In early 2012 the company I worked for was sold. I’d been very happy there but the new owner destroyed the place and the stress was intense. Most nights I lay awake half the night.

I’d tried Ambien for sleep when I went through my divorce. That stuff was scary. 30 minutes after I took it I’d pass out, and eight hours later I’d suddenly come to — but I felt more tired than before. I’m pretty sure I was lying awake all night in an unaware state until the Ambien wore off.

This time the doctor tried a couple other common sleep medications that didn’t work. Finally he prescribed Trazodone, a drug originally used to treat depression but which is so sedating that today it is most often prescribed for sleep. It worked great, except that if I took it more than two nights in a row it slowed my digestion to a stop. A man’s gotta poo, so I stopped using it.

My favorite sippin' glass

I forget who mentioned that a healthy shot of whiskey at bedtime did the trick when they had insomnia. I like whiskey, so I gave it a try. I’d stretch out on the couch with my glass and sip it slowly while I watched something inane on TV, and most nights I’d be asleep within an hour.

At first I used whiskey only when I couldn’t sleep naturally. But within a couple years this ritual became a nightly, guilty pleasure, even when I was going to have no trouble sleeping. It was quiet, contemplative personal time.

With the difficulties my family has lived through these last few years, however, I couldn’t sleep at all without a pour, or sometimes two. Then last year after I lost my job, two pours became three, or even four — whatever it took to knock me out. The more I drank, the less restfully I slept. Sometimes I woke up with a start in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall asleep again.

By the first of this year I knew that alcohol had become a harm rather than a help. I mentioned it in my annual New Year’s post that I planned to quit using whiskey as a sleep aid.

I had cut back to a couple drinks a week until we discovered the foundation issues at our rental house. If that were the only thing that had gone seriously wrong for us over the last few years it would have been challenging enough. But given everything else, I felt like I was drowning. My anxiety went through the roof, I was unable to sleep, and in desperation I went right back to several drinks a night.

I kept this up until Easter weekend when I realized I felt terrible and it was directly caused by the alcohol. So I quit cold turkey.

It’s interesting to notice how my mind and my body are responding differently to not drinking. My mind doesn’t mind at all! When I made the logical connection between alcohol and how bad I was feeling physically, my mind changed instantly.

My body, however, has become habituated to its nightly pours. At first, it asked plaintively every night if I’d satisfy its desire. It’s not every night anymore, but it’s any night I have any anxiety at bedtime.

Thanks to having practiced meditation off and on since I was in my 20s, I have decent skills at noticing a feeling, sitting with it, and not acting. I wish I could meditate the anxiety away, though. I’ve never figured that one out.

Without alcohol to obliterate the anxiety, I hardly slept that first week. I was a zombie at work! But my baseline anxiety has lessened, and I sleep through the night most nights now. I wake tired, but I think it’s because I’m still exhausted from having run this marathon of the last few years at a 5K pace.

Booze free, I’m fascinated by how clearly I think and how emotionally resilient I am. The alcohol was stunting both mind and emotions. I still have a long road ahead regaining my rest and strength after the last few years of difficulty, but cutting out alcohol has let me jump way ahead in that recovery.

I expect that at some point I’ll realize my body hasn’t craved liquor for some time. When that happens I’ll take my wife out for a drink and see how it goes. I like whiskey a lot and I hope to find an appropriate and pleasurable place for it in my life. But I’ll not let it control me again. If it won’t stay in the box I make for it, I’ll teetotal forever.


32 responses to “Teetotaling”

  1. Sam Avatar

    Congrats Jim! I didn’t know you drink man! Do you smoke cigarettes? I was in Ambien at one point too scary stuff as you say! I was never much of a drinker but I used to smoke. I’m glad I quit.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have been a drinker since I was in college. A light, occasional drinker until the time of this story. But I’ve never smoked. My whole family did when I grew up and I hated it, so I’ve never done it.

  2. J P Avatar

    I have noticed for years that after even one drink in the evening I don’t sleep as soundly and that I will feel noticably more sluggish in the morning.
    Like you, it turns out that I love the idea of a drink in the evening more than I love the actuality of it. I am trying to drop a few pounds right now and that evening cocktail has gone from one or rarely two a week to none.

    I drank way too much in my student years and since beginning the”real life” phase of life have been on a long downward trend in alcohol consumption.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes! It wasn’t this way for me just 10 years ago but it is now. It’s not really worth it. I need my mind to be sharp for work.

      I didn’t drink too much in the student years — there were a couple memorable incidents but I was largely sober. It’s only been in the last 7 years that I’ve been a drinker.

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    My parents were never “drinkers”: we never had that beer refridge in the basement like most of my friends did. My parents did both have a Manhattan every night when they got home from work; a civilized way to “knock off the dust”. I went through the usual college and post-college drinking, again mostly mixed cocktails: beer makes me sleepy, but to this day, really don’t have any booze in my house, maybe Manhattan makings around Christmas…

    I find out that the older I get, the more that the results of even one cocktail have negative effects on my sinuses, which manifests itself as a bad sinus headache. Better just not to have it around…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The consensus seems to be that serious drinking is a younger man’s game. Maybe I should be happy to leave it to them.

