What’s It Like?

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Now that a full month has passed, it’s time to give some thought to the question people are asking me over and over again: What’s it like to drink again after a year without alcohol?

Once I got over being proud of myself for making it through my dry year, I was petrified. This was particularly true the first week, when I worried about the potential side effects of resuming drinking following a relatively long period of abstinence. I also feared that I’d fall right back into the old patterns that had led me to embark on my resolution to begin with. Not knowing what to expect, I initially made a conscious attempt to be very moderate in my consumption.

Alcohol Tolerance

Believe it or not, I detected no difference in the actual effect of alcohol on me while I was drinking it. I hadn’t become the “lightweight” that many of my friends and family thought I’d become. Perhaps because I took it easy the first week or so, I haven’t detected a difference in my general tolerance for alcohol.

That’s not to say that I didn’t experience adverse physical symptoms. In fact, I did, especially in the first two weeks. On more than one occasion, I felt sick from dehydration the day after having a few glasses of wine the previous night. Once I even thought I was coming down with the flu, until I figured it out the true cause. Physically, however, the most disappointing side effect of drinking again is the diminished quality of sleep.

How I Feel

In many ways, I feel the same as before my dry year. When I get home from work, I enjoy having a glass of wine. Even more, I like joining friends and family for a drink or two at dinner parties.

It’s also true that absence has made my heart grow fonder. I catch myself savoring the feeling when wine or champagne starts to take effect, the way the warmth of the buzz follows the liquid through my system and spreads throughout my body. This feeling is really the whole point of drinking to begin with, isn’t it? It’s like gaining temporary happiness from a bottle.

This heightened awareness of alcohol is the main difference in how I feel. I’m simply more aware of alcohol and how it impacts not only me, but also other people. As we all know, these impacts are both positive and negative.

Diet & Exercise

My chronicling of the diet and exercise accomplishments I attained in my dry year has inspired many women I know to give up alcohol for one month or more. Top of mind for these followers is how I am faring now that I’ve added alcohol back into the mix.

I’m happy to report that I’ve maintained my weight loss. I weigh exactly the same today as I weighed on January 1. And, this is the same weight that I achieved in late May last year. I have successfully lost 30 pounds and kept it off!  The winning formula to weight maintenance is exactly the same as it was to lose the weight: Weigh yourself often, keep track of everything you consume using MyFitnessPal, and add exercise to the mix as needed to reach (or stay at) your goal weight.

It became clear in the first two weeks that I needed to make two significant adjustments to maintain my weight: one to my diet and one to my exercise planning. In order to accommodate the calories from alcohol, I started by foregoing “real” lunches and opting instead for protein bars and diet bars. The second change was much more difficult. I needed to rearrange my workout schedule, since it became very hard to continue working out at night. During the workweek, I now get up earlier and workout in my home gym before going to work. I’m trying to make this a regular work day habit.

Other Impacts

My drinking habits may be forever changed by my heightened awareness of the expense of alcohol. I’m surprised that I’m not going out for drinks and dinner as much as I did before. And, whether at home or out, I’m making it count. Having a drink has to be enjoyable and of good quality. If I taste something and I don’t like it, I just dump it out and try something different, or just switch to a glass of water. In the past, I would have suffered through it and changed to something else after finishing it.

Although I’ll be reporting on it less frequently, I promise to keep you informed from time to time as I move beyond my dry year.

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RESOLUTION, RENEWAL & CHANGE

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I did it! I faithfully kept my 2014 New Year’s resolution to abstain from alcohol for the entire year. To be honest, it surprised me that I stuck with it, especially considering the major lifestyle changes it required and the fact that I had failed at much simpler resolutions in years past. As you might have guessed, I won’t dwell on those failures here. Rather, this post is about the role resolutions have played in motivating me to succeed, by enabling a much-needed renewal of some aspects of my life, including personal development and enrichment.

SCF last drink (cropped)  SCF 2015 NYE

Above: Me last New Year’s Eve (left) and this year (right). I hope that my 2014 resolution to drink no alcohol will lead to a lifetime of moderation and better health and fitness.

As I revealed a year ago when I launched this blog, I’ve had a lifelong habit of carefully considering (and then announcing) my annual resolutions, and had mixed success in keeping them. The way I see it, the end of one year and the start of another presents a great opportunity to take stock of everything, from relationships, to health and happiness, and to the state of personal finances.

