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How To Do 100 Days Sober

I can’t quite believe it, but I’ve just celebrated 100 days without a single drop of alcohol passing my lips. Shortly before my birthday in June 2022, I decided enough was enough. My body deserved a break from the booze.

I’d listened to a podcast by Dr Rangan Chatterjee with Andy Ramage, co-founder of One Year No Beer. There was one phrase that he used, that really stood out for me. He’s a former financial trader and I used to work in the financial world also. Perhaps that’s why this phrase particularly resonated with me. It was: the trade is no longer worth it. What he meant was that what he got from alcohol was no longer worth what he suffered as a result of it.

100 days sober

I’m always talking about how as women go through menopause and our hormones change, alcohol is no longer our friend (here’s a podcast about that). I’ve talked about how when I came off HRT, having been on it for my early menopause diagnosis, there were two things that caused me to have an immediate hot flash, chocolate and alcohol. These became less of an issue as my body settled down after the HRT, but if I had a few glasses of wine of an evening, the following morning I’d wake up in a big hot flash. not to mention having very disturbed sleep too.

I had long been aware that I was drinking too much. I don’t do moderation very well. One drink becomes two becomes three. I rarely if ever go beyond three but as I get older, the impact the following day is just not worth it. I won’t sleep well, I’ll wake up groggy, I need more time to get going the following day, and I just feel pretty rubbish. I’ve got lots of things I want to do and I don’t have time to cope with the hangovers that come when I drink.

Another issue has been my mental health. The last couple of years, with the Covid pandemic, have been very tough for everyone. Anxiety and depression raised their ugly heads for me and I became aware that I was using alcohol to self medicate. The problem was, the alcohol was actually making things worse. So that was another reason for taking a break.

Thirdly, with my favourite tipple being white wine, I was consuming a ridiculous amount of my daily calories in alcohol. I was running and doing exercise, and gradually I became aware that I was doing those things so that I could drink. If I had drunk and not done the exercise, I would be much heavier than I currently am.

Even just one glass of wine would impact my ability to do yoga the following morning. I like to do a vigorous form of yoga called Ashtanga and if I have any alcohol, I cannot do that yoga the following day without feeling sick. Eventually I started to listen to my body in this area of my life as much as I have learnt to in every other. So that was a third reason for having a break.

I’ve tried to have a break from alcohol in the past. I’ve done dry January and Sober October. But at the end of each month I’ve always gone back to drinking, sometimes more than I did before I stopped. It was this one phrase, the trade is no longer worth it, that has enabled me to keep going to 100 days this time.

I want to look after myself. I want to invest in me. There are so many things I want to do with my life, I don’t have time to drink! The recovery takes too long. I’ve avoided occasions where alcohol is prevalent to help me stay on track. But as time has gone on, I’ve been super impressed with how easy I’ve found it to just not want a drink.

Historically for me, long plane journeys have been a chance to try out free and quite expensive alcohol. I’m recently back from a 3 week trip to Peru and I didn’t have any alcohol on any of the plane journeys, and, something that truly amazes me, I had no desire to try the national Peruvian drink, a Pisco Sour. I just didn’t want it. I’ve also been to receptions where there’s been free booze on offer and I’ve reached for tonic water instead.

One thing that was more difficult while we were in Peru was that, while there were a lot of sugar heavy fruit juices, and an amazing maize drink called Chicha Morada, there were no alcohol free drinks. (Although I had some lovely juice drinks that often looked a bit like the image above!) Alcohol free drinks have been my savior here in the UK. I’ve long preferred alcohol free beer to the real thing and have stocks of it at home. Gordon’s does an excellent zero alcohol gin which I now make with tonic water so I have my own version of gin and tonic without the hangover the following day. I think it tastes great.

I’m also a fan of alcohol free wines. I joke that I’ve always had a cheap palate when it comes to wine, so the alcohol free ones don’t bother me at all. The Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s alcohol free bubblies are also pretty good from my perspective. It’s enough for a celebration!

But it really is the alcohol free beer and alcohol free gin and tonic which have enabled me to keep moving forward. I definitely saw alcohol as a reward early evening, as a treat at the end of the day. Now I’m happy to have a cup of tea, but if I do feel the need for something a bit more, to mark the end of the day, I can reach for my alcohol free drinks.

So I hope you’ll join me in celebrating my 100 days without alcohol. I’m not saying I’ll never drink again, but currently I have absolutely no desire to drink, something which is completely new to me. I feel fitter, happier, less stressed, more focused and I believe my relationships have improved also. I think my skin is better and my eye bags are definitely less pronounced! I’m not damaging my liver and my bones on a daily basis. I’ve likely reduced my risk of breast cancer. I’m slimmer too, despite my efforts to replace booze with dark chocolate. My husband says he’s got a new wife and he prefers this iteration. He said that after menopause too, so I guess I just keep reinventing myself!

