(FOREWARD: Usually on this blog, I post movie reviews or other musings in order to get feedback. In the following instance, I’m writing this mainly to sort out an issue I’ve been grappling with for several years. So don’t think that I’m posting this to get kudos. I’m just trying to work this issue out by writing about it.)
A month ago today, I said goodbye to an old friend. Her name was Pinot Grigio.
I am an alcoholic, though mine is not a completely typical story. At the time that I was growing up, the legal age in Florida for drinking alcohol was 18. As soon as I hit that magic age, I started drinking as much and as often as I could, with the typical results of drinkers at that age. One morning, I vomited after a night of overindulgence, and I was sure that would stop me from ever over-imbibing again. Of course, it didn’t.
For the next 20 years, I drank frequently and would probably rate myself just a cut above being a “social drinker.” It never kept from me from my daily duties, although I probably drank more than the average person.
After experimenting with several kinds of alcohol over the years, I finally decided to settle on white wine, and eventually on pinot grigio alone. For no good reason, it was in the year 2001 when I finally started to go over the edge. I got to the point where I’d finish off a .75-liter bottle of pinot every night, sometimes more.
I’ve never raged or abused anyone while in my cups, more often drinking to the point where I simply passed out. But I can’t say that my behavior never affected anyone. There was the night when I passed out in my reclining chair, and my young son, worried that I was dead, kept shaking me and pleading for me to wake up. His older sister, having grown wearily accustomed to my bad habit, resignedly assured my son that I’d be okay. There was the time when one of my older sisters, who lives in Kansas and whom I hadn’t seen for years, came down to attend my sister-in-law’s funeral and brought her grown-up kids with her. One night before the funeral, we all got together for dinner and drinks. I’d been so nervous about the reunion that I quickly downed a lot of wine and frequently stumbled around and fell off the couch I was sitting on, slurring what few words I could get out.
By this year, it had gotten to the point where I got in the habit of buying 12 bottles of “Two-Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s and finishing off the case in 12 days or less. My wife wasn’t crazy about it, but she reasoned that as long as I was able to go to my job every day, she’d put up with my functioning alcoholism.
It finally got to the point that I’d wake up sweating profusely every morning and usually continued doing so throughout the day. A few weeks ago, I was in such miserable shape that I was shaking a lot and actually showed symptoms of a coming heart attack. When I called my doctor and told him this, he told me I should go straight to the emergency room.
Here’s the strange thing. I spent two nights in the hospital, where they gave me a CAT scan and ran a battery of tests — and it turned out I was fine in every way. In fact, once I got checked in at the hospital, I immediately felt better and showed no signs of physical ailment — probably because I wasn’t drinking.
When I got home from the hospital, I actually gave the pinot one more try, getting loaded for the night. When I woke up feeling miserable, I reached the obvious conclusion: I wasn’t suffering from any malady other than the one I was pouring into myself. So I just quit drinking, period.
Of course, any doctor will tell you that going cold turkey is the worst way to wean yourself off alcohol, as it might result in delirium tremens, seizures, or even death. But I have shown no signs of any of those symptoms for a month. So I guess I got lucky, and my body just told me to stop drinking without putting me through physical hell for doing so.
So how do I feel now about drinking alcohol? Sometimes I’ll miss it and wish I could go back to my old ways. But, just like thinking about an old girlfriend who caused me such pain that I had to break it off with her, I just let the moment pass, and pretty soon I’m back in a normal frame of mind.
My wife and others have noticed that I’m a lot more amenable and sociable now. I haven’t talked about it with my now-grown kids, but they seem quietly grateful that I no longer hide in my man-cave after 5:00 each day to drink myself silly.
I’ve also heard that people like me can become “dry drunks,” former drinkers who are angry and lash out at others because they’re resentful that they can’t imbibe like they used to. Surprisingly, that has not happened. I don’t begrudge anyone who can handle their liquor better than I could. That would be like having an allergy to a particular food and then getting mad when I see others who can eat the same food without any side effects.
My primary regret is that I didn’t come to this realization sooner in my life. It would probably have allowed me to enjoy a lot more good times with my family and friends. But I can only regard it as a heavy-duty learning experience. It’s like getting married or becoming a parent — if you wait until you’re a perfect person to do so, it’ll never happen.
So I’m grateful that my family has stuck with me through a very ugly episode in my life. I’ve previously written on this blog about my suicide attempt from years ago. Between that and my drinking, I’ve tried very hard to kill myself and have failed quite notably. So now, I often think of Dorothy Parker’s darkly humorous poem “Resume”:
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.