  4. Dan James Avatar

    Jim, a very brave and starkly honest post to write, kudos for that.

    I’ve never touch cigarettes or drugs, and very rarely drink, perhaps a sip of champagne at a social event or a mulled wine at Christmas. With all of these things (coffee/caffeine comes in this group too) I’m just too scared of getting hooked, so I’ve kept well clear.

    Very glad to hear you’re coming through and how much better you feel because of it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I do like my whiskey. Here’s hoping that when I try it again, it stays in its proper place in my life. The clear head I’ve regained is pretty wonderful and I’m not sure I want it to go away.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        That can’t be a coincidence. I’m confident you’ll find a way to enjoy your whiskey on your own terms.

  5. DougD Avatar

    Yup, I can see that. Mrs DougD and I have found that even two drinks at night makes us fuzzy headed in the morning, and who has time for that?

    So I’ll stick with one on some evenings. My drinking philosophy is that I don’t want to screw it up, because I like it too much. I also have the example of my alcoholic cousin, who just got out of 6 month rehab and went straight back to it in a big way. He has now lost everything but his life, and I think he’s going to lose that too. :(

    Anyway, someday we’ll have that one drink be it a Scotch or herbal tea or whatever…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The fuzzy head in the morning was a sneaky one for me. I didn’t realize how fuzzy I was until I stopped drinking and my mind slowly cleared. Wow, what a difference. The fuzzy head isn’t worth it.

      I’m sad for your cousin.

      We’ll connect one day I’m sure!

  6. Olli Thomson Avatar

    I still enjoy an evening tipple of whisky three or four nights a week. I’ve discovered the secret of never becoming dependent is to develop a liking for whisky so expensive that you can’t afford more than one a night! All of my whisky is malt from Scotland or Japan, none of it cheap so I always feel like each glass is a rare treat.

    When I visited Islay a few years ago to tour the many distilleries on the island our host at the B&B we stayed out did the rounds of the breakfast room each morning with a couple of bottles of whatever he had to hand from the local distilleries. I had never considered whisky a breakfast drink but it does go a treat with kippers and scrambled eggs.

    It was a nice holiday indulgence but not one I continued. Living an expat life as I do the one thing that keeps me from getting dependent on alcohol is seeing how many of my fellow expats end up exactly that way, where their social life revolves entirely around a lot of drinking. I see what they become when they’ve been indulging and it’s not pretty.

    I hope you find your way back to enjoying a drop from time to time.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I noticed how the more I was drinking, the more I was reaching for the $25 bottle rather than the $60 bottle! Perhaps when I try again with the whiskey I’ll follow your lead and go for the really expensive stuff so my miserly ways compel me to keep it to one pour.

  7. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    I’m sorry hearing about your struggle and I hope you fight and find your way out of this mess.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure I will! Thanks for your encouragement.

  8. M.B. Henry Avatar

    A very brave decision and a very brave post! Congrats :) I’m glad you’re starting to feel better already. Insomnia can be a total bear, I hope that starts going better too!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      They say nobody changes until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. I reached that point.

      1. M.B. Henry Avatar

        That is a very powerful truth!

  9. k7sz Avatar

    WOW! I don’t even know where to start, Jim. I have been alcohol free since Jan 2nd 2019/ Quit cold turkey. I have been suffering from chronic/severe back pain and had been on several narcotics over the years with very little pain relief. Finally, last August I quite the Oxycontin and went back to asprin and an occasional muscle relaxer at night to get some sleep.

    I love Irish whiskey (even though I’m of Scots ancestry). I started using alcohol in place of pain meds and that went no where fast. Finally decided to get off the booze and I really have noticed a trememdous difference in my moods, my energy levels, and my desire to get out of bed and actually do something.

    I have started taking images again after several years hiatus. I shoot both film (Nikon F4, Nikon FG, Nikkormat FTn) and digital (Nikon D-709S & D-90). We just returned from the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina where I shot a lot of digi pix. Recharged my photo batteries!

    Keep up the great blog.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I really feel for you with your back pain. My wife seriously injured her back in 2017 and was unable to do anything but lie on her back for about four months. Her agony was palpable and now anytime I hear of anyone with back pain I have some idea what that’s all about. I hope you find good relief.

    2. Melissa Selena Avatar

      Have you tried CBD oil? I haven’t yet but a friend of mine recommended it for chronic back pain. She said pain meds never worked for her, the only thing that’s made a difference is CBD.

  10. traveller858 Avatar

    Wow Jim. That sure is some post. It seems that you have made tremendous progress over the past months. I wish you well for the future. Stay in charge of yourself.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much Barry. I think I nipped this in the bud before it became a much more serious problem.

  11. Melissa Selena Avatar

    Wishing you all the best on this new journey, Jim :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Melissa! So far so good.

  12. Khürt Williams Avatar

    Wow! Congratulations.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you!

  13. Photo A Day Avatar

    Peace be with you. Know that your work here inspires at least me. Knowing you are doing it through some struggles makes it even more inspiring.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you! But which of us isn’t struggling with something most of the time?

  14. Victor Villaseñor Avatar
    Victor Villaseñor

    Stay strong Jim!

    Thanks for teaching me another odd word (Teetotalism).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a great word!

  15. Photo A Day Avatar


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