Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

First the smoking. Now the drinking? Don’t you dare touch my coffee!

I’m giving up the drink. You know, the beverages of alcohol variety. (I can hear my sister laughing and she lives miles away.) No, really, I am. Like the cigarettes some 30 years ago there comes a time when your vices, as much as you love them and think you need them to enjoy life, post signs in your head. RED, NEON and FLASHING signs, warning you to, “stop the insanity!” I’ve been trying to go teetotal for a while now but it’s been difficult. I’m having a hard time breaking the habit of 30 years whilst living with someone who still enjoys his nightly G&Ts. He’s British. That’s what they do.

The experience of trying to break free from alcohol is sort of like getting back together with a “bad boy” boyfriend. You know deep down he’s bad for you but you keep going back to him anyway. Eventually, after playing out the vicious cycle of reconciling too many times over too many years, you know you have to leave him for GOOD.

I knew this sad day would come. Sad not because I’m suffereing from an alcohol induced disease. No, thank goodness. My health is fine in a menopausal sort of way and I am grateful. Grateful for good health. Not grateful for the menopause which is the crux of the problem.

I’m really sad, and pissed off, because I like drinking. I enjoy all sorts of alcoholic drinks and have for a good long time. “Margaritas” are my favourite! “MD 20/20” not so much. Too much of the fortified wine during my high school days to make me sick and put me off it for life. Apparently that is the Urban dictionary’s definition of “the drink” — An alcoholic drink that you drank too much of, or that just didn’t agree with you, which makes you so sick you vomit. Once recovered, you never want to drink that drink again or even smell it. I didn’t care about the MD. Who really drinks Mad Dog after high school anyway? It’s one of those high school rites of passage drinks like Boones Farm Strawberry Hill wine where I come from.

My friends and I drank cheap bottles of wine very quickly when were teenagers in the 80’s. Not because we enjoyed the taste so much but just for the sole purpose of the buzz and the goofy things we used to do when we got a little tipsy. We tolerated the fortified fruit juice for a few years because it was full of sugar, went down a treat and cost less than a fiver per bottle. But due to the wicked combination of its high sugar content, alcohol and speed at which it was drunk, it wouldn’t take long, especially on a hot summer’s night, before one of us was sick all over the back seat of our parent’s car.

Most recently, I’ve given up Campari, vermouth and gin, “Negronis” for the same reason. One too many during my Christmas holidays (even though it was just the two). Icky dick, sick. But fortunately for me, and my mom’s car, I could be sick in the comfort of my own bathroom. Ugh.

I’ve become a lightweight drinker in my older age. By lightweight I mean how much I drink; one or two G&Ts or glasses of nice wine, and how often I have them; once or twice on the weekend. I don’t drink at all during the week.

But I also mean my body feels “lighterweight”. Its density is somehow different at 56 then it was at 46. It has changed to the point that it no longer allows me to drink even the slightest bit of alcohol without some discomfort and repercussion for days after. This is where the menopause creeps in to my story and makes a damn nuisance of itself. I was dealing with my midlife crisis pretty well until it showed up and started messing with my sleep and my head, like the previous boyfriend.

I sleep uncomfortably most nights if I sleep at all. It doesn’t matter how tired I am when I go to bed. I may fall asleep within an hour but then wake up at least 3 times a night and quite often to get up to go to the toilet to empty my bladder. Did you know that during menopause the tissues in a women’s urethra loses its elasticity and the bladder lining thins?

Then there’s the tossing and turning in bed. Feeling uncomfortable in one position then trying to get comfortable in another. Praying that I can find the perfect position to induce sleep. I’m quite certain the only possible place it exists is on a fluffy cloud bed floating up in the atmosphere in another galaxy far far away.

Anxiety follows my sleeplessness like another cloud; a big grey one hanging over my head. I lie in bed and pass the time thinking about the future — Everyones. In the whole wide world. I can’t decide if the anxiety is a symptom of lack of sleep, or my worry about my lack of sleep and the effect it will have on me the next day. Throw in a hot flush or 5 and that’s how I spend most of my nights.

Now pour one equal UK measure of gin down my clack and my menopausal sleeping madness is magnified times five.

Can alcohol affect menopause symptoms?

A number of habits can affect the frequency and severity of menopause symptoms. Alcohol appears to be one of them. As women age, they become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol on the body. According to Healthline, this is because a woman’s cartilage and tendons lose water as she ages, which causes her body to hold less water. The more water in one’s body, the better the body can dilute alcohol.

The effects of alcohol affect women more than men because they are usually smaller than men. This means they absorb alcohol more quickly. Women also have less of a certain enzyme in their stomach than men. As a result, their bodies cannot handle alcohol as well.

Alcohol can affect the menopausal symptoms in different ways. Some women find they are happier, while others feel more depressed. Certain women say that their hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia become worse.

I’ve never lived in the land of Nod or even slept there. Rest assured (ha!) with alcohol in my system, at this stage of my life anyway, I never will. Waking up feeling deprived of sleep feels worse than a hangover. Sort of like a zombie stumbling around in circles in a foggy boggy woodland damned to inhabit this strange dreary bleak misty grey land, sleep walking, forever.

Yep, insomnia sucks. It can lead to depression on its own. Drinking alcohol during the menopause can lead to all types of disease which may coincide with the already exisiting insomnia: stroke, heart disease, cancer, liver disease, increase risk of osteoporosis. But did you know that sleep deprivation can kill you over time and can lesson the longevity of a women’s life by a number of years?

“Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new connections and helps memory retention. Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally. It can also dramatically lower your quality of life. A review of 16 studies found that sleeping for less than 6 to 8 hours a night increases the risk of early death by about 12 percent.” (Healthline)

That’s a scary statistic. I prefer to not die sooner, but later. And if I have any control over it and what is going on with the chemicals in my body and their reactions to what I injest, then I have to act appropriately and maturely. Don’t I? Who knew changing depleting hormones could wreak such havoc in women’s lives. Having to give up your vices to function normally everyday. Having to choose to give up drinking for better quality sleep. Damn!

I’m grateful that I still have the intuitive ability to listen to my body when it speaks to me, the freedom to choose what it needs to make it healthier and the inner strength to give up a 30 year habit.

I don’t need alcohol to have a good time. I never did. No one does. I just liked it and the way it used to make me feel at certain times, occasions and celebrations throughout my life. I will miss it like I miss the cigarettes. But I enjoy so many more things now, in this stage of life, and I will continue to enjoy them without it. Maybe even more so. Writing is one thing. Playing the guitar is another. Will giving it up make me a better writer or guitar player? I doubt it. Practice at both could probably do that. But I need to be awake for it. Where’s my coffee?

An American expat funny mum of twin teens scribing vibes while growing older gratefully.