We are now a week and a half past the end of the Beer Fast. I had thought on Day 14 that the big gift of the fast was about discipline, about practice, and about emptiness. Those were certainly gifts and this quote from Father Tom Ryan certainly still resonates:
“The primary reason for self-denial is the call to liberating transcendence of the thousand little threads of our attachments that make a rope and bind us.”
But now with my 10 days of perspective on the experience that I started nearly a month ago, I see something different. I see that I was in a pretty dark place before the fast. Not a very deep depression, but certainly wading through my fair share of challenges. Or maybe it was a pretty significant depression for me, considering how happy I am generally in life. In the days of breaking the fast, first with just fruit and liquids, and moving steadily toward my normal pre-fast diet, the change in my mood is remarkable. I am much higher energy and higher spirits. (Heh!)
Over the course of the two weeks without food, my body consumed some energy material it had been storing. I lost 14 pounds. While I have probably gained almost all of that back in the one week of eating food since then (did I mention that our excellent chef for the summer has arrived?), the remarkable difference in my emotional state that came about as a result of the fast has persisted. Liz commented to me how undeniable the change in my mood from pre-fast to post-fast is. Not that I was so cheery during the fast. I was, certainly at the beginning, even more down than I had been. I cried in bed almost every night the first half of the fast. I let it all come up. I sat in the sadness. And it feels as though a lot of that sadness was physically stored in the 14 pounds that left me. I feel lighter. I have the energy to make jokes. I make more eye contact with people. Yesterday I was dancing in the kitchen. Charles walked in and asked if I wanted him to put on some music. I was happy to dance with or without music.
Why is the concept of emotions being stored in the body so difficult for me to accept? I totally get that stress is stored in the body. I have the knots in my shoulders to prove it (though those have also improved with the fast). I find the connection between stress and ulcers and hypertension and heart disease all undeniable. So why is the step to sadness living in my belly fat such a hurdle for me?
I don’t know. What I do know is that I feel a lot better. I’m grateful for that.
Another notable exception in my return to normal ingestion is that still I am unable to drink any beer. Or really any alcohol. I love the idea of drinking a beer, but if I actually smell one, my stomach turns and any consideration of lifting it to my lips evaporates. Last night I took a sip of wine and immediately gave the rest of the glass away. Later, in the spirit of celebration, I tried a splash of whisky and my stomach was in knots for hours afterward. It’s fascinating. I have so much affection for beer, but it’s a fascinating experience to find myself unable to take physical pleasure in consuming it.
I have been taking enormous pleasure in sitting around with my beloved Artmonks and newly-arrived Artmonks-in-Residence. I am very happy to feel more fully present in the circle. I have been taking remarkable pleasure in eating anything and everything. I have also been taking just as much pleasure in hanging with the my community members while they imbibe and I sip on good old fashioned water. The only resistance or disappoint or rub is in the habit of drinking together. There is some small question in my mind — am I fully participating in this experience? Am I going to get bored? Or sleepy? But I am fully participating. The jokes are just as funny for me and I am less sleepy than I would be. There is no disconnection created in my alcohol abstinence. The only rub is missing the actual habit.
Why would I miss that?
So how long will this go on? Will I never drink alcohol again? Would that matter? Will my energy and mood stay bright?
My plan is to ride this wave to shore. If I start drinking again, fine. If not, also fine.
In the meanwhile, I will do my best to keep aware of what I’m doing and how it feels.