Tuesday, October 30, 2018

One Month Without Alcohol

As of today October 30, 2018, it has been 31 days since I have consumed any alcohol.

I decided to conduct this month-long "experiment" for a number of reasons, but particularly to find out if not drinking alcohol would have a positive, noticeable effect on my health. I also wanted to give my liver a break since, when I had lab work done in August 2018, my doctor told me that it was inflamed, specifically that my aspartate transaminase (AST) level was high. It was 65 U/L on a scale where 10 - 40 U/L is considered normal; in 2013 and 2015 it was 16 U/L and 21 U/L, respectively.
bowls of food and glass of wine on table
I love liver but apparently my liver doesn't love me!
Enjoying a meal with wine in Bucharest, Romania in July, 2017.
I can recall several times in previous years that I have abstained for anywhere from a few days to about one week, either because I was sick or because I was making a conscious effort to cut back, but I really have no idea when I went so long without alcohol. And, while I have been paid to write about or otherwise work in the beer industry for the past five years, alcoholic beverages have not always played such a large role in my daily life although they have certainly always been a part of it.
plate of meats and bread, glass of wine and beer
Enjoying a Parisian charcuterie plate with wine and beer in August, 2001.
Here is an excerpt from something I originally wrote in 2010:

I was exposed to beer fairly early in life. On a weekend night, sitting on my dad's lap in a big easy chair, he took a swig of a mysterious beverage in a brown bottle. I always wanted to do whatever my dad was doing so I begged for a sip. I was lucky; my dad wasn't a typical beer drinker even though options were very limited in Tennessee at the time. He liked "the good stuff," the darker the better. We didn't have much money to spare back then, so it was a real treat to go to the store and buy a 6-pack of Heineken Dark or some other "exotic" beer.

As I got older, I experimented with other forms of alcohol. Yes, there was the shameful wine cooler era, as well as a brief flirtation with peach schnapps during my first years of college. Many other cocktails with dubious names (Blue Bazooka, anyone?) passed my lips over the years. I even have a long-standing affair with the pure pleasure that is a Grey Goose martini (straight up with olives, please). I've visited the famous wine regions around the world and have tasted the finest whiskies in their native land. In fact, everywhere I travel, I make a point to consume the local spirits whenever possible.

