You think when you’re 21 that you will live forever. Life seemed simple, as you did anything you wanted. If you gained a little weight, all you’d have to do is skip a meal or two and the pounds disappeared. If you messed up, a simple sorry (not sorry) would be enough. You were still considered “a kid.” You went to work, did your job, and went out for the night, every night. At that age, you knew everything, and weren’t afraid to act like it. We thought people over forty were ancient, and our parents were relics, who knew absolutely nothing. Smoking seemed harmless with merely an afterthought, no matter what anyone said about it. And then there was drinking.
Nearly every time you saw your friends, which was most nights, you would be drinking. Being drunk was often a side-effect of the two ugly sister’s; anxiety and angst. Parties were planned at the drop of a hat, if planned at all. We wiped the slate clean using alcohol to erase anything ugly. We’d stop just in time to start a new day looking fabulous after 3 hours of sleep. We never thought there was any harm in overindulgence, wishing the nights would last forever. But the nights didn’t last forever. The years passed quickly, and those nights of destruction paid a toll on all of us. For some there were mild effects, enough to make you cut down or stop. For others, there were more serious consequences; DUIs, family and career issues and at the worst, self-loathing. Then, in a blink, we were fifty and alcohol-soaked relics. And then there was the liver.
No one saw it coming, except those who really cared. They could see that he was poisoning himself, one sip at a time. Long ago were the days of not caring. He was loving, devoted and hard-working; a superhero, and everybody loved him. He was an intelligent conversationalist, fun to be around, with a hilarious irreverent wit. A glass of gin was his silent sidekick, full of confidence and ice. We all drank with contempt, like we were going to war the next day. Alcohol consumed all of our free time, like in the early days. I must have been in denial, ignoring signs. Time and consequences could seem like a myth, stealing your breath away. Until, finally his handsome complexion and brilliant eyes turned the shade of a lemon. And then there was “the List.”
After a couple of hospitalizations, things were dire. We had to face the prospect of death, although he never did. “There’s nothing we can do” said the ICU doctor after he told me the kidneys were shutting down. The liver was struggling, and the doctor explained that liver patients can’t go on dialysis. I wailed in front of the hospital elevator doors, a totally broken person. The love of my life was going to die. If my tears were prayers he would be well by now. God, luck, whatever, helped him miraculously turn a corner that night. Each day that followed was a little better than the last. There were so many doctors and nurses caring for him, like he was their only patient. So after 10 days of sleeping in a hospital chair, I started to have backaches and hope. We were going home.
We packed up the few things that we grabbed in a frenzy on the way to the hospital. I was full of anxiety, as we were starting a new kind of life. Things were going to be different. Countless doctor’s visits followed in the weeks after we left, and he was put on “the list.” I kept telling myself that the list was a promise that nothing could take him away from me. A lifeline made up of faith and belief he could one day be healed. However, there was a catch, “He can never drink again” said the doctors, “or he will die.” And then there was life.
Twelve years later, and he hasn’t had a drink. This superhero, witty, intelligent, love of my life, relic is here to stay.
I fancy myself a wine enthusiast, a drinker, a partaker if you will. Yes, I drink to an uncertain excess if the truth be told, but just shy of drunkenness. I hate to be drunk and avoid it at most costs, but it happens on occasion regretfully. I come from a family of non-drinkers, so I’m the unnamed black sheep. I usually sit with my family drinking wine, while they have their tea. Eyebrows are raised, silence ensues as I pour my first glass. My wine bottle gets cracked open at cocktail hour like clockwork. Six o’clock on Thursday and Friday, if I’m not working that night, and 4 or 5 o’clock on the weekend days. I have my standards. I try not to drink during the week, but Thursday is close enough to the weekend to count.
“Are you a wino” my mother asks with an accusatory tone, as I stand in her kitchen. My only response is simple and quiet, “Perhaps I am mother. Perhaps I am.” What can I say?!? “Yes mother, I drink to make you miserable” is what she may want to hear, but it’s not true. I drink because I enjoy it. I like the taste, the smell, the feeling. I think she envisions me as the loveable “wino” character Otis in the Andy Griffith Show; disheveled, falling down, slurring words – a person to be embarrassed of. I think it’s the idea that her daughter could be “a drunk” that really disturbs her. I am nothing of the sort.
Most of my friends end their day with a wine or two. I have no judgement. However, I found a few years ago, that drinking wine during the week effected my ability to concentrate and focus the next day. So, I changed it up and only drinking on weekends, with the exception of special occasions, holidays and vacations. Sipping wine while I knit, watch TV or chat with a friend is a great pleasure. I am relaxed and happy to share my time and my life.
I write this after having a bottle of wine, no effects of a wine stupor. I am not drunk. Why is there such a stigma around enjoying wine or alcohol? Why must I justify my actions to those who do not like alcohol or those who don’t drink it? Explaining why I drink wine reeks of insecurity and self-doubt. I can’t do that. Is it not possible to partake without being seen as having a “problem?” I think so. But, for many, the perception is that one drink is too much. Is one cookie too much, is one bowl of ice cream too much? Where are these invisible standards that we must adhere to? Who makes up the rules?
People know what works for them, so let’s live and let live. Perhaps we should.
Jo is a media professional working in Massachusetts. She is the founder of Dilettante life, and the co-host of the podcast Dipstitch (dipstitch.net, available on Spotify and Apple podcasts). She enjoys writing for Dilettante Life observing life and sharing experiences.