My Historical Relationship With Alcohol
I remember the first drink I had. I was in 6th grade. A friend and I found some very old wine coolers in the basement of his house. We devised a plan to take a few of the bottles into his parents camper, sleep in it overnight, and experiment with drinking this unknown elixir.
It was a long time ago and I don’t remember all the details. I remember it tasting awful but we managed to get down enough to get that buzzed feeling. It was wonderful. I walked around the camper and felt pleasantly weird. Looking back, I was a pretty anxious kid and suddenly I had this overwhelming calm feeling. Long after my friend decided to call it quits, I kept going back for more. I think you can guess what happened next. Vomit and hangover. I swore off the stuff and didn’t touch it again until high school.
From high school to early adulthood I had a rather normal relationship with alcohol. It wasn’t something I craved. I would use it for the recreational fun it provided. Would only drink on the weekends and even then would go months without drinking. A couple times I may have flirted with it being a problem but was always able to easily reel it back in. That changed as my life got more stressful.
Right before I went back to graduate school I had a panic attack. At the time I didn’t know what it was. I was driving back home from Boston and all of a sudden I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. Like I wasn’t getting enough air. I pulled over on the highway getting ready to call an ambulance and just as fast as it came it subsided. The anxiety that affected me my whole life was starting to get worse.
I can see why now. I was pushing myself way too hard. I had just switched jobs to a surgical ICU in Boston and was constantly under stress at work.I had been working hard to perfect my application for a very competitive nurse anesthetist graduate program. So naturally I did what many young professionals do. I ignored it. My body of course was sending me a warning signal. “Cool it buddy or else”.
Three months later I was walking out of work to the train. All of a sudden I felt like I was being pushed over. Like one side was weaker than the other. I thought I was having a stroke! I walked into the ER and was cleared. Nothing major wrong. That dizzy feeling has been with me since. It gets worse with stress but Ive noticed a vast improvement over the last few years for various reasons. Many of which you will see on this website.
Despite this new dizzy feeling I pushed through. I continued down a stressful road of full time graduate school, having children, giving anesthesia as a job, and going through a divorce. Somewhere during that time I started to turn to alcohol more and more to treat my worsening anxiety.
It Started With An IPA
Before the IPA my drink of choice was bud light. I wasn’t drinking all the time. A couple times a week after work I would have one to kill the anxious feeling from working in a stressful environment all day. A slight buzz to “kill the pain” (as my father-in-law says).
The first time I drank an IPA I didn’t know what to make of it. It was a very strong taste. Much different than what I was accustomed to. I do know one thing though. After one I felt good! The alcohol content in these are much higher after all. So I made the switch from Bud Light to various IPAs. There’s an endless variety of these and all the cans have cool graphics on them. It makes you feel like you are getting something special. There’s a whole culture that has developed around drinking beer, which further gives the illusion of exclusivity. People will travel hours to breweries and wait in lines just to get a specific brand of beer (I have done this). The cost of a 4 pack is around $20 (might be more now) and a 16 oz pour at a bar around $10, further fueling that feeling that you are getting something special. I remember my chemistry teacher in high school warning me about this. Enjoying a fine bottle of wine or an aged cognac? Meanwhile….
“It’s all the same bacteria shit that is getting you drunk”Chemistry teacher
Over a couple years one 8% IPA wouldn’t be enough and I would have another. Using the nifty calculator from this website that would be equal to 4.3 standard drinks. A night with friends? I would drink 4-5 (or more) IPAs which is equivalent to 10 standard drinks. Yikes! (This is the first time I’m doing this math).
I was doing ok for a while. I really had a pretty normal healthy life. I would go to work, ride my bike, spend time with my wife and kids, work out and cook healthy meals. Alcohol was just mixed into this.
At some point there was a shift. It’s tough to pin down when but I remember thinking it is getting to be too much and I should cut down. I tried. A bunch of times. I would give myself goals like not drinking during the week or sticking to one drink. Ultimately this would fail and my habit would resume business as usual. Eventually I started having frequent panic attacks. My body was sending out loud signals of alarm. I blamed it on a lot of things and tried various supplements, diets, medications but nothing seemed to really tame my anxiety to tolerable levels.
I was on the verge a mental breakdown. I feared I wouldn’t be able to work. My anxiety was the worst it had ever been. Derealization, tingling in my fingers, dizziness, extreme fatigue, brain fog and weakness were all symptoms I experienced. It was enough to make anyone depressed, and I was. All the while I was still drinking and not fully realizing the link alcohol had to all of this chaos.
Suffering is the sandpaper of our incarnation. It does its work in shaping us.Ram Dass
I started getting pain in my stomach. At first it was sporadic tolerable pain and then turned into constant gut wrenching (literally) pain that would keep me up all night. I felt broken. It was like I was a 33 year old in a 70 year olds body. After I had an endoscopy, where a doctor looks into your stomach with a camera, I was diagnosed with gastritis. This wasn’t really a surprise. I was hydrating with coffee during the day and beer in the evening. My stomach was taking a constant hit of acidity which caused inflammation. Still, before I entertained the idea of quitting alcohol, I went on a medication to decrease the acid in my stomach. The modern way of healing. Treating the symptom so you don’t have to do the hard work of addressing the problem. After six months of this dance I finally came to my breaking point. It was time to quit drinking for good.
