Abstaining from Alcohol

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed that my tendencies around alcohol steadily became more and more dysfunctional. I never drank often, but when I did drink, I would drink more than was healthy. One autumn morning, after an evening of drinking which left me wondering, not for the first time, what the hell I was doing drinking as much as I had, I thought it was time for a change. My stepfather, whose birthday we had celebrated on the evening in question, had just quit drinking for two years, before slowly reintroducing alcohol, mostly a glass of wine or two during a nice meal. He had told me that during his time being sober, had reset his relationship with alcohol, and now simply could not drink to the excess that he could before. I decided that I wanted to try doing what he had.

After some thought about the length of time I would give up drinking, I settled on a year, with a minimum of six months. I knew it was unlikely that I would give up drinking altogether, but what I was looking for was the same that my stepfather had found; that the baseline frequency, amounts, excess, would be reset to a healthier level. Over time, a hangover went from a rare, once a year mistake, to a regular, once a month routine, which left me wonder where it would lead if I let it run its course. Extrapolating that escalation of behaviour over another decade did not look pretty.

So I started. The first few weeks, predictably, went quite easily. And then I noticed that the only hard part was finding something else to drink when going out for dinner, and what to tell people who offered you a drink. Both got easier over time. I found that sparkling water, or ginger beer, were a great substitute, and that most people applauded and encouraged the decision not to drink.

I was quite pleased to find that I did not have a physical addiction to alcohol, but rather that the challenge was one of habit. As the weeks turned to months, I found that all of the benefits of not drinking (clear skin, weight loss, etc.) were all a pretty big lie. The one thing I could confirm for myself was that I would get better sleep. I already knew that my sleep was worse on the days that I drank alcohol, but it became more and more profound the longer I did not drink, which showed me that I was also paying a compounding price in quality of sleep.

After a few months, things got boring. There were no new discoveries, no new improvements, and no new insights. After talking it through with Joasia, I decided to plan my return. I briefly wondered whether I was giving up before it was getting really hard, but I decided I felt I had learned what I was going to learn and my insights would not profoundly change whether I would stop drinking for six months or six years. What I was interested in was whether my return to drinking alcohol would reveal something. Would I achieve the reset I desired? Would my behaviour bounce back to what it was before? Would I find the effects of alcohol still worth the price you pay?

Seven months after that one autumn morning, I had a drink again. And it was okay. Since then, I’ve returned to having a glass of wine at a nice dinner and making some cocktails, which is still my favourite way to drink. The big revelation is that after about two drinks, I really feel the effects of it. I know that there is no physiologically change in my tolerance and that what I’m simply no longer treating the effect is normal, but it still feels like my tolerance has shrunk. It makes me less eager to have a drink, and it makes me realise that I’ve started pushing my boundaries more and more over the years. Hopefully that revelation will help me going forward. But let’s see what more I can learn.

Tottiford Reservoir

Yesterday I went for a walk along the Tottiford Reservoir, which is about 20 minutes away from Exeter. It was a grey day, but practically wind still. It was lightly wooded all around the lake. It was also nearly empty of people. During our one hour walk, we only saw four people (and about eight dogs.) And besides that, it was completely calm and quiet. The only thing you could hear were birds and the crunching of your own footsteps.

The Enemy

“Did you know that my French colleagues call me Madame le Doyen?”
“What does that mean?”
“Madam dean, I guess.”
“What would the Germans call you, Frau*..?”
“The enemy.”


Running Away With the Circus

This weekend Joasia and I went to London in order to stuff our faces with food (Exeter is a bit of a wasteland) and to see Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios show, which has just recently premiered in Europe. I had seen one of their shows in Amsterdam once, but the venue was significantly smaller than the Royal Albert Hall this weekend, which made a big difference in the grandeur of the show they could put on.

The show was spectacular, with amazing set designs and incredible performances. All of it was woven together in such a way that you were given lots of things to feast your eyes on in between the main performances. So while the sets were being changed in preparation for the next act, there were several smaller acts to entertain you and to drive the over-arching story forward.

One of the acts made me think. It certainly was not the most impressive act, but it reminded me of something that happened at least fifteen years ago. My father, who was still alive then had seen that a travelling circus had pitched their tent not far from where I lived. He said he wanted to go, and offered to take my sister, my brother and myself. It turned out to be an old-fashioned circus, with old-fashioned acts, which, when you compare them to Cirque du Soleil, were a little stale. I remember I enjoyed the show because there was something romantic about the simplicity of the performances. My sister, on the other hand, did not appreciate it, and was actively hating the whole experience. She thought it was a waste of her time and I remember finding it difficult to respect her in that moment.

Fortunately for me, my sister has changed quite a bit since then and I have a lot better understanding of where she’s coming from. I also think that she would be able to enjoy a old-timey circus show like the one we saw fifteen years ago. And if not, then I think she might just enjoy a Cirque du Soleil one.