So much about my drinking behaviour was like treading water to stay afloat. Even if I wasn’t drinking during the week, I was still atoning for the weekend’s excesses by going to the gym every day. 3000 calories of wine meant 3000 calories working out – or 5 hours on the treadmill. Which is exactly the sort of game someone with an eating disorder plays, day in, day out.
Two weeks away on holiday would typically result in gaining 4 pounds in weight. This time, following 10 days in South Africa, there was no change. So I’ve no need to burn off the calories. Instead, I’m able to concentrate on strength training, which is many times better for my ageing bone density.
One thing I’ll have to adjust is my calorie intake, as I’m actually losing weight. It’s quite weird not to feel guilty for nibbling on a biscuit. But I expect I’ll reach an equilibrium quite soon – not the maladaptive cycle of reward vs. punishment of before, but a healthy status quo.
Something else I’ve become aware of is being more mindful about what I eat. When one’s in a restaurant, there’s a symbiotic relationship between eating and drinking where each stimulates the other. Tasting menus with wine pairing are all about that and clearly profit margins benefit. But it’s easy for the eating and drinking to become a reflexive activity, with the mouth opening and swallowing on autopilot. Stopping drinking means that I’m concentrating more on what I’m putting in my mouth. If I don’t like it that much, I leave the food half-finished. I don’t ask for a doggy bag either!
The effect of not drinking on sleep was fairly immediate. No more nights waking in the early hours after being chemically bludgeoned to sleep. And because alcohol inhibits restful REM sleep, I find that I’m dreaming less vividly now that a normal sleep pattern has been restored. At least I’m no longer falling off buildings in my pyjamas.
I feel more energetic, too. Saturdays and Sundays were usually spent nursing a slight hangover. Reading the newspapers after a lie-in was appropriately soporific. Now, one paper is enough and then it’s off to the gym or out to the garden to do some weeding.
Of course, the danger in all this is that one could be seen as an evangelist for sobriety. I’m not. For one thing, the word ‘sobriety’ smacks too much of ‘recovery support programs’. And that’s not me in ‘denial’. It’s moving to a different tune that’s about enjoying my health rather than subscribing to some outmoded idea of a chronic illness that you’re never allowed to recover from. Zero alcohol is simply the new normality.
Perhaps I will start drinking in moderation at some point, but at the moment I’m unable to see myself doing that. I have too much to lose and life is too good.