My story isn’t nearly as interesting as Russell Brands. Recovery-Freedom From Our Addictions is really worth a read if you think you’re addicted to something or not. Let’s be honest, at the very least, you’re probably addicted to your phone. Russell tells the wild story of his addictions and what it took for him to completely change his life. It’s amazing how much abuse his body and mind took. He describes the steps you can take (a reworked version of Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps). I enjoyed reading about the steps and realized they can be a good general guide for living a balanced life. Russell’s style of writing has a comedic spiritual undertone and was pretty entertaining.
“If you’re addicted to bad relationships, bad food, abusive bosses, conflict or pornography, it can take a lifetime to spot the problem, and apparently a lifetime is all we have. This book is not just about extremists like me. No, this is a book about you.”Excerpt from Recovery by Russell Brand
How I Quit Drinking For Good
I knew I was in for a rollercoaster ride. Anxiety will typically get worse before it gets better when you stop drinking. The brain gets used to the alcohol in the system and adjusts chemicals to accommodate the drug. When you take that drug away, which has a depressive effect, you’re left with rebound increased anxiety. I knew I needed a plan or I’d end up grabbing a drink soon after I stopped.
- I downloaded the I AM SOBER app. At the beginning I believe this app made a big difference with keeping me off the sauce. Each day you go into the app and make a pledge not to drink. It might not sound like much but clicking the pledge was a nice pat on the back for making it another day. The app will tell you how many days you have gone and will give you various badges for milestones. There is a social aspect to it as well. You can see comments of people around the world who are at the same milestone as you. Some will post their feelings of accomplishment while others are looking for words of encouragement. You can also calculate how much money you saved quitting a habit. It was amazing to see how much I saved. After a few months I stopped pledging as I didn’t have a strong urge to drink anymore. I kept the app on my phone to track how much I am saving and to get a screen shot of the one year mark for this article.
- Mediation. Meditation has been in my life for a while. It was something I would do when I felt like it. I thought it would be a great addition to my daily routine after work when I would typically have a drink. The mediation really had a calming effect and helped to ease any thoughts I had about drinking. I used the app INSIGHT TIMER. I would do a 20 min guided meditation by Davidji. He had a calming voice and his guided meditations were excellent. I highly recommend it.
- I ditched Caffeine. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because at the same time of quitting alcohol I quit all forms of caffeine. A major reason for drinking was to decrease my anxiety and caffeine is known for increasing it. Initially this made for a miserable experience but was key in keeping me from going back to alcohol.
- My wife stopped drinking. For the first few months or so my wife stopped drinking. She never really drank much but I did find it helpful to not have any alcohol in the house or to not have her order a drink at dinner. She’s able to drink freely in front of me now without me having any cravings. She still hardly drinks.
- Supportive friends. My friends knew I was not drinking. They all supported me and when I was out with them never gave me any trouble for not drinking. It’s great to have supportive friends!
- Books and Podcasts. A read a few books like the Russel Brand book I mentioned before. Another excellent book I read was Change Your Schedule Change Your Life by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar. A book about the natural cycle of the body and Ayurvedic medicine.
Overall it was the first 4-5 months that were the hardest. My anxiety skyrocketed initially. I felt like I was never going to feel normal. I craved alcohol almost every single day. I craved coffee every single day. It was brutal.
What Life is Like Alcohol Free
I remember reading a comment on reddit from someone who had been sober for years. They said something like “The change happens very slowly over a long period of time, to the point you may not even notice it. One day you will look back and realize how better your life is sober.” This person was spot on. I went from living in a hell to living a healthier balanced life over this past year.
- Anxiety has stabilized– When you are drinking to suppress anxiety you will soon realize that the cause of the anxiety is not the alcohol. The alcohol was a bandaid (a shitty one). Yes when you stop drinking, after some time, your anxiety will mellow out a lot. However, you have to learn more healthy ways to manage your anxiety. I find it helpful to meditate when I started to feel like my mind was racing. I also find being in the woods in any form (hiking, mountain biking, walking the dogs) has a tremendous calming effect on me. I just listen to my body more. When my body tells me I’m tired I don’t try to push through if I can help it. I rest. If my body tells me it needs some energy expelled (usually in the form of feeling restless) I’ll go for a bike ride. I can’t always do these things but I do my best.
- I have more time– Drinking is a time stealer. I’m learning how to play the piano, learning a new language, ride my bike more often, and have more energy to do things with my kids. This website was created largely because I stopped drinking. I don’t think I would have had the patience or the motivation to create it before.
- I am saving money– The IAMSOBER app lets you put in an amount per day you think you are saving. My guesstimate was $8/day, but it was probably more. Saving almost $3000 for the year!!!!!
- More energy– Alcohol (and possibly caffeine) seemed to be a large contributor to the chronic fatigue I was experiencing because my energy level has increased tremendously! Most days I felt like I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was exhausted all the time. I was still active but it was difficult to initiate these activities and was more of a chore than having fun.
- Social events are easy– I used alcohol during social events to kill that social anxiety feeling. It took months to be able to be with a group who’s drinking, and not want to drink. It also took months to get over that underlying anxious feeling. Again, I had to actually work through these feelings instead of taking the easy way out. Now I find I laugh and enjoy myself as much as when I was drinking. All without the hangover the next day!
Overall I just feel more balanced. Quitting alcohol did not turn me into an anxiety free person with infinite energy and a perfect life. It helped me listen to my body more closely. It helped me develop tools to decrease my anxiety. It showed me that I don’t need to be intoxicated to have a good time. Ultimately I would highly recommend it!
If you have a question or have something to share about your own experience leave a comment below.Thanks for taking the time to read this article! I am truly humbled.