Too Much Drinky, Drinky?

If you’ve had the misfortune of being cooped up with me all winter, you know all too well my latest medical obsession: wine.

This isn’t fun for anyone, especially my colleagues who are perfectly comfortable with their recreational ethyl alcohol consumption. But as a secret hypochondriac – and, according to my doctor, secret wino – the latest reports that anything more than a half a glass of wine at one sitting could be jeopardizing our health has me prone on the floor wondering why even bother.

The crisis began last fall when I told my new doctor that I indulged in a glass, at times two at times more, of chardonnay regularly enough to make boxed wine a prudent investment. Shocking, I know. (BTW, Pepperwood is not bad if you’re on a budget.) I love wine, especially chardonnay and a nice, dry Bordeaux. I love how pretty it looks and tastes. I love pouring a glass and sitting by the fire, chatting with my husband about the day, knitting in my lap. To me, drinking is one of the few privileges of adulthood.

Now, I’m being totally honest here. At the age of 55, I have no one to fool but myself and no reason to lie. You can judge. Whatever. Moving on…

My new doctor, who is actually a PA and proactive on the public health front, would not let this drop. Anything more than that 5 ounces of wine per sitting more than three (that’s 3) times per week for women was considered “heavy drinking,” she said, peering at me meaningfully. And heavy drinking would lead to the following: heart disease, cancers of the breast, throat, esophagus, liver. Didn’t matter if I was imbibing hard alcohol or beer (neither of which flips my switch). Alcohol is alcohol. And I needed to, if not stop, then moderate to the above limits – which, frankly, I consider pointless.

People, have you ever measured 5 ounces of wine? That is half the coffee in your cup. And I’m not talking one of those big Friends latte cups. I mean the kind your grandparents hung on a white metal tree in their kitchen. I would rather abstain altogether than ruin an evening measuring, pouring and eyeing the slipping level. Forget martinis. They are automatic violations. And that delicious margarita you love? Don’t even.

Anyway, I gave her my blood, made no promises to abstain in this age of impending nuclear war, got a flu vaccine and went home. I then read everything there was to read on the latest evidence that alcohol had become the poison of choice for middle-aged, college-educated women who came of age in the 1980s. I blame Animal House and the infamous Tufts frat house, 123.

Having given up smoking – aside from the occasional sneak – and sugar (35 lbs gone!), this no wine business comes as a total bummer. And here I thought I was doing okay. Not perfect, but better than my parents who, being journalists from the WWII era, nightly downed three vodka tonics, measured of course, except for Monday, which was their “homework night” when they sat in their opposite chairs and read Newsweek. Strangely disciplined, those two.

Granted, we have a sinister strain of alcoholism in my family. My oldest brother drank himself to death with the aid of Tylenol and vodka. Nothing like gathering up the sheets and finding gallons of Popov hidden under the towels. A cheery discovery, as delightful as scraping up the dried vomit next to his bed. But he was nuts, always had been, and was miserable. Three years after he died, my mother left this mortal coil at age 77 of a stroke, or, in her case, a broken heart. Fun times.

(Writing the above, I realize how thoroughly depressing that period was. And to think, I was penning and promoting (a teetotalling) Bubbles during all of it!)

Anyway, my other brother, a superbly successful ad exec and beloved father to four great kids, quit drinking about 5 years ago for health reasons. The same reasons I’ll probably end up quitting for, too. 

So, in light of my reading, I was all prepared for nasty stuff on my blood tests. The only alarming figure was that my “good” cholesterol had risen slightly. Otherwise my “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides had dropped, were, in fact, wicked low (despite my bacon-rich keto diet). The liver tests were fine. Nevertheless, my physician saw the need to write that the elevated good cholesterol was due to “heavy drinking.” Really?

(I kind of hate her a little for that.)

Which leaves me with a choice: stick to no more than a half a glass of wine on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays. (And, no, you can’t save up for a Saturday night binge.) Or quit. The compromise I’ve struck with myself is to not drink during the week and not worry about it during the weekend. (Though, of course, I do – or I wouldn’t be writing this blog.) Just like with smoking, though, it’s easier in the long term to quit altogether, because all the fun is gone. Face it.

Anyway, my weekly “homework” nights have become surprisingly productive. Books have been finished (both those read and those written). Knitting projects, too. I still miss that first pour when I’m making dinner, but – like the craving for a light or a cookie – it passes. Tea by the fire is not that bad. That said, I do draw the line at hot chocolate. During these cold, long winter nights, that is the only thing keeping me sane and I dare anyone, including my doctor, to take that from my warm, dead hands.








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