A break from my significant other – 10 Weeks Alcohol Free: Week 2

Day 8: Monday

Wahoo! I got through the first week without caving. Trust me, I had my moments.

Energy levels still down quite a bit, but I think a result of a lousy night’s sleep. Both of which lead of general grumpiness and short fuse with my children. Not really ideal. The worst bit is that out of body feeling where you can see what you’re doing, but you do it anyway.

Catching up with friends today got me back on track. Felt much more rejuvenated. Funny how much other people help.

Day 9: Tuesday

So good to have slept well last night. My energy levels came right in the evening, and I slept until the alarm went off at 6am. Feeling really good this morning, no headaches, energy and motivation levels high.

I’m not sure I can call it a trend yet, but I think I might be through the worst. So it’s taken me 8 days to get the residual alcohol out of my system. A good learning for the future.

I went for a long walk with a friend today who gave me some sage advice. She said (and I quote) “…it’s about finding what YOUR healthy relationship with alcohol is. Everyone’s healthy is different.” What she means is that for some people, not drinking at all during the week and then relaxing in the weekends works best. For others, drinking a glass every day with no real exceptions (that is, no going out and drinking a bottle on Saturday) is a better alternative.

I’m not sure what my long term plan looks like yet. Hopefully I’ll have it worked out in 9 weeks time (not that I’m counting…).

Day 10: Wednesday

Today was concerning.

This morning I had my annual check up with my doctor. Last week, in preparation for this appointment, I’d had blood tests to assess my liver health. The results were not good. Generally ALT levels are supposed to be under 56. Mine was 157 today. This time last year it was mid-90’s so it’s gone up, quite a bit.

The doctor was pretty happy when I told her that I’d stopped drinking for an extended spell. She’s made a note for another test in 3 months time. Depending on how that goes depends on whether I need to have an ultrasound to check for excess fat around my liver.

I asked her about why she thought this may have happened. She said it was almost certainly due to my holiday week away with friends, after drinking quite a bit every day. However, the best analogy we could find was comparing it to picking the top off a scab – if you keep picking at it it’ll never heal. Likewise, if you never have a break from drinking, you never give your liver a chance to heal.

Day 11-14: Sydney

As I mentioned in my introductory post, my one exception to 10 weeks alcohol free is my trip to Sydney. A chance to catch up with some old friends, which always requires wine.

So, long story short, I did drink this weekend. Not in an excessive shots-at-3am kind of way, more a glass of wine with lunch, then more than a few at dinner. Probably averaged about 5 a day over the 4 days. Quite a bit when you put it in writing.

The unexpected happened. I came out in a rash all over my body. On my arms, chest, stomach. As it went it moved up to my ears and along my chin line. Thank God it never made it to my face! It was itchy as hell, and impossible to get under control. I went to the chemist and got some hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines, which helped somewhat. Then I consulted Dr Google.

Fearing the worst, I started by checking whether a flu jab could elicit this kind of reaction. Apparently not. Then I googled whether wine could give you hives. And it can. It’s not uncommon. It’s generally more likely to be caused by red wine (which I was mostly drinking), but the specific cause is vague. It could be an allergy to the alcohol, the fruit (although I’m not allergic to grapes) or the sulphates.

It’s never happened to me before, although I have been known to get a flushed face from drinking wine, which is apparently a related symptom. I’m not happy.

What I learned this week: Mood swings

As you can see, I’ve experienced my fair share of mood swings over the past 2 weeks. Although, thankfully, I now seem to be past the worst.

Mental Health Daily says that alcohol increases the neurotransmitter GABA (linked to relaxation), decreases glutamate (an excitory neurotransmitter. When we don’t have it we relax even more!) and can increase dopamine (which is a feel good hormone). So when we stop drinking regularly, we can struggle to relax and we don’t get those happy, buzzy feelings we’re used to getting after a glass of wine at the end of a tough day.

The mood swings we may get are (Source: Mental Health Daily):

  • Mood swings: Most people can expect some sort of mood swings during their withdrawal. One minute you may feel deeply depressed and hopeless, the next you may be optimistic about the withdrawal process. Understand that changes in mood such as feelings of anger, sadness, apathy, anxiety, etc. will all gradually stabilize.
  • Agitation: Many people feel agitated during the first few weeks of withdrawal.  Do your best to manage this feeling by getting some light exercise and/or practicing relaxation exercises.
  • Anger: Anger is typically a result of our inability to relax and in part due to the fact that the brain is sensitive during withdrawal. Neurotransmitter levels have not recovered to baseline and this may make you more prone to anger outbursts.
  • Irritability: Withdrawal from alcohol can lead to irritability as a result of changes in GABA functioning. When you have adequate GABA, you are able to keep calm and don’t get bothered by minor things. Insufficient GABA can lead a person to feel irritable and unable to stay calm.
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