The pledge.

Most of us reach middle age fairly sure that no more real surprises will come along. That’s not to say we don’t change, but our change takes place within some well-known parameters. Our basic personality template will remain the same.

So I was intrigued when, a few weeks ago, a psychologist told me people have two big risk periods for developing drinking problems — in their 20s, which everyone would figure, and again in their late 40s-early 50s, which I never figured, although now that I think about it, I should have. I think I said it here before: I never really understood why my dad would come through the door after work and practically lunge for the liquor cabinet until I hit 40. I’d walk into the kitchen, start dinner and, with a real pleasure I’m not entirely comfortable with, open a bottle of wine.

My dad usually stopped at two, although he went through a pitcher-of-martinis period that led to an 8:30 bedtime for a while. I try to stop at two, but three is not unheard of. And no, I don’t think I have a drinking problem. I don’t think my dad had a drinking problem. But I have it in me, and I’m mindful. Especially when I consider the psychologist’s factoid.

Last year, when we were in Toronto, I read a column in the Globe & Mail complaining about how boring January and February are, socially, because everyone’s in a self-imposed post-holiday dryout period. I recall this quote, “My doctor told me that to maintain a healthy liver, you should abstain one day a week, one week a month and one month a year. The day is doable, the week is almost impossible but my only chance at the month is January, so I’m dry.”

Here’s another sign of middle age: In being mindful of my drinking, I always consider whether I’m going to be driving. I usually consider the example I’m setting for Kate, and whether I have work to do later. But I never, ever think of my liver.

Tonight I had water with dinner, and tried not to wish it was cabernet.

Do you think about your drinking?

Posted at 6:51 pm in Uncategorized |

23 responses to “The pledge.”

  1. brian stouder said on January 6, 2005 at 9:14 pm

    “Do you think about your drinking?”

    I used to drink Michelob while playing eucher…the thought of cards without beer was…unthinkable! This was 20 years ago, when I had more hair. Got drunk probably three times – puked my guts out one time (stopped on beer and started on bourbon all in the same evening).

    So, basically inexperienced in the ways of wine and the world, six years ago I made a classic error. We had a company outing in Chicago at a resort, and on the first night they had an open bar. I was thinking ‘well hey – no car to drive, free drinks, crowded bar – what the hell!?” – and I was drinking Molsons.

    Honest to goodness, I believe I consumed 6 green bottles of that stuff – although I remember ordering them two at a time because the bar was so crowded (there had been a huge wedding in the same resort that day, and many of the guests meandered into the bar) and I didn’t want to run short…so I may have had eight of them.

    I recall having an extended conversation with a very nice lady from Appleton, and I further recall having the presence of mind to recall that I was married and it was 3:45 in the morning, and so it was time to go. The stagger down the (very long!) corridor back to the room was manageable enough; made it to bed; room began spinning madly; made it to the bathroom; remained there all night! Next day was rough – had the same green hue as the bottles of Molson I had consumed earlier on. At about 2pm I thought I was sufficently better to go to the big company outing at Brookfield Zoo; and I wasn’t. Basically collapsed onto a parkbench…

    and to cut to the chase, the pathetic image of my carcass stretched out on a parkbench at the Brookfield Zoo exists in approximately ALL my co-workers’ photo collections, thanks to our company-supplied single-use cameras.

    But the interesting thing was, in the aftermath of the debacle, many people offered me all sorts of excuses to use (someone slipped a mickey; bad batch; must have already been sick; etc)

    But I thought about how stupid the whole thing was for a very long time. I have a glass jaw when it comes to alcohol…which I take as a lucky thing, as my dad (and a few of my brothers)drank like a fish, smoked like a house afire, and reaped many, many consequences for those addictions.

    After work it’s icy cold Diet Coke….for me!

