Reflections on a month of sobriety

No-vember is over. After 4.5 weeks of not drinking, I’m back on the booze train bound for Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve and, horrifyingly, my 25th birthday. Before the drinking begins in earnest, the time has come to reflect on the month that was. It was the longest I’ve gone without booze since I was in high school. I’ve never done a Febfast or an Ocsober, or a liver cleanse, or a well-intentioned booze-free New Year’s resolution. Hence I expected to be challenged by No-vember. I was, but not in the way I thought I would be.

I never realised how much I relied on alcohol as a social crutch. Beer usually does a wonderful job of quieting my inner dialogue but this month I found myself distracted from polite conversation by thoughts like “your laugh sounds so weird, tone it down” and “god, you’re so boring, say something funny”. I ran out of things to say quickly, I chastised myself for being boring and pathetic, and generally did not have a good time at large social functions. Disconcerted, I began analysing my use of alcohol in social situations. I didn’t really like what I was observing.

No-vember involved an unexpected trip back home to Australia. I expected that to be a challenge, particularly considering all the looming social commitments, but it really wasn’t. Admittedly, a beer would have been a delightful accompaniment to our surf club lunch overlooking the beach, but a Coke was fine. It turned out that friends and family were far more interested in the catching up part rather than how it was to take place. So there were meals and coffees instead of beers and pubs, and that was perfectly fine. No-vember was pushed to the back of my mind during my time in Oz, somewhat surprising for a country whose citizens spend four years of their lives with a hangover.

My social crutch theory took a slight battering following that trip. Maybe I wasn’t as socially inept and reliant on alcohol as I thought. That trip involved old friends though, new friends could potential tell a different story. So we attended a spectacular Thanksgiving dinner hosted by a couple we met not long after we arrived in Singapore. This would be more of a challenge, with new friends there are still the odd awkward silences, not to mention the other guests we were yet to meet. But it was lovely. I ate my weight in dinner and dessert, and everyone chatted away until after midnight. Alcohol didn’t cross my mind.

The final example was my highly anticipated (by me) return to drinking. Partner 2’s work Christmas party. It had all the makings of my nightmare: hundreds of people I didn’t know yet had to make polite and engaging conversation with for the good (or at least not to the detriment) of Partner 2’s career. That may be overdramatised but it gives you an idea about my stream of consciousness prior to these sort of events. But alcohol was by my side, and together we had a lovely time. I was reminded painfully though of the time we spent apart the next morning. Despite a relatively restrained night (especially considering the extravagant bar tab), I suffered through a throbbing headache until the following evening. A reminder of one of the many upsides to not drinking.

So this is the part where, I suppose, I talk about what I ‘learned’ and how I’ve ‘grown’. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was all that much. I already knew what was reinforced by No-vember. I don’t like big social situations, I don’t like meeting new people who I will most likely only see once or twice, I don’t like small talk and having the same conversation over and over again with different people. At the risk of sounding like a huge loser, I’d much prefer a small dinner with close friends than some raging party. Large social functions are, unfortunately in my case, an inevitable part of life. Perhaps I rely too heavily on alcohol to get through these situations but, until I find an alternative, it’s what works for me. No-vember has, though, made me more aware of incidental drinking. Beer won’t be a staple of our weekly grocery shop anymore and a movie and pizza night won’t always be accompanied by a drink. I’ll reinstate my ‘not during the week’ policy and try and be more considered when it comes to how much I’m drinking.

That said. We are headed into the festive season, and I’ve got a liver to fatten up.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Hepatic steatosis

That was the diagnosis, in all its Latin, fear-inducing glory. “Heretic what now?” we asked Google.

“Fatty liver”, Google sighed and suggested some further reading. My throat caught. Fatty liver was something to do with cirrhosis and with alcoholism and with dying in a gutter, choking on your own vomit. Partner 2 ignored me and referred instead to Wikipedia, in this case a more credible source.

“Huh, that’d be all the beer then,” he summarised and closed the tab.

Unsatisfied with his response, I sent my Mum a message. “partner 2 has fatty liver!!!”.

“What??”

Thank you, that’s much better. Reaction justified, I continued indulging in a bit of panic and existentialism. Maybe we’re not invincible? Maybe we won’t live forever? Unthinkable.

Fortunately, some obsessive-compulsive reading was enough to dispel me of these ridiculous notions. As it would happen, my initial reaction had granules of truth to it. Fatty liver can progress into cirrhosis… in one or two percent of patient over 20 years. Admittedly, we’ve made some safe assumptions about our resident fatty liver being alcohol-related, seeing as diabetes, weight, diet and pregnancy can all be pretty much ruled out.

From my Google-acquired understand, Hepatic Steatosis, or fatty liver, is the first stage of an unhappy liver: there’s no inflammation just a bit of fat build-up. The next stage is steatohepatitis which is when there’s inflammation resulting from the toxin build-up. There’s various grades of steatohepatitis and a much higher chance of progressing to cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver: irreparable damage.

The liver though, bless its squishy, brown cotton socks, has a remarkable ability to heal and repair itself. It rebuilds new cells when the old ones are damaged, clever organ, if only the brain was that smart. Apparently, the fat can disappear within six weeks of not drinking, or not damaging your liver any further.

This prompted the inaugural “No-vember”, as in no beer, no whisky, no drinking etc… No-vember commences on November 2 (Halloween party! Come on!) and runs through until December 5 (Christmas party!). This gives fatty the liver a chance to get in shape and get swimsuit-ready for the festive season, when he will no doubt get fatty once again. But won’t we all!

So as No-vember draws frighteningly close, I am made aware of the fact that we’re not 18 anymore and that maybe sinking a six-pack of beer on a Friday is not necessarily the best way to spend calories/time. Who’d have thought?

In the interest of perpetuating the over-dramatic tone of this post, I’ll end with a thought about drinking from, who else, but Charles Bukowski in an interview in 1974.

“Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It’s like killing yourself, and then you’re reborn. I guess I’ve lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now.”

This is about living ten or fifteen thousand more. Happy No-vember.