January 11, 2016 marks my one year anniversary of cutting alcohol, more specifically wine, out of my life. It was initially a hard break-up but just like any love affair gone wrong, the pain subsided eventually and the sun came out again.
To give you a background as to my reasons, I will be very blunt about what happened. Very few knew what was going on but close friends. Now after a year has passed, I’ve had time to reflect and have gotten more comfortable in how I helped my body turn against itself and have worked hard to reverse the effects of my own doing.
As I entered my 3rd and final year of my program at college, I felt a weird warm pain in my right breast. That’s right, girl parts stuff so if this makes you uneasy, trot on. September it was a hint of pain, October it grew to the size of a marble and by January 11, 2015 I was unable to hug people without pain, I couldn’t sleep due to the pain and there was a lump in my chest the size of a small egg. My bra cup size went up on one side and it was excruciating. Why didn’t I go to the doctor? Yes, an obvious question. I kept thinking it would go away or it was in my head, I knew if I started doctor’s visits they would take a lot of time and I was in my very last semester of school before going on my internship. I couldn’t take time off. I kept thinking I needed more smoothies and salads but never once cut out the red wine.
Let’s get this straight. I am not an alcoholic but it runs in my biological family. Knowing this has made me extra cautious in life because I never wanted to head down that path. But in every adult life, sometimes alcohol becomes the norm and especially so for me as an artist. A glass of wine (or 3) made my mind expand and I felt that’s where my greatest creativity came from. As a performer, I’d never play drunk but loved a couple drinks to loosen me up. With dinner, doesn’t a nice red go well with pasta? When you add all these things together that are just day to day things for me, it turned out I was having wine at least 4-5 days a week while conscientiously taking days off on purpose after noticing my intake. Lots of people do it. Many people do it. Almost everyone I know drinks casually at least. I felt in control, like I knew my limits and rarely crossed them and really enjoyed alcohol in my life. Until my tits were under attack.
On January 10, 2015 I went to my old hometown to visit girlfriends and get their advice. I was scared. So scared I had 2 Caesars with brunch. Seems reasonable right? After our girl time and talks, I knew I had no choice but to go see the doctor now that classes and holidays were done. I made an appointment the next day and went. When the doctor and I went over my background and overall health, the only thing he stopped me in my tracks over was that I ingested alcohol 4-5 days a week, more than a glass a day. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t getting drunk, it mattered that I was putting it in my body. He set me up with ultrasounds and blood tests and the whole plethora of things you’d expect when you had a growth the size of an egg in your breast. The doctor was not one to say many words but the ones he did say were ‘You can’t drink more than one glass of wine a day. At all.’ I scoffed at that and asked, ‘Then what’s the point?’ and decided to quit cold turkey then and there.
With the new information and a new plan, I consulted a naturopath to get her take on it all. She suggested that possibly my liver was too overworked to process my hormones and they were backing up in my chest. Gross eh? I thought back and had to admit my drinking increased in October then peaked in the holidays in December. I often would have a glass of wine at lunch between classes to calm the stress of school, especially in my last semester. My emotional attachment to the effect of alcohol and relying on it was causing me a lot of grief. And pain. It was time to make a change.
I quit cold turkey.
Within the first week of switching my wineglass for a smoothie mug and doing a liver detox regime that also limited gluten and sugar, the lump shrunk to half its size and I could sleep without pain again. Which I was doing, and sleeping well. Getting to sleep was a bit hard without my pacifier but waking up was easy. Even though I had detox woes like muscle aches and a nasty headache all the time and just all around uncomfortableness, I gradually started to come out of a slump and as I started seeing the results of my changes – especially with the rapid decrease in the size of the lump, I was convinced that for me this was the right choice and I had to see it through.
Week 3 was the hardest and I remember it vividly. At the time I quit drinking, I had taken on a fairly large undertaking and at time it was really stressful. Habit had me at its beck and call and when stress levels went up, my mouth would water for that sour acidy fruit taste and I would drool and pucker and fight the urge like a Gladiator. This went on for 3 weeks for me. I thought about wine a lot and wished for it but by then, the lump in my chest was pretty much gone and I had so much appreciation for how my body repaired itself so quickly, I just self-talked my way out of the temptations. As the months went on, I found myself in places where I was offered all the free booze I wanted. Like flights and gigs and places I’d stay. It was everywhere, more often offered than water. Sometimes I would think, ‘Why don’t you have a glass? It’s no big deal. You’re not an alcoholic, you’re just making life changes.’ And then I’d think of how I’d feel the next day and realized it was now a game, and I’d lose if I gave in. Every day I was competing with who I was the day before and I wasn’t about to show weakness. I didn’t want to live with the day-after guilt and regret I knew I would have. I know I say it was really hard in the beginning but it was. And that memory was enough to make me soldier on.
