“There is a reason the bar tender asks ‘What’s your poison?’ because it is – a poison.” Or so my acupuncturist tells me.
She went on to give me even more cheery news, “When we were studying the effects of drugs on the body, alcohol had its own lecture. Ingrid, it’s a poison.”
This isn’t good news to someone like me who really enjoys wine and champagne on a daily basis. Am I really poisoning myself? Hmmm. I pondered her statement for a microsecond and then didn’t really think about it too much more.
As one of those lucky people who never suffers a hangover, I didn’t really think alcohol was causing me any problems. The thing was, I was actually ignoring the signals that it was having a greater impact than I wanted to believe.
I didn’t sleep well and I put that down to “the cat woke me” or “I’m one of those people who only need 5-6 hours sleep”. I sometimes felt sluggish and uninspired and I put that down to there being so much going on in my life – in both my personal life and in my business. Sometimes it felt overwhelming and I convinced myself this was normal and that everyone feels like this. That’s just how it is.
I also believed the counter-evidence supporting my belief that there was no issue. I never get sick. I exercise every day and I always eat healthy food. Besides, the French drink wine every day, so it must be OK. And we drink mostly organic wine which doesn’t have “all the nasties” so that’s good. Or so I told myself.
Then we went on holidays for three weeks. I slept like a log for eight and sometimes nine hours – every night. I woke up feeling ‘alive’ and truly this is the only word I can use to describe how I felt. I truly hadn’t realised what a lethargic fog I had been living in. I put it down to being on holidays, swimming in the ocean every day, relaxing, and being ‘unplugged’.
We returned home to all our regular routines and that foggy, lethargic, sluggishness returned. The poor sleep pattern returned.
Just maybe it has something to do with the wine? I wondered. We hadn’t had much to drink on holidays. It was hot and I never really feel like wine in the heat and I can only drink one beer, so it was a pretty dry holiday.
I’ve always believed in the expression “when the student is ready, the teacher appears” and this is exactly what happened for me in the days after returning from holidays. They say things happen in threes.
Here’s the three super strong ‘drink less’ messages I received in just a few days:
1. I listened to Joe Rogan interview Sleep Expert and Neuroscientist Dr Matthew Walker and he said three things that really had me thinking:
- Sleep is the greatest legal performance-enhancing drug that most people are probably neglecting
- Our brains repair when we are asleep
- Humans beings are the only species that deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain. Mother nature has never faced the challenge of coming up with a safety net for lack of sleep.
2. I listened to a fascinating panel discussion that was about the drinking habits of different generations in Australia. Baby Boomers continue to drink the way they have for years while younger people are drinking less. Two members of the panel had stopped drinking – The Guardian Editor, Gay Alcorn stopped drinking for a month and her article went viral and the other, ABC journo Flip Prior, was part-way through “my year without alcohol”.
My take-home message from that panel was:
- It can be pretty difficult to do, and
- They both felt significant improvement in health – sleeping better and feeling better. So persevering was, in their eyes, well worth it.
3. ABC Australian Story ran ‘Last Drinks‘ which tells the story of Shanna Whan and her 20-year battle as a functioning alcoholic. She has created an online community ‘Sober in the Country’ that is spreading the message throughout the bush that ‘it’s OK to say no to a beer.’
I knew it was time to ‘take a break’ from drinking. Why was I doing so much to be healthy – yoga, Pilates, breathing, mindfulness and meditation, healthy food, no sugar and yet I’m drinking a poison. My birthday is in November, so I decided to ‘take a break’ from my birthday to Christmas.
As someone who works with goal setting and achieving results, I knew what I needed to do. I’d set my goal and now I needed to tell people; become accountable.
I called my sister and she said, “This is the worst time to do it Ingrid, leave it till after Christmas”. This is exactly what Gay Alcorn and Flip Prior said would happen – people resist. My sister has spent many years not drinking any alcohol due to family commitments and needing to “be able to drive if I have to.” I am in awe of how strong she has always been able to say, “No thanks.” Yet here she was cautioning me against it.
My birthday came and went, and I stopped drinking alcohol.
It was actually easier than I thought it would be – and here is why:
- When I started telling friends, I was surprised how many said, “You know what Ingrid, I’ve been thinking the same” or “Good idea, I might do it with you.” I felt encouraged.
- Most people didn’t notice. I had three functions in one week and no-one noticed that I was drinking sparkly water instead of sparkly wine. If they did, they didn’t say anything.
