Wednesday, 9 December 2015

It's not nothing

I've been googling 'stopping drinking' a lot lately. And mostly, there's some great stuff out there. I love this article by Virginia Ironside and also this one by Giles Coran. Both made me feel that it was definitely do-able, and that I will gain more than I lose (except in terms of weight, that works the other way around apparently.) The stuff I can't get along with are the posts and articles that try and persuade me that I never really liked drinking anyway. They are wrong. I did. I liked it very much. Very much indeed.

As Virginia so aptly puts it, 'I like drinking. I also want to stop drinking.' Two contradictory statements that are both true. And I think, at the grand age of 40, I am coming to the stage where the wanting to stop is, over all, more important to me than the liking it. And as is the way with endings, there is a loss as well as a gain. If I am really going to put a stop to the booze, there's grieving to be done. So what are the things I will miss?

I will miss the moment when, after I've been with clients all day running a workshop, fuelled by caffeine and adrenaline, I drink white wine, quite fast, as an instant way to calm down, switch-off and relax. It's a reward and marks the shift from 'on' to 'off'.

I will miss the 7pm moment when the kids have been running amok and I have been behaving a lot more patient than I actually feel, and I follow saying 'good night' by walking downstairs and pouring a stiff drink. It's a reward for getting through it, and it marks the beginning of a couple of hours of grown-up time.

I will miss quick g&t that I occasionally knock back as a gear changer. In a matter of minutes I transition from being moody, shy, exhausted or impatient to being friendly, cheerful and sociable.

And I will miss the way booze signals that fun is about to start:The cold beer in a small Spanish square, the opening a bottle of cava with my husband on a Friday night, the large glass of sauvignon in a London bar with a friend, the pint with the boys back home, and the champagne in hotel rooms on birthdays and Christmas. These particular combinations of drink/place/person mark a special moment, one of life's sweet-spots and I don't want to go my whole life without them. I really don't. But I think I'm going to choose to. Because I have finally got to the stage where I think I am losing more from booze than I am gaining.

Those moments I've described are all the first drink or two. But I have to accept that if I have those first drinks, I will also have the next three or five drinks, because that's just what I do. And it is those drinks that come after that make me a tired, grumpy, puffy skinned, under-creative insomniac who could do with losing a stone. I want to be a healthy, fit, creative, contented woman, and it is clear that I can't have one thing without giving up another.

Friday, 4 December 2015

It's not me, it's my dopamine receptors

I spend more time than I ever want to admit thinking about whether I am addicted to alcohol. The truth is, alcohol is an addictive substance and I drink it most days, even on the days I have decided not to. Now I’m not a scientist, but I think that from that, we can conclude that I am addicted to alcohol.

I know there are lots of people who can just have the odd drink now and again, and not really think about it in between. But for whatever reason, the way my particular brain is wired means that I'm just not one of them.

Now I could get into the whole ‘My name’s Lastorders and I’m a you-know-what.’ But I’m not sure what good it would do me. If I have a problem with alcohol, then I want to leave it behind and move on with my life, not forever link it with my identity. And I don’t see why this can’t happen. I used to smoke close to a pack a day, then I stopped. It was quite difficult and took a couple of attempts, but seven years ago I quit completely and I am pretty confident I’ll never smoke again. (I didn’t expect to feel like that, I thought I would always miss it, but actually it seems kind of gross now.) But the important point is, I don’t think of myself as a smokeaholic. I’m just someone who used to smoke and doesn’t now. And that’s where I want to get with booze. I don’t know what a alcohol-free life will feel like until I’ve done it, so I’m aiming for a year at first. If I don’t like it after that, I can get completely clattered again. That's the deal I'm making with myself.  

To help get my head in gear for this big change, I need to think about what I will gain by stopping.

So here goes:

On 1 January I am stopping drinking for a year because:

  • I want to lose a stone, and I have tried everything except giving up drinking. I’m pretty confident that is what it will take.

  • I want to look fresher and maybe a bit younger. I’ve noticed that if I’ve had a drink the night before, my skin really shows it the next day.

  • I want to sleep every night the whole night through, without waking, dehydrated at 3am and staying awake until 5am.

  • I want to wake up feeling cheerful and ready to interact with my lovely children, instead of having to pretend I feel like that.

  • I want to take my creative work more seriously, get better at it and give it more of my time. I can’t do that with a hangover.

  • I want to practice yoga most days, instead of just the days I’m not hungover.

  • I want to live a long and healthy life. 

  •  I want to achieve more in the evenings, file photos, organise paperwork, read novels, instead of being stuck on the sofa with a glass of wine in my hand.

  • I want avoid the embarrassment of ordering a drink when no one else is having one.

  • I want to wake up after seeing friends without having to replay the whole evening, checking if I was thoughtless/rude/self-centred.

  • I want to go to a work-do without the underlying assumption that I will be embarrassed the next day.

  • I want to know I am safe getting home from a party on my own.

  • I want to be able to focus on the people I am socialising with, rather than sitting through entire lunch parties thinking about why no one has opened the second bottle of wine.

  • I want to start having savings. (A lot of my unnecessary expenditure is rooted in drinking: treating my family to expensive pub lunches just so I can drink in the day; big restaurant bills on week-nights with girlfriends; impulsive clothes purchases the day after etc)

  • I want to feel proud of myself.

Quite a list isn’t it? Those are some major gains. If there was a pill that would give me all those things, I would pay a lot for it. And all those things are within my grasp. I just have to stop pouring alcohol in a glass and drinking it. Simple.

But of course, nothing is ever that simple. So my next blog post will be all about what I will lose. Because there’s quite a lot to say about that too.

Embarrassing situation

I've got a bit of an embarrassing situation. Three weeks ago I woke up at 3am with yet another hangover, and the oh-too-familiar worry that I might have been noticeably drunk the night before. I lay awake promising myself I wouldn't drink again until Christmas. But I promise something along those lines a couple of times a week, and have done for years. So in an effort to make it stick, I opened Facebook and posted:

'It was fun while it lasted, but no more booze for me until Christmas.'

Friends made the usual jokes, my dad bet me a tenner I wouldn't make it. Then a girl I work with instant messaged me to say that she was impressed with my resolve and asking if we could do it together. 'Hell yeh,' I texted back, 'let's do this'. And I really meant it. Or at least, I did until my hangover passed. And then I drank again, because I always do.

The embarrassing bit is the girl who was impressed with me. She meant it - like literally. She is actually doing it. She texts me what she weighs, how much exercise she's done and how great she's feeling every day. She says she finds the fact that we are doing this together so motivating, and that she would never have got this far without me. She says she wants to keep this up after Christmas too. And I say 'me too'. Because I am a big fat liar.

The first time I didn't tell I'd had a drink is because it was a one off. I forget the occasion, but it was obviously very special and terribly important that I drink at it. Rather than waffle on about all that to her, I thought, I just won't tell her, it's only one night.

The next time I didn't tell her was because I didn't want to let her down. She was doing so well, and I though I might de-rail her efforts if I told her I was drinking.

By the third time, lying to her by text most days had just become this thing I do. And am still doing. But it's okay, because I have a plan. Or at least I'm beginning to have a plan. I'm going to quit drinking. Completely.

For a number of reasons, I need to call time on it. So for the next three or four weeks I am going to use this blog to think about why and how. And come 1 January 2016 I am going to stop, completely. And it's going to be great.