Day 61! Yee Hah!
About 2 weeks into the sobercoaster I discovered Becks Blue 'Alcohol Free' Beer.
Now I've never been a beer drinker. All weak, gassy and full of calories (that's a description of me and the beer, incidentally). I only ever drank beer if I was on one of my many (doomed) attempts to 'moderate'. Wine was my thing.
But when the wine witch strikes, and you need something to stop you killing someone, you have to have coping strategies.
My list includes: (1) Hot bath with bubbles and candles (works well until #1, #2 and #3 pile into bathroom asking for help with homework/whereabouts of favourite toy/refereeing sibling disagreement. (2) Sharing with likeminded friends in the blogosphere (also easily interrupted) (3) Drinking hot chocolate, 'mocktails' or alcohol free beer.
Of the above, the beer option is often the quickest, simplest and most effective antidote. Becks Blue is so like the real thing - it looks the same, tastes the same and smells the same - that I swear the first time I drank one I felt tipsy. It just goes to show how deeply programmed our brains are to equate certain cues with drunkenness.
Then I discovered that 'alcohol free' beers are NOT actually alcohol free. Plus, many experts strongly advise against them on the basis that they can lead to relapse. I freaked out. So I did some investigation.
Becks Blue is, it is true, NOT entirely alcohol free. However, it has only 'trace' elements of alcohol in it. Less than 0.05% ABV. This means that it is impossible to get intoxicated by drinking it. You would have to drink at least one hundred beers in a short space of time to get any effect at all from them.
However, remember that whole dopamine thing I've been obsessed by? Well, tests have shown that, in addicts, even the smell of alcohol, even the thought of alcohol, produces the dopamine reaction in our brains. The danger is, therefore, that drinking AF beer intensifies our cravings and can lead quickly to us reaching for the real thing. We need, the experts say, to get used to living life without any alcohol 'substitutes'.
It's true that drinking AF beer does trigger the old addict responses in me. I start thinking "I'd love a Becks Blue, but I'd better wait until after 6pm. Should I have another one? Hell yes, I deserve it, I've had a hard day...." etc etc, just the way I used to think about wine. But, oddly enough, that's part of the reason it works for me. I've kidded my brain into thinking that it is a proper treat - it is naughty. Much more so than fruity mocktails.
I do realise that I'm keeping the addict voice alive, and that I could be treading a dangerous path, but I've been drinking an average of 8 AF beers a week for the last six weeks and so far it has never triggered the desire to have a 'proper drink'. Quite the reverse - it makes me feel that I have had a proper drink and, therefore, keeps the wine witch off my back for a bit.
Not only that, but Becks Blue has helped me out in social situations too. An old friend of mine, a big drinker, dropped by last week. She and my husband tucked into a bottle of Chablis. Now when I last had a serious go at quitting this friend took it as a personal insult and gave me rather a hard time about it.
Given how rarely I see her (she lives out of town now) I didn't want to ruin both of our evenings with a tense exchange about booze. (I realise that her reaction is indicative of her own issues with alcohol, incidentally). So I quietly poured a Becks Blue into a glass and avoided any interrogation. Simples.
I posted the question "Is AF beer evil?" on the fabulous Soberistas website. I got a really mixed response. Some people said hell yes, do not touch with a bargepole, whereas there were several big fans.
I think that the truth is you have to know your own triggers. I was never a beer drinker, so beer isn't one of mine. I would never consider touching AF wine.
I also feel that, at least in the early stages, you have to love yourself a little, and if that means eating a bit too much chocolate, spending a bit of cash on shoes or drinking a few Becks Blues then so be it. Now that I am a yoda level 'quitter' I can give up all those habits further down the line....
I'd love your views on this one.