It was one year ago today that I was sitting in my doctor’s office and he said to me, “I think you should give up alcohol–entirely.” I’m sure it was the stricken and horrified expression on my face that forced him to add, “…for at least two weeks, until you can come back for a re-check.”
I had come in because I was having repeated bouts with atrial fibrillation, and while I had realized some time before that alcohol could be a trigger for a-fib, I had refused to admit that it might be the trigger.
I told him, “I really don’t know if I can.”
I did not and do not consider myself to be an alcoholic, but I certainly had become alcohol dependent. All I could think about, sitting with my doctor, was how much my life would have to change if I gave up my nightly “beer time.” But suddenly, I had a very concrete reason to abstain. Suddenly, it seemed like I was besieged by commercials promoting a-fib medication that reminded me that “a-fib is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke in men over 65.” Since I was two months away from turning 65, I felt like the ads were mocking me–rubbing salt in the wounds.
I made it through two weeks and sure enough, my heart seemed to be settling down. Two weeks became six and on December 20, 2017 I wrote a piece called Trying Out Sobriety reflecting on what I had learned after six weeks of abstinence. Today, makes it fifty-two weeks since I gave up alcohol.
Last Monday, I was meeting with my addiction medicine therapist, a woman who has been an invaluable source of care, insight, and support throughout this process. She asked how I intended to celebrate one year of sobriety. I told her that I didn’t plan to do anything. Making a big deal about sticking it out for one year sounds like something an addict would do. “Celebrating” makes me think about rewarding myself with a 22-ounce Double-IPA, thank you very much. So, no celebrations don’t seemed called for. I did tell her I felt I needed to write about it. That means if you are reading this, you are celebrating with me, and thank you for coming (cue fireworks!).
I don’t want to recount everything I wrote about last December. You can read about that here. However, one constant has been my therapist’s admonition that I needed to shift the focus of my thinking to concentrating not on what I had lost or given up, but rather on what I had gained.
Some gains I have made are quantifiable, but we need to do the math. Let’s say that I used to drink 300 out of 365 days per year. That would mean I took roughly 65 days off per year due to illness, guilt, or hangover recovery. On the days I drank, I drank between 2 and 4 beers, so let’s call it an average of 3 beers a day. That means I consumed about 900 beers per year. At roughly 150 calories per beer, I can approximate that I saved 135,000 calories over the course of the year. Now, if I had eaten a lean diet and not replaced some of those calories by indulging in pastries and chocolates of all kinds, I’d probably be down to 75 pounds. However, I have lost a solid 10-12 pounds and the ever-growing beer gut has vanished.
I never used to keep track of how much I was spending on beer between the six-packs I’d drink at home and the tabs I would pay at a bar. I really didn’t want to know. However, if a beer from a 6 pack ran 2-3 dollars and from a bar was 6-8 dollars, let’s just guess that my average cost per beer ended up being $4. That means I saved $3,600 over the past year.
Best of all, I feel healthier and happier than anytime I can remember. Yes, I’ve struggled through some depressive periods over the past 12 months, but I revel in the changes I have made in my life.
I go to bed every night knowing that I will not wake up with a hangover and the guilt that would come with it. I can almost always remember exactly what I said and did the night before, something that increasingly would elude me on drinking nights. I feel stronger as I’ve pushed myself into more challenging hikes around the county and trying to be on the trail two to three days a week. I practice yoga and meditation 5-6 days a week and marvel at how the importance of that practice has grown for me over time. There seems to be a part of my brain that was always thinking about drinking that gets to rest and dedicate itself to other things.
Do I miss it? Yes–every day. I still feel jealous when I’m surrounded by drinkers at a bar or a restaurant, and I’m making may way through another bottle of Pellegrino.
Back when I wrote the initial article, I was already hedging–assuming I would cheat occasionally. What could it hurt, right? But, it’s just been easier to stick to my new habit and continue to build on the gains I have made as a person. Nothing about alcohol ever helped me be stronger, smarter, or kinder. I think I’ve made some strides in those areas. I don’t want to give them up now.
Thanks for celebrating with me! (cue balloons!!)