We often read about people taking a month off from drinking, for a number of reasons. Perhaps to lose weight, or gain clarity, or most often, “I’ve been going at it too hard.” Well, what happens when that month turns to two, then three, and doesn’t stop at six? A while back, I was dealing with depression, stressed out, gaining weight, increasingly cynical and argumentative. Drinking had become a daily habit, usually beginning after a ride, or after growing tired of sitting at my desk working. The day to day grind had been complicated with a new form of cyclical behavior; ride bikes to get over the hangover, not just for enjoyment.
When you’re riding to get over a hangover, you’ll find that you don’t really enjoy riding bikes anymore. Or at least that’s how I was feeling. Every ride was a struggle, both mentally and physically. I felt drained, exhausted and would get angry at myself for “letting myself go.” In reality, I was in great physical shape, my body was just mad at me for poisoning it.
Then I went to a doctor for my semi-regular physical and got some bad news.
You know that box on your medical check-in sheet where it asks how many drinks you have a week? Well, who answers that honestly? I never have and up until my mid-30’s, I could get away with that. My blood was healthy, I have always been very physically fit, so my blood levels would oftentimes reflect that. This time, however, my blood was in the red. Ok, bad analogy, but you know what I mean. My doctor alerted me to my liver and kidney levels were elevated and told me that I might want to think about a life without booze.
Or was it? At that point, I had already taken a month off and was feeling better. Part of me wanted to “sober up” before the bloodwork to perhaps trick the results and give myself more reason to continue drinking. I realize this now, well after the fact. Drinking for me had become just as much about denial as it had been an escapism from the day-to-day realities of being a small business owner.
That was October. I had “quit” drinking momentarily in September. It is now March. In that time, I’ve learned a lot. Most of this is anecdotal – I’m not a doctor – but this is what I’ve learned about myself and more importantly, what riding means to me now.
Everyone says they feel better after a month of no-drinking. For me, however, it took longer. Three months in and I could pop out of bed at 6am, feel great and get right to work, without the need for excessive coffee or a cup of Skratch Labs. That stuff is great for chasing a hangover. I found myself being less argumentative. Less negative, more outgoing and more open about my emotions. On top of all this, I’ve lost around 20 lbs.
Perhaps one unexpected side-effect was that not drinking had hurt a lot of my social relationships. Luckily, I gained mental clarity with sobriety, so I could acknowledge this and adjust my behaviors. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, I’m still trying to figure out how to be social when others are drinking or drunk. There’s no easy answer here, as I’m still trying to figure this one out.
Traveling to bike events like NAHBS used to be alcohol-fueled social events for me. Now it’s all business. I guess that’s not fair. It’s work, stressful work, but this year, I was able to actually work hard and still have the energy to talk with my friends in the frame building industry. When I’d finish up for the night, I’d relish sleep but wouldn’t pass up an hour-long, turned three-hour-long conversation.
Holidays were tough, but my partner is supportive and we’ve found other ways to get faded. Here’s where I should point out that I’ve maintained my weed consumption, usually through edibles or a tabletop vaporizer. I’ve had a medical card in California since moving here and enjoy the high Sativa strains for working and the edibles help me get a solid night’s sleep.
Perhaps the most tempting scenario is the post-ride drink. I’ve not been a fan of beer for some time now, but for whatever reason, when we finish a big, hard mountain bike ride, all I want is an IPA. I crave that hoppy, high-alcohol flavoring, whereas before, it was my least-favorite form of alcohol, second to Scotch. That said, I do miss the flavor and burn of a young bourbon or cocktail, but I do not miss how I feel afterward. I don’t miss the person who I become when I’m drunk and I don’t miss the morning after.
That’s perhaps what I’ve learned the most in all this. I weigh the risk vs. reward more and more with everything. While I’ve yet to get follow-up bloodwork, I will say I feel like a completely new person, who could live forever. It’s been a stressful few weeks over here, and all I can think is how glad I am that I’m not drinking right now.
On Sober Riding
Even though it appears to be the contrary, I don’t get to ride as much as I’d like. Nowadays I’m probably on the bike three solid times, for rides over 20 miles, yet under 50, including the weekends. This four-hour window has been contingent upon how much work I’ve been taking on. Work is crazy right now, with commercial shoots falling in between busy website work.
While my riding time has been reduced, my riding strength has increased. Remember, before I’d mostly ride to work off a hangover. Now when I ride, it’s about the enjoyment, the experience and chasing clarity. I actually like riding now and value it even more. We all have strong days and sometimes riding less is actually better for our muscles, but the thing is, since I quit drinking, there’s less self-doubt or dialog about quitting. When a group breaks away, I can now hop on their wheels, whereas before, I’d be too groggy to.
How Much Longer?
Honestly, now when people have booze around me, my stomach churns. A few months back, I’d have a Pavlovian response, but now, my body is like “get that shit away from me.” Who knows how long I’ll keep it up, I want to get more bloodwork done and talk to my partner about the long-term. Her takeaway is she wants to live a long time and wants me there with her. I guess I can’t argue with that…
If you’re struggling with alcohol, or have been considering a drying out period and have concerns, drop them in the comments.