Health-wise, the lump is totally gone, the doctors have no concerns about it, my vitamin deficiencies are no longer and emotionally, I have gotten a grip on life. It is second nature to have water and decline alcohol. The reactions some people have when you say you don’t drink are priceless at times. I remember a few years ago I went out for dinner and there was a woman who didn’t drink at the table. You never want to pry and don’t want to assume they are an alcoholic so there I was thinking she could just choose if that night she wanted a shot or not. I asked her a few times to have a drink with me but she stoically declined politely. Now I find myself in that place exactly. I could say yes but no, no I can’t. The amount of work it took to rid myself of that demon was too much, probably as it would have been for that woman years ago. I understand it now.
I’ve noticed changes too in how I maneuver in the world and who with. When once I would go out and drink with certain people, now I have no desire to even talk to them. We had nothing in common, our personalities were not complimentary but we could always get over it all after a couple glasses of wine. Now without the wine, I realize I didn’t really like them in the first place. When you’re sober and watching the world get drunk, people’s personalities really shine through – be they agreeable personalities or not. The faces around me have changed and I decline a lot of outings where I know it will be a shit show. Just because I kicked the habit doesn’t mean it still isn’t hard to watch or be around when people go from sober to wasted. The room gets loud, mannerisms change, dynamics change and when you’re a silent observer, it all comes out as if in technicolour. The stagnant smell of morning-after sweat, beer and cigarettes coming out of people’s pores is a scent that hits me like post-traumatic shock and makes me cringe and feel sick. The fact is no one is doing anything wrong though. People who are partying and enjoying their libations, they didn’t make my choice and what they choose to do is their prerogative. It is me who has to adapt. It’s like evolution. Heck, maybe I’m the dick now because my tolerance is so low. At least I’m a healthier dick.
The good things I’ve noticed are many like more cash flow, better sleep, a clear head, no morning-after regrets, I say less stupid things whilst being sober and have fewer confrontations, it’s easier to decide on what I want to do and how to do it, and I feel better. Do you remember the last time your body felt good? Like it wasn’t working hard to process shit and was just ‘being human’? Granted, I have off days but as a whole, I feel physically better. Smarter. In tune. And my productivity is through the roof with the clarity to manage it all. I’ve never functioned this efficiently before as an adult.
I guess all in all, the pain I had growing in my chest could be compared to a visible and tangible way my body told me a change was needed and if I wanted a long, happy life, things had to change. The problem as easily resolved within a month and my boobs went back to a fairly normal matching pair. I could have gone back to a glass a day or saving it for special occasions but the farther I get from my quit day, the more mental trophies I award myself. Every long night I resist, I win. Every stressful moment I conquer dry, I win. Every bit of creativity that isn’t sauce-induced, I win. When I can be in control of my logic and emotions, I win. When my bank account dwindles at a slower rate, I win. On the other hand, yes, I have lost. I have lost hangovers. I have lost assholes in my life. I have lost the alcohol-induced haze. I’ve lost a lot of anger that would come out as tears. I’ve lost the insecurity of poverty. I’ve lost the need to sacrifice between things I want. I’ve lost water weight and that puffy look in my face. I’ve lost indigestion and most of all, I’ve lost the pain in my breast that burned so hot I thought my tit was on fire under my skin.
Everyone is a free agent to do what they want in life. There is no pious horse that I ride on because of my choice, I can only stand by what has worked for me. The world will continue to enjoy its hearty libations and jolly good times and stories will still circulate about this person or that and how wasted they were last night. But the stories won’t be about me anymore, thankfully. Quitting drinking is a very personal choice that takes a lot of gumption and drive to see through. Our world floats on a river of wine and it could easily rain beer every night. Alcohol is everywhere. And I repeat – there is nothing wrong with it. My favourite saying is always, ‘Moderation, not elimination.’ But in this case, booze needed elimination from my life. The writing was on the wall and my health depended on it. I’d wish this on no one and this is why I chose to write this honest post. If just one person is helped by this then it was worth my candid conversation. If one tit is saved pain or one relationship makes it through to another day, my work is done. If one person can cope just a bit better with their desire to change and what that entails, this will be a success. I’m done being shy and have nothing to hide.
If this speaks to you, then I wish you the best. I wish you will-power and clarity. I wish you happiness and good health. I can’t say it enough – being sober is not an easy road to travel but you’re not alone. There are thousands of warriors fighting the battle just like you. You can succeed. You will move on after wine. You won’t wait around for its call. You will look at it like a nasty ex you’re glad to be rid of. You will develop a whole new love affair with yourself. And you won’t piss it down the drain.