Monday, November 25, 2013

To Your Health!

Hey! My whole last post skipped what was really my most important point.

If you've got a drinking problem or are in the early stages of alcohol addiction - let alone farther along - there's a good chance somebody is going to say to you that you have to quit drinking. Forever. Traditionally, that's the way to handle alcohol addiction.

But if all this information gathered by Tony Edwards in The Good News About Booze is true, then there are real benefits to incorporating moderate drinking into your life. Meaning total abstinence could actually rob you of important health benefits of responsible alcohol consumption. (i.e. I've known people who've quit drinking permanently and who develop Type 2 Diabetes within a couple years. Coincidence? Maybe not. Because as several studies have concluded, moderate alcohol consumption lowers your risk of contracting diabetes - among other things. Once again, here's the list of significant health benefits of moderate drinking.)

So if you're somewhere in the early-to-mid stages of addiction - like I was - there's a chance you won't have to quit forever, as long as you can find a way to get control. A way to stop bingeing every time you pick up a drink. A way to end the blackouts, the fighting, the shame, the guilt. I believe that incorporating regular alcohol cleanses into your life is a way of doing that. You still get the benefits of regular drinking - outlined in the previous post. But you also get control. That's what cleansing has done for me.

I believe that part of the reason I'm in such good health and that people think I'm a lot younger than I am is because I've learned how to take advantage of all the benefits of alcohol - physically and fun-wise - without sacrificing my sanity or my health by becoming addicted again. Cleansing has given me control without robbing me of the many benefits (even joys!) of a drinking life.

So all this health talk - pneumonia, mammograms, etc. - might be a little boring (if not gross!), but it's important to me because good health is important. But so is quality of life. And I believe that alcohol cleansing improves my quality of life in every way. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Am I leaving anything out?!!

It's just a great way to live. And this is what I forgot to mention in yesterday's post: I believe cleansing is even better for you than that 1-2 glasses of red wine a day. Might take a while to prove that ... but I'm totally game. ;) Because I care that much about my health and happiness.

But you know what? I care about yours, too. I really do. I know how painful alcohol addiction can be. It basically ruined my childhood. And it took a good chunk of my adult life too.  Now that I've found a way to reverse alcohol addiction - while still reaping the considerable benefits of healthier drinking - I have to share it with other people looking for a way out.

Because maybe there's a reason we toast "To Your Health!" when we raise a glass. No matter where we live. From Afrikaans to Zulu - and everything in between! - here's a list of 'health toasts' from all around the world!

Cheers!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"The Good News About Booze!"

Well, Saturday night #2 off the cleanse was a little more responsible. This morning, I'm feeling 100% fine. Whew. Like I said, it can take a while to gauge what your system can handle in terms of drinking. That's why it's so important to take it easy after a cleanse.

btw - even last weekend wasn't a balls-to-the-wall drinkathon. Seriously. It wasn't even in the birthday-celebration ballpark. But that's the point of cleansing. It changes your tolerance levels. It helps keep them more normalized so that you can't drink yourself into oblivion - at least not without paying for it. So a really important part of cleansing is easing back into a normal, healthy drinking routine.

Can there be a normal, healthy drinking routine, you ask?

The latest - incredibly welcome - news out of the U.K. is that alcohol is actually good for your health. In some cases, very good for your health.

It's based on a comprehensive study of half a million different research papers about alcohol from all over the world. And the findings were at least mildly surprising. Though probably not so much to Ms. Functional - who, btw (*** overshare warning ***) had a healthy mammogram toward the end of her last cleanse. Cleansing is such a good time to get your boobs squished and/or prostate squeezed and/or other health matters seen to. It just "feels" like the right time to do that kind of thing.

The results of these studies have been compiled by author Tony Edwards who devoted much of his career to producing award-winning health and science programs for the BBC. His newest book, The Good News About Booze will be coming out in a few days and provides a really surprising overview of alcohol research.

Culling information from hundreds of thousands of international studies, he found that moderate, regular alcohol consumption had a positive impact on everything from heart disease to arthritis to osteoporosis. Regular drinkers were also less susceptible to the common cold, bowel cancer, macular degeneration and diabetes, among other things. (More info below.)

But I have to come clean about something: the research is generally based on people who have 1 or 2 glasses of red wine - every day. Sporadic alcohol consumption seemed to have no positive effect on health and drinking too much counteracted most of the benefits, too.

As you know, I do not drink every day. I have two non-drinking days a week and two non-drinking months a year. However, I'm in excellent health. Even my bout with "pneumonia" in April was not actually "pneumonia" but a simple respiratory infection. Shortly after, the hubs and I were looking for health insurance. Contracting pneumonia increased premium costs at most companies, so I did my research more thoroughly. I learned that I had none of the major symptoms of pneumonia - fever, chills, chest pain, coughing blood, diarrhea (sorry!), etc. I just felt like sh*t and coughed a lot for a few weeks.

