It has been five months since I have had a drop of alcohol. My health dropped off a cliff face this year (read more about it in this post), and as a side effect my liver went haywire. I spent the week after New Years slowly turning yellow, skin and eyes and everything. It is seriously disconcerting to look in the mirror and simply be a different colour. I guess it is the equivalent of waking up the morning after putting on a gradual fake tan, except in this case you are Pikachu yellow and everything itches (another fun side effect of a dodgy liver).
Thankfully the liver is a resilient beast, and it can regenerate itself. The recommendation from my specialist was essentially to do nothing, the glandular fever which caused the liver issues would resolve itself with time, and the liver would get better, again with time. The only things to avoid (to give the liver a better chance of healing, and if it did not heal to give the doctor a better chance of diagnosing what was wrong) was alcohol, fatty foods, pain killers and contact sports.
I was slightly full of rage in January as everyone was posting about ‘Dry January’ because at least for them they had a damn choice about not drinking. And secondary rage at the ‘anti-detox’ brigade offering the counter argument of not needing dry January because a healthy liver and kidneys were all the detox you needed. Except I didn’t have a healthy liver, and the wide spread nature of that message slapped me in the face every time.
Then as everyone fell off the wagon or when February arrived and pub lunches went back into regular circulation I was still sat there with my water and pathetic liver. I know that my health issues are no-where near as bad as some have it, but it really has not been the most fun start to the year.
I am almost (hopefully) at the end of my alcohol ban. At the time of writing this post I am four days away from my next round of blood tests, and eight days from my last appointment with the liver specialist. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to be going on a bender regardless of the results. I am very much going to be treating my body with cotton wool for the rest of the year. But I am desperate to feel slightly more normal, less out of control. (Note from present day Rebecca, I passed all my tests and can now drink again! But still being very careful about what and when).
It has been really weird to, without warning, have to reconsider my attitude towards alcohol. I saw this sort of analysis from people doing dry January, but after four months I think I have come to some solid conclusions. As someone with around 25 bottles of gin in her collection I am, believe it or not, not reliant on alcohol. It doesn’t really impact my day to day at all. My feelings about not drinking for four months have more been anger that my body has betrayed me rather than a desperation for a drink.
I appreciate alcohol. I love the ritual of having a drink. There is something in the way sitting down for an after work drink gives you a boundary between work and home. I found myself adding all sorts of hipster soft drinks to my weekly shop to try and recreate that feeling of ‘special’ that you get with an alcoholic drink. I even spent money on one of those non-alcoholic gins which to be frank are bullshit and should not exist. Seriously, don’t waste your money. (I can’t reinforce my hatred for these enough, you would be better off getting an empty bottle of gin and filling it with water and the sad memory of a lemon for the same effect).
What I missed was the cathartic effect of a drink. When you have had a shit day at work there is nothing better than a glass of wine and a moan to look forward to. When you celebrate there is something just so ceremonial about a fancy cocktail. For better or worse alcohol has become synonymous with our celebrations as humans, and millennials have not yet caught up and creating a valid non-alcoholic replacement.
I didn’t have to face a lot of peer pressure or pregnancy rumours that I know a lot of people face when they give up drinking – I was happy to give a loud and clear ‘my liver is fucked’ if questioned…and you are always questioned. The way you have to justify your no alcohol decision is highly irritating, and if I was a less confident person it would have been a kick in the teeth to have to continually reveal private medical information to make people happy with my decision to have lemonade not gin. But in eight days fingers crossed it won’t be a problem for me any-more.
And what has all this taught me?
- Your liver is more helpful than you think
- It actually takes a couple of days to notice your entire body has changed colour
- Never question why someone is not drinking alcohol, just offer them an alternative
- Alcohol is ingrained in our thinking, our celebrations and our commiserations
- Non-alcoholic spirits are the devil and should be condemned
- In a pinch, tonic water in a fancy glass can replace a G&T