By far the hardest part for me of Ramadan’s guidelines of no eating and drinking during daylight hours was abstaining from fluids. Even in my normal life, I’m preoccupied with the importance of proper hydration. We live in an era of constant media reports that our bodies need at least eight glasses of water daily. I don’t know if all this sensationalism has made me more in tune with my thirst or if I’m just a particularly thirsty person but I like to keep a glass of water nearby. Even on a day that I’ve had free access to water, I wake up in the middle of the night for a few extra sips and then reach for my glass first thing in the morning.

I increased my middle-of the night fluid intake from two tall glasses to a container that holds 32 ounces. I used a jug given to me by my mom printed with the slogan “Life is Good.” I thought it might make the task more cheerful. A sip of water on a parched throat at 2 am can be a beautiful thing. Forcing 100 times that amount down your already satiated gullet is less so. I would lay back down, my belly like a balloon stretched to its limits. I shifted carefully, my gut sloshing its swollen girth. A series of trips to the bathroom fragmented the night’s remaining sleep.

As my Ramadan experience progressed, I found my decisions increasingly governed by physical need. I drank all that water at night not because I wanted it but because it was my hope to make it through the next day. I felt a little like a contestant on some survival-based reality show. I grew calculating. I avoided sun exposure and strenuous physical activity. I stopped going to the gym; my weekly yoga class was out of the question with no water. When the sun went down, I focused on the bare essentials: walking the dogs and replenishing my body.

Even with all the effort I put in, I struggled—especially with thirst. Each day was a test to see how long I could go with no water. The first few hours were never too difficult. At about noon, the dry spot at the back of my throat would begin to creep down my esophagus and I imagined cracks forming in its walls like a defunct pipe running through the desert. The saliva in my mouth would evaporate; my tongue was a rough seabed with no ocean. I became obsessed with the texture of my naked taste buds, wooly against my upper lip. At some point, my thirst would morph into a low-grade anxiety.

Still, I held tight as the first signs of panic prickled up my legs. But when the alarm bells in my chest caused my heart to race and my breathing to quicken, I drank. It was usually late afternoon or evening: 5 or 6 or 7. By then, I didn’t see water as a source of rehydration, but as an elixir to calm my nerves. Of all the days of Ramadan, I made it only one to the official end without a single sip of water—helped, I think, by a light summer rain that dampened the air.

14 thoughts on “Thirst

  1. Corinna, I found your account very compelling, but what help, spiritually, did you get from this? It seems that this behavior (doing without like this), is counterproductive to godliness or beneficial to you, as a person. I understand one day, like Yom Kippur—the Bible is full of accounts of the Israelites fasting, to free the mind and body of physical needs and to encourage uninterrupted meditation, but going about your daily routine, is VERY difficult. I couldn’t tell what that accomplished for you……..

    • Hi Cheri, Over the next couple of posts, I will address what I learned from this experience. So all that good info is on its way. But I will say this–Ramadan was probably one of the most difficult trials I’ve put myself though on purpose. It was difficult on so many levels. But I also learned a lot, which I will share here.

  2. I would advise you to consult a physician. It isn’t normal to need 8 glasses of water per day. Thirst is regulated by the hypothalamus, an endocrine gland by the pituitary.

    • Hi James, I’ve always been told to drink at least 8 glasses a day…though maybe it’s a myth that we need that much. But I’ve had it drilled into my head. A few years ago I was tested because I know one of the symptoms of diabetes is thirst, but all the blood work came out negative. I’m just a weird-o who carries around a big jug of water. My mother is the same way, so maybe it’s a learned behavior?? Anyway, thanks for being here and reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it so much.

  3. Hello Corinna and merry miners! As you can tell, I finally got my tech issues figured out (I can hear some of you groaning from here. . . ! )

    I have been scouring my brain for a possible scenario that would induce me to fast during daylight hours. I’m coming up empty, I gotta tell ya. As much as I know I probably NEED to fast once in awhile, I am at a loss to figure out why anyone would do it for a prolonged period – despite your explanation. I can think of many ways to stimulate people’s compassion and gratitude; self-induced starvation is not one of them. I, too, am big on hydration and that’s the one that really blows me away. Sounds dangerous.

    I applaud you for trying to experience Islam (and for the opportunity for us to experience it vicariously), but I’ll be frank (as opposed to being diplomatic) – I am, once again, amazed at the contortions people put themselves through for religion.

    Based on what I’ve read so far, I can tell you – without any qualms whatsoever – I’ll NEVER observe Ramadan. Kudos to you, though!!

    • Welcome back, Carmen. I have missed you. Yes, I’m happy to travel with Corinna, too but not ready to spend a day without food and drink.

    • Hey Carmen! Great to see ya! I did consult a doctor before Ramadan to make sure I wasn’t harming myself with dehydration or starvation. Part of me was sort of hoping she’d tell me that the requirements of Ramadan were too dangerous and I should not attempt it. But, alas, she said that as long as I ate and drank properly after the sun set, I would be fine. I was like, “But are you certain?!” Needless to say, she assured me I would not damage myself.

    • ditto on the welcome back, Carmen! This is kind of a dry time to return, so it appears…..

      In our food-centered world, I’m guessin’ Corinna will have garnered some great wisdom to share with us. Cheers!

    • Aha! Just read the article you link to here–and the comments it generated. Thanks for including it. There’s so much controversy about this topic and so much variation in where we live and what other things we eat and drink. For example, I really only drink water (and coffee in the a.m.) so it’s my only source of liquid hydration and my climate is dry. Living in a rainy city like Seattle would change a person’s needs considerably, as would drinking tea all day or something like that…

  4. I guess I’ll pip in about the water issues. You can also make yourself quite sick ( even die) if you force yourself to drink too much water in a short amount of time. A nephrologist I heard give a research talk a while ago would advise to never force yourself to drink water. Generally a person’s body is pretty good at telling them how much to drink. As for Ramadan and water fasting, probably you can get a lot of your water from your food by eating fruits and such as you break your fast. It seems like this fasting would be much easier if everybody around you and in your city where also fasting ( and laying low during the day, and partying at night :), but kinda of hard for transplanted Muslims trying to be part of other cultures. I guess my point is is that your experience of Ramadan is probably very different from most of the Islam observing world. I’m guessing that things slow down quite a bit during Ramadan for most of the Islamic world, and maybe that’s the point.

    • Hi Lee Ann, You are totally right. I think my experience was not normal at all. Ramadan is always hard, but I’m told it can also be lots of fun and festive. Most people will gather and break fast together in a party-like atmosphere. Also, in other parts of the word where many Muslim countries are located, the day-to-night ratio stays more evenly divided so that the fast is not as long as it was in my part of the world in the Pacific Northwest. So I think my Ramadan was extra lonely for sure and maybe extra hard too.

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