My coffee detox

It has been more than 8 weeks since I mostly gave up coffee. Since then I have had about four decaf coffees but mostly I have just stuck to tea, and occasionally other hot drinks without caffeine. I was drinking a lot of espresso-based drinks before, maybe five shots in the morning, a few more in the afternoon and one or two in the evening. I was drinking coffee like I was drinking alcohol. Way more than other people and one was never enough. I also ‘needed’ a coffee which was a feeling I was also very familiar with for another kind of drink.

So since I have given up I feel more relaxed, less wobbly and light-headed, and possibly it’s made a difference to my brittle hair although that is too soon to say and maybe more wishful thinking on my part. I suppose less caffeine in the system should mean better absorption of vitamins and nutrients that could lead to better hair condition. I am also – most significantly – not distracted at various points in the day by a powerful need to fulfil my wish for a particular drink. The more relaxed feeling I am getting is that innate sense of peacefulness that I also got when I stopped drinking. Hard to quantify and find the right words to describe but very much there. I suppose that comes first and foremost from removing an inessential need and rewiring the brain so it is not being distracted at particular times of the day by an addictive substance.

I am not that happy to write this at all as I think I started this post with an unarticulated idea in my head that I was going to revert to coffee drinking in the future. Moderately of course. It tastes so good, smells so good and is so much more exciting as a drink than tea. A lot of the science points to actual health benefits of coffee drinking although I suppose that is true of red wine as well and little good that does me as an individual who could easily drink two bottles of red and (probably) negate any of those lovely purported benefits.

Anyway that is my coffee update. I don’t know where I am going with this particular vice but after 8 weeks of effort I think it deserves space on the blog for reflection purposes at least.

9 months

Another day, another milestone. I do like the quiet satisfaction of reaching a number with significance, watching the days ratchet up.

I had my first drinking dream the other night. I was drinking red wine with Robert Downey Jr and was thinking oh dear I shouldn’t be doing this but I am. I woke up, realised it was a dream and felt huge relief then promptly fell asleep again and dreamt it hadn’t been a dream after all and I really had been drinking with RD Jr so I was doubly relieved and a bit confused when I woke up the second time.

I know this is the scene that caused that dream. I have no great desire to drink red wine right now but I do still occasionally miss sitting at a bar, swirling whisky in a glass, smoking a cigarette, knowing you are there for a while and with good company. As I know, this is an illusion and I barely ever found bars like this or Robert Downey Jr or Jake Gyllenhaal to talk to and it’s no longer 1970

265 day sober

So just 100 more days to the one year mark. Let the countdown begin.

Back last year when I was contemplating getting sober and not getting much further than that, I read about people who had spent one year (or any substantial amount of time come to that) sober and thought that was an utterly impossible goal for me. Now, with just 100 days to go, it suddenly seems like it is possible after all.

How on earth did I get here? It is like I received a boost out of nowhere and suddenly I am here. Even though being sober has become my day to day reality, I am regularly amazed at the fact of it and need to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming.

259 days sober

I went for a job interview in a beautiful part of Ireland last month that went well but I didn’t get the job. That was hugely disappointing for me as the job was perfect and I would have happily moved there in a heartbeat.

Then I had a hysterectomy last week that went okay and now I am in recovery mode.

I guess both of these things are negatives but , in a way, they both have an incredibly positive ‘wrapper’. That positive is that both things, my job search and concern about my health, led quite directly to me getting sober.

In my attempt to return to the world of work I had a job interview in January 2014 that I was extremely well qualified for. By then, I had already taken a two year break and I knew I should reengage again, but I was also still drinking way too much, fat, scruffy and largely unmotivated. So, unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the January job. It was about a week after that that I decided it might be a good idea to try being sober for a month or so to jumpstart my motivational engines. I never planned to go for ‘forever’ but, at the end of that first month, I realised I felt a WHOLE lot better for not drinking and that I actually liked how being sober made me feel. So I didn’t get that job and it got me sober. Sadly I didn’t get the more recent job either but I gave it my all in the interview and did the best I possibly could. The feedback was very positive and I felt good after the interview. So, although I AM massively disappointed, I know I can bounce back from it.

