I’m sitting across from my GP. He’s the person, who six years ago listened, like really listened, to me for the first time about my life with Hashimotos. We’re a health partnership. He’s thorough. He doesn’t just write a script and tell me I should be feeling ok when I’m not.
I’m here for my routine appointment following a routine blood test. I have them about three-four times a year. We chat about the previous three months since COVID and how strange it’s been. He asks how I’ve coped and I say, “pretty well, all things considered”. Yes, my adrenals had copped a pounding in those early weeks of business survival and exhaustion followed but right then, in his surgery, I was feeling pretty good.
The blood test results told a different story. My liver was not feeling good at all. It was screaming at me and I hadn’t been listening.
Turns out I am a COVID statistic … one of the 20% who had been drinking more than usual during the lockdown. Not only did I laugh along with the memes as I mindlessly scrolled Instagram, it turns out I was living the memes, congratulating myself if I managed two alcohol-free days in a week. 🤦♀️
What started as a way to punctuate the working-from-home day, a way to “lighten” the massive load I suddenly felt I was under, quickly became an (almost) daily drinking habit. I wasn’t bingeing every night but the one or two glasses of wine was more than my liver and body could handle.
Linda – the affectionate name I christened my hardworking liver had had enough. And rightly so. You see, back in my early 20s she suffered when I got a particularly nasty strain of glandular fever … and she’s never really been the same since. Add in the subsequent thyroid condition of 20-plus years and now peri-menopause … well, Linda found herself limping through the COVID lockdown.
When my GP delivered the news that Linda was far from happy and matter-of-factly said, “don’t drink alcohol for the next three-four weeks and we’ll test again”, I nodded, partly in shock and partly in gratitude for someone telling me deep down what I knew I needed to hear.
That was more than five weeks ago.
And Linda is still not 100%.
I’m a COVID drinking statistic
Why am I sharing this when it could open me up to ridicule at best; trolling at worst? (you may not be surprised to hear that the Internet is not all sh*&ts and giggles at the moment!)
I’m sharing because if I’m a part of this COVID statistic, I know I’m not alone. Most people just don’t have a “failed” blood test to prove it.
This blog is also a space where I’ve made no secret of my love of a Champagne, gin or an espresso martini. My love is still there. It runs deep. Those drinks just don’t love me – or Linda – right now. I’m being honest with myself and I need to be honest with you too.
I’m also sharing my experience because I’m human. I’m just another woman trying to press pause or stop a drinking habit – something that’s not necessarily easy.
Physically, I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult (I didn’t suffer any withdrawal symptoms). Mentally, however, it’s been a challenge to deal with the disappointment and loss of not socialising like I’d previously socialised – even if said socialising was simply enjoying a wine with my husband at home.
What helped me?
✔️ When someone tells me to follow a rule, I generally do. That helped.
✔️ I’m an “all in” kind of person. If I’m going to commit to something, I generally do. That helped.
✔️ I’m someone who’s easily distracted, think binge-watching a TV series as a nightly treat. That helped.
✔️ I managed to convince my husband that if my liver was shot, there was a fair chance his was too and he joined me, abstaining for the first two of the weeks. That helped.
✔️ I’m a researcher from way back. The journalist in me took a deep dive into finding alcohol-free alternatives to put in a “nice” glass. That really helped.
Spoiler alert: there’s alcohol-free wine in that glass
Are alcohol-free alternatives for you?
This is what I’ve had the most questions about since talking to friends and family about my abstinence. I know alcohol alternatives are not for everyone – and can be as triggering as alcohol for some. My friend Shanna from Sober in the Country opened my eyes to this. Read more about this HERE.
I also know they may not be for everyone because I was one of those people who previously thought “why bother?” when it came to drinking a beverage that provided the taste of alcohol without the alcohol. Just have sparkling water and a slice of lime, I thought.
Turns out I bother a lot – and too much sparkling water becomes pretty boring over the course of a nice dinner out.
The discovery of good alcohol-free alternatives was something that helped me get through my first Friday night, my first weekend and my first holiday without alcohol. These situations are triggers for my love of booze. They’re the times I associate with “rewarding” myself for working hard, for getting through the week, for getting through many weeks.
