High on Sobriety; A Few Things I’m Noticing
By Andy Boone
A few years ago I was talking to a close friend about his journey to sobriety. He was approaching his 20th year completely sober and I was fascinated with my constructed idea of the discipline it would take for me to get sober; completely sober as a way of life. Not a drop of booze, no other substances whatsoever. In his case, not even Advil. Why did that seem so ridiculous? This idea had me spinning.
Within a week I reached back out to the same friend. I had questions. Why had he made the decision? Was it a single incident? How had the decision changed his life? Any regrets? Any temptations? I shared my typical consumption patterns and routines. For me, consuming alcohol had more or less become a way of life. A part of most social events. Included in most restaurant dinners. Was it time for me to take a break? If I reduced the quantity and frequency, would that be a worthy exercise? Could I be the guy that just had a few beers now and then or should I test what it was like to go without?
His simple response set me on a new course and it went something like this: “If you are connecting with so many honest thoughts and questions about the subject well, maybe there’s your answer.”
Alcohol and the connection to my overall health was on my mind much of 2017. Could I make it Sunday through Thursday with no alcohol and then ‘back to normal’ with a green light to have a few drinks Friday and Saturday? Should I not drink during the week, but allow myself the obvious few at the organized social events? Could I make it through a weekend without a drink? How many was too many?
All the while, my friend’s comment kept spinning in my head. “If you are connecting to all of these questions well, maybe there’s your answer”. Maybe I did in fact have my answer.
With a few failed stop then start attempts during 2017, I took my last drink this past December. As I approach nine months sober, I thought I would use this week’s blog post to share some of what I’m noticing. This IS NOT an ‘everybody needs to stop drinking and get sober’ post. The last place you will ever find me is standing on a box preaching the way your life should be. If alcohol is a substance you are curious about and you’ve wrestled with the idea of making a change, here are a few things I’m noticing.
I Feel Better
I’m not sure how best to describe this one, so I’ll just sort of lay it out there. I feel better. I don’t feel the low-low energies that I used to. I don’t despise Monday like I used to. My outlook on my own health and life is generally more positive. I feel more patient and I feel more loving. It feels good to feel good.
I Ruminate Less
I’ve spent many years of my life living in my head. The voice that never quiets. I suspect that a mindfulness practice and consistent exercise are also factors that reduce rumination. I also know that after even the most enjoyable alcohol-fueled social event, the morning after is filled with reflection and rumination and sometimes regret. Quitting drinking has helped me to step out of my head.
I Sleep Better
For many years of my life I would wake at about 1 AM. Often times when drinking alcohol I would wake at 1 AM and have a difficult time going back to sleep. Even when I quit drinking during January and February this pattern would sometimes continue. Then in months three and four something shifted. Today it’s not uncommon for me to sleep through the entire night. I experience lucid dreams and awaken feeling rested like I didn’t know was possible.
More Present in Relationships
I especially notice this one with my wife, children, good friends and even teaching classes. I’m more engaged in conversations and am naturally and authentically more curious about what’s going on around me. When we feel better about ourselves and the life we are living, I believe that opens the door to show-up with others.
I Feel Strong (again) During Workouts
I found myself in the gym discouraged with how I felt during workouts. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like I could really face intensity. Also in a scary sort of way I started feeling like I couldn’t recover. Thus, my participation suffered. I’m enjoying our program more than I ever have.
I Make Better Food Choices
When we drink alcohol, our propensity to choose the sweet and the super savory only increases. Our guard comes down, we crave the garbage and don’t hesitate to dive-in. I don’t crave sugar like I used to.
My Kids Notice
I know that they’ve noticed because they are old enough and they tell me so. They like this dad better. They tell me they are proud of me. That about sums that up.
I’m More Curious About the Long Term Impact
In one of Peter Attia’s recent “Drive” podcasts, he summarizes the physiological effect of alcohol on the body. I encourage you to checkout Attia’s podcasts and, in general, his work on Health and Longevity.
With respect to “alcohol” we are really talking about the physiological effect of the molecule ethanol on the body. Attia points out that ethanol is in fact a toxin, and that the dose makes the poison.
Many people (not in the world of toxicology) forget there is a probability distribution that drives the impact of a toxin on a population. There are going to be some people at one end of the spectrum who are largely impacted by certain toxins and there are going to be others who are not.
Ethanol is no exception. Like Attia, I don’t believe that there is a single benefit to ethanol, the molecule, in the human body. Ethanol in its metabolic pathway is metabolized by the liver and has an effect on both the liver and the brain. The effect on the brain is what people drink alcohol for. So we can feel deliciously buzzed. You know, that “Oh, heyyy…” feeling. But it also acts as a depressant on the central nervous system and this kicks up some euphoria. So, it’s a depressant, but also excitatory and thus why it feels uniquely yummy and allows us to feel like we can let go of our stress AND feel good.
The effect on the liver is not so yummy. Even though this varies by individual, Attia points out alcohol is metabolized very similar to fructose. They share similar metabolic pathways. Not identical, but not surprising that they overlap given fructose is fermented to make ethanol. Just like sugar, different people tolerate different amounts. Over time, I believe many of use lose our ability to metabolize alcohol, just like we do the refined carbs and sugar.
Writing a New Chapter
If we are willing to first examine and then potentially say NO to certain aspects of our life, especially with habits we’ve developed over many years, where then can we finally say YES? If we can develop the strength to let go of the stories we’ve told ourselves for many years, then what? What new doors can we open?
A few years ago I found a physician who helped me begin to get really curious about my health. Perhaps more importantly, he helped me begin to pay attention to the life I was living. How did I want to show-up in this great game? Where was I willing to make changes? Where did I need to let go?
Today I am connecting with myself and others more deeply. For the first time, I’m seeing where I want to show-up bigger and stronger, as well honoring opportunities to rest and just be. The fight, the persistence, the courage as well as honesty and transparency feels right. I am inspired to share my journey with you.