Considering the stats on resolutions and that only 8% of resolution makers are successful in keeping them, my track record, frankly, is pretty darn good. In two recent years, for example, I was able to use this annual exercise to focus on different challenges and interests that contributed to lasting change—change  that has greatly enhanced my overall happiness and sense of well-being.

In 2009, I resolved to get a diary and to write “every single day.” This was important to me, because I had been an avid journal keeper in the past and wanted to get back in the habit. Although it proved impossible for me to actually write on the day itself every single day for that entire year, I did conscientiously write and fill every page in that diary. I just started my new one for 2015…

Journals (landscape)

Above: My 2009 New Year’s resolution has led to a lasting habit of maintaining a diary.

The following year (2010), I resolved to “read more” and got that vow off on the right foot by joining not one, but two different book clubs. One of those clubs turned out to be very serious about the actual reading and discussion of books and this has helped me tremendously. My husband and I joined this club together and we both greatly look forward to each session. It’s always a wonderful gathering of great friends and reading and discussion, not to mention the excellent food and wine.

After the discussion section concludes, before we head in for lunch or dinner, the same question is answered by each member in turn: “What are you reading now?” It’s brilliant, because that compels many of us to keep reading other books, above and beyond the actual assignments.

Books

Above: My 2010 New Year’s resolution helped me to rekindle my life-long love of reading.

This has been, perhaps, a round-a-bout way of getting to what I’ve been thinking about this past week. Rather than rehash my already well-documented learnings from and achievements of my dry year (if you missed them or want a refresher, please read this post or this one), I’ve been considering what the lasting impact might be of my 2014 New Year’s resolution to abstain from drinking.

First and foremost, I hope that I will be a life-long moderate drinker. I want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine or some bubbly without fear that I’ll over-indulge. Along similar lines, I hope that I will be able to maintain my weight loss for many years to come. Getting back to this weight feels great and I don’t want to go back. I’d even like to further improve my fitness level by adding more diverse workouts to my routine, and cut more time off my marathon PR (personal record). And I hope that I will remain committed to this blog and keep on writing in it regularly.

For those of you who tuned in thinking that I would reveal my resolutions for 2015, I apologize. Of course, I have more than a few resolutions up my sleeve that are already in full-swing. Please tune in next time to read about some of them. And, please leave a comment on this post with your resolutions big and small for 2015.

So Close, I Can Taste It

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Just before I left the office last night, a rush of emotion came over me when I realized that today would be New Year’s Eve and 2014 would soon be a distant memory. Envisioning myself at midnight tonight, I became determined to have a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate the successful conclusion of my dry year. Surely, if ever there would be a time to enjoy a bottle of what is widely considered one of the world’s best champagnes, the anniversary of a full year without alcohol would be it.

So, I did a bit of online searching, made several phone calls, and managed to track down the only bottle of Dom Perignon within a 20-mile radius. Luckily, I was able to reserve it and pick it up along my commute home. It turns out that the bottle is from 2003 and is in a gorgeous commemorative box, bringing, perhaps, a bit more value to the $175 price tag that I paid for the bottle. Yes, I know that it’s sort of crazy to spend that much money on one bottle of consumable liquid. However, I deserve it, don’t I?

Dom Perignon

(I was happy to find this bottle of “Dom” on short notice.)

It might be hard for someone to believe me when I say that having this special bottle to celebrate with tonight actually has nothing to do with wanting to drink alcohol again.  Recently, I very happily celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and my step-daughter’s engagement party and never once thought that these milestone family gatherings would have been enhanced one iota by my drinking alcohol along with everyone else.

The best way to describe my desire to make tonight a once-in-a-lifetime celebration is to say that I am proud of myself. I can’t believe I did it. I launched my resolution and my blog exactly one year ago today, and went from enjoying a few glasses of wine every night and being a fixture at local wine-and-food-paired dinners to going an entire year without drinking alcohol.

Along the way, I lost well over 20 pounds, cut 23 minutes off my best marathon time, and, more importantly, learned a lot about the power of alcohol in our society and about myself. As added bonuses, I took an unforgettable trip to Laos to celebrate my journey and started writing regularly about my parents’ nearly four decades in the Vermont inn-keeping business.

