Memory Monday: The First Time I Tried Alcohol & How it Affected My Diabetes

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…the first time I drank alcohol and how it affected my diabetes – more specifically, my blood sugars. And that’s right folks, I CAN recall it…fortunately, this experience does not coincide with my first time actually getting drunk.

Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, you won’t recoil in horror while reading this post!!!

My first time drinking alcohol occurred during my first week of college, freshman year. So…college of me.

My freshman year dormitory held fewer than 100 students. Due to the relatively small nature of the building, everyone started bonding and forming friend groups pretty quickly. By the time our first weekend on-campus rolled around, we were all itching to get together, continue to get to know one another, and naturally, drink like delinquents.

I Volunteer To Drink!

That Friday night, I was sitting on the floor of my friends’ dorm room – Emma and Kira had the largest, swaggiest digs in our whole friend group, if not the entire dormitory – when our friend Chris entered, holding a full bottle of grape-flavored Svedka vodka in his hands. I remember him making the rounds, pouring us shots of vodka that we would drink as a group. As he filled shot glasses, I started feeling extremely nervous. I had zero prior experience with alcohol, let alone vodka. So many questions flitted through my mind: Would I feel drunk right away? What was it going to taste like? Does the grape flavor mean that it contains more sugar, and would it make my blood sugar go up?

I barely had time to contemplate answers, though, when people started lifting their shot glasses into the air and toasting the beginning of our college careers. Even though I was sweating bullets, I smiled and cheered along with everyone else as we tossed back our shots…

…which tasted absolutely foul. I’m pretty sure I almost retched, but did what I could to contain myself because I didn’t want to seem like a loser. I’ll never forget thinking to myself, this shit tastes just like how nail polish remover smells. How can people possibly drink and enjoy this?

I sat there, internalizing all my thoughts and feelings about drinking my first shot of alcohol, and just tried to blend in with the group. But it was kind of difficult for me to do, because at some point in the night, my anxious thoughts consumed me and I abstained myself from drinking anything else. I was too caught up in the unknown, and I cared too much about how this one little innocent shot of vodka might impact my diabetes.

As I would come to find out later that night, one shot of vodka had zero-to-no affect on my blood sugars. And of course, in time, my fears about alcohol and my blood sugars faded because I educated myself on how to do it safely. I learned that every type of alcohol has a different carbohydrate content. I discovered what did and didn’t work for me, often in a controlled environment. But I wouldn’t change my first encounter with it at all because the shared experience of drinking shitty grape vodka with this group of strangers, on the first Friday night of college, is one of the many shared experiences that turned them into some of my dearest friends. That, I can raise a glass to…as long as it’s not filled with Svedka anything.

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3 Things I Learned From Giving up Alcohol for Lent

Unless you’re familiar with the Catholic faith, that title probably doesn’t make much sense to you. “Lent” is a period of time – the 40 days before Easter Sunday – in which Catholics traditionally practice penance, prayer, and almsgiving. In addition to avoiding the consumption of meat on Fridays during Lent, it’s also common for observers to give up something in order to focus more energy on acts of kindness and charity.

This year, I decided to give up alcohol.

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All of this, and more, was off limits throughout Lent.

I was inspired by my mom, who has eschewed alcohol during Lent for the last few years. I was a bit hesitant to take on the challenge; after all, I’m a young adult who enjoys going out and drinking every now and then. I wondered how it might affect my social life, and whether I’d experience any heckling or peer pressure from friends. But I was also open to the idea that forgoing alcohol during Lent could benefit me in some ways, so I felt ready to go forward with my plan.

Here’s what I learned from abstaining from alcohol for 40 days:

  1. My blood sugars were a little more predictable/easier to manage. One of my biggest issues with alcohol is that it’s hard to know just how many carbs are in one drink. Beer tends to be higher carb, whereas wine typically contains less. Hard liquor boasts even fewer carbs, but things get tricky when sugary mixers get added to the equation. So when I drink alcohol, I try to prepare myself for any possible scenario that could result from miscalculated carb intakes. But by giving up alcohol during Lent, I didn’t have this problem when I was dining out. I simply had to bolus for the food on my plate and enjoyed worrying less about what my blood sugar would be like later in the evening.
  2. Nobody gave me a tough time over my decision. This was a pleasant surprise, albeit one that I should’ve seen coming. After all, I’m not in college anymore. Peer pressure is practically non-existent in my life these days, and I’m thankful for its absence. If anything, my alcohol avoidance triggered discussions among my friends and colleagues, who generally seemed interested in the concept of giving something up for a length of time.
  3. It reminded me there are other (healthier!) ways to unwind that don’t involve drinking. Obviously, I knew that on a sub-conscious level. But I was automatically encouraged to explore alternative ways to relax after a long day at work. I definitely amped up the amount I exercised, and I probably ate a smidge more dark chocolate (okay, more than that) to reward myself throughout the week. And I didn’t become a shut-in on Friday and Saturday nights like I feared; rather, I participated in all my usual weekend activities, just sans alcohol. A huge plus to this was not having to worry about whacky blood sugars or who would be a designated driver – the safety element made the whole alcohol-avoidance thing much more appealing.

Does this mean that I’m going to avoid drinking alcohol forever now? No, because I still enjoy having a pint of beer, glass of wine, or specialty cocktail at my fancy. But I do feel more empowered to say “no” when I just don’t feel like drinking socially. I also feel good about cutting back on my alcohol intake overall and making a commitment to consciously deciding whether or not I want to drink. I think that my mind, body, and blood sugars will be better off.