I first started this blog 5 years ago to chronicle the travels of my son (aka The Boy) and I through Europe. He was 10 years old at the time and over three years we lived, for varying amounts of time, in Berlin, Northern Italy, and Surrey, southwest of London, England. For the past two years we have called my hometown in the Midwest our stomping ground, attempting to cultivate a life of staying put for a while.
But I always meant for this blog to be about the spirit of journeys, in whatever form they take. So it is with this justification that I introduce a journey of another kind for the moment. Not one that involves red eyes to exotic destinations (hopefully no red eyes at all!), language mishaps, and shocking currency conversion rates, but an inner journey to see what mettle I'm really made of.
Four days ago I decided to give up alcohol completely for 30 days, or longer, if I feel like it. But definitely not less than 30 days. This came about after my boyfriend gently suggested my fondness for nightly rituals of red wine consumption might be making my chronic insomnia worse. And -- let's be frank -- he said he thought that just maybe, possibly, I was drinking too much lately and was self-sabotaging my otherwise healthy lifestyle. I love to exercise and weight train and I eat a whole foods diet.
So I ventured into the world of online alcohol abuse self assessments on sites that seemed to earnestly care about my drinking habits. My score in answer to numerous questions showed "Cause for concern" about my drinking. Time for action.
Of course, I do not think of myself as an alcoholic. It's not necessary these days when so many other options are readily available -- try ‘Alcohol Use Disorder’ -- that’s an available diagnosis. When I told my doctor I quit for 30 days and what my drinking habits had been like the past few months, she politely explained I had an “Alcohol Abuse Episode” and wrote it down in my file.
It was true, after a particularly stressful few months I had found myself staring down 3-4 glasses of Pinot a night in order to fall into a fitful sleep. I work full time and sole parent a teenager so what’s a few glasses of wine a night when it could be so much worse? Or so I always told myself.
Besides, I wasn’t performing badly at work or in my relationships, although I don’t think it had the greatest effect on my parenting, when The Boy (now 15) more than once commented, “Wine again, mom?” I would evenly reply, “It just helps me fall asleep.”
I have been battling chronic insomnia for the past ten years but I knew I’d fallen into a really bad pattern when I would have the wine, even when I didn’t feel like it, because I was so afraid of facing down the Cyclops of insomnia, in my case, not being able to fall asleep for hours, sometimes never.
Of course, the battle against insomnia is an unwinnable war when alcohol is involved. What lulls you to sleep wakes you up at 5am, blinking at the clock like a soul-less zombie, not a trace of drowsiness in sight until 7am, just when there is no option but to get up. So I had to pick my poison. I’d rather get to sleep and wake up, then the other way around.
When I had tried no alcohol for a couple of weeks several months ago during a particularly bad insomnia episode, it made no difference without it. I still couldn’t sleep. So I decided I might as well enjoy myself if I was going to be tired!
Except for the past few months, I have sometimes not drank during the week and saved it for the weekend. But then usually it seemed I would still have too much. Stopping after 2 glasses has never been my strong point. After 4 or 5, yes. But you see, as I have always told people, I lived in England for 8 years of my life where they’re practically born with a wine bottle tucked up next to them in the bassinet. It was de rigueur at every kids birthday party we went to (my son was born there and spent his early childhood growing up British), that 'party treats' for parents involved what amounted to an open bar.
So in England, I always felt like a very light drinker. This is all true. However, comparing yourself to others is never a very good barometer of your own mental health.
So it is Day 4 and I am happy to report that I have been getting to sleep without a problem and really enjoying my sleep while I’m at it. It’s been a long week though, with the usual stresses, then add the stress of quitting alcohol, and it would so be nice to have a glass of red wine tonight to wind down from it all. But the fact that I can’t even remember the last time I spent a weekend without alcohol involved in some way, means it was probably when I was pregnant with The Boy.
It seems like mid-life is a time when you decide to run a marathon, give something up or just give up the ghost completely. So I think it is a really good time to hit reset on my body and mind, and figure out how to make it to a nice, ripe and healthy old age..
Stay tuned as I blog about the effects of ridding myself of alcohol for 30 days and what the results are. My doctor says it takes six weeks to get alcohol out of your system. But 30 days is such a nice even number -- so I'm going with that.
writer-director-actress, author, improviser, mother, traveler, digital nomad