It didn’t take long for me to feel the first health benefits of sobriety.
Thanks to my trusty old SparkPeople account, I know that on the day I quit drinking I weighed a hair over 190lbs.
Exactly one year of sobriety later, I tipped the scale at 138. I felt better, I looked better, I smelled better. My skin was clearer and my eyes brighter.
But, as the saying goes, skin is only skin deep.
One day, a couple of years into sobriety, and not long after I moved to Vegas, I felt a weird throbbing in one of my upper-right molars. At the time I was still hustling to raise money for NSFWCORP so I ignored the pain. I continued to ignore it even as little bits of enamel began chipping away, giving every meal an extra crunch. Only when hole in my molar grew into a crater and I couldn’t sleep without chugging ibuprofen did I finally drag myself to a dentist.
The nice woman in the white coat took a bunch of x-rays and prodded around with a metal spike. She was horrified and thrilled in the way that only a medical professional who gets paid by an insurance company can be.
Given the combination of ten years of passing out on floors and in bathtubs without brushing my teeth, plus a near constant flow of alcohol and mixers, and endless hangover junkfood… it will not surprise you to learn that my dental troubles were not isolated to that one single tooth. In fact, according to my new Vegas dentist, I had a half dozen serious cavities, and half that number again of minor ones. I needed an immediate root canal on the crumbling tooth, and antibiotics to tackle an abscess lurking above a second.
Once the root canal was complete, and a new crown cemented in place, I promised to make the necessary appointments for all the other work.
And then I forgot all about it. I mean, compared to Josh Ellis, I was doing fine.
Same story with doctors. When, during a mandatory contact lens exam, my optometrist noted that I had worryingly elevated blood pressure, he urged me to follow up with my primary care physician. I smiled politely and ignored him. I had no such physician, nor did I especially know where to find one.
Here’s a funny thing about getting sober. For the first few years at least, it made me take the rest of my health less seriously. Having quit the vice that was definitely killing me, I wasn’t going to lose sleep over the ones that only might. Cavities, blood pressure, cholesterol… pft! Why sweat the small stuff? Never mind that the small stuff had been made far worse as a direct consequence of my drinking.
It was only after I moved back to San Francisco – specifically after I moved in with Sarah and the kids – that I started to really fret about my physical state. Kids will do that to you: Make you want to stick around to see them grow up.
It was Sarah who first convinced (dared) me to try Soul Cycle as a way to kickstart my cardio-vascular rehabilitation. This was after I’d already lost all that weight; after I’d already told myself I was in tip-top shape. Five minutes into my first class, I wasn’t just out of breath. Somehow I had negative breath. I was only able to stop my heart from exploding by taking all the resistance off the bike and spending the rest of the class just trying to turn my legs roughly in time with the other riders. Even so, I could barely move for a week afterwards.
It was in that first fitness class that I first truly understood the difference between being skinny and actually being healthy. A subsequent trip to the doctor’s office (my first in at least a decade) reinforced this: Even at ~140lbs, my blood pressure was still too high, as was my “bad” cholesterol. God only knows what state my heart and liver were in.
Probably roughly the same state as my teeth. By the time I found a dentist in San Francisco, having ghosted my Vegas dentist all those years earlier, my half dozen cavities of varying sizes had now grown to almost a dozen. And my gums! Yeesh!
I spent the best part of the next two years in and out of the (new) dentists chair, as he worked his way slowly around first my upper jaw then my lower until finally I had no cavities, no bleeding gums and had come to understand the joys of flossing. In other words, until my teeth no longer looked like those of a British alcoholic and more like those of an American former alcoholic.
Amazingly, I returned to Soul Cycle. A lot. We even bought a Peloton for the house. The result? Earlier this year I had to undergo a barrage of medical tests for my green card application. Then I had to do even more tests for my new life insurance policy.
The tests confirmed what I suspected/hoped: I’m in the best shape of my life. My blood pressure is exactly where it should be, my cholesterol levels are great. My cardio vascular system is a well oiled (oxygenated?) machine. Better still, thanks to all that bloody cycling, my resting heartbeat is officially in the “athlete” range.
I mention all of this not to sound like one of the insufferable American health-nut wankers I used to mock – and definitely not as an ad for ludicrously overpriced spin classes – but rather to make two points:
1) Sobriety does not equal good health. Quitting drinking is just the first step. The real work comes next: Fixing all the damage you’ve done to yourself, physically, emotionally, socially and professionally. It will take a shit load of time and effort and (thank you American healthcare system) probably a decent chunk of money.
2) If someone who abused his body as much as I did can get in shape for the first time in his life, age 35, then almost anyone can.
Tap it back!