30 days alcohol free: day 10

I wrote this post on Sunday, day 10 of the 30-day no alcohol challenge, and felt like it hadn’t been difficult at all. I’d been feeling really good about it. I guess that’s a good thing. I’d hate to be finding out that I’m addicted to alcohol and was unable to give it up!

(Confession: Later that day, around 5pm, when I was cooking dinner, I did start to feel like I was missing out. I had started a tradition on Sundays where I’d sit with a cider and write up my week in my photojournal. It was the first time I really felt like having a drink, but I didn’t cave in and I ate cheese instead. Lemon Mineral Water Sunday doesn’t quite cut it when I’m used to Cider Sunday!)

I was talking to a workmate, who I discovered is also having a break from alcohol, about this challenge. One of the things I’ve observed, other than feeling a lot less physically heavy, is that I am getting more tired at night, around 9 pm, and feel like I’m ready to go to bed at 10pm. When I’d had a few drinks in the evening, I rarely felt like this and was regularly able to stay up until past 11pm. My workmate said the same thing and we concluded that alcohol masks the tired symptoms so that you feel more aware and alert, but your body really is tired and is ready for sleep a lot earlier than you think it is.

So going to bed earlier, which is not one of my 19 for 2019 things, but is something I need to do so that I get more sleep and have more energy, has been something I haven’t had to try very hard to do now that I’m not dealing with the “I’m not tired” feeling that comes from having a few drinks in the evening.

In Chapter 23 of The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey writes about his 30-day experiment to drink only water. He cut out all coffee, alcohol and sugary drinks from his diet, much like I’m doing (as of Sunday). Like me, Chris already didn’t drink soft drink, but unlike me, he says he didn’t drink a lot of coffee or alcohol before he started.

I already touched on coffee on Saturday (sob!) and noted Chris’ comment that by consuming caffeine you are “borrowing” energy from later in the day. Along the same line, he suggests that drinking alcohol is “borrowing” energy from the next day. He says that it may “provide you with a bit more energy and creativity as you drink it, but it will also almost always provide you with a net loss in energy and productivity and make it much more difficult to accomplish what you intend to—especially after you come down off the buzz the drug gives you. [ . . . ] In the morning you have to pay interest on the energy loans. This leaves you with a net loss in energy.”

His conclusion after the 30-day experiment of no coffee or alcohol was that by the end of the month he began to have a huge amount of energy and that the amount of energy he had was much more stable; it didn’t fluctuate anywhere near as much as it had when he’d had a few drinks every week.

Chris suggests that most people (me!) won’t want to completely cut alcohol out of their diet but that if you understand the effects of drinking on your energy levels, you can make the decision on what to drink intentionally knowing the consequences.

This is a different way, to me, of looking at alcohol consumption than the normal messages of how bad it is for our health and the health risks associated with drinking, which are not insignificant.

I often read about how alcohol can overload our livers, contribute to weight gain, increase our risk of some cancers, and I completely disregard the current recommendations for “acceptable” drinking of two standard drinks a day, with two alcohol-free days a week. I don’t doubt any of this information but, despite overwhelming evidence about the risks of drinking, I have never been able to use that as motivation to reduce my consumption. It always seems as though those consequences happen to other people, or they take years to manifest and I have plenty of time to change my habits and, until then, I can go on doing as I please.

I know that this is not true. There are, no doubt, heaps of studies into why trying to encourage people to change unhealthy habits by telling them what the risks of their behaviour are often doesn’t work. Do gruesome photos on cigarette packs work? Smokers know the risks, yet they continue to smoke. Likewise, people who drink know the health consequences of doing so. I know them yet I continue to regularly drink at unsafe levels. (I know there’s a lot more factors involved and it’s a lot more complicated than this for many people. But this is a blog post, not a scientific paper and I’m writing about my experiences, not about the complexities associated with overcoming addiction and other related issues!)

What Chris’ experiment showed him, and what I’m hoping mine will show me, is the immediate consequences of drinking. Not the long-term possibilities that might affect future me. I’m hoping for results similar to Chris’ results so that when this experiment is over I will be more likely to make conscious, intentional decisions around if, when and how much I drink, knowing what the impact of those decisions on achieving my goals will be.

Today is day 14. All is good.

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