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  2. Joe said on January 6, 2005 at 9:53 pm

    I drank mostly beer from age 15 on, played rugby for 18yrs and drank all the time. At around age 40 I found my self not being able to only drink one or two, but drinking just to get wasted. That is when I stopped. I guess I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Nance, you probly do not have a problem but from your post it sounds like you are looking over the edge and have a few questions. I have a family member in aa if you want to talk some time e-mail me and I’ll set it up. although it will have to be next week. I am working on my other addiction and flying to Orlando Friday and running the Disney marathon sunday. I had to replace beer with something else.

    Cheers from Auburn,


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  3. basset said on January 6, 2005 at 10:36 pm

    just got in from an old buddy’s house, guy with whom I have caught many fish, floated many waters and emptied many cans and bottles.

    he quit drinking about a year ago, insides were eaten up from that and other reasons. and he had some other health problems, quite painful too.

    yesterday it got to be too much for him, so he got drunk, sat down on his bed and shot himself through the head. I was in the room less than an hour ago; it’s all cleaned up and his (grown) kids have stuck a little brass hummingbird in the hole the bullet made through the wall.

    right now I’m not sure whether to raise a glass to him or set one down.

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  4. humblereader said on January 7, 2005 at 3:53 am

    It was with great regret that I dumped my French boyfriend (Monsieur Chardonnay) last year. Once you hit the fifty mark, even the grape demands more and more of you. My grandfather was a high-functioning drinker who became a raging alcoholic once he retired. The similarity of our personalities is too great to ignore.

    Do I miss drinking? Hell yes. But in its place, is the energy to do the things I want to do.

    Sometimes I think it’s silly not to indulge. One glass of wine is good for your heart. Who drinks one glass of wine? Not anyone I know.

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  5. Mindy said on January 7, 2005 at 6:40 am

    At the ripe old age of nineteen, my chance meeting with a good friend at a lake on a beautiful summer day resulted in too much booze consumed too fast on an empty stomach. I remember that I was talking when the grass suddenly came up to meet my face. The next few hours were spent in a bathroom fearing that I wouldn’t die. That bathroom had the most atrocious wallpaper I’ve ever seen, and watching it spin was far worse than hanging my head in the toilet.

    Fear of a return engagement kept me mindful of alcohol’s consequences even during my early twenties. There were times when I would drink too much but it was never enough to cause projectile vomiting or even a killer hangover.

    These days I’m in the same boat rowing next to Nance. A glass of wine with dinner and two more after dinner sounds wonderful most night of the week but happens only once or twice. Also, I’ve found that I’ve become very selective in what I drink so as not to waste my time and brain cells on anything unacceptable. For Christmas I received the worst excuse for a bottle of wine – think grape juice cocktail reconstituted with rubbing alcohol – and had no trouble pouring it down the drain where it belonged. Mixed drinks made with cheap stuff are easier to nurse because they don’t delight as much as the personal preference. My husband wasn’t home one night earlier this week, and oh, but my favorite gin and tonic tasted swell. I had two of them and wasn’t happy about how much I enjoyed them.

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  6. CArmella said on January 7, 2005 at 7:38 am

    There was a time when I was a young mother that all I could think about was cracking that first beer of the day. My last beer was at the 3 Rivers Beer tent 1987. I drank waaaaay too much, and drove home (safely, thank God…maybe not safely, but no one got hurt). I was hung over for days, and apparently I had a phone conversation that night that I don’t even remember. Anyway, that was it. I decided this is not the way I wanted to spend my life. Not the way I wanted my kids to see me. Was I an alcoholic? Gray area…if I was, why was it so (relatively) easy to quit? I am SO VERY glad I was able to quit. So very thankful. And, Brian S…people were telling me that ‘it must have been bad beer’, I didn’t need to QUIT, for heaven’s sake. A lot of friends were not comfortable with the non drinking Carmella. BUT I AM!

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  7. John said on January 7, 2005 at 7:59 am

    Re: Joe’s story…

    I thank God every day that today I can drink diet Coke with a smile…

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  8. Randy said on January 7, 2005 at 9:24 am

    Just playing devil’s advocate here, but why are North Americans so mindful of their consumption, and Europeans are not?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think we should be paying attention to something that can potentially harm us, but they don’t seem to worry as much, and don’t seem to be any worse for it. Or am I completely off base on this?

