Today is July 11 and I have not had a drink in 30 days.
Some of you may know that my mother suffers from advanced dementia and requires round-the-clock care.Â She is on hospice and I have been out on FMLA leave helping with her care (which is why I missed SMACC in Chicago).
This time away from work has allowed me to do some soul searching about life. Life is hard. Working in the emergency services is hard. Being a caregiver is hard. Being a good husband and father is hard.
I was drinking a lot. My mother goes to bed between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. and my Dad and I would sit down at the kitchen table and enjoy a honey whiskey and ginger ale. Mostly it was honey whiskey with a splash of ginger ale. Then we’d split a bottle of wine. My Mom’s illness has been hard on my Dad.
My GERD was getting worse. I was taking Prilosec and Zantac every day. The results of my annual physical came back. My liver enzymes were abnormal. I told myself it was probably from lifting weights.
It was subtle at first. Like tiny little stress fractures you’d need a magnifying glass to see. I think we in the emergency services have very strong coping mechanisms. Maybe we don’t have any choice.
We see abnormal things every day. We deal with people more screwed up than we are. We endure stress. Lots and lots of stress.
I thought to myself, “I should probably cut down on the drinking.” I was forgetting to take care of certain things. I was waking up almost every morning with a hangover. The gutters at my house were overflowing with pine straw. My wife and I were getting on each others’ nerves. She’s in a doctoral program and she’s under a lot of stress, too.
I quit drinking for a few days. I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms. But then maybe I wouldn’t. After all, for the last 18 years I have had to be sober for 24 hours every third day. I went to a firefighter wedding and didn’t drink at all. For the first time I noticed how much people drink at a wedding. My wife and I left early.
Two days later I fell off the wagon and got really drunk at my Dad’s house. I felt bad about it. Not because I think I’m an alcoholic (that’s a whole other topic). Because I failed to do something that I said I was going to do. That bothered me.
The next day I enjoyed a glass of wine with my Dad and announced that I was going to take a 30 day break from drinking. That was June 10. Today marks 30 days. That’s probably the longest I’ve gone without drinking alcohol in 30 years.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last 30 days. I’ve learned that I don’t need alcohol. I like waking up without a hangover. I enjoyÂ having my evenings back. My GERD has mostly resolved and I’m off my medication. I suddenly have a lot more money in my pocket.
I used to think I loved eating out. Now I realize that I went out to have sushi so I could drink saki. I went to an Italian restaurant so I could drink red wine. I went out to my favorite Mexican restaurant so I could enjoy a margarita or two. I’m an expensive drunk!
I don’t know if I’m going to start drinking again or not and it’s not my intention to tell you how to live your life. But I do know a thing or two about the emergency services, stress, and drinking alcohol. Chances are that you know a thing or two about it, too.
Do you recognize yourself in anything I’ve just written? If so,Â I challenge you to take a 30 day break from drinking alcohol.
It won’t hurt you. I promise. It might even help.