Tonight, I’ll observe the end of a truly incredible 2014 and the promise of the New Year with family and friends over a bottle of something extra special. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. You can be sure, however, that I’ll let you know in future blog posts. Thanks for following – and, Happy 2015!

No Good Reason

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I woke up early the other day thinking about my blog and tried to come up with one good reason why I haven’t posted anything lately. (Can you believe I wrote my last post about this survey of American alcohol consumption habits six weeks ago?) It turns out there isn’t a good reason. All the things that might have caused me to put it aside—like being so close to the end of my resolution that it just seems too boring to acknowledge again; or that winter meant the end of my running season and also the need for training updates; or even the fact I just started a new job, but still had to finish up a few things for my old one—just add up to pure and simple procrastination.

It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of material. Believe it or not, the blog folder on my computer has a file for each of the five weeks I missed. The week of November 16th, I conducted several interviews and started and re-started a piece for the “Vermont Inn-trigue” thread of this blog about the inn’s most loyal guests, a group of hunters who’ve stayed at the inn each and every hunting season for the past 37 years. I interviewed the leader of this group, Tony, multiple times, heard many of his jokes and stories, and took a look at the scrapbook of his group’s many memorable times at the inn.

Tony has stayed at the Combes Family Inn each and every year over its 37 years of operation.

Tony has stayed at the Combes Family Inn each and every year during its 37 years of operation.

Just a few of the snapshot from decades of visits to Vermont and the Combes Family Inn.

Just a few snapshots from the mementos complied over decades of visits to Vermont and the Combes Family Inn.

Tony saw this flyer in 1968 and decided it would be fun to scare up a group to go hunting in Vermont. The farm became the Combes Family Inn in 1978.

Tony saw this flyer in 1968 and decided it would be fun to scare up a group to go hunting in Vermont. The farm became the Combes Family Inn in 1978.

My first interview with the group was over dinner. When one of them asked “What’s for dinner?” my dad replied, “We’re not changing the menu unless you guys change your jokes.”

“You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning,” Tony replied. That evening, with the barbs and jibes getting lobbied back and forth, was not all that different from my first such dinner with them, when I was just 10 years old.

The night before the hunters left, we all watched the Patriots game and I had a chance to ask Tony if it surprised him that he’s been coming to the inn for 37 years in a row. “No it doesn’t,” he answered. “We’re comfortable coming here. When we leave, we’re already looking forward to coming again the next year. God willing, we’ll be coming for many more years.”

Before I knew it, the hunters were gone and I never turned that great material into a coherent article. The following week, I wondered if I should be concerned about my high levels of caffeine consumption. I vowed to research the pros and cons of caffeine and explain why people who stop drinking alcohol often become chronic coffee drinkers. This post would have been like my article about Crystal Light back in January. I found several articles about caffeine consumption, including this general overview, this one about the role coffee may play in helping people abstain from drinking alcohol, and this one citing 10 reasons to quit drinking coffee. I didn’t get very far in my research. However, I did resolve to figure out eventually which was worse, alcohol consumption or caffeine consumption. I’ll let you know when I figure that out.

Several other blog topics presented themselves in late November and early December. I briefly considered breaking with my usual M.O. by writing a political piece about the disheartening state of race relations in our country. Although I quickly ruled that out, I will share one comment that I left on Facebook that sums up my feelings about what transpired in Ferguson: “Mike Brown’s fate was sealed the moment Officer Wilson saw him him as a crazed demon that needed to be killed, rather than a troubled teen who needed to be saved.”

Two weeks ago, I almost opted to write about the end of the federal grant that I was directing and my thoughts about how that experience was personally fulfilling and even life-changing. If you get a chance, flip through “Vermont’s Digital Stories,” the final report for the project. I’m proud of the team’s work to improve lives in Vermont’s flood-damaged communities and remain very grateful to have had a meaningful opportunity to give back to others, after my own speedy recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.

