BOTTOMS UP? OR BOTTOMING OUT?
I can think of only one time I poured a drink for myself, by myself (I was cooking. It felt Italian). I am a social drinker. Thing is, I am VERY social. I go out at least 2 nights per week. If I’m not out, I am often hosting or attending playdate-dinners at home. And, more often than not, when the 5pm work whistle sings, the Sancerre comes out. The moms start sipping and the kids start gathering all the blankets and pillows from all the various bedrooms and turn what was once a living room into a giant fort while we’ve decided implicitly to let them. Everyone is happy. (I sometimes wonder if the kids notice us drinking. And, if so, do they know why? Do they note how the mood and rules have suddenly relaxed? Do they take advantage?)
I love drinking to celebrate: my birthday, your birthday, your 5 year-old daughter’s birthday, an engagement, a wedding, a friend visiting from abroad, a friend visiting from New Jersey … In fact, whenever I’m surrounded by my favorite friends/people, my philosophy is “Let the wine flow.”
So yeah, I like to drink. But I hate being drunk — my physiological enjoyment climaxes at relaxed and tipsy. I hate when I slur words or can’t communicate what I intend. The idea of being a “drunken fool” horrifies me. But I love the taste, the ritual of sipping and caressing a stem glass (I flat-out refuse to drink wine in any other vessel. Seriously, I have abstained in restaurants that only serve vino in those silly, flimsy lowball glasses because they think it’s cutting edge.).
I’m a sucker for restaurant pairings. I love naively interviewing the sommelier and trying to glean if he has any sense of humor about the fact that he or she sniffs, sips and spits wine for a living. I respect that wine has a history. It says something — and so do the people who offer to you. There may be no higher flattery than the compliment a friend gives you when opening an unbelievably delicious and obscenely expensive bottle of red just because they are happy you are there to share it with them.
This past August, however, while recounting a particularly social week to a friend, I admitted I couldn’t remember a day in the past six or seven when I hadn’t consumed at least one glass of wine. My friend joked in response, “Maybe you’re a summer alcoholic?” It made me laugh — and think. You see, there is a lot to “celebrate” in summer: the good weather, the slew of parties in honor of said weather, the beach, no school, lazy mornings, the 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, the summer solstice. Day drinking is acceptable — the norm — in the summer sun, poolside under an umbrella or in the backyard, grilling. By the time 5pm hits, I am asleep or wishing to Dionysis I were.
Come Labor Day, I feel positively pickled and yearn to dry out. I don’t do the “sober September” some of my friends commit to because I hate absolutes (like not eating any carbs EVER), but I definitely make a conscious effort come fall to stick to a modified diet of 1–2 cocktails or glasses of wine at most when I am out with grown ups. Thing is, I look forward to those nights — not just for the adult company, but for the drink menu on the horizon. And I secretly wonder if that’s a problem.
I’ve never been — or had to be — thoughtful of my drinking before. I’ve noted a recent movement amongst some women, moms mostly, to be more mindful of their drinking, or discontinue completely. Not necessarily because they are addicted — whatever that means — but because they want to be healthier, more alert and present, or because they resent their dependence on alcohol. My friend Aidan writes about her decision to end her own vicious cycle with alcohol beautifully and extensively on her blog Ivy League Insecurities. And Laura McKowen has been relentless about society’s binary-but-blind understanding of alcoholism, pressuring us to either label ourselves alcoholic, or refuse it’s a problem, no matter how in-between our relationship is with it.
Up until recently, I privately wondered if second-guessing our drinking was just another avenue for women and moms to feel guilt, our speciality. (Now that it’s borderline-okay — according to Dove Soap and the occasional Ashley Graham magazine cover — to not be a size 2 and eat what we like in moderation, let’s feel guilty about something else we used to enjoy!) I simply didn’t get why women, who weren’t truly addicted (again, whatever that means) would electively abstain and refuse themselves one of life’s — and parenting’s — great pleasures. (Except, of course, when this so-called pleasure causes pain — be it to you, your loved ones, strangers.)
But lately I can see why some women are choosing this path, choosing it— not being forced to out of discernible necessity. Because lately I feel like my body is in revolt whenever I don’t get the ratio of wine, food, time and sleep exactly right. I wake up at night, hot and sweaty. Come morning, I am grumpy, headache-ey and generally displeased with myself (not in small part because more drinking means more eating which means more unnecessary calories). And if I’m groggy, the last thing I want to do is go to an exercise class, however annoyingly pre-paid it is. So, drinking makes me lose energy and gain weight: Not the ideal combo for a woman with kids in her 40’s. I decide that the price is too high. But two months later, I will once again lose track of how much wine I had at dinner and suffer the same known consequences. What is it they say about the ability to learn from our mistakes being the only thing that differentiates us from animals?
On those restless morning-afters, I look over to find that my husband, who is five years my senior, isn’t even there! Fucker woke up at 5:45am for an 8-mile run despite the fact that he drank considerably more than me the night before. I want to be happy for his ability to do it all, but all I feel is resentment, as my five-year old tugs at me to get out of bed to prepare a breakfast he won’t agree to the contents of for least another hour. And I wonder: How come my husband — who probably consumes alcohol 5 nights a week, between post-work drinks (aka “business meetings”), beers for sporting events, and wine with dinners — has never once expressed the need to slow down or re-evaluate his spirited lifestyle?
So I’m thinking about this and trying to be “mindful,” as they say, about something I frankly resent having to think about at all. I’m resentful because drinking used to be about abandon — about not thinking. And I’m thinking I don’t have any kind of solution, while hoping I don’t need one, hoping that it’s not a problem that needs to be “solved.”
Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, but I don’t eliminate good things from my life lightly. I love ice cream, and just because I have a propensity to overindulge and suffer bad stomach aches as a result, I have not banned it from my life completely. In fact, while I may jokingly proclaim “I need a drink” after suffering through one of my kids’ maelstroms, I am far more prone to turn to ice cream in really dark times for emotional solace.
Thankfully, I don’t worry one bit about being boring at a party without alcohol. In fact, I worry more about being boring talking about not consuming alcohol than actually not consuming it. But it is something I think that we — and I — have to stop looking at in absolutes whatever we decide is our personal best course.