I am 14 weeks in. And no, that does not imply I am with child and happily expecting. Instead of happy expectation I am happily amazed at the joyous, relaxed way of being that is an alcohol-free life. A very special, life changing experience that I just want to share. I have to share because there are so many of you that love a glass of wine just as much as I do. Or should I say ‘did’? Two glasses. Three. Come on, pour me another one.
As a self-proclaimed detox coach, food is of course a big theme in my life. Ever-present. For me personally and of course in the work I do. I talk and write about it all the time. I love the recipes in my books, the way of living, lots of colourful fruits and vegetables and vibrant meals. I love to shop for it, prepare it and cook for hours. I walk the talk when it comes to food. And yes, every now and then I cannot resist a wonderfully made sandwich or a real Italian pizza with cheese, garlic and spinach. One could say that, for at least 80% of the time, I have very healthy and nutritious meals and eating habits.
Drinking was another thing. I was in love with it. I could look forward to a wine filled night, hours of conversation in a romantic café or at home, with candles and classical music in the background. No one ever needed to ask me if I wanted another glass, just keep it full. Unconsciously, I would explain the drinking by convincing myself it was ‘the only way to shut up the monkeys in my brain’, it was a good thing, my way to relax, to enjoy, being social and having fun. Just a part of a well lived life.
Looking back and trying to describe the above is like taking a long, hard look in the mirror that I avoided for a long time. So confrontational. I did not really want to think about it. About ‘how much’ and ‘how often’. The fact that there are so many occasions at which alcohol is an essential part and I would never, ever have just one glass.
So, when can one be labelled an alcoholic? I frequently discussed this with my friends, the ones that loved to drink as well. Of course we easily dismissed the ‘very strict rules’ of the recovery centres because, as we said, ‘according to them everyone is an alcoholic, that’s ridiculous!’ Of course the classic image of an alcoholic is the man who starts in the morning and spends his days drinking big cans of beer under a bridge. This had nothing to do with us. We never started before noon. Drank from crystal glassware and chose quality wines. It’s chic, classy and thus very different. Go ahead, open another bottle. Where’s that waitress?! Hurry! And you’ve had enough? Go home and leave us alone.
This past summer, I had had enough. As often in life, something traumatic has to happen for real change to occur. And in my case, that’s exactly what happened. The great love of my life had six heart attacks in the night of July 1st. Completely out of the blue. At age 43. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, with screaming sirens, to have an angioplasty. Fortunately they were able to do the procedure quickly after discovering the coronary artery was 95% closed. There was hardly any damage to the heart.
Needless to say, the rug was pulled from under our feet. It forced us to take a long hard look at life, our five-year-old daughter and the will to be as healthy as possible.
So, on July 22nd, I decided to stop drinking. No more alcohol for me. Because every time, after my second glass, I feel like I am wrapped in red velvet, all warm and cosy and safe and I want to keep going. One more. One more. And I was done with that. With all of it.
It is amazing to hear the reactions from people around me, and they came right away: ‘ oh come on, you can have just one?’, ‘why not only on the weekends?’, ‘Gee, that’s not very neighbourly..’, ‘gosh, Jacqui, this is so you, this all-or-nothing approach!’. When you quit smoking, everyone will cheer you on. But no, you cannot just stop drinking. The mirror is then placed in front of everyone around me who loves his or her wine just as much. And we do not want that mirror. People also immediately wanted to know how much exactly I was drinking and how often a week. And in some cases people would say: ‘oh, I don’t do that; I just have 3 glasses every day, that’s it’. And get on with it.
Alcohol is a fully normal, legal, accepted and actually welcomed hard drug. A ‘must-do’ part of life. There used to be ashtrays in TV shows and now we see big glasses of Sauvignon Blanc everywhere, at every occasion.
The past fourteen weeks have been extremely interesting. To say the least. I started my journey as the researcher, looking for books, interviews, experts and movies. I watched ’28 days’ with Sandra Bullock every day for the first.. yes, 28 days. Don’t ask me why. I also talked about it incessantly, to everyone who was interested.
But let’s talk about what happened physically and mentally. Oh my God! In my 42 year old life, apart from most of my childhood, I do not remember feeling so WONDERFUL. Really. Bursting with energy, a zest for life, amazing skin, big bright eyes and oh man, I have not slept like this in at least twenty years. A baby would be jealous. Sensational. And, what surprised me more than anything, I was completely at peace and relaxed. How weird is that?! I always thought I needed my ‘winey nights’ for relaxation? Exactly the opposite of what I expected.
‘Oh darling, you look amazing’, was the first thing I heard every morning at the kitchen table. While sitting there with my hair all messed up and wearing my pj’s. What a gift. A new day. New found freedom!
I had three very hard moments in those fourteen weeks. For example, in the first weekend when our daughter was away for a sleepover at grandma’s. A Saturday afternoon. A warm, sunny day, five o’clock. In a ‘former life’, I would’ve been smiling on my bicycle, off to a café to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy white wine. The tears were flooding down my face and I was shaking my head in disbelief. How did I get here? And why is this such a big deal? I don’t want to go and do this again. I want to get up at seven on Sunday morning and go for a long walk in the woods nearby and have a great fresh hangover free day. Stay happy, healthy and gorgeous. The moment of longing passes. And I feel even better afterwards. I got through this. And yes, I feel I gained something, not lost it.
I am not the only one, as something seems to be in the air. More and more people are looking at their drinking habits, the complete normality of it and the toll it is taking on our health. I for one wanted to let you know about how I am experiencing all of this. Hopefully it will inspire you! I will keep you posted on the rest of my journey, let me know about yours. x
Jacqueline van Lieshout