Living with a partner in recovery, discussion of my oft wayward drinking habits has become an almost nightly ritual around our dinner table. And that is just fine by me, as she does keep me in check, and her regular finger-wavings are sobering in every which way.
At her request, I have maintained two consecutive or non-consecutive dry days a week, with nary a dalliance over the past five years or so. I don’t find this a difficult proposal really, the only real challenge being working those two dry days into my schedule of tasting obligations and the like. If am ever to skip a day without alcohol it has more to do with forgetfulness than anything else, or because I didn’t plan out my week well enough. I know that this hardly makes me any kind of Soberhero, but in my line of work, true sobriety is hardly an option, nor would I ever wish it to be.
Having not taken a real extended break from alcohol for quite some time (perhaps 20 years or so), the occurrence of some minor surgery earlier this month inspired me to go into full detox for a few weeks, but I wasn’t going to make a big deal about it: not broadcasting this endeavour to all and sundry, and none of that virtue-signalling social media bullshit. I’d mention it to my wife in passing, but otherwise I’d be accountable to no-one but myself.
What with Beau’s Oktoberfest at the end of the month (where Malcolm and I will be both presenting seminars AND DJing. no less!), followed by a trip back to Scotland for my 30th high-school school reunion and to celebrate the season finale of the United Kingdom, I felt that it was most likely a prudent decision to give my poor organs a bit of respite. And so began my sojourn into the sober life…
Admittedly an enthusiastic imbiber at the heavier end of the spectrum, I was no stranger to what is occasionally referred to as hangxiety, nor the frustrating insomnia that is a regular occurence at the very tail end of two sequential days of drying out. But nothing could have prepared me for the horrors of a full on detox, and the realisation that I was perhaps much more dependent upon booze than I was willing to admit.
I’m currently on day 12 of however many days I choose to extend this self-imposed/no-pressure exercise by, and I will be totally honest and tell you that I have not once craved a drink over this period. The closest to any kind of desire for alcohol would be reading an article about Beaujolais and remembering how much pleasure I get from the pepperiness and crunchiness of great, chilled Gamay, and instantly the aromatics were filling my olfactory cavity. Did I pine to repeat this experience? Perhaps a little, but I’m not sure if that counts as craving.
I think it was the customs that had unknowingly become habitual that I found most disconcerting: Walking back from swimming lessons with our son, and without consciously thinking about it finding myself at the entrance to the LCBO, where I would most usually pick up 8 – 10 cans of beer on a regular weekday evening. That probably made me think about where I was with this drinking lark more than anything, well, apart from P.A.W.S., that is.
After four nights of sobriety I started to sweat, which was extremely odd as I rarely sweat.
Now these weren’t the usual hot summer night in Toronto sweats with one’s AC not quite doing the best job on the top floor of the house… Nope.
I am talking about some serious sheet-drenching, stain-your-bedclothes-and-mattress, partner-and-child-look-at-you-with-utter-revulsion sweats. And here’s the thing… each night they got increasingly worse… and worse.
Peak night sweats were at the nine day mark. And it was truly awful.
P.A.W.S. (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) are a cluster of symptoms that occur when one goes cold turkey from taking an addictive substance (in my case: alcohol). One of the most common of the chronobiological effects is night sweats. That morning at 4.45am when I was staring at the ceiling, having wondered for for just a millisecond upon waking “Did I possibly piss the bed? Please say I didn’t!”*, utterly disgusted by my sweaty self, wife and son having sought the merciful sanctuary of the child’s bed in the next room, really got me thinking about my constant weekly intake of alcohol and how that was having a serious impact upon my metabolism.
Studies show definite links between drinking and the regulation of the body’s daily biological, or circadian, rhythms that regulate sleep and activity, body temperature, hormone secretions, and essentially all other important physiological and behavioral processes. It’s also been shown that alcohol can produce antidepressant like effects on the circadian pacemaker, and this, combined with booze’s impact on one’s neurochemical systems mean that sudden alcohol withdrawal for the heavier drinker can mean a whole load of quite serious metabolic problems. And for me P.A.W.S. meant absolutely insane nocturnal vasodilation.
And so, come the night, like some supernatural creature, I turned into the sweatiest of sweaty bastards.
Thankfully these after-dark emissions have now subsided, but a good friend, who I’ll politely refer to as a learned old soak, informed me that one can get a pretty good idea of the severity of one’s alcohol dependence by the date of the peak night sweats. He told me the usual is around about a week.
I have made a solemn promise to my family to replace all of our bedclothes come the Black Friday sales.
And I may well incinerate the old ones.
*The author would like to note here that he hasn’t wet the bed in well over 40 years. Just for the record.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And yes, I’m going to have to work on this as I’m not getting any younger.