Sunday, March 1, 2015

How dry I am .....

How dry I am, how dry I am 
It's plain to see just why I am
No alcohol in my highball
And that is why so dry I am
(Irving Berlin, 1919)

February 28. Finally! Is it too late to write my annual New Year's post? Nah, it's never too late for a New Year's post, complete with my resolutions and my 2015 word of the year. But this one isn't that one.

February is a bitch, isn't it? Endless sub-freezing, snowy, gray days, and the only holiday is fucking Valentine's Day. And in my family, people tend to die in February, so we're always on edge, depressed, dreading the phone call we're sure will come or the piano that will fall on our own heads. I'd have to be a fucking idiot to do a booze fast in February, wouldn't I?

OK, so I'm a fucking idiot. I did it. I didn't drink a drop of alcohol the entire month of February. I didn't even stick my nose into a glass of wine and take a whiff. I was the prohibition poster child.

Why would I give up the soothing, warming effects of alcohol during the longest, coldest month of the year? Good question. It's not because I believe in the efficacy of detoxing or fasting. I don't. I have organs that take care of that shit so I don't have to. (No pun intended .... well, maybe.)

And I'm not an alcoholic. In fact, I didn't drink a drop for over 20 years of my adult life. I was a hard drinker in high school, and for a few years after when I was tending bar. But I didn't quit because I had a drinking problem. I quit I was afraid my ex was developing one, and I wasn't going to be married to an alcoholic. I grew up with that, and so did he. I figured if I didn't drink, he wouldn't drink as much. I know now that was faulty logic, but it seemed to work. I didn't start drinking again until one night at a party I realized my marriage, which had been bouncing around on the rocks (no pun intended) was now zipping out to sea on a riptide,  too far out for me to save it.

So I began to enjoy drinking again, and I have no regrets for either my dry years or my lovely wine-enhanced years since my divorce.

The reason I decided to take a month off from the hooch is because I read an article in The New Scientist about the results of a small study of the benefits of giving up alcohol for a month. The people in the study who gave up drinking for 5 weeks saw significant positive changes in liver fat, blood glucose, and cholesterol. The abstainers also claimed they slept better. The only negative -- and this is a big one in the lonely month of February -- was that the they also reported less social contact.

It seemed worth a try, so I chose the shortest month of the year (duh), and I did it. Here's my report.

0. I didn't spend any money on alcohol. And that's it. Otherwise, I noticed zero benefits from taking a month off from alcohol. Of course, nobody measured my liver fat, cholesterol, or blood glucose, so it's possible there were benefits in those areas. I can't vouch for any of that though. As far as I'm concerned, it was simply a test of willpower, which I passed.

1. I had hoped I would at least lose weight. I didn't, and before you ask, no, I didn't eat or drink more. In fact, I think I ate less, because I tend to snack on salty foods when I drink. Of all the negatives I'm going to list below, this is the one that disappointed me the most. If I'm going to be fat anyway, I might as well comfort myself with a cold glass of Chardonnay of an evening.

2. I had hoped I would gain a few IQ points, feel sharper, remember where I parked my car at the mall, perhaps. Nope. Nothing. Still as fuzzy as ever.

3. I don't have trouble sleeping normally, so I didn't really expect to sleep better. However, I found myself waking up before my alarm, which was .... well, it was alarming. I'm not a morning person. I don't need less wine and more morning. What a fresh hell that was.

4. I had no way to relax my knotted up shoulder muscles at the end of the day. Very often a sip of wine is like medicine. I feel the tensions of the day drain out of my muscles so hard it hurts, and it feels really fucking good. Thus my ability to sleep well at night. For the past 28 days, my shoulder muscles have been as tight as harp strings. Neither yoga nor deep breathing have replaced the liquid relaxer, and as a result, I haven't slept as well. Thanks, abstinence.

5. I got sick halfway through the month. For the first time since last winter, I got sick. And I've been sick for almost 2 weeks now. You might remind me that I teach in a high school where I'm subjected to quite a germy population, and you would be right. But why didn't I get sick before? They've been sneezing and coughing and blowing their noses for months now, but I remained impervious. Until this month when, for 2 weeks out of the 4, I've had a sore throat, mild cough, body aches, congestion, and to top it all off, fucking pink eye. Which means ....

