone out of control the last few years. So I am trying to stick with it and drinking a ton more water overall (which I know is good for me). Hang in there!

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  15. Way to go on 39 days sober!!! And thanks for being honest! I know it must feel really scary to you but for me as a reader, nothing you have shared has been shocking!

    Very cool about the improvement in sleep. I am curious to hear if you see any difference in your moods as a result of getting consistent high quality sleep and how it impacts bipolar disease. I think sleep is the most underrated "medicine" out there.

    And I'm glad you are going to post more frequently because I miss reading your words!

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  16. PS on my blog reader, it says the name of your post is "Crispy Potato Halves (Recipe)" but when I click on the link it takes me to your sobriety post. Weird?!

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    1. That is so odd! I've been updating and scheduling recipe posts, so something must have crossed over--but I have no idea how that happened. Anyway, thanks for letting me know! I hope it's fixed. I just published the potato recipe, hoping that it'll solve it.

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  17. I LOVE your clock. Thanks for sharing, too. You never know who you will help!

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  18. so great. I hope you continue to find that being alcohol free is a good choice for you. I'm almost 6 months myself. So grateful.

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