- I’ve never been able to drink during the day, so I was able to extend this into the evenings and found myself saying “I’m taking a break” instead of “I don’t drink during the day.” People accepted this. Some years ago, we participated in dry July and found when we said “We’re in dry July” people were happy to accept that.
- I stopped eating sugar years ago, before ‘quitting sugar’ became a thing. I knew it didn’t agree with me and I just stopped eating things that contained a lot of sugar. I thought “if I did that, I could do this.”
- Drinking at home: The ‘wine o’clock’ drink was the one I thought I was going to have the most difficulty with. I also like wine with dinner. I needed to find options:
- Zero alcohol beers. Heineken Zero* seemed to suddenly be advertised in every bus shelter in Sydney. We tried them all and this was the one we liked the most.
- Cup of tea! My dad used to come home from work and made a pot of tea. I’m a fan of tea so on some days I was happy to have tea instead of an alcoholic drink.
- Sparkly water. Thank goodness for sparkly water – a neighbour suggested a few drops of lemon or lime. We tried some of the cordials and as I eat very little sugar found them way too sweet for me.
- Non-alcoholic wine. I wish I could say this was an option. We found these to be completely undrinkable – for us.
- I put more salad on my dinner plate. Wine doesn’t really go with salad, so it was easier not to have wine with dinner.
One more thing that definitely helped. My partner joined me in this experiment. They say two heads are better than one.
Within a few days I felt the way I felt during my holidays. I managed to stick with ‘taking a break’ for what was only 39 days. Except for one champagne event where I managed to drink only two small glasses. While this could have been seen as a failure it had two very positive results:
- In my drinking days I would probably have had closer to a whole bottle – this helped me realise I could have 1 – 2 drinks and enjoy my evening.
- The next morning, I felt fuzzy – this helped me realise that alcohol really does make me feel fuzzy.
I’ve continued ‘taking a break’ and expect to do so for some-time to come because I am truly enjoying the benefits:
- Sleep. My number 1 reason for ‘taking a break’ is to take really good care of my brain. My brain is so important to me and I want to do everything I can to look after it. Sleep is the number 1 way to look after our brains. I want to have my full brain function when I am old. I’m protecting my future self.The other advantage of sleeping well is that I don’t fall asleep at the wrong time – on the couch, at meetings, at the dinner table in a restaurant (yep, I actually felt myself nod off while at dinner with friends), at the theatre or at business events (I fell asleep at a business meetup – more than once).
- Energy. I feel alive. I feel alert and feel like I want to get on with my day, every day.
- Memory. I remember conversations I’ve had with people. Sometimes when I’d think about a conversation I’d had with someone the day before, I’d think “what did they say?” I used to put this down to ‘information overload.’ Now I know it is ‘brain fog from wine’ because it doesn’t happen now. I remember things people say.
- Ideas. I’ve always had good ideas and always felt like I can see things trending before they ‘take off.’ What I hadn’t realised is that this had dimmed. I felt a lack of clarity about what I was doing and trying to achieve. I now feel like I am so clear about the direction for my business, so clear about what clients are asking for. My brain is clear.
- Time for other things. I’ve gained time for things I want to do with friends and family and projects at home. Time for reading.
- Inspiring others. This has surprised me. When I tell people I’ve stopped drinking alcohol they say, “I need to do this as well” and many have actually said “You’re an inspiration.” People who know me well know how much I enjoy wine and what a change this is to the old Ingrid.
- Focus. When I’m working on something, I am able to stay focused on just that. I used to look for the social media dopamine hit during the day because I couldn’t concentrate and stay focused on the task at hand or what I was working on. What I’m working on now totally keeps my attention because my brain is working the way it’s meant to. I’ve always used a timer to restrict my social media ‘fun time’. Now I use the timer for mapping out my whole day.
- Achievement. Being able to achieve this inspires me to achieve more. Whatever I set for myself in business this year, this decade – I can achieve it.
I truly feel like a new person. I told someone recently that I feel so much like the amazing human being I am meant to be. I know this probably sounds a bit over the top. But it’s true.
I’m doing this for me, and for my brain. I’m continuing to think of it as ‘taking a break’ and while I might enjoy the occasional small amount of nice wine for a friend’s birthday, for example, I know I’ll find, like many others, the desire to drink will continue to diminish as my tolerance reduces and the impact of even one drink results in feeling that familiar lethargic fog.
It’s wonderful today how many others are doing the same. There is a growing ‘sober curious’ movement and a shift towards making this a healthy, empowered choice.