I can’t think of an extended period of time in my life since I turned 18 when alcohol wasn’t a part of my daily routine as habitual as brushing my teeth. I cut the hard stuff out during my pregnancy, but even then about once a week I would have a glass of wine on the weekends. I like wine, beer and cocktails probably as much, if not more, than a kid likes ice cream, and way more than I should like my fruits and vegetables. Yet for the past few years I’ve been battling this growing sense of guilt for the amount of booze I’ve consumed over the past two decades. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older (I turn 38 in September) and my immortality is giving me the stink-eye. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom. Maybe it’s because my body can’t bounce back quite like it used to. Maybe it’s because I’m fighting the waistline bulge that still lingers from pregnancy. Most likely it’s all of the above.
Within the past few months, I’ve experienced two face-down-on-my-bathroom-mat hangovers where I was incapacitated each time for almost half a day. LG has slept through the night since December so drinking in the evenings and having to nurse him with contaminated breast milk in the middle of the night were no longer a concern. Though admittedly waking up miserably hungover wasn’t either. I spent these two regretful mornings keeled over, hobbling in and out of the bathroom, puking my guts out, groaning pitifully, “How did this happen? How did this happen to me?”
The first horrendous hangover was after a night spent with our neighbors. I don’t know what got into me. I was overly excited for “adult” time so I drank like a crazed, thirsty teenager. MainMan offered to make tiki-themed rum drinks and I demanded refills like I was sipping on water at the local diner. Needless to say, it’ll be a while before I touch rum again.
The second was after a night at home with Tito’s and Josh (one of my go-to Cabs). I turned MainMan onto dirty martinis and we used to drink them at least once, if not twice, a week. One and done is the safest motto with our 3-shot martinis. Except that night I was feeling especially needy and demanded seconds. So we pushed the limit and each had 1.5 and then I proceeded to drink red wine. Too much red wine.
These two careless nights brought on two of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had, and they were compounded by the fact I have a baby who’s depending on me. After that last Sunday, and tears of hurt and shame, I decided it was time to make a change.
Before I share how we’re going to give each other some space (me and my frenemy alcohol), here’s a little more of our backstory in case anyone can relate.
I ordered my first drink during the ninth grade in Paris. I was at Roscoe’s — the bar my American School of Paris classmates frequented — and it was some red concoction. Everyone else was doing it and I wanted to fit in, so naturally I disobeyed my parents and went straight for the alcohol the first chance I got. The drinking age in Paris at the time was 16 (they raised it to 18 in 2009) so it was easy for me to fudge two years. And it’s not like the French bartenders were carding, anyway. I was not supposed to be drinking. If my parents found out, I would have been grounded for a year.
Despite going out regularly in Paris that year, I never really got wasted. The first time I came close was at the end of freshman year I attended the junior prom. For some reason, my parents let me stay out all night and I lived it up, but I don’t remember getting sick. I went home the next morning feeling like a rock star for being out all night, minus the hangover and $18,000 in hotel damage.
We moved back to the States my sophomore year in high school and my parents were suddenly and irritatingly no longer as loose as they’d been in Paris. I never understood why and it took some adjusting to. Let’s be real. I never adjusted. Maybe they were more comfortable with me taking the Paris Metro to and from bars since this alleviated the risk of drunk-driving? As a non-driving teen in the Connecticut suburbs, my freedom vanished like Humboldt Fog on a cheese plate and I was barely allowed to go out. Swimming took over my life and I didn’t have a bad drinking episode until a recruiting trip to Bucknell. I spent a weekend on the campus and got out-of-my head drunk after trying to impress the team during a game which involved passing the Bourbon around in a circle until the handle was empty. You know, standard (reckless and dangerous) college behavior. I met the coach the next morning and was internally horrified at my state. I was doing everything in my power to conceal my alcohol consumption, but as a rookie drinker/drunk, the coach was probably equal parts disgusted and amused by my idiocy. I crossed Bucknell off my list and I’m sure they crossed me off theirs.
High school ended, much to my relief, and I spent the next four years of my life at the University of Virginia. It was my happiest place on earth. My parents moved me into my dorm room first year and then moved halfway across the world to Tokyo for business. This was like a dream come true for me. The shackles came off and I was blissfully free. I walked on the swim team and for the next three years of my life I was a college athlete. At UVA this meant you busted your ass off at practice anywhere from 3-5 hours a day, you struggled to stay awake during classes and if you didn’t have morning practice the next day, you drank your face off that night. Nothing was done in moderation. Everything was extreme. I turned 18 at the end of the first full month of school and I remember doing my first keg-stand at my birthday party. And I’d do many more before I walked the Lawn in May of 2001.