Turns out it was a lung infection caused by - most likely - the fact I was not cleaning my aging humidifiers well enough. I think this is the case because while I was on antibiotics, I was still coughing. I had this breakthrough idea that the humidifier next to my bed was aggravating me. I shut it off and ... the coughing stopped. My recovery was almost immediate after that.

(This year I'm trying to live without humidifiers. But I don't know how much longer I'll be able to live with all the Cling-ons on Planet Static Cling.)

Anyway, the original pneumonia diagnosis was made by a doctor at an after hours clinic, not my own GP - and was never confirmed by X-ray, which is usually the case before a proper diagnosis can be made. So my own GP made it official last time I saw her:  for any insurance people who are curious, I'm in excellent health and I've never had pneumonia. Take that. Um. Somebody. ;)

Another interested benefit of daily drinking was on osteoporosis. According to a 2010 Oregon State University study, not drinking for two weeks can reduce 'bone turnover' - the rate at which cells reproduce - by 40%! When women in this study were allowed to drink again, bone turnover went back to normal. Fascinating! But also an indication I should not have my bone mineral density tested when I'm on a cleanse!

Of course, cleansing is not just about overall health maintenance. It's about solving a drinking problem. Because we are talking about alcohol addiction in my case - not simple health maintenance. I feel that if I drank even one glass of wine every day, I'd soon find myself with a problem again. Besides, I'd miss cleansing. As I've said many times, I love the variety it brings my life.

Of course I've long been aware - as most of us have - of the health benefits of daily red wine. So when I cleanse, I often take a Resveratrol supplement (the antioxidant in red wine that provides most of its benefits). Not every day - because there is some controversy surrounding it - but a few times a week. Plus I eat a lot of grapes and other fruit high in the anti-oxidants you find in red wine. I feel this helps me keep a healthy balance when I'm not drinking. (btw, here's a full list of the benefits and potential side effects of Resveratrol supplementation.)

I know I'm my own guinea pig with The Cleanse System. And your guinea pig, too. ;) Happy to do it. I've been experimenting with my own health all my life. And I've gotten damn good at it. It's not over yet, so I'll keep you posted.

It's almost impossible to detail all the benefits of regular moderate drinking Mr. Edwards's research has found. But here's a comprehensive excerpt printed in the Daily Mail: "Alcohol Is Good For Your Health."

Prepare to be surprised. And then have a glass of wine. ;)

As long as you're not cleansing. If you are ... don't worry, you've got another drink coming soon enough! Stay well!

btw, I'll be happy to go to ballet class today, hangover free. Holy crap. The class did not ease my hangover last week. Ouch!!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ugh!!

Wednesday morning? Yay!
Thursday? Yay!!
Friday, Saturday? Yay yay!!
Sunday - ugh.

First hangover in weeks, obviously. It's so easy to overdo it when you come off a cleanse - and I overdid it yesterday. So ... when you come off a cleanse, do as I say - not as I do. ;)

Fun, though.

I'm rehydrating, drinking ginger tea & lots of water. I've got ballet class this morning, too.
DOUBLE-UGH.

Somebody stop me! Somebody!! Please!!

Apparently, though, working out is a great cure for hangovers. I've never personally used it (aspirin, water & time seem easier), but I remember reading in Drinking: A Love Story that Boston-native & A.A. member Caroline Knapp used to go rowing on the Charles River when she was hungover.  Talk about a high-functioning alcoholic. A little out of my league, though. Will have to see what happens when I belly up to the barre. ;)

I'll also be navigating the crowds for Toronto's Santa Claus Parade today. It'll be in full swing when class is over. Wish me luck!

Speaking of class, I briefly mentioned my ballet buddy, Alisha, a while back. We had a lovely wine-free lunch during the last week of my cleanse. Dessert can be just as yummy as a glass of wine, btw. ;) And nothing beats good company. It's funny - but there have been people in my life that I haven't spent ten sober minutes with. I'm serious. Because the wine and/or bubbly got opened the second we said 'Hi!' And didn't stop flowing until we said "Bye." I think you know real friends by how much sober time you can spend with them! ;)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Day 27 - For Sake's Sake

The last weekend of the cleanse is over!! Yayyyy!!

I wanted to mention I did something sort of unusual, cleanse-wise, last week. I booked two back-to-back non-drinking social engagements.

Wednesday night saw me have sushi dinner with Alison, a college roommate - and one of my oldest friends. We've been trying to get together for a while now, but she's busy with her own film production company and it's not always easy for us to meet up. When we were trying to schedule, the hubs was a little shocked. "Why don't you wait until after the cleanse is over?" he said. "Then you can have wine with dinner."

