3:30 am and I’m lying wide awake with my head pounding, my brain shrinking inside my skull from dehydration and my mouth feeling like the bottom of a bird cage, and the same internal dialogue running rampant through my mind, me vowing to myself that I am never drinking again!
This was it. I was done.
I knew what I was doing was self-destructive but yet again I caved and drank copious amounts of wine the night before.
And, once again, I was overcome with drinkers remorse and swearing that I was never going to touch another drop of alcohol!
Cue next weekend, rinse and repeat.
Same lack of self-control, same overindulgence and same feelings of guilt and regret.
But I never admitted to myself that I might have a problem.
I always had an excuse.
I was stressed out. I had a shit day at work. I was celebrating. I was relaxing. It was the weekend. We had visitors. Blah, blah, blah.
There was always some justification that I could reconcile myself with.
And anyway, this was Australia, everyone drank!
It’s wine o’clock somewhere
Alcohol is commonly associated with celebrations and festivities, and nowhere more so than in Australia.
Drinking is socially embedded in our very nature and tradition.
Our drinking culture is legend!
An Aussie is measured on their ability to handle their grog, and to ‘drink someone under the table’ is a title worn as a badge of honour.
We celebrate with alcohol, and we commiserate with alcohol.
It’s a trademark of our nation.
We drink at every sporting event, every wedding, every funeral, every christening and every 1-year-old’s birthday party!
And getting “pissed as a parrot” is a rite of passage for every 18-year-old.
Shouting your mates at the pub or having a beer around the barbie is the epitome of our very nation, it’s considered un-Australian to knock back a drink when offered one, and it’s common practice to take-the-piss out of anyone who doesn’t drink.
I cook with wine, and sometimes I even add it to my food
It’s the social norm to relax and unwind with a cold beer or a glass of wine.
Each night I’d come home from work and pour a glass of icy cold rose in summer or a rich red pinot in winter as I cooked dinner. And my husband would crack open a beer.
This was commonplace. Nothing out of the ordinary. Something I had always done and had never had a problem with.
I enjoyed a wine!
But then, I underwent a total gastrectomy.
And things took a drastic turn of events.
Now, I know most people aren’t going to have a total gastrectomy, but insert bariatric or weight loss surgery instead and we can continue this conversation as it’s a very similar procedure.
Alcohol and its effects after Gastric Surgery
In the first 12-18 months I was adjusting to my new normal, trying to maintain my weight and my nutritional intake.
Post surgery I was told that drinking alcohol would have a more dramatic impact on me without a stomach due to increased metabolism and faster blood alcohol absorption.
Basically, one glass of wine would get me drunk. Fast.
Initially, this didn’t bother me as I only drank occasionally.
The side effects of alcohol after gastric bypass surgery, or in my case total gastrectomy, were profound:
- Increased metabolic rate – a boost in metabolism stimulates the increased absorption of pure alcohol into the bloodstream resulting in getting drunk very quickly
- Low blood sugar – hypoglycaemia is increased post gastric surgery and alcohol can exacerbate this risk
- Empty calories – regardless if the surgery was for weight loss or cancer prevention, the aim post-surgery is to eat healthy, nutritional food and alcohol is nothing but empty calories with no nutritional value
- Risk of dependence – a 2012 study cited that ~21% of gastric bypass patients developed a drinking dependency due to procedures like Roux-en-Y (the type of surgery I had) and duodenal switch, changing the anatomy and the way the body processes alcohol
I exhibited some of these symptoms like an increased metabolic rate and low blood sugar levels.
But the risk of dependency never crossed my mind.
I always had a controlled and responsible relationship with alcohol.
I could always stop drinking whenever I wanted.
Until I realized that I couldn’t.
I can stop drinking anytime I want
As time passed, my alcohol intake slowly increased from one glass to two, then to three and so on. And I got drunker and drunker each time.
I started looking for a glass of wine earlier in the week. Then earlier in the day.
By average standards, it didn’t seem like I was drinking much, as my glass sizes weren’t huge and I was only having 2 or 3 but in comparison to someone with a complete GI tract and their stomach still intact, this was equivalent to an entire bottle.