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  9. Nance said on January 7, 2005 at 10:00 am

    Actually, Randy, I think that’s an excellent question. Daily moderate drinking is not even remarked upon in Europe — wine is water to the French, Italians and others — while (some) Americans fret over every drop. I don’t have any data on alcoholism there and here, but I do know adolescent attitudes toward alcohol differ widely. French teenagers raised drinking wine at the table with their parents are baffled by American kids’ quests to “go drinking.” And while I did a lot of that as a college student and young adult, I’ll stand by the assertion that the point of these excursions was primarily social; we were out to have fun with one another, not to get utterly shitfaced.

    Contrast that with the blackout culture at today’s frat house — drink until you can’t stand up, puke and drink some more — and I think you have a recipe for disaster.

    I wonder if some of this isn’t a byproduct of our just-say-no culture, although I can’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe it’s the bumper-sticker/DARE contention that all drugs are bad, when clearly, all drugs are not bad, not even all recreational drugs. When Jon Carroll calls it the War on Some Drugs, he’s absolutely right.

    I’m thinking more about drinking lately because I’m feeling it more in my aging body. The difference between two glasses of wine and three is the difference between a sour stomach the next day. And to get utterly trashed now? That’s a two-day commitment, as hangovers now tend to last a full 24 hours, sometimes longer.

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  10. Randy said on January 7, 2005 at 10:09 am


    I recognized some of my attitudes in your post.

    I have definitely fallen into the habit of consuming one drink (could be a beer, glass of wine, or rye and coke) right after work, along with two cigarettes. And of course smoking is banned in our house, so I retire to the garage and it’s stunning ambiance.

    I have never pinpointed a reason for this daily routine, and I definitely have days where I’d like to have two, and I definitely have a few days where I drink two. I can’t figure out if I’m legitimately concerned for myself, or just concerned what others would think. It probably falls somewhere in the middle.

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  11. alex said on January 7, 2005 at 11:22 am

    Sure, I think about my drinking. The older I get, the greater is my capacity, unlike Nance and others roughly within my age cohort. And these days, when half of a weak American beer is enough to land you in the clink and lose you your license for six months, of course I think about it a lot. Especially here in the Fort, where the point-oh-eight law seems to be the new cash cow driving the local economy.

    As I understand it, from numerous moderate drinkers now in the penal system, you’ve got to admit you’re an alcoholic and repent if you want your license back. There are new rehab centers on every corner where there isn’t a Walgreen’s and a CVS, and they’re raking in the dough bigtime. One can expect to spend anywhere from five to ten grand over their first-time offense, and that doesn’t include the huge spike in your auto insurance that’s likely to cost you your right nut, your firstborn and then some.

    I don’t think I have a drinking problem, although I’ve had a few absolutists in my face who believe that anyone who ever gets innebriated has a problem. By my definition, you’ve got a problem when you’re having it for breakfast every day. I keep the stuff in the house and seldom touch it except when I’ve got company.

    But yes I think about my drinking. I can put away twice as much now as I could when I was in my twenties.

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  12. ashley said on January 7, 2005 at 6:22 pm

    I used to think I drank too much.

    Then I moved to New Orleans, and realized I was practicing in moderation. Seriously. About half of my friends in NOLA would be considered alcoholics if they lived anywhere else.

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  13. alex said on January 7, 2005 at 7:21 pm

    Well, Ashley, it really is all relative. New Orleans is one of the few places in the U.S. where you can legally stagger around in public with an open container and the bars never close. Compare that to Hoosierland, where it’s easier to get a rock of crack than a Bud Lite depending on the hour or the day of the week. In Europe, where my dad grew up, they’d all be alcoholics by American standards. But as mentioned above, you don’t see much drinking for the sole purpose of getting soused; it’s just part of the fabric of everyday life from the cradle to the grave.