That made me laugh. Because it's true. I usually prefer to schedule lunch/dinner/coffee/everything ... around drinks. But I lived with Ali for years. She probably saw me sober more than any other person I went to school with. Because she was there in the morning for coffee and toast. (Not to mention those rare occasions where I was actually in my bedroom, at my desk, sober and working on assignments.)

I told the hubs that I spent a good part of my youth with Ali. "If there's one person in the world I don't have to drink with, it's her." When I mentioned it to her later, she said it was the highest compliment I could pay her. And she's right. ;)

Alison got to the resto first. She wasn't sure I was still on my cleanse, so she ordered a large flask of sake. (Ali was the person who introduced me to sake, sushi - and the dangers of wasabi mustard - years ago btw.)

When I got there, I ordered a cranberry and soda - one of my fave cleanse drinks at a resto because nobody bats an eye at you. (Some people might even ask when you're 'due.') Ali seemed to feel badly at first - the way people are taught to feel badly around alcoholics who can never drink again. But I told her it didn't bother me at all - and it doesn't. For one thing, I'm not staring at a whole lifetime of abstinence. Just 'X' more days. So I told her to enjoy the sake on her own and we raised our glasses - cheers! We didn't stop talking the whole night. Catching up on new stories. Sharing some old ones.  I had an amazing time. I really did.

I know this might be hard to believe for people trapped in the cycle of addiction - that you can actually have a good time out with a friend - even when you can't drink. Because one sober night by yourself seems impossible. Let alone sitting across the table from someone who's drinking when you can't touch a drop.

But regular cleansing helps you become accustomed to living without alcohol. You learn to be a sober person - at least some of the time. You learn to handle life without the effects of alcohol. Essentially, you re-learn how to be you. Stripped of the easy padding that drinking gives you. It's important to learn to be okay with life when you can't drink. And regularly cleansing helps you do that. At least it has for me. (Of course, I am looking forward to dinner with Ali when I can partake in the sake!)

Next time, I'll talk more about lunch with Alisha, my friend from ballet class, because I went out with her the very next day. Even though your social life might scale down a bit when you cleanse - especially when it comes to hard drinking friends - it doesn't have to disappear completely. You can still be yourself - and enjoy yourself. Even when you can't drink.

But for now, I can't sign off without mentioning two high-profile people who laid their drinking problems out in the open last week.

20/20 uber -anchor Elizabeth Vargas announced she's checked herself into rehab for what she calls her increasing 'dependence' on alcohol. This is exactly the kind of problem Ann Dowsett Johnson outlined in her new book, Drink. According to Dowsett Johnson, it's typically highly-educated, professionally successful women who tend to drink more than ... well ... the rest of us. ;)

But unlike, say, Lindsay Lohan, whose rehab stints usually involve a few embarrassing crotch shots and/or drunken cat fights before check-in time, Vargas handled her problem with characteristic grace. She simply stepped quietly away from the anchor desk a few weeks ago and will return when rehab is over. Like everyone else with alcohol addiction, she says she'll be taking things 'one day at a time.'

Of course, we can't forget Toronto mayor Rob Ford's latest escapades, either. For anyone who doesn't watch the news or late night talk shows, where Ford has provided the longest running joke since David Letterman's Top Ten List, the mayor of my fine city finally admitted to smoking crack cocaine last week. His excuse was he was in a 'drunken stupor.' Wow. The lesser of two evils, I guess.

After another video was released - this one showing the drunk mayor uttering death threats and doing his best to imitate what appears to be an albino baboon fending off a pridme of lions - pundits are asking the mayor to seek help for his drinking problem, too.

But Ford's family doesn't believe he needs treatment for booze, so it's doubtful Rob Ford will be doing Betty Ford any time soon. According to CBC News, if the people closest to you don't think you need help, it's far less likely you'll get it. So we'll just have to see what Mr. Mayor has in store for us next.

In the meantime, like Elizabeth Vargas, I'm handling my drinking problem 'one day at a time.'

As in - one more day to go!!

Um ... yayyyy!! :)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 19 - Cloud 9

Um ... it's Day 19. I'm into the single digits, going in the other direction. The fun one! ;) Only 9 days left!

It's Sunday morning and I'm just about through the third weekend of my autumn cleanse. Each weekend seems to have a different feeling to it - and this second last one seems to be the most peaceful.

The first weekend can be ... well, a bit boring. And maybe there are even some nail-biting moments thrown in.  Are you f*cking kidding me? I have to do three more of these before I can have a drink?!! 

The second weekend, you feel a real sense of accomplishment. You have lots of energy and focus. The cleanse is far from over, yet you've put enough mileage behind you that you realize this truth about life: time doesn't actually stand still when you can't drink.