I made many attempts to cut back, usually cloaked under the shroud of a ‘health kick’ or ‘Dry July’.
Before long I was always tired. Unenergetic. And had no motivation.
Admittedly these symptoms could be put down to my new plumbing aka gastrectomy.
I had trouble maintaining my nutritional intake, I was deficient in iron and B12 and my LFTs were slowly trending upwards.
I casually mentioned to my doctors that I was drinking a little bit more than normal, but they didn’t seem concerned which was the green light for me to continue on my merry way.
Plus I was functional, had a stable job, healthy social and family relationships, and wasn’t craving a wine every day – until eventually, I was.
Accepting the truth
When I started to question my relationship with alcohol that was a sure sign that I had a problem.
Even if I still wasn’t admitting it to myself, my iPad was a dead giveaway.
The off-loaded and unused “How to stop drinking” Apps were one glaring indication.
The other, my Google search history:
“how to cut back drinking”
“how to manage drinking too much”
and finally, “am I an alcoholic”
I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
I didn’t want to continue trying to recall the previous night’s events through the brain fog and a pounding headache with intermittent memory flashbacks.
Drinking alcohol was starting to affect my mental and physical health.
I was constantly feeling like crap. I was always tired, unmotivated, had no energy and was masking my feelings and emotions with alcohol instead of tackling them head-on.
And ironically here I was searching and seeking ways to improve my overall well-being after turning fifty, but yet I was struggling to admit to myself that maybe, just maybe, if I stopped drinking that might improve how I feel.
Obviously I couldn’t cut back. I had tried that countless times before. And failed.
It was the age-old adage: one isn’t enough, and in my case, two is too many.
All or Nothing
It’s all in or nothing, 100% commitment.
I read a great post – 100 per cent or 99 percent by Scott Mikers.
100% is a breeze, 99% is a bitch
You are either 100% committed to a goal or task, or you’re not.
Being 99% committed leaves you open to failure and not committing to the end goal you are hoping to achieve.
And my end goal was to end my toxic relationship with alcohol and to improve my overall health and wellness.
It took starting this blog, and researching and writing posts on how to improve my health and well-being and change my mindset for me to identify the real problem. The problem I had been disguising under the ruse of a myriad of other possible issues and lame excuses, but all along it was glaringly obvious, but I choose to ignore it, I had to stop drinking!
Alcohol: temporary pleasure with permanent consequences
Alcohol was so deeply ingrained in my lifestyle that I was at a loss on how to tackle the issue.
My first step was to identify I had a problem.
The second was to make a commitment to myself; 100% in or nothing.
The third was a slap in the face with a CT scan result showing a liver lesion.
Neither my specialist nor GP seemed overly concerned about this hypodense liver lesion.
But I was.
Between this and my escalating LFTs, which the medical professionals were attributing to my gastrectomy, I knew differently, it was my body telling me enough was enough.
What are the effects of alcohol on the body?
The effects of alcohol impact our body from the very first sip.
From short-term effects to long-term impacts, there are no safe levels of alcohol.
We all know the dangers of smoking and drugs, and deep down we are also aware of the self-destructive and damaging effects of alcohol as well.
But we are really good at conjuring up the image of a rag-tag homeless hobo swigging out of a brown paper bag to be the one with an alcohol problem, and not the everyday stay-at-home mummy in her active pants, sipping on her 3rd wine as she’s preparing dinner, supervising homework and refereeing squabbling kids.
The short-term effects of alcohol are well known, but the risks are largely ignored and covered with excuses and the acceptance that it’s normal behaviour.
So, therefore, after a huge session and the throbbing headache subsides and nausea eases; like child-birth, the ill effects are pushed to the back of our minds and we are primed and ready to drink again.
Short-term effects of alcohol
- decreased inhibitions
- impulsive behaviour
- slurred speech
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of coordination
- loss of consciousness or memory (blackouts)
Unlike the more well-known short-term effects of alcohol, the long-term effects are less often discussed.
