There’s a lot of literature out there that examines the effects of alcohol on our bodies and minds. And being curious about all things wellness, I’ve read a good number of them. That is why it is so surprising to me that I neglected to make the connection between some of the things that were going on in my body and my alcohol consumption. This month, I’d like to discuss how alcohol affects our minds and bodies, the things that surprised me when I took a break from drinking, and why we overlook the power alcohol has to alter our experiences.
I didn’t feel like I was drinking a lot. I wasn’t drinking to the point where I was drunk but I was having some type of alcohol most nights of the week — a glass or two of wine, a martini. At the same time, while I felt like my energy level was decent during the day, I was feeling groggy in the morning as if I had taken NyQuil or a sleeping pill the night before and it was incredibly difficult to get out of bed. I was eating healthy and exercising, and yet my body just didn’t feel as healthy or as in shape as it used to. No matter what I did I couldn’t get rid of the three to five extra pounds I’d been carrying around. Now that may not sound like a lot, but it felt like a lot, particularly when they took up residence around my mid section. So while most people who know me didn’t notice much of a difference, I did. And I was also experiencing a feeling I can only describe as blah and anxious fairly frequently. And yet, in spite of everything I had read and heard, I wasn’t allowing for the possibility that the way I was feeling was being caused by the alcohol I was drinking.
So how did I finally make the connection and realize that what I was drinking might be linked to how I’d been feeling? It was kind of an accident. Like a lot of people, I had been going out to dinner quite a bit over the holiday season. My partner’s birthday falls between Christmas and New Year’s and so we typically celebrate with dinners out and plenty of wine with friends and family. This year, by the time New Year’s Eve arrived I’d hit some sort of wall. I was working out that morning and for the first time ever, I literally felt like I couldn’t continue. I was exhausted, every muscle was fatigued, and I thought, something has to give. Strangely, it felt as if a switch had been flipped and I didn’t even want to drink. So I announced that I needed to detox and I was going to have a dry January.
I love wine, especially those spicy, earthy, complex reds. I love martinis, particularly dirty martinis. And I love whiskey, the really woodsy smooth aged bourbons and scotches like Woodford and Macallan. I love the ritual of coming home on a cold winter night and having a glass of red wine while I watch tv or a movie or going out and sharing wine with friends.
To be clear, I love wine, especially those spicy, earthy, complex reds. I love martinis, particularly dirty martinis. And I love whiskey, the really woodsy smooth aged bourbons and scotches like Woodford and Macallan. I love the ritual of coming home on a cold winter night and having a glass of red wine while I watch tv or a movie or going out and sharing wine with friends. I was a little nervous about how other people in my life were going to react to me not drinking but I felt like this was something I had to do.
Oddly enough, while I knew my body needed a break, I still didn’t expect anything to change in terms of how I was feeling on a day-to-day basis. In spite of everything I read, I still didn’t make the connection. And here’s what happened. For the first couple of weeks I didn’t feel much different. People’s reactions were interesting. Almost everyone supported the idea of a dry month, a detox. They laughed and spoke about how they should do it too, and then interestingly enough, a number of people somehow needed the reassurance that this was just something I was trying for January and that I hadn’t cut alcohol out of my life forever. It’s interesting to think about what makes people so uncomfortable about the idea of not drinking and I guess that might be a subject for another post.
By the end of January, I started to notice some differences in how I was feeling. I was way less tired than usual. I still didn’t love getting out of bed in the morning but I was no longer waking up with that overly foggy feeling. I could stay awake for an entire movie at night. I kept going. By February, my body felt great. My stomach no longer had that bloated feeling. Those blah feelings I used to experience weren’t happening as much, and when they did, they didn’t feel nearly as deep or as consuming as they had.
The thing I least expected to happen is that I actually don’t miss drinking all that much. I’ve tried to have a glass of wine or a cocktail since January and I have to say I don’t like the feeling. I get a heavy headachy feeling almost immediately. It doesn’t feel good. I don’t know what’s happened that my body’s reaction to alcohol has changed so much. Maybe my body is different, maybe I’m more aware of how it makes me feel, maybe both.
I’m still not sure why I never allowed myself to entertain the possibility that drinking alcohol was connected to how I was feeling even though I had read everything to the contrary. I think because it felt like such a part of my life, my routine, and my friend’s routines, that I never even questioned it. And in terms of how I rationalized what I was experiencing physically or mentally, I think I minimized what I was feeling. I find we do that a lot as humans. We minimize how we feel because we think we are the only ones feeling the we way are. Or we think everyone else feels like we do and they appear to be dealing with it so we think we should be able to deal too. Or we accept as normal the idea that we are supposed to feel more fatigued and gain weight after 40. Which by the way, is not how it’s “supposed to be.” It’s become our norm but it isn’t actually normal. Of course we can expect our bodies to change as we age, but a lot of changes are actually caused or exacerbated by our habits and what we are exposing ourselves to nutritionally and environmentally. I suppose that’s a topic for another post as well.
It’s hard to come to grips with the idea that my body won’t feel and look the way I want it to unless I give up something I have grown so attached to. But this is what feels right for now. It may not be forever but it’s hard to argue with a practice that has me feeling better than I have in years.
Occasionally I watch other people lifting their glasses and wonder how they are doing it. Part of me wishes I still could drink without feeling poorly. It’s hard to come to grips with the idea that my body won’t feel and look the way I want it to unless I give up something I have grown so attached to. But this is what feels right for now. It may not be forever but it’s hard to argue with a practice that has me feeling better than I have in years. The subject of alcohol is far from an easy issue to examine. Our relationship with alcohol is such a big and unquestioned part of our lives and our culture. Particularly if you live in a major city like New York. It is an interesting issue to explore and if you find you are feeling less than good lately and some of what I described sounds familiar to you, maybe give your habits some thought. You don’t necessarily have to change anything, just notice. It’s all good information to have. And if you find you’re having a strong reaction to what I’m sharing, notice that too. Explore your curiosity.
As always, thank you for reading, take care of you, and let me know how things are going!