Finally, last week, a friend of mine told me that she had heard an interesting radio segment about the different norms and perceptions for alcohol consumption in various countries. The point was that Americans have the lowest national tolerance (so to speak) for alcohol consumption and consume far less alcohol than most other nations. The differences are particularly acute between the U.S. and Europe, especially Italy and France. With such an interesting and relevant topic, I was certain my blog drought was going to be over. Alas, I couldn’t locate the radio piece my friend had heard. And, although I found a lot of articles about similar topics—such as this one, this one, and this one—the weekend came and went without a post.

So, now you’re all caught up on what I’ve been thinking about the past six weeks. Have a very happy holiday season—I promise to write again very soon. There’s no good reason not to.

Take It or Leave It

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Now that I’m within striking distance of the end of my self-imposed year-long ban on drinking alcohol, I want to share my new appreciation for the surprisingly bifurcated nature of alcohol. A few weeks ago, I had quoted that 30% of American adults do not drink at all and another 30% drink less than one alcoholic beverage a week. Given how much time, energy, money, and everything else that the other 40% spend on alcohol (not to mention the negative consequences that result from drinking too much of it), am I the only one who is surprised to learn that for 60% of adult Americans alcohol is essentially a non-factor?

The info-graphic below does an amazing job of presenting the data on weekly alcohol consumption by breaking it into deciles or 10 equal sized groups of survey participants:

Drinking Info-graphic

This is how you read the graph: each group represents 10% of survey respondents, and, by extrapolation, 10% of all adult Americans. Starting on the left side, you have the folks who don’t drink at all – so you see “0 drinks,” meaning that these 10% chunks of Americans have no drinks in a typical week.  As you move to the right of the graph, you see the results for the next 10% of adult Americans, and so on, and so on. Since the first three deciles each report 0 drinks, this means that it is estimated by this survey that a full 30% of adult Americans do not drink at all.

The survey, just like all of the other stats I’ve seen about alcohol, refers to “drinks” according to the suggested serving size or the “standard drink.” That’s 12 ounces of regular beer (usually about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol).

With that in mind, continue moving to the right of the graph to see the results for Americans who drink, starting with those who drink the least. This reveals that another 30% drink less than one drink per week — 0.02 drinks per week on average, 0.14 drinks per week, and 0.63 drinks. Keep moving right on the graph to discover that people in the 7th decile report drinking only 2 drinks per week and those in the 8th decile a little less than one drink per day.

Now we’ve reached the part where the graph gets very, very interesting. The 9th decile reports drinking slightly more than 15 drinks per week on average. As I reported in January, before my New Year’s resolution, I typically drank two glasses of wine a night with dinner. This means that I certainly fell in the 9th decile of respondents to this survey. To put that another way, 90% of the American adult population drinks less than I used to!

Now look at the results for the last decile on the graph. On average, this group reports drinking 73.85 drinks per week or more than 10 standard drinks per day. That’s more than the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine a day. And, if you do the math, the people in this top decile consume much more than half of all alcohol consumed by everyone. Although that’s extremely scary, I don’t doubt the veracity of the data.  Do you?

If this interests you, take a look at the post from the Washington Post Wonkblog where I found the information, the official results from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study from which the data originates, the Amazon page for “Paying the Tab,” the 2007 book that shed light on the study, and a review of that book in the New England Journal of Medicine.

And, for the 40% of Americans who have a few drinks (or more) per week and may, like me, have concerns about how that can lead to weight gain, the WP Wokblog also put together this helpful “Guide to Efficient Drinking” that ranks various alcoholic drinks by calories per ounce and calories per serving.

A Year’s A Long Time

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I’ve learned a lot these past 10 months as I embraced, resisted, and—all the while—kept my New Year’s resolution not to drink alcohol for one year. If I learned only one thing it’s that a year can seem like a very long time. Sure, it’s 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, and 31,536,000 seconds. More than that, though, it offers a heck of a lot of time in which to change one’s mind. It’s no wonder that, according to one survey, only 8% of people succeed in keeping their resolutions.

No, I’m not thinking of stopping now! I know that, with two months still to go, it might seem a bit premature to have this conversation. It’s just that I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how long a year is and I decided it would be a good blog topic. Besides, (knock on wood) there’s zero chance that I’m going to take a sip of alcohol between now and midnight on New Year’s Eve. So I might as well write about it, while my thoughts are fresh.