Long-term effects of alcohol
- increased cancer risk
- cardiovascular disease and stroke
- liver disease
- mental health problems
- alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence
What you deny or ignore, you delay. What you accept and face, you conquer
A toxic relationship with alcohol doesn’t necessarily indicate substance abuse, or alcoholism, just a realisation that the relationship you have with alcohol needs to be reassessed.
If you are teetering on the precipice of thinking you may have a problem, identifying and accepting that you do, is the first step.
Whether you are an occasional drinker, a binge drinker or alcohol dependent, the common signs of alcohol misuse are:
- constantly overthinking about alcohol
- you can’t stop after one drink
- your drinking is impacting your family and relationships
- your work performance is suffering
- you have tried to unsuccessfully stop drinking
- you have no self-control and give in when offered a drink
- feelings of guilt and shame about your drinking habits
- creating excuses and justifications for why you drink
- you cannot relax or enjoy yourself without consuming alcohol
- memory lapses or blackouts
- dangerous and self-destructive behaviour when you drink
Now that I’ve identified I have an issue, what’s the next step?
The first one was easy.
It was not buying that bottle of wine for dinner last night. Bravo me.
Immediately afterwards I regretted that stupid decision and really wish I hadn’t listened to myself.
So onto Google I go and this time instead of just aimlessly searching “how to stop drinking” I actually read some of the articles that popped up.
The online information on how to stop drinking, or cut back, dependent on your goals are limitless, from 11 ways to Curb your Drinking to Overcoming Alcohol Addiction to Break your Drinking Habit.
From my reading and research, the most common tips that repeatedly popped up I’ve listed below:
10 Top Tips to Help You Quit Alcohol
- Start with a Plan: work out what you want your relationship with alcohol to look like moving forward, make a long-term plan and be prepared to stick it out
- Know your Why: identify why you want to stop drinking in the first place, and write down the reasons in your phone or journal for a quick reminder when you are tempted to give in
- Identify your Triggers: pinpoint when you feel the strongest urge to drink, and identify the places and feelings associated with these impulses
- Avoid Temptation: remove alcohol from the house and avoid situations where you know there will be booze in the early days to limit temptation
- Tell others you are Quitting: confide in your close family and friends, tell them your goal and ask for their support
- Seek Support: reach out to your GP, professional groups or counsellors, download an App such as Reframe or listen to a Podcast like One Year No Beer (OYNB)
- Discover new Activities: join the gym, start a class, learn a new skill, and fill your day with activities that don’t involve alcohol
- Explore Mindfulness: research has shown that regular meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices help people maintain sobriety long-term
- Reward Yourself: positive reinforcement is powerful, as you reach major milestones in your progress don’t forget to reward yourself for your achievements with a coffee, dinner or a movie
- Don’t Quit: The most important tip I’ve read for quitting drinking is DON’T GIVE UP. Don’t be discouraged and quit if you have a setback. It usually takes many attempts to successfully cut down or stop drinking, tomorrow is another day, just try again
Quitting alcohol isn’t just for people who have hit rock bottom
Making the decision to stop drinking alcohol isn’t just for people who’ve identified that they have a drinking problem or dependency on alcohol. It’s for anyone who has realised that alcohol is taking more than it’s giving, and they are sick of the after-effects of a big weekend or are just sober curious.
There will be highs and lows, hard days and tough times, and I’m certain that there will be periods when I will want to cave and pour myself a glass of ruby red, but by committing 100% and not just 99%, and making a firm decision with no ifs, buts or maybes, and focusing on my WHY, I am determined to do this!
Watch this space for further updates on my intrepid (tongue-in-cheek) journey towards sobriety and living my life alcohol-free.
It could be an interesting few weeks (insert worried face).
Do you have a rocky relationship with alcohol? Are you sober curious? Do you want to improve your health and know that alcohol isn’t what your body needs? Do you want to stop drinking? If so, and you have any tips, tricks or advice that you are willing to share, leave a comment below as I’d love to hear from you.