    There are exceptions, though. I understand that under the Soviets, there was plenty of substance abuse going on in parts of Europe owing to poverty and despair. And Russia, of course, leads the world in alcoholism because it’s cold, miserable and poor.

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  14. mc said on January 8, 2005 at 12:16 pm

    This is a really interesting discussion. I think those of us who have family members w/ addiction “issues” put ourselves under a lot more scrutiny about drinking than people without a family history of addiction (they must exist somewhere, right?). I go back and forth between feeling fine about my beer/glass of wine (or two) most days, and thinking it’s entirely possible that I am Going to Hell in a Handbasket.

    It’s a far cry from my college days in the early 90s, though, when I frequently drank a lot of really cheap beer (40 ouncers of Mickey’s malt liquor anyone? ugh). I did it both because I *could* – As Nance suggests about the “just say no” culture, my fairly strict parents finally were out of the picture – and to get over a little social anxiety, some of which I might have been better off retaining.

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  15. ashley said on January 9, 2005 at 1:33 am

    The worst thing you can ever do at a party is turn down a drink. That way they know you’re an alcoholic…or else, even worse, they think you’re an alcoholic. Insane. Just like how people insist that you either live in a blue or a red state, but we all live in purple states.

    One of the things that make Europe a bit different is that most people can walk to and back from the pub. In “the greatest country on earth”, we have this wonderful urban planning that puts homes far away from any sort of “third place”.

    So, yes, my solution to drunk driving is a lower bac threshold, more bars, and public transportation.

    Yeah, you find drunks all over Russia, but in Czech, I see men drinking 6 beers a day like it’s water. That’s right: 334 pints/year/person. Highest in the world. A good stupor is considered a birthright…then they catch the tram home, and they feel patriotic about drinking the mother brew.

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  16. brian stouder said on January 9, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    “In “the greatest country on earth”, we have this wonderful urban planning that puts homes far away from any sort of “third place”.”


    Unless you live in a gated community, a place to go and drink is never more than a few blocks from home.

    Even excluding what used to be called ‘package stores’, where you can buy the hooch but you cannot drink it there – which now includes supermarkets and drug stores – you can drink at any Pizza Hut, or almost any other one-notch-above-fast-food-restaurant (which are numerous and liberally sprinkled all around town), and near any major employer you will find several neighborhood bars.

    From my house (literally in the shadow of channel 15’s TV tower, for Ft Wayne people), if you drew a circle with a radius of 11/2 miles, I can list no fewer than 7 sit-down bars, 5 places where you can be served, and 6 places where you can buy containers.

    Think about it the next time you’re driving. How many places that you pass sell alcohol? You almost cannot go a block without passing at least one.

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  17. Nance said on January 9, 2005 at 2:34 pm

    I’m calling booshit on that, Brian. I was just out in Aboite yesterday, and the farther-flung subs are a good five miles from any tavern, in any direction. I’d bet it’s the same northwest, too.

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  18. brian stouder said on January 9, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    Well Nance, depending where in Aboite you were, and again setting aside gated communities, all the strip malls and so on have bars and/or package stores and/or franchise restaurants that sell beer and wine. Scotts on W State (near me) sells hard liquor now! You have to pass the Tower Tavern to get there, plus a Pizza Hut (which sells beer), plus there’s a full-up package store in the center along with the Scotts! Go further up the street and there’s another drug store that sells booze; turn toward Goshen road and take your pick from any of several bars and package stores.

    I’m sure an anthropological(?) point can be made regarding Euro-thinking versus New World thinking regarding alcohol, but Ash’s run at the idea that it’s not as readily available(!!!) is GENUINE booshit!!

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  19. ashley said on January 9, 2005 at 9:20 pm

    Au contraire, mon frere.

    Brian, I’m sure you can get your diet coke just about everywhere…but even then, you’re going to have to go a ways to get it. Why are you excluding gated communities? That’s a smaller part of the bigger problem. There is no core anymore.