As I hit publish on this post, we’re about to start Sober October. Club Soda is a brilliant community if you’d like some support changing your relationship with alcohol. Why not take this opportunity to take a break from the booze too? You never know where it might lead you!

Top tips for taking a break from alcohol

Here are my six top tips for making a success of a break from alcohol:

  1. Listen to this Feel Better, Live More podcast with Andy Ramage on taking a tactical break from alcohol.
  2. When you want a drink, consider whether the trade is worth it. How will you feel the following day? What will you be unable to do as well as you could later/tomorrow if you’ve drunk today?
  3. Read some ‘quit lit’ from the list below to understand better your relationship with alcohol – I recommend This Naked Mind, The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober and Drinking: A Love Story.
  4. Buy some alcohol free drinks. I really like Lidl’s Perlenbacher 0.0. I drink Stowford Press Low Alcohol Cider (it says low but it’s almost zero), Gordon’s Zero Gin is very good and I buy alcohol free rosé, white, red and sparkling wine from Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s.
  5. When you’re out with friends who’re drinking booze and you don’t want to, think about what you’re going to drink in advance – tonic water perhaps or alcohol free beer which many pubs now stock, if not restaurants yet. Don’t be afraid to explain that you don’t want to drink – you don’t need to give a reason and if they complain that you’re boring not drinking, that’s their problem not yours.
  6. Give yourself a huge pat on the back each day that you don’t drink. It’s another day where you’ve given your body a head start in the health stakes.

Good luck!

You may also like: Lessons From A Month Off Alcohol! and What Happens When You Mix Menopause And Alcohol?

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What Happens When You Mix Menopause And Alcohol?

Menopause and alcohol – there’s an interesting topic! Are they a good combination? Here’s what I discovered: when I stopped taking HRT, having taken it from 45-51, because of an early menopause diagnosis at 41, there were two things that triggered an immediate hot flush for me, chocolate and alcohol. This happened within the first week of stopping HRT. And if I drank too much in the evening, when I woke the following morning I would have a hot flush.

Alcohol and menopause symptoms

I’ve written extensively about how I believe the symptoms we experience as we go through the perimenopause years are the body’s way of telling us that it wants us to change the way we look after it. Alcohol can exacerbate several of these menopause symptoms. The impact alcohol has on us, especially during the perimenopause years, is something we’d be wise to consider.

Most of us know that alcohol is not particularly good for us, even though we may like to kid ourselves that it is. We may get excited when there’s a survey that says red wine is thought to be good for the heart. But even these surveys are suspect and when you dig into them, it’s one small glass of red wine a week that’s thought to do anything at all, so what’s the point? But I’ve read enough books about alcohol to know that however much we may like to pretend it’s not bad for us (and believe me, I’ve done that), fundamentally it is.

I feel I’ve always had a complicated relationship with alcohol. It was very much part of my family upbringing. There was always alcohol in my childhood home and it was a normal part of socializing, celebrating and also stress release. It also fueled a lot of arguments. Alcohol is a massive part of British culture. Almost every village has a church or chapel and a pub.

I’ve used alcohol as a stress release for years. Increasingly, going through midlife and menopause, I’ve used alcohol to anaesthetize myself from the stresses and strains of everyday life which have been compounded by midlife and menopause. But I know that’s not a good strategy!

I’m also aware that alcohol has exacerbated issues as well as soothing me. Alcohol can cause our blood sugar levels to be imbalanced and this can bring on hot flushes and night sweats. Alcohol interrupts our sleep which we need at all times, but especially in menopause when hormonal changes may also be having an impact. It can also exacerbate perimenopausal mood swings, anxiety and depression.

Alcohol may lift us up or soothe us temporarily, but it is a known depressant. I know for sure that alcohol has both depressed me and made me more anxious as I have gone through the menopause transition. Alcohol can make us more stressed over time, which can impact menopausal brain fog, so it stands to reason that alcohol isn’t going to help with that either.

Alcohol is also a big source of empty calories, calories that don’t give us any nutrition, but still add to the daily quota. As our metabolism decreases as we age, if we’re not making efforts to maintain our metabolism through exercise, we can start to put on weight. Alcohol could be contributing to that trend and you may find you’re exercising just so you can continue drinking! In menopause we can also tend to put on weight, especially around the belly, so that’s another reason why menopause and alcohol isn’t a very good combo!

I know a lot of women take hormone therapy to manage their symptoms and they carry on drinking. I don’t think this is a very wise course of action. You may be lessening the impact of the drinking during your menopause transition with the hormone therapy, but you’re not doing your long-term health any favors if you continue to drink too much during menopause.

Drinking more than your body could comfortably sustain during menopause, without the help of hormone therapy, can increase your risk of breast and other cancers, for example. And you’re not dealing with the underlying health issues that hormonal changes are now highlighting.

