Food and drink, Healthy living, reflection, Well-being

Going Cold Turkey

One month ago, on 16th December 2019, I went Cold Turkey on everything.  By everything I mean:

  • Alcohol
  • Processed meat and red meat
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Cake
  • Pastry
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate

Yes, I went Cold Turkey on anything ‘nice’ in the run up to Christmas, but with different degrees of success?

After 1 week I posted a picture of myself on Facebook.  I plan to post weekly then monthly photos of myself over the coming weeks and months, as much as anything as a form of measurement for myself as you how I am doing.  I don’t own a set of scales, so weight isn’t any indication of progress and anyway that’s not what the motivation for doing this is.

As I posted that first photo I had a range of responses including:  giving up everything would be just too boring; why would you give up everything that is nice; why not just over indulge and diet in January.  Here’s the thing, I had over indulged.  We went back to Bristol for the first two weeks of December and by the 15th December I was bedridden, exhausted, in pain, discomfort, unable to function.  Looking back I think I was also coming down with a bit of a bug, but even so, I was in no fit state to continue.  This is not new and this is not unusual; it is something I have managed for as long as I can remember.

Why am I giving up ‘nice’ things?

So, this is how it goes.  We get invited for an evening out.  The day of the evening out I have to sleep in the afternoon in order to have the sheer oomph to get through the evening.  Then I get ready, we go out and ‘sociable Steph’ arrives.  I drink, normally Prosecco or white wine and normally, two or three glasses – I don’t drink vast amounts because of how poorly it makes me. I eat the food: a starter, a main course and a dessert.  We may go on for a night cap after the meal.  Then we go home and go to bed.  Within the hour I am generally back up, feeling uncomfortable and ready to burst.  The discomfort grows and grows over the next few hours until all the food and drink vacates my body by any means at it’s disposal.  Then finally, I go to bed in the early hours of the morning and sleep.  As a consequence I do not function the following day, as I am sleep deprived and sore, my body aches from head to toe.  So, in fact, we have to set aside two days for me to go out for a meal with friends, one day to summon up the energy and one day to recover.  Most people chortle that we have to be home for my husband to have his afternoon nap – in reality I’m the one that does the napping – I’m the one that places limits on what we can do in a day.

Why, might you ask, do I put myself through this?  Because, by and large, this is what is expected.  Because this is what is considered normal.  Because I really don’t want to let people down.  Because, just for that moment in time I can join in.  Because sometimes it just becomes too hard to have to explain.

The problem is, when we went back to Bristol at the beginning of December we did this for 10 nights out of 19.  There weren’t enough ‘off’ days for me to actually recover.  So my body imploded, I was bedridden and I decided, enough was enough. 

A life within limits

Generally, this has been the picture of my life, I went to work, I put all the energy I had into going to work which meant at home I had nothing. I do blame having mumps as a child for leaving me with some fatigue issues.  Back in the 1970’s things like Chronic Fatigue didn’t exist, you just got on with life.   I also tend to avoid labels as to my mind, once you have a label your brain starts to think you are ill, and I don’t want to be going down that rabbit hole!  I have had pockets in my life when it wasn’t like this.  As a student, during which time I was tea-total I was fine, and everybody’s mate as I was a non-drinker in possession of a car!  I had another period of time between 2000 and 2007 when I lived in Stoke-on-Trent and socialised with many like minded people for whom alcohol was irrelevant.  I also exercised regularly and made sure I didn’t allow myself to get stressed, luckily I worked in an environment which was well managed.  I went to a nutritionist and ate a healthy, varied diet which excluded most ‘nice’ foods and I was happy – not 100% healthy but the closest I’ve ever been.

When I moved back to Bristol in 2009, I lost that all important support network, the job I went to was stressful and the school was badly run.  Consequently, I started to make poor choices regarding diet and health, I stopped exercising as regularly and over the years have become less and less like myself.  My social life also changed in Bristol and became more focussed around bars, eating and drinking – but my stressed self enjoyed it, it provided a welcome release from the grind of the day job.  But I was back to sleeping for most of the weekend.  Back to putting all my effort into other people, other things and being a transparent version of myself at home.

So, to December 2019.  Finally I woke up.  Four years ago I gave up work to spend time with my husband, to do our retirement thing, to travel and spend quality time together.  But we haven’t been doing that.  In many respects, and on bad days, my husband has essentially become my carer.  He is the one that gathers me up after we have been out.  The one who has had his sleep disturbed because I’ve been ill throughout the night.  The one that makes all the meals and tries so very hard to make sure they are as healthy as they can be.  The one that turns a blind eye to the messiness of our home because he understands that I just don’t have the energy to tidy up.  The one who does the washing, the ironing, doing as much of the housework that he possibly can, just so that I don’t have to.  The one that pushes me out of the door to exercise as he knows that although I am exhausted it will help me later on in the day.  The one who sits quietly and reads while I sleep during the day, all so that I can go out in the evening and be sociable, to have a drink or two, share a meal and to behave ‘normally’.  

What next?

I don’t want that life anymore.  I want to have the energy to enjoy time with my husband.  I’m tired of using all my energy on other people rather than my marriage. I want to be able to exercise when I’d like, not on the odd day when I actually feel well enough to bother.  I want to go to bed safe in the knowledge that I won’t actually be ill throughout the night.  I know this works, I’ve done it in the past.  I know that eating healthily, and making the best choices I can will enable me to function on a day to day basis.  I owe it to my husband and our retirement to give this my everything as I am tired of missing out on days and opportunities with him to appease others.

It took a good two weeks for me to recover any sense of equilibrium after going cold turkey.  For some reason that I can’t explain on January 1st, 2020, I decided to have a glass of wine.  Maybe because our New Year’s Eve didn’t happen as husband had proper flu.  Maybe it was just because I wanted to see what might happen if I did have that one glass of wine with lunch out with my friend.  It was tragic!  I lost two days as a consequence of that one glass of wine.

I’ve not been perfect this month and I wasn’t successful in giving up sweet treats.  There has been so much chocolate in the house and a friend of ours made us the most beautiful Christmas Cake that just had to be eaten.  I am writing this last part of the blog on the plane from Faro to Bristol, exactly one month from the day I went cold turkey.  My plan for this month is to tackle the sugary snacks and the desserts when we go out for meals.  Quite often in Albufeira, restaurants offer an all in price for 3 courses and it seems a shame not to have the ‘free’ dessert.  I am ready to stop eating them, ready to try cutting them out and see what the effect is.  I think this is my alcohol, I know I am really going to struggle with this, but I have to try.

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