Apparently, 21 days is my maximum for going without drinking. The past two years, I have pledged to not drink in January. Both times, I made it to 21 days and caved.
I have been struggling with writing this post. I could just not write it. I don’t think the ten people who read my blog are waiting on the edges of their seats, biting their nails to the quick fretting over why I bailed after three weeks. I could make a joke of it, such as last night when I texted a friend last night and said “This just in….drinking rules.” I could obsess over having a problem or beat myself up over lack of will power. But like most things in life, my true feelings about the experiment are kind of muddled, messy and difficult to decipher. I emote in paisley.
I call it “the experiment” because for me, it was about observing how my body reacted without certain chemicals, and gauging if that felt better or worse than what my norm is. Which sounds weird when I write it. But this month was not just about abstaining from drinking. I also stopped taking antidepressants and sleep aids as well. I wanted to see how my body and mind would react without the assistance of these drugs.
If I was being really scientific (and smart) about this, I would not quit so many things at once. I would stop taking one thing at a time, and see how I fared. But I didn’t do that, and as you probably already know, it was too much. I can’t say for certain, but my gut tells me that stopping the antidepressants had a much stronger affect on my body.
Last night, I was sitting at my in-laws dinner table, and I just felt off. I noticed my mother-in-law kind of looking at me with that what’s wrong gaze. Every topic she asked me about I had a negative response. I’ve felt off for the majority of the three weeks. If I had to describe my mood during this time, I could sum it up in one word- irritable. Things that used to roll off my back would cling to my spirit, adding up over the course of the day, erupting in a boil over some minimally annoying occurrence.
You know that line from Say Anything where Lloyd says “Why can’t you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while?” After about 4pm every day, it was impossible. I want to say I have used this quote before in regards to not taking antidepressants. I’d have to go back and read through old blogs to confirm, and who has time for that?
One of my best friends said “No doctor would advise you to quit them all at once. You would taper down.” Of course, I understand this. And I knew there would be a withdrawal. Antidepressants are drugs, very strong drugs. But my plan was to just muscle through it, get through the withdrawal period, and come out bright and shiny on the other side. Not a good plan.
I love the effectiveness of antidepressants, but I hate how easily they are prescribed. I imagine heroine would also improve your mood, but doctors don’t just load up syringes and hand them over to patients with a smile. When I went to my doctor to get back on antidepressants, I tried to have an in depth conversation about the benefits and drawbacks. I have been down the withdrawal road before and didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be on antidepressants forever, so I was reluctant to start them again without giving them some serious thought.
I don’t know how doctors are trained. Maybe if a patient is coming to discuss being depressed your job is simply to get them over being depressed. Maybe the threat of dire consequences is just too great. Maybe they don’t have time to look at things from a perspective of wholeness. But in my experience, the second you mention antidepressants, the notepad is out and the prescription is signed. When I tried to ask about drawbacks, I got brushed back with an “It’s fine. This medication is great. Don’t worry” attitude.
I have had a doctor tell me that if you have a history of chronic depression you should never go off of antidepressants. He said the medication protects your brain from deterioration in specific areas. Which sounds like a no brainer- take the medication. But he defined chronic depression as having at least three serious instances of depression in your life. I don’t know. Maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd. But who hasn’t had three bouts of depression? Is that possible? Do those people exist?
I also struggle because I have been off of antidepressants for years at times, and been really happy and high functioning. So in my mind, if I could get over the dependence on them and regain a natural balance in my body, I wouldn’t need them. But getting over that reliance is much tougher than I thought. Much.
I had headaches for weeks. The irritability. Weight gain. Jesus, the weight gain. I really do believe the body will find a way to balance its needs. Without the relaxation and pleasant atmosphere of drinking and antidepressants, my body went into hyper drive sending signals saying “We need something to boost our mood! We’re not fucking around. Eat those cookies, NOW!” Some people might say “duh, show some will power.” I’m not a big believer in will power. I think it makes us feel blame for our bodies natural reactions. We each have only so much will power, and when its gone, its gone. My bank was on empty. I get that if you have been taking a medication for a long time, it is going to take longer than three weeks for your body to find balance. I just don’t know that I have the patience and drive to make it through that extended period.
Back to the drinking and the sleep aids. One surprisingly positive thing I discovered through this process is that I love natural sleep. I have struggled with sleep for most of my adult life. Part of the reason I would drink at night was to relax and hopefully be able to fall asleep. But being without these chemicals for the last three weeks, my sleep has never been better. Even on the nights where I have had insomnia (and I have had a few of them), when I finally did get to sleep, I felt more rested from a couple of hours than if I had gotten eight hours of Ambien sleep or beer rest. And the dreams. God, I love having dreams. My mind has been doing valuable work in the resting hours. I hadn’t realized how much I was in need of that processing time.
So, what have I learned and where do I go from here? I refilled my Celexa prescription. I was a bit reluctant, but damn, we get one life. I want mine to be happy, and this is just too much right now. I haven’t determined the path for that- am I a lifer in the antidepressant cycle, or will there be a time where I can stop taking them? I don’t know. I do know now is not that time.
I like having a 5pm beer while I make dinner. I like beer. I have a taste for it and enjoy it. And let’s be honest, 5pm is the adult equivalent of the witching hour for many of us. I get irritable. I have a lot going on- dinner, homework, entertaining kids, etc- and I selfishly like having this little treat that makes that time a bit more pleasant. But on most days, I’d like to keep it at that because I really do want to keep this natural sleep thing going. God, I really hadn’t accounted for how much I love and look forward to good sleep and dreaming. I’m hoping by consciously understanding that, when I go to reach for that second 8pm beer, I’ll think twice and and realize what I’m missing out on.
I actually feel pretty good about my drinking. Last year, the thought of giving up drinking occupied a lot of my energy. I was very nervous about it. This year, I made it through about 18 of those days without a real craving. I have a way bigger problem with cupcakes than I do with beer. I have a friend who is always trying to give up sugar and I won’t even contemplate that one. Know thyself.
There you have it. Maybe next year I’ll make it to 22 days. Except if I even mention this next December, I might be in trouble. The friend I’ve done this challenge with the last two years texted me last night as we both caved and said “we’re not even going to think about doing this next year.” Ha! Cheers!