6. I'm really fucking ugly I've been considerably less attractive, because I not only can't wear any mascara, a redhead's best friend, but I also have one hideous glossy pink eye. My social life has suffered. DON'T FUCKING LOOK AT ME!

7. I have a huge stack of papers to grade, and here's why. I don't drink while I'm grading. I know lots of writing teachers only get through their grading load by consuming shots of bourbon with their bottles of pale ale and bitter IP's. I'm afraid I will write honest comments that I would regret the next day if I were to drink while I grade. So instead, I pour a glass of cold Chardonnay and let it sweat and glisten on the table in front of me until I've graded every last short story and poem and entered those grades into my Excel spreadsheet of doom. Only then do I allow myself to take even the first sip of chilly, relaxing goodness. Let's just say after 28 days, I could use some fucking incentive.

(Note: If you don't know what to get your kid's teacher for Christmas, get her a fucking bottle of wine. What would you want if you had to spend all day with your kids every day?)

8. Finally, my social life. All those years I didn't drink that was just my normal. But now it seems weird not to drink at parties or at karaoke or at a bar. My friend Chicken Grrrl came over so we could rehearse a song we'd been asked to sing. As usual, we spent far less time singing than we did talking, which was lovely. But the difference this time was that she could enjoy a relaxing glass of wine while I sipped on some water. It wasn't nearly as much fun as the night we drank a quart of margaritas and .... well, that's a story for another time, isn't it?

One of the hardest things about not drinking was the many triggers, and not just at parties and in bars and on Facebook. People drink on every single TV show and in every single movie. I spent a lot of time on the couch this month feeling like shit and watching Netflix, and in every show I watched most of the adults were drinking ... a lot. And as I watched a mom drinking a glass of wine while she cooked dinner or a couple toasting each other on a date, I found myself thinking, That looks good. I'd like a glass of wine. Except that I couldn't, of course, so I'd get a glass of fizzy water or a cup of tea and make do.

It's not the same though. Fizzy water and tea aren't the same sophisticated muscle and social lubricants that wine or bourbon or even beer (for those who can tolerate it) are. Those are grownup drinks ... and grownups drink those drinks. And I'm a grownup. I don't have to curb my drinking for anybody any more. I can enjoy a glass of wine just like the people on Netflix.

All those years I didn't drink I didn't even notice the prevalence of liquor on TV and in movies. It wasn't a trigger. And by the end of this month, although I still noticed it, it wasn't as often and I didn't have the same response. In fact, watching someone pour a glass of wine didn't  produce a craving at all this last week. That might be because I've been sick, or it might be that for me a month is long enough to dull the response.

And so, the clock has rung midnight on March, and the thought crossed my mind that February 28 was over. I could go to the kitchen and pour a cold glass of Chardonnay. But the pull wasn't that strong, so I made a cup of tea instead.

Tomorrow I start a new and much more difficult detox. I will definitely need wine and willpower to get through it. More on that tomorrow though.

How about you? Did you give anything up for 2015 or for Lent? How's it going? Let's pour a glass of wine and discuss it in the comments below .....


  1. Drinking is extremely social, too. When you quit drinking, you realize how much most of one's social circle enjoys a glass or two of wine, or a highball, or a beer. And there's nothing wrong with that, and yes, it does make for an awkward hang out. It's this unspoken kind of value judgment (yes, you have the wine,, I'll sit here and evaluate you wiith my good Puritan cup o water), even when one truly isn't and wishes she could indulge with her friends.

    I haven't given up alcohol completely, but sadly, it's part of what sets my digestive woes off. I have so many bottles of lovely wine that friends have given me, waiting for a party when everyone else can indulge. When I do drink, I have to make serious allowances and make sure nothing else can react with it. The joys of aging.

  2. Ouch, that sucks. The thought crossed my mind more than once last month that I'm fortunate this is a choice I can make. For some people drinking is uncomfortable, as it sounds like it is for you. For others, it can be deadly. I'm certain my month was much easier because I could either do it or not do it. Nobody was going to judge me either way, and I wasn't going to get sick or further an addiction if I decided to have a glass of wine. I could take it or leave it either way with no repercussions I'm aware of. It's different when you're not make a decision, but the decision is made for you.