By finding good alcohol-free substitutes, I was able to enjoy the social-ness of those times without a part of my brain thinking I was missing out. It was mind trickery really but it worked. For me.
Around the same time as my elevated liver enzymes diagnosis, I was scrolling Instagram and came across my friend Sarah Connelly’s story on her new-ish Instagram account, @sober_sommelier. I’d already made a few online alcohol-free or “AF” purchases but I’ve since discovered more gems thanks to Sarah, through her blog and a recent meet-up.
AF drinks I recommend
This is far from an extensive list but these have been great discoveries for me. They’ve enabled me to continue the “ceremony” part of what was my social alcohol habit – something that I realised was a big part of why I would have a drink.
I’ve bought either online direct from the makers, Dan Murphys, The Local Larder, Craft Zero, Sans Drinks or AlcoFree. My local Liquorland also has a small selection. Some supermarkets sell alcohol-free Peroni and Heineken beer, which my husband gives a big tick to.
Brunswick Aces: this is a Melbourne distillery that also makes alcohol-free gin. I like both varieties available and have just been adding soda water and a slice of lime to them so as to better taste the botanticals.
Lyre’s crafted non-alcoholic spirits: my pick is the Italian Spritz. Just add soda water and a slice of orange and it could be the real thing … and you could be on the Amalfi Coast. Well maybe not that bit because of travel bans and all that.
Richard Juhlin Blanc De Blancs: I was served this French sparkling (pictured below) at the @sober_sommelier meet-up at The Local Larder in Ashgrove and it’s become a staple in my fridge. It really does taste, if not like the real deal, then close enough for me.
Lussory Zero Brut: This is a Spanish AF sparkling but it could easily pass for a Prosecco. Value for money and tastes so close to the real deal. Available at AlcoFree, where you’ll also find a wide selection of AF offerings.
Maggie Beer Sparkling Ruby Cabernet: This was a surprise and the convenience of the piccolo bottle was perfect for a Friday afternoon treat.
Domaine de la Prade organic Merlot/Shiraz: I love a red wine in winter and this one and the cab sav below are now faves. There is a sweeter finish to the palette but it’s not overly so as to ruin the experience completely.
Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon: this is a little heavier but still a great steak accompaniment at any time of year.
Domaine de la Prade Chardonnay: I know Chardonnays in general are having their time in the sun again and I am really enjoying this AF alternative.
Natureo .5% low alcohol Rose: Regular Rose and I don’t often get along but stack this one with ice in a big wine glass and it’s very much an all-dayer!
I’ve found a great selection available at new start-up Sans Drinks.
Giesen 0% Sauvignon Blanc: this was released in August this year and has gone gangbusters. It’s sweeter than the real thing but I love it with ice and a dash of soda water. Available at selected bottle shops too.
Altina Drinks … as recommended by so many are just wonderful and I’ve always got a stock in the fridge.
Seedlip non-alcoholic spirits and pre-mixers … again a big recommendation from so many and I absolutely love them. Even if you’re looking for a new mixer for your regular G&T, do try the Spice94 + Grapefruit tonic.
AF drink options in restaurants
Australian restaurants typically offer sickly sweet cocktails or nothing at all on their wine lists but that’s slowly changing. Can you believe in London there are whole bars dedicated to AF drinks?
If you know of other restaurants offering AF selections, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.
What now for me?
I’m still under my GP’s orders to stay mostly alcohol-free. The enzyme levels have improved but one of them is still outside of the range it should be. So, this is my life, for the foreseeable future and/or forever. I really don’t know.
My initial aim was to break the COVID habit and let my liver recover. When we achieve that, Linda and I will come to a new mutual, long-term suitable arrangement with my GP. I’m not sure what that looks like as yet but I know I’m in a better head space to make good health decisions.
I truly do believe good health is key to living a great life. While I may not have been drinking at excessive levels when compared with others, they were excessive for me.
Please remember, like any time I write about any aspects concerning my health, it’s not meant as guidance for YOUR health. It’s a sharing of my experience. Please do chat to your GP if you’re ever concerned about any niggling physical or mental issue you might have. It’s always your best first step. If anything I’ve written about has triggered anything for you in relation to alcohol, please seek out support via one of the agencies listed HERE.