I’ve just completed a thirty-day break from alcohol. I had toyed with the idea of doing it as a New Years Resolution but there was too much going on in January to consider it and I might have gone on postponing it indefinitely had I not heard a radio interview with Annie Grace, author of The Alcohol Experiment. I liked her approach to giving up alcohol in that she was non-judgmental and having been what I would call “an enthusiastic drinker” herself, she had firsthand practical experience of the related issues that go hand in hand with the whole drinking scene.
I also liked her idea of treating it as an experiment because this was exactly what I was wanting to achieve. I wanted to see if giving up alcohol would have any influence on the symptoms I experience with multiple sclerosis. In particular I wanted to see if I would see if there was any improvement in:
- Brain fog
- Balance issues/dizziness
- Altered sense of taste
- Menopausal symptoms
- Physical effects such as leg weakness
I also wanted to see if I could actually do it! I’d had periods when I’d been in hospital when I’d not had a drink for up to three weeks or so, but I couldn’t remember a period lasting longer than a week when I’d successfully had a self-imposed abstinence. Although I’d found a week reasonably easy, I had avoided social situations and staying at home watching Netflix with my cat for a month was going to prove a much more difficult task!
I made up my mind to go out as much as I could during this period and since drinking plays a fairly major part in the activities of the group that I hang out with, this was one of my main concerns when I started my experiment. There are a whole raft of complex issues surrounding alcohol and the part it plays in people’s lives and this is what I came to learn whilst reading this book and conducting my own experiment.
Since being diagnosed with MS in September 2016, I don’t drink nearly as much as I used to. This isn’t necessarily a conscious health-based decision, it’s more that my body won’t let me. I get too tired and I simply can’t stand the distance. Yes, I’ve gone overboard a few times since but I have experienced nothing close to the frayed nerves, pounding head and industrial strength thirst that would accompany the inevitable hangover in the past. Nor have I had to endure spending the following day berating myself for my lack of discipline and running mental replays of the dumb things I might (or might not have) said and/or done the night before. I get this but thankfully it happens only very rarely now.
Despite this I still knew I had an unhealthy attachment to alcohol. This was brought home to me when I was at a party a few months back and the bottle of wine I’d brought had accidentally dropped and smashed on the floor. I felt a feeling of unnatural panic and if someone hadn’t kindly offered me some of their own wine I probably would have got in my car and gone home to get more or gone somewhere to find some. If they’d had a cat who’d eaten the lobster that I’d brought, there’s no way I’d be thinking like this. So what really is the problem?
I started the experiment tentatively, not really knowing if I was actually going to carry on with it or not but after successfully completing the first week I knew it was not negotiable. I’d been out with my friends and drank tonic water and I’d enjoyed it – just as much as I would have if I’d been drinking wine. I felt great in myself and had no anxious moments about driving home. It was at that point that I knew I was going to see it through. I kept listening to Annie’s book which I’d purchased as an audiobook and which gave me membership to her site www.alcoholexperiment.com It’s a great resource and I thought I would interact on this site much more than I did but I was quite busy with other things during this time which is probably a good thing.
One of the things suggested is to take a before and after photo. Both of these photographs, taken without makeup or hair products are pretty dire but here are mine …
After seeing the appalling “before” photo I went out and got my hair cut without delay, but nothing else was changed in the after photo. To be honest, apart from the hair, I think both are pretty much on a par of awfulness!
I was fairly certain that I would sleep better without alcohol and was surprised to find that the results proved to be just the opposite. In the thirty days before my experiment my Fitbit recorded an average of seven hours, fifteen minutes and during the thirty-day experiment, six hours, forty-five minutes. An average of thirty minutes less per night without alcohol – maybe I was expecting too much and had performance anxiety or something!
So surely my weight must have dropped dramatically?
Yes, it dropped but not to the extent that I’d hoped. My weight at the beginning was 75.9 kilograms and at the end was 74.9 kilograms. I guess a kilogram is better than a slap in face, but I’d hoped for more.
The other symptoms I’d hoped for an improvement in was
- Brain fog – yes, but minimal
- Fatigue – yes but there might have been other factors at play. The overwhelming MS-type fatigue generally comes over me at work when I’m not totally engaged with what I’m doing. Since we’re coming into our busy season at work, I’ve tended to be fully engaged over the past thirty days so this might account for the lack of fatigue.
- Balance issues/dizziness – no change at all
- Altered sense of taste – no change at all
- Menopausal symptoms. This has got worse BUT there is a reason for this. I had heard from people that giving up alcohol had a marked improvement in hot flushes etc so I decided to stop taking HRT during this time. Unfortunately, it coincided with a seasonal period of very warm nighttime temperatures. The hot flushes came back but only on those hot nights. This might also have accounted for the reduced sleep hours during my experiment.
- Physical effects like leg weakness – this actually felt worse. I think that having a glass of wine or two was acting as a muscle relaxant which is great if you’re only having one or two. The problem is that you start to think that having more will make you feel even better. It doesn’t and I need to know when to stop!
- Stress – I picked a good time to do this because, although I had a few minor niggles, stress didn’t feature much in my life during those thirty days.
To summarise, on a physical level my thirty-day alcohol experiment didn’t have the results that I’d hoped for. On a psychological level it was a different matter. I felt so much better about myself that I considered making the change permanent. I don’t think I’m ready to do that just yet, but I’ve made some rules for myself that are not negotiable and if I slip I’ll start the experiment all over again. It no longer seems like an insurmountable challenge because I actually quite enjoyed it. Strangely enough the only time when I really felt in danger of chucking it in and having a drink when I was sitting down to write something. It wasn’t that I ever had to get plastered to write anything but a wee tipple just seems to get the creative juices going somehow.
I’m really glad I’ve done this and proud of myself that I got through the thirty days without too much angst. For anyone wanting to take a break from alcohol and re-evaluate their drinking habits, I hope this has helped and I highly recommend this book.