A lot of folks view the New Year as a time for resolutions, because clearly last year’s version of themselves sucked, and THIS year is an opportunity to better fit American advertising’s vision of what they should be. For this reason, I have always hated resolutions because it’s taken me a number of years to be happy with who I am, and I don’t see the need to hate on the last 12 months of myself.
Nevertheless, a New Year’s resolution was forced upon me, as it were, by an unrelenting universe that decided that December 30th was a great time to whack me upside the head with a 2x4.
I have spent most of my adult life enjoying an after dinner beverage of some kind, be it beer, wine, or a martini. It was the perfect way for an anxious personality to wind down from the day’s stress, and it even played a role in my early relationship with my spouse, whom I met by moving into the apartment directly above her with my now ex-husband. We hit it off instantly, and when she got home from work, I’d pop down with a bottle of red wine, and we’d laugh and drink, and inevitably, she’d spill some on her white shirt, prompting me to ask her why she insisted on white shirts.
My mother, when she finally deigned to visit us because I had given birth to a beautiful girl instead of Satan’s spawn, thought that our two glasses of wine made us “alcoholics.” Her parents were Baptist tee-totalers, mostly from lack of opportunity, and she herself would only drink peach brandy “for her sore throat,” which she experienced on a daily basis. Hypocrisy is an important aspect of Evangelical life.
My father’s family, on the other hand, mostly consists of functional alcoholics. Growing up, family gatherings meant lots of beer or bourbon-spiked eggnog for the adults, a phenomenon that I later understood after enjoying these occasions as an adult myself. An afternoon of smiling, forced interactions among people seething with resentment who don’t really like each other is incredibly exhausting, and alcohol was a great way to make it bearable for everybody. The only people who could be said to enjoy it at all were the ones who engaged in the Great Passive-Aggressive Wars, most notably my grandmother and my mother, her daughter-in-law. As an adult, I left these gatherings wiped out, mentally and physically.
I learned early on that evening alcohol helped me deal with the day’s stresses, although it took me years to recognize myself as an anxious personality. I suspect it runs in the family, so alcohol was an easy form of self-medication in that respect. My anxiety worsened considerably in my 40s with the onset of perimenopause, and I also had to enlist the aid of doctor-prescribed SSRIs, which helped me tremendously. Nevertheless, my evening drink was not something I ever considered giving up.
Over the years, I maintained my postprandial routine quite faithfully, with the exception of two pregnancies. So when an old friend of mine announced that he had stopped drinking and hadn’t had anything for three months, I actually felt sorry for him. He didn’t strike me as an alcoholic, which is obviously a real problem that ends marriages and results eventually in homelessness, or so they say. So I assumed he was simply choosing to forego the pleasures of good wine and Scotch til the end of his days, maybe for health reasons. Or maybe it was due to a midlife crisis. I didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. It seemed rude to ask.
By the time 2016 came around, my routine had shifted to a martini plus an extra jigger of bourbon or Scotch. For one thing, hard alcohol goes further, and decent gin is cheaper than 2 daily glasses of wine. After the election of 2016, I definitely appreciated this.
When I realized that the fascist asshole had won, it was like a body blow. Depression set in as I grappled with so many feelings: people I knew had voted for this, in spite of the harm that would come to my family and to other families in our community. Why would they vote for an obvious racist and authoritarian? How could they claim to be our friends? Who were our friends? They couldn’t possibly really like blacks, Hispanics, or the gay community and vote for this. Which people were capable of turning us over to the secret police, if it came to that?
Overnight, we had gone from an imperfect, unequal pseudo-democracy to a proto-fascist state. The original blow was bad enough, but then came the daily news and the unending Tweets, as our institutions were savaged and sold off to the highest bidder, undoing environmental and basic fairness protections along the way. It was an onslaught of darkness, as though Sauron had procured the One Ring, and we were all doomed to the harrowing that must follow.
The Resistance certainly helped. Not every American was an asshole. But dear goddess, what a hard time to live through. Hard enough, in fact, that my wife ended up on antidepressants, as well.
I have a lot of Irish and Scots in my genetic makeup, and it is no lie to say that I can hold my liquor pretty well. One martini and bourbon gradually became one martini and maybe two bourbons. I was aware I was drinking more, but really, who wouldn’t? I figured every decent German in the Weimar Republic did the same thing. And so it went.
Around 2019, I took a good look at myself and decided that I really needed to address the depression aspect of my life. I had gained weight, and I looked and felt like shit. I went to the doctor and got a change in medication, which helped a lot. Then I started counting calories for a while to lose weight, which took about 6 months to get back into my “good” zone. That wasn’t easy, mostly because I was hungry all the time. In order to lose weight, I had to eat 1200 calories per day, which isn’t too bad, but when you allow for 350 or so calories of that for evening drinks, you ain’t eating much. And I didn’t.
Still, I was not giving up the cocktails. Oh, hell no. Carrots and celery were the bulk of my lunch, but it was worth it to keep my evening tipple.
Over time, I put on about 15 pounds again, but my pants still fit, so I lived with it. And as I both looked forward to and dreaded the election of 2020, I stocked up the liquor cabinet with all of our holiday favorites: Rumplmintz, the more expensive “good” gin for Thanksgiving and Christmas martinis, and some actual single-malt Scotch instead of bourbon. Whatever happened, we were at least going to have a freaking great holiday.