Alcohol and later life health

Women are less tolerant of alcohol than men and our intolerance increases as we age. But increasingly women are more likely to use it to manage stress, even though it’s going to make the stress worse in the long run. Older women are drinking more now than ever before, especially in the UK. But by doing that, we’re actively damaging our health. Alcohol can cause liver and other organ damage, put us at greater risk of dementia and be terrible for our bone health.

For years I have run a lot to protect and strengthen my bones (after the early menopause diagnosis at 41), but also drunk rather too much, thereby probably negating the good I was doing with the running! All the things that we’re thought to be at greater risk of post menopause are impacted by alcohol – Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer etc. We just like to ignore that fact because alcohol can be fun!

As we age, our bodies hold less water to dilute alcohol and more fat, so we hold onto alcohol for longer. We may feel the impact of just a little alcohol over night, long into the next day and even the day after. Enzymes in the liver responsible for breaking down alcohol can also diminish as we age, which is why hangovers get worse as we get older. It’s less about the hormones and more about the ageing process itself. We don’t bounce back as we once did. I suspect that’s the body trying to tell us that alcohol isn’t as good for us or as fun as we once thought.

I also know that when I’ve had a drink I can be more arsy than normal. When my adult son told me he didn’t much like me when I’d had a drink, I really had to evaluate how I changed when I had some booze. Young people today are drinking a lot less and that seems like a good way to be. They may do more recreational drugs but I’m very aware that alcohol has been my drug of choice. I reckon it’s no less of a drug than cannabis, for example.

Taking a break from alcohol

I’m writing this when I’ve just completed a dry month. I done lots of dry months in the past, lots of dry Januarys and Stoptobers. I managed 9 dry months when I was pregnant. But in the past when I got to the end of the month, I’d be celebrating that I could now have a drink! But this month is different. I completed four weeks yesterday and went to a reception last night where there was lots of free alcohol on offer. For the first time, I didn’t want any booze.

It’s early days yet but something seems to have shifted for me. Just over a month ago I listened to a podcast that made me realize something quite profound. I’m a big fan of Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s Feel Better, Live More podcast and on this re-released episode his guest was Andy Ramage, one of the founders of One Year No Beer, a habit-changing program that invites people to try 28, 90 or 365 days alcohol free – and see what it does for them.

Andy used to work in the financial City of London as a trader and said something that really shifted my understanding of alcohol. He said that for him, when thinking now about drinking alcohol, the trade was no longer worth it. What he got as a result of drinking wasn’t worth the cost to him.

I think this is massive when it comes to midlife and menopausal women especially. But while I’ve known this for a long time, it’s taken me ages to take action accordingly. As we’ve seen, as we go through the menopause transition, our body can’t process alcohol in the same way it used to.

It takes longer to recover. The various impacts of alcohol are greater, the hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, interrupted sleep and sluggishness the following day even after only one or two glasses of wine, for example. Many women find that wine is in fact now a real no no. They just can’t process it anymore. Gin becomes a bit more palatable – no wonder it’s known as mothers ruin!

What I’ve realized is that the half an hour of feeling nice after having a drink, and for me it’s never one drink because I’ve never been very good at moderating, is simply not worth the disturbed sleep, the sluggishness the following day etc. etc. For me now too, the trade is no longer worth it. This has been a revolutionary shift for me.

I’ve wanted to get better at drinking for years. I’ve interviewed alcoholics on my podcast and been aware that my relationship with alcohol has been less than ideal. For me to get to the end of a dry month and not want an immediate glass of wine is really quite remarkable.

I do a fair amount of exercise and now I can run further, more consistently and with less muscle pain. I like to do Ashtanga yoga and if I’ve had any alcohol the night before, the intensity of the initial sun salutation sequence makes me feel sick, which stops me doing it. But now I can do my Ashtanga yoga whenever I like, because I’m not drinking.

Listen to Vicky Midwood talking about emotional eating and drinking on my podcast

Not only have I interviewed alcoholics on my podcast but I’ve listened to other podcasts about alcohol and I’ve read a lot of ‘quit lit’. Some of the books I’ve read are below and I really recommend them. But it’s interesting that none of them made me stop or even really cut back that much or consistently.

It was this one phrase, the trade is no longer worth it, that had the biggest impact on me. We all need to be ready to make changes, they can’t be forced. I feel I’ve been ready for a long time, but clearly something just wasn’t quite there yet.

You may not feel like giving up alcohol altogether and why would you? But having read this, you may feel it’s worthwhile cutting back or even having a break for a while. A detox. A reset. Whatever you want to think of it as. So how best to go about that?

Top tips for taking a break from alcohol

Here are my six top tips for making a success of a break from alcohol (remembering of course that I’m still early days in my new not drinking journey!)