At Christmas last year I knew I had a fibroid, a large benign tumour in my uterus. But after a spate of heavy drinking pre-Christmas and throughout 2013 I began to wonder if the pressure in my abdomen was something worse. My liver blowing up perhaps. Logic told me it was the fibroid but I had such awful reflux and bloatedness I definitely was afraid I had liver disease or a stomach ulcer from years of drinking. So that was also a very direct catalyst for me to stop drinking. Luckily, as soon as I stopped drinking the reflux disappeared and I began to be less bloated and it turned out that, yes it was just the benign tumour that they have whipped out of me this week after all. So although it’s a pretty crummy thing to have, that fibroid, more than anything, caused me to give up drinking and so has been an amazing blessing in disguise.

Here I am at the end of week one of my recovery. I’ve got a month or more to go before I can really do anything active.

I have resolved my drinking and that underlying health problem. All I need to do now is stay sober, take it easy for a month or so and keep scanning the horizon for the ships of opportunity that will take me to the next gainful employment. I genuinely believe that my future employer is going to get a much better version of me than my last employer got, even though I loved that job and gave it my all.

So thanks failed job interview and large benign tumour! You were two clouds on my horizon that really did have silver linings.

Cannabis okay?

What about smoking cannabis but abstaining from alcohol then eh?

I am beginning to come to the conclusion that not only is it fine, it is a shift in the right direction for me. To equate the two as ways of getting ‘out of it’ and therefore both bad is misleading. The kind of high you get from cannabis or marijuana is so more benign than the feeling of getting drunk and, for me anyway, it doesn’t wake any sleeping monster. My monster wants to sit at a bar, doing shots, getting wasted, feeling misanthropic not sit around with some friends getting relaxed, a bit wrecked and having a laugh. I feel though I should be more articulate than this when talking about it as, for some people, I guess this would be evidence that I have crossed a line and things can only end badly. Luckily I only have to account for myself and how I feel. It simply does not make me want to drink and that is the big one for me. When I first went to my stoner friends’ house back in March when I was newly sober I thought I would abstain but decided to have a little smoke and came to the conclusion it was okay for me, where I am right now.

It’s ironic that I have just posted about my fear of low alcohol lager and then moved straight to top quality Mary Jane. But at the moment my focus is on removing things that imprison me. The NEED to drink each day at 6pm, the NEED for a coffee in the morning. These are things that I think are restricting and constraining and should be removed. Sugar is next on that list.

I only smoke with friends, every few months usually. When I went to a festival this summer we had a hazy couple of days in the Suffolk sunshine but it was all so benign and, honest to god, at that festival I never thought ONCE about drinking. Only occasional inklings of gratitude that I wasn’t. Otherwise it was just not there.

So that’s me. I am not suggesting anyone else follows suit. It could be a risk for some. Hey, I suppose it might yet be a risk for me. But this blog is all about honesty and so I am putting this out there as well.

Trying out alcohol free lager

I went to Brighton for a job interview. Not my ideal job. No, that accolade went to the job I interviewed for a few weeks ago and didn’t get.

Brighton glittered in the late-summer sunshine. The hotel internet was dodgy so instead of working further on my presentation I made my way to the waterfront to check out the beach and the pier. Now it was 5pm and the sun was on the water and there were a plethora of bars with outdoor seating where people were enjoying a beer or three. As usual I looked hard at the beers, sighed deeply and analysed whether I actually wanted one myself. I didn’t but I did want a cigarette. A residual feeling from K and my post-Ryan Adams gig analysis in that triangle of land called a park in Shepherd’s Bush. And there was that half-finished pack burning a hole in my bag.

Now I am not drinking coffee, let alone alcohol there is simply nothing for me that goes well with a cigarette. Tea? I don’t think so. Water, no thanks. I am quite particular about what goes well with a cigarette which in the long term is a good thing.

Anyway I thought right, yes, this could be the moment to try a non-alcoholic lager. I hadn’t really thought too much about that option before but had read a few blogs by people who seem trustworthy and alcohol free beer doesn’t seem to have caused them to revert into raging alkies. Attempt one at purchasing failed but I did have to wait quite a long time at that bar to enquire. Long enough to smell that particular whiff of beery booze emanating from beneath the counter. A smell I associate with childhood in actual fact. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed that after a longish abstention the smell of alcohol reminds me of how it smelled before I started drinking (which basically was my childhood as I started drinking at 17). My parents were big social drinkers and so I spent a lot of time in pubs as a child. There’s a certain smell combination of coke with a slice of lemon, beery bar mats and wood paneling that takes me right back there.