But, the one beverage I always default to, with pleasure, is beer. I wish I had kept track of all the wonderful brews I've tried over the years, something I only started doing in 2009. If I looked at all of my old photos, I'd find many pictures of me sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, on the Grand Place in Brussels, or at a biergarten in Germany, almost always drinking whatever was on draft. As I traveled all over the U.S. and the world as a flight attendant, I could often be found in the local watering hole, drinking a pint of ale during my layover.
woman holding glass of champagne
Me at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin in Reims, France in September, 2004.
It is obvious that I enjoy drinking when I travel, primarily as a way of experiencing the local culture. The same goes for eating traditional or regional foods, learning languages, visiting places of worship, and riding public transportation. I also drink socially, as the majority of my friends have no aversion to alcohol and also like to try the latest beer releases, so we spend a lot of time at local brewpubs. And I drink at home, in which case it is a means to relax after a long day, or it is a reward for accomplishing something, like publishing a blog post.
group of friends at a bar holding pints of beer
Me and a few beer-loving friends in Portland, OR in February, 2017.
You may be wondering if it was hard to go for an entire month without alcohol. The short answer is no. I think that is mostly because I am living in a small town in Guatemala where there is no temptation to hang out at the local bar, because that's not what women do here and there isn't one within walking distance anyway. Also there is very limited availability of good beer, although the nearest Walmart sells a couple of Rogue beers among other imports like Brooklyn Lager. Sure, there is easy access to alcohol in general, including the large bottles of rum, whiskey, and a few Guatemalan liquors that are sitting on top of the refrigerator. Not to mention the two cans of Gallo beer that were in the fridge when I arrived on October 1, and the unopened bottle of an exclusive tequila that I purchased in Mexico.
glasses and bottles of tequila
Sampling the local spirits in Tequila, Mexico in September, 2018.
Was I ever tempted? To be truly honest, there were a couple of times when I really wanted a drink. Once or twice, after a long day of writing I thought, "I deserve a beer!" At Coffee Fest on October 13-14, one vendor was offering free samples of their coffee liqueur. I politely declined even though I would have loved to taste it. When I visited Antigua on October 22 and spotted the tap handles for the local brewery, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't try it. And seeing all of my friends' Facebook and Instagram photos of seasonal brews like fresh hop and pumpkin beers also made me feel like I was missing out somehow. But, in general, it wasn't hard to abstain given my relative seclusion here.
beer tap handles Antigua Guatemala
Temptation is never far away: tap handles for Antigua beer.
What was the overall impact of 31 days without alcohol? As for the physical effects, the only noticeable change was that I felt less bloated (an unfortunate effect of drinking beer in particular) and I had less facial redness (something I have anyway because of rosacea but that is exacerbated by consuming alcohol). I also didn't have a single headache or migraine, which I occasionally get after drinking too much. Unfortunately I cannot measure the effect on my liver without lab tests so there is no way to know if one month of abstinence is enough to lower my AST levels or if alcohol is even the cause of my liver inflammation.
three women at Hobbitenango Guatemala
Feeling healthy and happy at Hobbitenango on October 22, 2018.
I have to say I was disappointed that I did not sleep better or that my overall body aches did not diminish. I had thought that perhaps alcohol was contributing to one or both of these things, but that does not appear to be the case. I also did not lose more than a couple of pounds, but I wasn't as physically active this past month so I couldn't expect much in that regard.

One final positive result is that I didn't spend as much money (on beverages) as I normally would in a given month. I track all of my expenses whether I'm at home or traveling, and my total personal alcohol expenditure averages about $200 per month. For October, it was $0 and the only other beverages I purchased were four 5-gallon bottles of water, one bottle of carbonated water, a carton of mango juice, a carton of milk, a bag of coffee, and a box of tea bags. My total beverage expense was only $18.
five gallon plastic bottles of water in a shopping cart
Buying 5-gallon bottles of water at Walmart on October 1, 2018.
So what's next? Tomorrow I hit the road again and, consequently, will break my alcohol fast. My friend Corey arrives from New York City late in the evening and we will be traveling around Guatemala together for almost two weeks. Since we'll be staying in the city center for a couple of days, I plan to visit a local craft brewery El Príncipe Gris as this is probably the only chance I will have to try their beer. Over the next two weeks we also have to drink that bottle of tequila I bought in Mexico because it's too heavy to carry in my suitcase while I'm traveling.
bottle of tequila on outdoor table with flowers in background
I am really looking forward to trying this exclusive tequila!
Will anything change as a result of this experience? I think so. Whereas before this month I wouldn't hesitate to drink a beer or a glass of wine as I was winding down for the evening, now I will make a more conscious effort to not drink alcohol just because it is available. Instead, I will focus on only consuming alcohol when I have a chance to try a new-to-me beverage; for example, while visiting a local brewery; or when I feel that it is part of a cultural experience.
street mural on wall in Mexico skeletons drinking at tables
A mural in Guadalajara. Drinking with locals definitely counts as a cultural experience!
In the end the past month has forced me to be completely present and fully aware of all my senses all of the time. I have had an unencumbered chance to assess my day-to-day feelings, both physically and mentally. I have been clear-headed and very productive in terms of reading, writing, studying and researching. It was, overall, a successful experiment and one I hope to repeat on at least an annual basis.

1 comment:

  1. Commenting the old fashioned way...

    Thank you for sharing this. A few surprises, but the idea of making alcohol an experience as opposed to it just being there is fascinating. Thank you for the perspective.