The best part about a year being such a long time is that it gives plenty of time to make great personal progress, which in my case included losing 23 pounds and cutting 23 minutes off of my fastest marathon time. It’s also more than long enough to change not only your habits, but also to evolve your personal thinking and perceptions. Even though I have decided that I will drink alcohol again, I’ll never think about it the same way again. Before my dry year, I never fully appreciated how pervasive alcohol is in our society or how damaging it can be. Many of our conventions revolve around alcohol, despite 30% of American adults not drinking at all and another 30% only drinking one alcoholic beverage a week.

Now that I proved I could do it, reached my goal weight, stepped up my running game, and developed this new appreciation for life, I’m basically ready for the year to be over. That’s one of the reasons why I started to think that a year is a long time. The other is that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to whether or not I will commit to another difficult and/or life-changing resolution for next year.

The one I’ve been tossing around all year has been a resolution not to purchase any material objects. With all the time I’ve spent thinking about it and floating it by other people, today was the first time that I Googled it to see if someone else has done it. Of course someone has.  I found this guy, who had a life-altering experience not buying any consumer durables or clothes for several months and made it about six months, before he broke down and bought a new computer (after spilling coffee all over his old one). I also found this family with two young children that stuck to their resolution not to buy anything new for a whole year (they allowed themselves to buy used clothes and other items). There’s even a Wiki article on “How to buy nothing.”

I have two more months to mull it over. I’m just not sure I have it in me to go from one extreme resolution right into another. Maybe 2015 will be a year of just savoring what I achieved in 2014 and enjoying the wonderful life that I have. Or maybe it will be the year that I qualify for the Boston marathon, publish a memoir, and reconnect with a dozen old friends from college. I’m interested to know your thoughts as we approach 2015.

My Dry Year: Third Quarter Report

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Now that I’m three-quarters of the way through my New Year’s resolution to not drink alcohol in 2014, it’s time for a quick update to the “Dry Year” thread of this blog.

SCF last drink

First of all, I’m very proud to report that I am still dry and I don’t miss drinking.  It’s true that I missed it early on, had mild withdrawal symptoms the first few weeks, and even had a nightmare in which I broke my resolution by inadvertently drinking a glass of wine. It also took longer than I had expected to develop the new habit of not drinking.

By the end of May, I had already achieved my goal weight and lost a total of 30 pounds (when you include the 7 pounds I lost last year). I explained exactly how I did it in this blog post.Although I had a few challenges along the way, I’m pleased to report that four months later, I am holding steady at 135 pounds, which is a few pounds below the goal weight I had set for myself.

June 2014 (after) CROPPED

In the first half of the year, I had also already achieved my personal record (or “PR”) marathon time. How I did that is explained here. It should be no surprise that, just as I had predicted early on, losing so much weight was the biggest contributor.

SCF with pace group

After achieving these two main goals so early in the year, I wrestled with the question of whether or not I want to start drinking again when 2015 rolls around. In the end, I decided that I want to have a glass of very nice champagne at midnight this coming New Year’s Eve and then play it by ear after that.

I also decided to add a stretch goal into the mix for the second half of 2014: qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  My first “BQ” attempt — as qualifying for the Boston Marathon is known to avid runners — on my 46th birthday in July was a real disaster. Despite that, it was an unforgettable experience to cross the finish line with a very close friend, no matter how long it took us.

This brings us to today.  This morning, I completed my last race of the season by trying one more time to BQ. I was very happy with my training plan, picked a course that had a nice sloping downhill, went to the race properly hydrated and fueled, and even wore a temporary tattoo with my mile-by-mile race plan on my forearm. All signs pointed to a great day on the course.

What was the result? I really killed the first half of the race, achieving a PR half-marathon time of 01:51:55 and stayed on my planned pace through 20 miles. Then, it got very hot and I started to slow and I worried that I might over-heat. Although I didn’t qualify for Boston, I am extremely proud of myself for pushing through the last several miles to the finish line and cutting another 19 minutes off my best marathon time.

887_Marathon_283 (Clarence Demar - Keene - 09-28-14)

As far as qualifying for Boston is concerned, that’s a goal I will happily carry with me into 2015. If you have any other ideas for New Year’s resolutions for 2015 for me, please leave those as comments to today’s blog post.