So here I stood at this beery bar a long time and wondered what on earth I was doing. Hairdresser = hair cut analogies springing to mind. Anyway no dice. Undettered I tried again and this time they produced a bottle of Beck’s Blue. No alcohol for sure I enquired. It says no alcohol doesn’t it? returned the hipster barman. Cheers mate. Actually it says 0.5% now I’ve looked. With my icy prize and a packet of fags I made my way to a far outdoor table. Took a selfie and a big swig. Yup, that tastes like cold beer. Quite nice. But then I was overwhelmed with a sense of wrongness. This is too close to beer. I checked the internet – what do most sobriety websites say? AVOID, AVOID, Will Robinson! I took a few more tentative sips. My stomach seemed to balloon before my eyes. It really did.

I stopped drinking it. Since becoming sober I have become pretty careful with money compared to how I was (that in itself is a post for another time). I thought that cost you £3 and you are leaving it. But I didn’t want to carry on with the experiment.

I thought you have an interview tomorrow don’t do anything to jeopardise your wellbeing such as using a beeralike drink as an excuse to binge smoke when you don’t even smoke anyway. So I walked away and got some ridiculously healthy salad and sparkling water for dinner.

I don’t know about it. It tasted nice to begin with, and it made a change from water and tea and all those dull drinks, but it didn’t seem quite right. And then the guy in the photo who is lying down beyond the bottle managed to get up, reeling drunk. The one step forward, two steps back kind of lurch. I meanwhile got up with purpose and strode off into the sunset towards my healthy dinner and an early night.

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Ryan Adams

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I went to see a gig last week with table service at London’s Jazz Cafe and had a cup of tea at the end. K had to take a photo of that as she said it was such an arresting image, me drinking tea at a gig. Not even coffee for goodness sake.

Later in the week I did two night’s in a row of Ryan Adams at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I love Ryan Adams, his music, his story, the volatile talent. He’s been sober since 2006 and I find his recent return to form very inspiring. It took him a few years after getting sober to find his feet (which he blogged about comprehensively on his brilliant over shary tumblr, Foggy) and then he released a very good but not great album Ashes and FIre in 2011. But now with his new album and a plethora of random singles and EPs floating around the internet he is back on proper cracking form. He shows that you can be sober and keep your creative fires burning bright (even when his muse from back in the day was just as much drinking and drugs as his unrequited loves).

In many ways I consider Ryan my sober mascot. If Ryan can do it, so can I.

Addendum:

This is something Ryan wrote about getting sober back in 2006. I was trying a reference to Blackhole, his unreleased album from before he stopped drinking, which brought up this article.

i have never had a better time. i have never written weirder shit. never played guitar as well, never been as funny and sad at the same time
never written stuff like come pick me up, with bite and a grin, so to speak, never had such a large canvas as waking up and feeling good enough to write the way that i am now.
it feels free.
it feels like the freedom i was trying to attain from poisoning myself into oblivion.
its fucking awesome
i missed my guitar when i was a drunk addict.
it missed me.
we spend lots of time together and its just joy.
and i can go straight from where ever that is and go see a movie or build something weird out of found wooden and metallic objects
i also “dream” songs. i hadn’t dreamt in years. i dream now.
i (and it is weird) had an idea i could “reach” the other day and i woke up from a deep sleep and the part was in my mind. i just sort of let it stay in my head as i walked to the place where we play explained it to the band by humming it, and poof- there it was.
the new sounds like a mash up of american beauty and the soundtrack fof “Grease” and “Halloween 3 season of the witch”
it is very nice to have an open and honest relationship to the writing.
i played victim and victimized my subject matter when i was in that blackhole and it wasn’t working for me.
but i am weird anyway.

