Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Off Days

It's Wednesday today. Pasta night again, which will be fun. But last night was Tuesday, my first real "off" day since the cleanse ended because I've been so sick and indulging myself in my hell-if-don't-cure-ya-at-least-it'll-make-ya-feel-better self-medication of wine and sleep.

When my husband got home and we were ready to settle in, he opened the liquor cupboard and asked "What're you having?" (Or something maybe not quite so "Madmen" sounding, but you get the point.)

"Well, it's Tuesday," I said. "Should be an off-night." I felt a little pang in my heart as I said it because truly all day long I was telling myself "I still have this cold, it's hanging on like a bastard and I didn't have any medicinal wine today. (As I said, I cut that off at two afternoons.) What cruel punishment is it to take a night off AND suffer a cold at the same time? I'll have no energy. I'll have no fun." Wah-waaaaah. Poor me.

So I really wanted to be let off the hook and make it an "on" night. I know if I had even remotely pushed it, the hubby would've been on board and dragged out his scotch bottle. But I didn't push it (maybe instinctively) and he said, "Oh, yeah. I forgot" and closed the liquor cabinet and reached in the fridge for his purple-red Vitamin Water.

The pang of not having a drink turned into a drawn-out ache as I walked into the living room with my glass of water. I suppose I should've made sure to have something "fun" to drink - even some spiced tea - for my first off night in a week. Especially instead of water, which for some reason this cold has made seem like the least palatable thing on the planet, a shock for me since I've been drinking 8-10 glasses a day most of my life, even before they told us that imbibing half the Great Lakes on a daily basis was actually good for us.

So there I was with my - wah-waaaaah - water and a long sober night.

I hate having to crave alcohol. But that's what I was doing. I was "craving" a drink and resenting not being able to have one. Of course, the cravings that I have now are not as earth-shattering as they were, but they're there sometimes, especially if I'm feeling vulnerable or have not had an off-night in a while.

Don't be surprised or saddened if you continue to face little ripple (or waves) of cravings that you don't satisfy every hour of the day. It won't be at its worst once you start cleansing - certainly mine aren't anything more than a feeling of childish loss for a moment. That sensation would be hard to live with for years and years (which I'm sure is what I'd have to deal with if I joined A.A. - one day at a time, after all), but it'll become very short-lived once you start cleansing. Seriously, the idea that I wanted a drink passed within minutes and didn't return for the whole evening. In fact, I was feeling wonderful before the end of the night and really appreciating the wisdom behind 50% of that 2+2 rule: 2 days off a week.

There's a reason I've incorporated that rule for myself. I know this plan is workable and flexible - I've shown it many times already - and that's why it's so effective. But the rules that are there are there for a reason: not only will regular off-nights help to break up any kind of escalation in the dopamine-depression connection. But JUST AS IMPORTANT - YOU WILL FEEL BETTER FOR HAVING TAKEN THEM.

You will see time and again, many times a week - even many times a day - that sober life isn't just healthy and tolerable, it's wonderful. And that a sober life and sober reality is the foundation of everything else that is important to you. It is healthy. It is natural. It is necessary for problem drinkers. And it is right.

I remember that shrink I saw years ago used to tell me something that a rabbi told him if he complained about having to study the Torah or something every day when he was a boy. "Why do I have to do it?" my young-someday-shrink would say. And the rabbi would look at him, gray haired of course, black hat, maybe even a silver beard, and say: "Because it's good for you."

Because it's good for you.

That was all. Read the Torah because it's good for you (if you're a young Jewish person wanting to be a shrink when you grow up). And take your off-days if you're a former problem drinker finally getting control.

Do it because it's good for you.

But not good for you in that sense that you should eat oatmeal/kale hash every morning because it'll help your arteries. Because sometimes that's not a good enough reason for people - especially when it comes to the instant gratification of a drink. Because you can't really SEE your arteries. You can't really FEEL that oatmeal/kale hash you eat every morning actually helping you. All you will really experience is the ... yuck ... thick swallowing sensation and the vague desire to go back to bed - or puke. You'll get the resentment and sacrifice part, but no immediate payback, none that you can measure anyway, until your next blood pressure check (which is why it's so hard to stick to healthy diets!).

Of course, you might be a really positive person and feel proud of yourself for eating your oatmeal/kale hash, and that's good. But you'll feel pride for taking your off-nights too. And as nice as that is, "pride" is way down the list compared to the actual physical well-being and emotional joy off-nights will actually bring you (and by off-nights I mean the whole day and night). Especially when you wake up in the morning clear-headed, happy - and looking forward to pasta night. :)

It's part of the miraculousness of this system. It's part of why the whole plan works. Off nights are NOT AT ALL like oatmeal-kale hash. Yes, you get the long term internal benefits that you can't actually see (i.e. better cholesterol levels vs. better dopamine levels), but more importantly YOU WILL ACTUALLY FEEL HAPPIER IN THE MOMENT. At least after that little ripple of resentment that you're not a "normal drinker" has passed. It will be replaced by actual emotional and spiritual warmth. And that warmth will grow and grow and grow and grow, hour by hour, until the next day when you wake up really joyful and full of anticipation. Thrilled with yourself, with your life, with the state of your dopamine production ... and with the prospect of a fun evening.

Do it because it's good for you. But do it also because it will make you a happier person every moment of your day.

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