College was just the beginning of my relationship with alcohol. I’d move to Aspen for a year after being in Manhattan on 9-11. It was sort of an escape from the real world. And what did I do to escape? Drink. First I discovered the freshman 15, then I discovered the Aspen 20 (the amount of pounds gained from excessive drinking). After partying in Aspen for a year, I did a short stint at home in Carmel, Calif., followed by a year in Arlington, Va. Then I’d return to Manhattan, where I would spend the remainder of my twenties.
Being a 20-something in Manhattan was like college 2.0. We worked hard and we played hard. Often too hard. I was notorious for staying out until 3 a.m. on weekdays and rolling out of bed two hours later to make it to work by 6ish. I have plenty of fond memories of this time. Laughter, friendship and birthday parties, happy hours and dinners. Dance parties and sporting events. There was always a reason to celebrate in “the city.” The not-so-fond memories (or for me, memory lapses) are the nights where I’d black out from too many vodka-sodas, having no recollection how I made it home, who I met or what we talked about. It was a running joke among me and my friends how I wouldn’t remember various conversations during a night out. And if I made it a day or two without alcohol, usually driven by overdoing it on a previous night(s), it was a glowing achievement worthy of an office plaque.
I met MainMan just before my 30th birthday. We fell in love pretty quickly and I left New York for Los Angeles. L.A. was a different scene. Gone were the nights of drinking with no consequences. Everyone drove in L.A. (this was before Uber) so our drinking was curbed. Except on the rare nights we decided to take taxis out. Then I’d drink so much I’d be puking the entire next day and telling myself this is it. This is really it. I’ve had it. But, like a broken record, the drinking continued. Meanwhile the guilt started to creep in. I wanted to drink. A cocktail when we finished work. Followed by a glass of wine or two with dinner. Maybe a beer after that. I knew it was probably too much. And I tried many times to cut back, but to no avail.
It was all fun and games at the time for me, but looking back, I am damn lucky to still be here. I am too often horrified by stories in the news precipitated by alcohol abuse. I can’t help but think of the UVA student, Hannah Graham, who one minute walked off the downtown mall in Charlottesville, Va. — a place I frequented while at UVA — away from her friends, alone and intoxicated, and the next she’s a murder victim whose remains were discovered five weeks later. I was the queen of “Irish exits” — when you’re so drunk you can’t even muster a goodbye or adios to your friends. And most recently there’s the sickening case of Tim Piazza, the young Penn State pledge who died at a fraternity. The details of his death are horrific — he allegedly fell, undoubtedly from drinking too much — and the boys in the fraternity laughed instead of calling 911 while he was slowly dying under their noses. What is wrong with us?
They say you have to hit rock bottom to make a change. I think — I hope — I’ve hit my bottom. I vowed that last Sunday to consciously uncouple (thanks, Ms. Paltrow) from alcohol. I considered cutting the booze out of my life completely (some may think it’s absurd I wasn’t able to commit to that), but instead I am starting with a rollback approach. Who knows? Maybe in the not-so-distant future alcohol and I will break up permanently. But for now, we are on a partial break and we are no longer drinking Monday through Thursday, leaving a few days a week for a beer, a cocktail or a glass of wine. In moderation.
I can’t pretend it’s been easy. Drinks were part of my daily coping strategy. If work was rough, if someone or something stressed me out, I’d think out loud, “Oh god, I need a drink!” And bam! It was suddenly happy hour(s) in the house. And one glass or one drink was rarely enough.
I’m now on week six of my mid-week alcohol separation and I’m really happy with the change. I am sleeping better and can handle our 5:45 – 6 a.m. daily wake-ups. It’s never quite easy for me to get out of bed in the mornings, but we’re managing. MainMan and I are also trying to get our fitness jam back on. I’ll sneak in a run a couple of times a week before LG gets up at 7. When I have a later shift, I take LG out in the stroller while I jog behind him.
As a new-ish parent, and given my precarious relationship with alcohol, I wonder how it got this way for me. And I can’t help but think about how we’ll handle the inevitability of our son being introduced to alcohol, and even drugs. Was my nearly 20-year relationship with binge-drinking a result of a mere three years in high school where almost all social activity was forbidden? I don’t think so. God knows I made up for those three years within three months in college. I wish it was as easy as blaming it on my Irish-Italian heritage, but that’s a silly cop-out. Why is it so ingrained in our society, particularly when you’re approaching and or just coming of legal drinking age, to overdo it with alcohol? For the fun? The excitement? I got swept up in this all-or-nothing drinking deluge and I’m just now coming up for air.
So for now, I think I’ve outgrown my crush on alcohol like my son outgrows his socks. If you’re a parent, how do you plan on dealing with alcohol (and drugs, for that matter) when your kids reach the age where it’s prevalent? If you’re already there, what is your strategy to keep them safe and responsible? How can we change our outlook on drinking? Do European teens behave this way? I don’t recall.
Today the change begins with me, the old lady who’s over-thinking her choices. And I need some space. We’re just at different points in our lives. My family deserves better. I deserve better.