8 months sober

Today I am 245 days sober. 35 weeks. Hooray. I have never felt so well in all my adult life as I do now. I feel so well in my body and in my mind, it is incredible to think that it has only been 8 short months since I started down this path. But it is undeniable – the improvements are so tangible because it has been such a relatively short journey to get to this point even while it feels like a lifetime ago in some ways. I haven’t had any cravings for such a long time or actually, if I do, they come and go in such a short space of time that they are irrelevant. I am very lucky.

I have been doing some work recently on reinforcing my wellbeing through making healthier choices. I was worried a few months ago that I was too fatigued and mentally not on the ball. I’m coming up to five weeks without coffee now. I love coffee and have definitely craved it daily and lengthily during this time but I figure if I can give up my true love, alcohol, how hard can a smaller vice like this be. Hard enough, true, but now I have form in the giving up department I can use the tools learned with giving up alcohol on the coffee. Since I gave up drinking, I have been sleeping so well just as everyone reports, deep and restful velvety sleep, but I have still been a night owl and a terrible slugabed in the mornings. I didn’t think giving up coffee would have such a noticeable impact in the short term but in the last four weeks I have been able to get to sleep more easily (duh!) and, most remarkable of all, I wake up naturally in the morning an hour earlier, feeling good and ready to go. I NEVER feel good and ready to go in the mornings so this, if it continues to hold, is big f@#!ing news. I know from giving up alcohol that there is a point where the scales fall from the eyes and you see it for the illusion it is and I am wondering if I might reach this point with coffee too. I love its aroma, the ritual around it, just taking a break to go for a coffee, I feel sad when I think I might have to abstain from all of that. I know I was drinking coffee to excess, alcoholically if you like, and using it to fill a need and be a need in and of itself. I even stupidly had started creating a ritual where I would have a coffee and cigarette in the late morning which is RIDICULOUS as, although I have smoked on and off through my life, I only ever smoked with alcohol and in the evenings so what was I doing finding a back door to let the cigarettes in? I was using coffee as a facilitator and a crutch. I am not saying I won’t go back to coffee ever but all the evidence is suggesting that abandonment is the sensible course.

I have been reading up on B vitamin deficiencies in heavy drinkers and started taking a daily B vitamin supplement about three months ago when I was feeling fatigued and mentally a bit sluggish. During my last year(s) of drinking I was getting terrible acid reflux that I managed with antacids and of course I was drinking loads of coffee too. Both antacids and coffee can inhibit the absorption of most B vitamins. I didn’t go to the doctor to check out if I have a B deficiency as I probably should have but decided to start taking a medium strength supplement and see how it went. This could be partly psychosomatic but I feel a lot better since I have started taking them. Mentally more snappy and less fatigued. That could be the result of a long, fantastic, outdoorsy summer (it more than likely is when I see that written down) but I am going to continue with the extra Bs for a while and see if my brain remains chipper during the imminent British winter.

I am having an operation next week and had to go to the hospital for a pre-op. I had another operation this time last year in the same department and they were comparing notes. I was quite excited at the prospect of saying zero to the alcohol question as no medical professional has asked me that since I’ve given up. Last year I would have worked out the units in about 5 bottles of wine a week rounded down which I thought would hint at excess but not give them anything close to the real picture which would be too shocking. She also weighed me and I have lost 12kg (26lb) since last year. I know that is probably all lost in the last 8 months. I thought I might have lost some weight but, as I don’t weigh myself and have been reading blogs where people say they didn’t lose anything in the first six months, I hadn’t realised it was so much. What a boost!! I should add I was horribly overweight and need to lose those 12kg badly and have at least that again to lose but it was such icing on the cake that I actually enjoyed my pre-op appointment after that. I have a terrible sweet tooth (not during my drinking days but back in my youth I remember) and have been chucking down the sweets in the last 8 months but obviously that was nothing compared to all those empty booze calories.

Since finding myself feeling better mentally and physically I have wanted to share my feelings of wellness with others but realise that is so hard to do in a honest way that doesn’t come across as too earnest or self-satisfied or frankly just smug and annoying. I want to shout my good feelings from the rooftops but have to keep the mute button pressed most of the time because most people don’t want to hear someone else’s good news or I get the timing and tone all wrong. So that is why I am shouting about how good this is from the blogging rooftops instead. And as everyone says, I never for one second believed giving up drinking could be good let alone this great. Hooray.