Thinking of going TeeTotal?
When you holiday in Spain or come to live here as an
ex-pat, you'll learn that the country has a history of producing
quality inexpensive wine, with an impressive selection of memorable reds, white and rose wines. Vino and Tapas are a
marriage made in heaven and nothing can successfully replace an awesome Rioja, Viejo, or Cune
with my favourite Tapas dish of goats cheese. So, that made this challenge that little be more... challenging.
For many years I've set myself a personal test, THAT 100km ultra walk; an abseil; a dry month; going veggie; moving abroad; getting married; staying married (LOL).... This challenge had to be a BIGGIE to celebrate my 50th birthday.
I went alcohol free for a YEAR, and called it TeeTotalFor2022
I announced my intention on social media. I knew I had to have it in the public domain, a large group of accountability buddies. Overall the reaction I got was really positive and supportive, with a handful of friends offering to do #DryJan to help me through the first month, and to my delight a couple of friends said they would attempt the whole year with me. It was nice to know that I wasn't the only mad one! (Spoiler alert - they weren't as mad as me and they didn't. But the intention was much appreciated)
I also got some pretty negative reactions too and I found myself having to justify my decision, quite strongly on occassion.
Why did I go alcohol free (AF)?
My last attempt at a dry month was hard - I really struggled. That's never happened to me before, and alarm bells started ringing, which helped to make the decision to go a whole year an important one. In the final weeks of December I went mad. I drank because there was a party; a dinner date; a lunch date; Christmas week; my 50th birthday, my special birthday weekend away....I was overflowing with excuses. But also knowing that I would be giving it up soon. So, like a child, I overindulged on a regular basis. A bottle of vino most days and large glasses of Baileys. By the start of the challenge I was actually glad I was going to be giving my body a break. It needed it. Alcohol affects every organ of the body, but most of the impact is actually on your liver. Alcohol raises Bilirubin levels, which can give some nasty symptoms for us with Gilbert's Syndrome. I wanted to address this and get my liver working properly again. I was quite looking forward to losing that stubborn 10lb too.
What are the reported benefits of giving up alcohol for 30+ days
Traditionally I would start my Dry Jan and Dry Nov knowing it was a temporary break from alcohol, and be looking forward to the end of the month.This time, I started with my head in a different place. With no daily countdown, and a feeling of being in control, I excitedly started my experiment and was keen to see how it would go. My immediate aim for the first month of a year long challenge was to drink more water and to relax into it. I was expecting to see some slight changes in the following area, based on all the blogs I had read.
- Weight - I noticed no change. I was excited to see how much weight I would lose overall though, so I wasn't discouraged
- Sleep - I noticed a difference, and I was thrilled with a deeper sleep.
- Skin - My skin had been pretty good before the challenge
- Energy - Hmmmm. This is a difficult one. Some days were better than others, but not as great as I had imagined from reading other blogs
- Mood - I found that my anxiety was better managed.
- Brain - As the first week came to a close, I already found I was being a lot more productive.
- Savings - It's so inexpensive out here in Spain, that there wouldn't have been much difference to my bank balance. My husband says a round at the bar is actually cheaper if I drank wine or gin, instead of water or AF options!
- Awareness - I became more aware of the negative influence alcohol had on my life, that my relationship with it was not a positive one. I realised I was using it to help with my confidence in a group situation and to mask the unhappiness I felt being so far from family during the pandemic.
Negatives of giving up alcohol for 30+ days
One day is 86,400 seconds.
- There were none from a health prospective.
- I noticed that I began inwardly judging those having beer or wine before midday, and become less tolerant with loud and crude drinkers.
In the whole of January that's 2,678,400 times I didn't drink, when I could have.
I was proud of that and sailed into unchartered waters, interested to see how another 11 months without drinking alcohol felt.
The first 6 months of no alcohol
During the early part of this challenge I flew back to the UK for a family visit and ignored the traditional 'medicinal' wine at the airport to steady my pre-flight nerves. During this visit I was offered non-alcoholic wine, and when I saw on the back that it was 1.5% vol I refused it. I was at risk of upsetting the person who went out of their way to purchase it, and there would have been a time I would have drunk it, to please them and prevent any awkwardness. I also had a 'hissy fit' here in Spain, when I realised that the non-alcoholic beer at the village bar had a trace of alcohol in it. I pushed it away half way through it and read labels like a hawk after that.
I have to agree with Ringo Starr, alcohol DOES cut off your emotions. Things started coming to the surface during month two, that I haven't had the strength to face until now. It's a good thing. A positive step forward in self awareness and healing.
Not content with one challenge I found myself agreeing to, and completing a 40mile walk for charity. I resisted the urge to join in with the celebration at the end, because for me they usually go hand in hand with bubbles, and I knew it would be hard to resist. I immediately got in the car and went home. It felt wrong not to share in the brilliant achievement, especially to celebrate with the people who had really struggled on the walk. But I had to consider myself over that.
