24,000 FEET -- For 2 1/2 months, since I moved to Grand Bahama, my life has been controlled and sheltered. Gluttony and Sloth, former friends, haven't seen much of me. Insecurity, an acquaintance, has been pretty much kept at bay. I've been safe, others shoring me up and keeping me from temptation.

Leaving the island without my trainer, in the company of strangers concerned only about their hangovers and sunburn, is therefore both tempting and discomfiting. Airplanes serve "real" food. Junk food. No one up here tells me to avoid butter or select baked chicken oner greasy, tasty stew, and not a soul acts like the dessert is anything but healthful.

Even the coffee wants to seduce me. For 2 1/2 months I have avoided my usual six cups, drinking hot apple juice or bubbling cranberry juice instead. The doctors didn't make me do that; hot juices just sound a lot more healthful and more exotic and they did fill my craving for something hot in the mornings or after a meal.

Until the plane. I decided moderation was as good as abstinence when it comes to dessert and coffee and consumed them-ah, the pleasure of small sins-without guilt.

The cart with liquor bottles rattling away rolled by for the last time a few minutes ago and my eyes followed it briefly, until I realized how much it was tempting me.

I have quietly enjoyed wine and whiskey for over 20 years. I say quietly, for no one has accused me of being a drunkard or problem drinker. But even I didn't realize how much I depended on reasonably moderate amounts of alcohol to help me handle things. Insecurities, worries, pressures, rapid changes in plans, great opportunities, exciting things and terrifying things, boredom, thinking too much, fatigue-I had an encyclopedia of reasons for a glass of wine or beer.

The amounts were modest at first, but over the years, more and more things seemed to bother me, or at least seemed to be a good reason to have another or stronger drink. And though I never drank alone during daylight of any of those years, I did like a drink at night to help me sleep. The before-bed drink became the one I really needed. It, or course, only put me to sleep for a few hours and then woke me up.

Now, as I write this, I realize the words sound an awful lot like those of an alcoholic . . . ..I stopped drinking the first night of my remake. Though I was nervous and didn't sleep well for a night or two, I now sleep as I used to, back when my biggest hurdle was going out to feed my horse on a cold morning.

People, especially strangers, have always seen me as outgoing and relaxed. Their perception has always been wrong. My heart beat picks up when I am alone in an unfamiliar situation. I worry if people will like me; I worry about my looks; I worry about my worry breaking through my well-tended facade.

I thought booze helped me through those moments. Instead, although it probably loosened my tongue a bit, it brought me quiet dread of others.

I realized that at my first no-booze party two months ago. Though I was nervous at the thought of operating without my high octane friend, the gathering was enjoyable and surprisingly nonthreatening. Not a goblin chased me.

Even more importantly, my mood swings don't have peaks and valleys these days. A lot of that old agitation, my doctors tell me, was created chemically. Because the brain acts like a sponge in the presence of alcohol, portions of my last drink 2 1/2 months ago were still playing with my brain cells a month later. I don't want to think about all of the important decisions I have made and foolish things I have done over the past 20 years with the assistance of tipsy gray matter.

I thought about these things as the drink cart continued down the airplane aisle. It didn't seem as filled with magic elixirs as it used to. And although heaven hasn't arrived with abstinence I am gradually becoming more comfortable facing my fellow earthlings without a liquid backup.

And I like to contemplate the results of my first blood analysis since "the reformation": in 2 1/2 months, my triglycerides hav dropped from 355 MG/DL to 174 and GGT, a liver enzyme study, has dropped from 117 to 51. "It's almost," says the report "back to normal."

A liver to elicit swoons.

Muscles and Health

Remar Sutton

NEXT: Cagle's gym.