    Suburbs with no core have spawned outer suburbs with nothing but homes. To get to a grocery store, you have to drive there. Too far to walk. Of course, most people aren’t even going to the grocery stores, they’re going to the ultra-mega-wal-mart or Costco, which dissolutes the core even further.

    When you’re there, you aren’t going to know (let alone speak with) any of the people that work there, and they won’t talk to you. You can’t tell the butcher what kind of cut of meat you would like, and so on.

    My point was that current urban planning focuses on maximizing profit for the devloper, at the expense of everything else; and that our reliance on automobiles has made us more isolated from any kind of a “third place”.

    And the idea of simply marking out who vends alcohol totally misses my point of a third place. Maybe you can buy alcoholic beverages at a drug store, but I’m not planning to sit and drink there with my buddies. It doesn’t qualify as a third place. No offense, but perhaps you don’t understand what I mean by a “third place”. Might I recommend the books “Celebrating the Third Place” and “The Great Good Place”. Sorry, but modern day Walgreens do not qualify.

    “How many places that you pass sell alcohol? You almost cannot go a block without passing at least one.” A block? You live in a different cosmos than I do, Brian.

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  20. Lex said on January 10, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    I never much thought about this subject until a family reunion I attended in ’95, where more than a few quasi-responsible adults were walking around drinking Scotch/rocks out of 7-11 Big Gulp cups. Suddenly, a *lot* of things in my life clicked into place.

    (A great-uncle who was one of the hosts had a still in his front yard and was serving us “white liquor” [moonshine, for you nonlocals] cut with, of all things, lemon-lime soda. Wasn’t bad. Lest you be conjuring up images of rustic stereotypes, my great-uncle is a retired managing editor of Fortune magazine.)

    In college, I frequently drank to get drunk. That stopped abruptly when I got my first “real” full-time job. These days, I drink much less and enjoy it more, but that’s mainly because I’m drinking a better class of hooch than in college.

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  21. alex said on January 11, 2005 at 11:49 am

    Hey, Brian! Come visit me here in my gated community some time�me and my neighbors the fireman and the truck driver.

    I’m a good seven miles from the nearest sit-down tavern or package store or grocery store. And I’m spitting distance from the taupe vinyl residential sprawl with its peasant-dazzler place names, inhabited by thousands who doubtless tipple to ease the pain of their mortgages before heading home in their Escalades, which they might as well be sleeping in because they don’t own a stick of furniture. Wait, where was I going with this? Ah�yes�I think Ashley’s dead-on about planning. Around here there is none, unless you call greasing the palms of our planning commissioners a plan.

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  22. brian stouder said on January 11, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    “Around here there is none, unless you call greasing the palms of our planning commissioners a plan.”

    Why, THAT sounds like a HELL of a “plan”!

    The commissioners are all real estate developers anyway, ya know? “Sure – you can build on that flood plain” etc etc

    I am tempted to agree with you about the ridiculous sprawl…but draconian zoning is the other side of the “ridiculous” coin. I recall reading about a couple who were house shopping in Seattle a few years ago, and found a house which they promptly bid $30K MORE than asking price for, and FAILED to get the house!!

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  23. alex said on January 12, 2005 at 10:49 am

    Well, Brian, I am a dedicated historic preservationist. You know, one of those pinko commies who thinks our nation’s architectural legacy should trump an individual’s property rights, at least as far as bad taste goes. Yes, another Mary Sunshine liberal who thinks people should be enlightened about the value of adaptive reuse and about the myth that this country’s resources are infinite. Elitist, you say? You betcher sweet ass. Nothing wrong with elitism.

    I don’t know about Seattle, but Portland, Oregon, has great planning. No strip malls built on spec there. When a business wants to open up, it has to exhaust all possibilities for locating within an existing structure before it is allowed to build. Wal-Mart can take over the empty Home Depot instead of building another eyesore right next to it. That’s the kind of planning we need here in Allen County.

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