In early November, I was informed that my work contract would not be renewed after 15 years, which added a little stress to our holiday outlook. This was resolved, thanks in part to good people who knew me and liked me work, and we didn’t really suffer. It was just a log of uncertainty on an already large pile. Thanksgiving came and went without company, due to social distancing and all that. And by the time Christmas arrived, we were actually doing well, and we were all determined to celebrate in style.
The holidays, of course, were a lot like those earlier gatherings with my father’s family, only without the stress of toxic people. They were opportunities to kick back and, frankly, drink a little more than usual. On Christmas day, I always made a pot of mulled wine, and it must be said that I usually drank most of it. That would be before evening cocktails, mind you.
And so it was on December 30 that we slept late, ate brunch, and spent the afternoon watching movies, drinking wine, then moving on to dinner and cocktails. After the heaping carload of Christmas day calories, I had cut back my food intake to around 1200 (900, really) calories again, so I didn’t eat much that day, and apparently, I didn’t consume enough water, either. By the time I was halfway through my second evening cocktail, it slammed me. Whoa, I thought. I actually drank too much.
I believe my next thought was that I should get my butt in bed and sleep it off. So I got up to accomplish this.
The next thing I remember is lying on the kitchen floor with my wife Ahnna next to me saying something like, “Asha, did you drink too much?” I think I confirmed this. I heard things like, “blood on the floor,” “did you hit your head,” and the like. I had no idea, but I lay there knowing that something was terribly wrong. I felt like my body was full of toxins, and all I wanted was to purge them and never have another drink again.
I tried to sit up, but that was as far as I could go. Ahnna wanted to know if she should call 911, and that she wasn’t sure if I’d hit my head. Where was the blood coming from? I had no idea.
She did call 911, and I resumed my prone position on the floor and promptly threw up. When the EMTs arrived, I threw up again. How much did I drink? Well, the usual amount. Except for maybe the wine all afternoon, and not enough food… One of them may have said something about a wake-up call.
They took me to the ER, which was thankfully not overrun with covid patients at that exact moment, and they gave me an MRI and ran a few tests to make sure I was okay. Which I was, except for my elbow, which was split open by my fall and still bleeding fairly profusely by the time they discharged me. It was then that they decided it needed stitches.
Once I was free to go, I was considerably less drunk, and the cold of the night woke me right up, since all I had to wear was shorts and a T-shirt. I Uber’d my way home, and my daughter let me in, since I didn’t have a key. My son had cleaned up the mess on the kitchen floor, bless his heart, and all I had to do was go to bed.
The one thing I kept thinking all night was: this can never happen again. It was bad enough for my children to see me in that sorry state, but I also knew that my drinking had crept up over the years, and that it was seriously time to quit. I went cold turkey.
The first week or so was rough, mostly because my body was detoxing. I didn’t feel absolutely awful, but I didn’t feel well, either. There was also the question of breaking the habit of “now is the time when I have a cocktail.” I substituted herbal tea and ice water. Sometimes I included chocolate, because let’s face it, alcohol is sugar, and being a southern gal, I have always LOVED sugar. Sweets helped a lot, particularly in that first week. And honestly, the calorie intake was about the same, so why not?
Although sometimes I look at the bottle of Benedictine (an old favorite) with fondness, I have kept to my tee-totaling. Ahnna still has her martini, which I make for her. It’s not a problem. Many hard-core alcoholics could not do this, I know, and I’m not sure what this makes me — a partial alcoholic? A borderline? Average? What defines an alcoholic, anyway? I thought I knew, but now I see that the definition can be fluid. It can include people who function quite well, thank you. So far, though, I have kept my promise to myself and haven’t had a drop since.
The upsides, aside from $5000 emergency room visits, definitely include weight loss and the opportunity to eat the occasional brownie. After detoxing, I feel better, and I appreciate having a clear mind in the evening now. My kids are teenagers, and one day, I may have to be sober enough to help them if they get in a jam.
I discussed this with my old college friend who had quit drinking before I did, and I found that our stories had similarities. It’s not like either of us got falling-down drunk all the time, or even occasionally, but we had both perceived a reliance on the substance that had outweighed its usefulness, if it ever had it. Alcohol had become a crutch, and the more we leaned upon it, the more likely it was to be a problem. We both agreed that a huge part of quitting was finding a new routine, and I’m already thinking that spiced apple cider will make a great substitute for mulled wine next year. But the longer we can continue, the easier it gets. And obviously, it was time. The Universe said so.
Coincidentally, I just saw an article on NBC News by Lynn Stuart Parramore about how some women are giving up alcohol to fight the patriarchy. For one thing, being pressured to drink with the crowd makes women more susceptible to rape and abuse. According to the article:
After decades of thinking that alcohol liberated them, increasing numbers of women are wondering if it actually created new prisons. Many date this to 2016, when former Amazon employee Kristi Coulter posted a viral essay on how the tech industry’s bro culture pressures women to drink. The resulting rising chorus has cited America’s sexist society as a driving force in decisions to stop drinking.
So if you’ve been wondering if alcohol is a problem in your life, then it might be. And if it’s not, then by all means enjoy that glass of wine or cocktail. I’m not here to judge. I’m just talking about my own journey.