  1. Listen to this Feel Better, Live More podcast with Andy Ramage on taking a tactical break from alcohol.
  2. When you want a drink, consider whether the trade is worth it. How will you feel the following day? What will you be unable to do as well as you could later/tomorrow if you’ve drunk today?
  3. Read some ‘quit lit’ from the list below to understand better your relationship with alcohol – I recommend This Naked Mind, The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober and Drinking: A Love Story.
  4. Buy some alcohol free drinks. I love these and they’ve really helped me. I have long preferred alcohol free beer to the real thing – I really like Lidl’s Perlenbacher 0.0. I drink Stowford Press Low Alcohol Cider (it says low but it’s almost zero), Gordon’s Zero Gin is very good and I buy alcohol free rosé, white, red and sparkling wine from Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. I’ve always preferred light cheap wine so I have a simple palate!
  5. When you’re out with friends who’re drinking booze and you don’t want to, think about what you’re going to drink in advance – tonic water perhaps or alcohol free beer which many pubs now stock, if not restaurants yet. Don’t be afraid to explain that you don’t want to drink – you don’t need to give a reason and if they complain that you’re boring not drinking, that’s their problem not yours.
  6. Give yourself a huge pat on the back each day that you don’t drink. It’s another day where you’ve given your menopausal body a head start on coping better with the transition.

Good luck!

Good books to read about alcohol

You may also like: Lessons From A Month Off Alcohol!

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Lessons From A Month Off Alcohol!

I like to regularly take time or a month off from alcohol and I started when I did a Dry October with the help of Club Soda, an organisation set up to help people cut down or give up completely. I’d been concerned about my drinking for a while.

My booze consumption had steadily crept up and there was rarely a day when I didn’t have a tipple. Taking the edge off was a favorite reason to reach for a glass at wine o’clock. So I decided it was time to change a very long term habit and see if I could give up my favourite vice.

When I started the month off from alcohol, I seriously doubted whether I would complete the challenge. But I completed it and I also learnt some valuable lessons along the way.

Here’s what I learnt from taking a month off alcohol:

1. It’s easier to stay off the booze when you’re not alone. Club Soda says we usually get pissed together so why should we get sober alone? Doing a dry month with other people, even if they’re all online and anonymous, sure beats trying to do it by yourself.

2. It also helps to tell people what you’re doing and make yourself accountable. That way if you give up early, you’ll have to face those looks of wilting pity at your lack of will power. Fear of that alone might just be enough to keep you on course.

3. Doing a month off alcohol with your partner is a good idea. Trying to do it when they are still drinking is not. Either way you’ll likely both get a bit grumpy.

4. Alcohol is so much a part of British culture that it’s hard being social without it. Even the smallest of communities historically had a place of worship and a pub. We wet the baby’s head with champagne and we raise a glass or few at a wake. You get strange looks if you say you’re not drinking just because you don’t want to.

5. When starting out on a month off booze, avoiding social situations where drinking is expected helps keep up the momentum while you break your drinking habit.

6. Pubs and restaurants would be nicer places for the non-drinker if their non-alcoholic beverages extended beyond cola, lemonade and fruit juice. There are many decent alcohol-free beers around and even a few wines, but try buying them anywhere other than in a large supermarket and you’ll just get a blank or even patronising stare. “

This is a pub, love.” It really shouldn’t have to be a choice between water and something that rots your teeth if you want to be social but not tipsy.

7. You won’t lose weight on a month off booze if you’re rewarding your abstinence with treats like chocolate. Hard truth but truth it is.

8. Doing a month off booze means getting to grips with procrastination. It requires you to postpone immediate gratification (giving in to the desire to have a drink) in pursuit of the longer term goal of sustaining a month without giving in. This lesson can be applied to other areas of our lives where procrastination rears its timewasting head.

9. Turning down free champagne is not impossible when you’re focused on your long term goal.

10. I’m not an alcoholic! Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines an alcoholic thus:

a person who is unable to give up the habit of drinking alcohol very often and in large amounts

Cambridge Dictionaries Online

I had begun to question my dependence, but no longer. Phew, that’s a relief.  But the challenge is not to go back to my old habits, which I have to confess can be easy to do, especially when stressed!

But I know using it as stress relief isn’t very sensible. And it doesn’t help with hot flushes/flashes either! On the rare occasions I have a flush, either alcohol or sugar are usually to blame. Read more about alcohol and menopause here.

After my month off alcohol,  I felt I had a new relationship with alcohol. Though over time I did tend to slip back into drinking a bit too much. So then I cut back for a time again. I don’t want to go dry for good but keep trying to enjoy drinking in a more mindful way.

I’ve realized I never really need a drink and certainly don’t ever deserve one. But if I want a drink that’s fine. I make the month off booze an annual event – sometimes even twice a year – I call it liver maintenance.

Now there’s just a little issue of a chocolate addiction to deal with.

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