The last weekend of a cleanse is happy, free, exciting and fun. You might even make a trip to the liquor store to stock up on supplies. One thing is for sure - you can see the light (wine/beer/martini, etc.) at the end of the tunnel. So you're walking on air.

Making this one, the third weekend, the most peaceful, reflective and quietly joyous one. I'm serious about the 'joy,' you know. I feel joy that I'm obviously not addicted to alcohol anymore. That I can happily live without it. Yet - and I should be ashamed to admit this - but with the end in sight, I actually feel 'joy' looking forward to drinking again. I get this little skip in my heart. I have a real sense of anticipation. Senior prom-Christmas-vacation-type anticipation. (I'm not kidding!) I know all the experts out there will shriek in disgust. But I have a great sense of happiness knowing life will soon be back to 'normal' and I'll get a dose of a particular kind of pleasure that I can't get anywhere else. :)

Having quit smoking more than twenty years ago - and having 'quit drinking' many, many times since then (on a temporary basis at least), I can tell you that there is no replacement for an addictive substance. My husband knows that firsthand, too. He quit smoking in January of 2009. We're coming up on his fifth anniversary. He's doing very well, but we sometimes discuss the fact that the incredible pleasure you get from those first few drags of a cigarette ... can never be replaced after you quit.

I remember when I quit, I tried filling that void with everything I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, that usually came down to food. I remember one night in particular running out to the store for a bag of caramel-covered popcorn. I had been sitting on the couch, watching TV (Twin Peaks to be precise) and I'd been riding out non-stop nicotine cravings all night. I was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that if I could just have some caramel-covered popcorn, the nic-fit would go away.

The popcorn didn't work. Nothing did. Ever.

Some ten or fifteen pounds later, I started jogging on a regular basis and losing the weight. I also realized the following truth: there was absolutely nothing in the world that was going to make me feel 'exactly' the way having a cigarette did. There was no longer anything that was going to bring me that unique pleasure. It was a hard lesson - and one I've had to watch my husband learn, too.

It's the same with drinking. I love my teas. I love my soda and (insert juice here), my Hint Water,  my Gus Grownup Soda,  and my new Rise Kombucha (a mere 24 calories a serving btw!!). But there's really nothing that actually brings you that distinct pleasure of alcohol. That complex, basically all-encompassing (i.e. physical, emotional, neurological, behavioral, even cultural) relationship that exists between humans and fermented stuff.

There is so much to be said for sobriety. There is. I love it. I'm happy right now. I've been happy most of the time during this cleanse. I'm getting tons of work done on the novel and tackling my To Do list. It's really been one of the fastest, easiest cleanses I've ever done. It's been so pleasant, in fact, I can see why so many problem drinkers decide to abstain permanently.

But to me, there's a difference between 'pleasant' and 'pleasure.' Kind of like the difference between kissing and sex. ;) To expound, cleansing is kissing - and drinking is sex. Meaning, as much as I love kissing, I'd sure miss sex if I could never have it again!

So - with apologies to all happy, successful abstainers out there - I don't want this for my whole life. But I also don't want non-stop drinking for the rest of my life, either. I really love the variety of a sober life and a drinking life. It works for me on every level.

And it really has worked. There's no question in my mind. I was nervous about this cleanse, I mentioned that before. Partly because I wasn't going to be blogging as much. But also with all the milestone celebrations and trips in the months leading up to my cleanse, I really wondered if this time I couldn't do it.  I worried that the combination of not blogging and heavier-than-usual-drinking would leave me helpless and out of control.

But - I am SO DAMN HAPPY TO REPORT - that didn't happen. As I said, this cleanse has been a cinch. :)

I am simply no longer addicted to alcohol. I am not an alcoholic in the way it's defined by most quizzes, experts and experience. But there's no question that - according to those same quizzes and experts - in 2003 (and for years before) I was definitely an alcoholic. In the early to mid-stages of alcoholism, to be precise.

But here I am. Almost three weeks without a drink. Happy, healthy and looking forward to the future.

Especially ... 9 days from now!! ;)

******

I'll probably talk more about this later, but for now, here's a peek at Ann Dowsett Johnson's new book Drink.  Dowsett Johnson is an award-winning journalist, academic - and recovering alcoholic. She quit drinking permanently 5 years ago when her 'high-functioning' problem started taking a toll on her relationship with her son - and her life. Check out these reviews from the Washington Post and The Globe and Mail.

Incidentally, I've noticed that it seems to be more shameful to have a drinking problem and not want to quit forever (like me) than it is to have a drinking problem and actually decide to abstain permanently. I'm fascinated with why that is ... Hmmmmm ...