We unexpectedly moved, after only 9 months into our 3 year rental contract. Finding a new home abroad, in a shrinking pool of rentals, and increasing fees was pretty stressful. My fears and emotions quickly bubbled to the surface easily and had to be addressed with talking, rather than drowning them with a bottle of wine. Sometimes life likes to throw a few curve balls your way, without warning, and when they are least expected. I was finding that stress was definitely a trigger to drink for me.
I hosted a BBQ for friends to say thank you for helping us move. As a pescatarian it was assumed I wouldn't be cooking the BBQ. Why? I served alcohol and didn't drink a drop. Now, admittedly that was harder. I found during all this that it IS possible not to partake in something, yet be around others that do. I'm not saying that it's easy. If I thought about shrinking & hiding from those situations, it made my journey feel worse. I found that the more I put myself in those situations and the more out of my comfort zone I was; the stronger I got.
The first 6 months seemed to be about collecting milestones on a bumpy sober journey!
Some great quotes that kept me focused
- The struggle you're in today is developing the strength you need tomorrow
- That’s all drugs and alcohol do they cut off your emotions in the end
- Alcohol is not the answer, it just makes you forget the question
- You can't change the people around you, but you can change the people around you
- Alcohol is a very patient drug. It will wait for the alcoholic to pick it up one more time
- Smile, drink your water, workout, remember why you started, spread love and positivity
- If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you
- You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you
The final 6 months of no alcohol
This was an interesting time, there was a month or so where I had to stop walking due to Plantar Faciitis. With a passion for walking at least 5 miles every day, this wasn't something I wanted to hear and I was tempted to swap my water for a gin on the way home from having the xray. But despite the news, I went to our local fiesta, which ran over 4 nights and I suprisingly didn't feel any temptation to have an alcoholic drink. I was dancing in my seat loving every second, often until 3am in the morning. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more than I would have if I'd been drinking. I was certainly able to stay awake longer than some of those I saw slumped in their chairs!
We enjoyed four sets of visitors here in Spain, and as lovely as it would have been to have a glass of vino during the many delicious meals, It was more enjoyable being able to get up, go for a walk, and drive to explore interesting places without worrying about driving limits or having the wine anxiety rearing its ugly head when exploring new places with sheer drops and narrow village roads.
Toward the end of the year, with Chrismas, my Birthday, and New Year Celebrations looming I found myself wobbling. But with some people suggesting I finish a couple of weeks early and have a great crimbo with the usual booze, I got defensive and more determined than ever to finish the challenge that I had set myself.
I suppose it wouln't be a "challenge if it was easy eh?!
Was this a challenge too far?
Yes I believe so. I would rather walk 100km and lose four toenails again!
- Weight loss - I wanted to lose a stubborn 10lb - My body weight, fat, and other stats showed NO changes over the year. But if I am brutally honest with you, I found that the sugar from the alcohol was slowly replaced with other goodies. I was told by many friends that I had lost weight, so I am assuming that I lost the puffiness that can come with drinking alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates you, and as a result your body loses water, and that's when your natural defense kicks in and tries to retain as much water as it can. This is why you can become bloated. If you want to do this challenge to lose weight. Dont bother, unless you also look seriously about what you replace it with.
- Sleep- After an initial improvement, I ended the year with dreadful sleep. I was back to not being able to get to sleep, and I couldn't stay asleep. Yes, I can blame it on the dog wanting an early morning pee and 'hunt the bone'. Or my husbands pretty good impression of a dump-valve. But I think I am 'at that age' where this could be blamed on the M word.
- Skin - My skin had been pretty good before the challenge and I have actually found myself looking in the mirror and MISSING my plumped, smoother face from water retention. I have aquired some wrinkles this year!
- Energy - Nope. This didn't improve like I had hoped and B12 jabs didn't even help. But the lack of sleep and walking 50+ miles a week probably didnt help either. Maybe the odd glass of wine will at least help me with getting off to sleep?
- Mood - I found that my anxiety was definitely better managed over the year. I know that alcohol, no matter how small a quantity, certainly made my worries worse before this challenge. I'm more aware that I don't need alcohol to have fun and a giggle when out. In fact, when I wasn't drinking, I was less likely to put myself in situations where I don't really want to be there in the first place. So when there, I was there because I want to be, therefore already in the mindset to have fun.
- Brain - My memory is still shocking and therefore this can't be blamed on the alcohol. Appears this is just down to me and possibly M too
I DID IT. I completed the challenge that I set myself, and despite some of the temptations and stresses sent my way over the year, I was strong enough to succeed. For that, I am really proud of myself. I have learnt alot about the relationship I have with myself, more than I did about my relationship with alcohol. I am going to have a lovely bottle of fizz to celebrate, cheese and wine for dinner, and a weekend is planned to Tapas bar-hop and experience some great red wine. Then, I will make a decision about the relationship that I choose to have with alcohol. I suspect that I will continue to have the odd glass.....
......But I now know that I don't need it quite like I thought I did!
Have you given up alcohol? Are you years into it? How do YOU feel from stopping?