Sunday, February 25, 2024

“Am I drinking too much wine?”

I’ve been abstaining from drinking any kind of alcohol for the past month, as I had knee surgery and didn’t want it to interact with any medications I was on. Things also were tasting metallic, probably a reaction from all the chemicals that had been pumped into me. Do you want to know something? I really didn’t miss wine.

Meanwhile, I scroll past endless dinners and wine tastings from friends and colleagues. The effect is that some of these folks seem to be having an endless and moveable feast, from London to New York, Milan to Hong Kong. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost jump to the conclusion that some of my friends and colleagues might have a drinking problem. But that’s the problem with social media – folks offer these brief snapshots of their life and it fills up the viewfinder, as if that were all they were doing. Of course, they are involved in other activities as well – sleeping, bathing, paying bills, having sex, packing, traveling, waiting at airports, checking into hotels and taking out the garbage. But who wants to see any of that!

But I do wonder and worry if any of those folks are struggling with alcohol. The shot of the sandwich and a beer or a glass of wine at the airport. The shot of a bottle of wine as someone just arrived in Italy/France/Spain/etc. The shot of someone’s multi-course dinner with friends, accompanied by a plethora of trophy/grail wines. Over and over. As if obtaining those unobtainable wines allow oneself to slip under the radar of one who might or might not be addicted to alcohol. It’s become a bigger problem now that we are all up in everyone’s business, thanks to their Instagram feeds. I mentioned this once to a friend who likes to imbibe. He told me, quite candidly, “Yes, but I’m a functional alcoholic.” I guess it sounds less catastrophic that way. But at the end of a night of eating and drinking, at the point when I’d called it quits 30-45 minutes before and switched to water, he was still opening bottles. I know some of you might be wondering if I’m casting the shame pole into the murky waters of the lives of others. Or some kind of virtue signaling. I assure you; those thoughts have crossed my mind. But I know most folks aren’t just hanging out at the bar, all day and all night, day in and day out. They are working, sleeping, etc. But some of us have gotten caught in a hook in which release is difficult, if not impossible. And I worry about that, for alcohol is tricky and moves stealthily.

As for myself, this has caused me to reflect on my relationship and usage of alcohol, couched in the figure of a vintage bottle of wine, preferably from Italy or France, as that is what is mainly taking up space in my wine closet/cave.

So, I asked myself, “Am I drinking too much wine?” Last month notwithstanding, I took a look at my usage, based on what I depleted from my collection, which is tidily arranged on a spread sheet.

Well, since retirement, five years ago now, I definitely have been drinking less. Especially red wine. Not that I haven’t tried. It’s just that the way I eat now is sparser than it was when I was younger and in the work force. I just don’t eat as much. And, seeing as I often choose wine to go with our meals, if the meals get smaller or less often, then the consumption of wine decreases. And it has.

So, how does one know if they have a drinking problem, especially if one is involved in the trade? Well, it has always been expected that those in the job help promote the trade. And that involves popping corks and trying, promoting and encouraging others to imbibe as well. These days it might not be as politically correct to do so, but how does one balance the needs of one’s livelihood with the demands of one’s personal health? Is there a razor’s edge one must balance oneself upon in this quest to achieve work/life harmony?

A lot of questions. Not a lot of answers.

Funny, though, that this comes up more and more in the 21st century. Healthy living and longevity are sought after goals, and if wine (or overall, alcohol) consumption doesn’t promote those objectives, they could be seen as a precarious obstruction towards attaining those goals.

But alcohol is fun! There’s the buzz factor, which we rarely talk about in public, but which many folks muse over in private conversations. I’m not talking about getting snot-slinging drunk, just a wave of light exhilaration. Gotta be good for the blood pressure, no? So, how bad can it be in the long run?

When I had my tonsils taken out eight years ago, I stopped drinking any alcohol while recovering. I had a profusion of chemicals careening around my system: steroids, antibiotics, morphine, iodine, aspirin, ibuprofen. Alcohol was just one more toxic substance.

When I resumed, 100 days later, I could take wine. But distilled spirits burned. Badly. So, I laid off spirits. Eventually I would sip on a liqueur or even a scotch whiskey or tequila, but in small doses. I could feel the toxicity to my system, so I backed off.

For myself, I know that I am not drinking too much wine. I’m not drinking as much as I’d like, even though right now that is a pretty low bar. I know I’m not addicted to the stuff. I’m not even sure how much I like it anymore, to be brutally honest. I’m not in love with it. But I like it, occasionally. Maybe it’s just autumn season of my life I’m in.

This is an attempt to reconfigure wines importance in my life. It was never front-stage-and-center. Wine, to me, is a marker within a more inclusive cultural setting. It’s an appendage, rather than the heart.

Years ago, I wrote this, and it bears repeating in my present stage of recovery: “Coming out of the fog I found myself in these past few weeks, I realize that balance, not only in wine, but in life, is more important than acid, than minerality, than fruit, or wood, or expression or concentration. Too much of a good thing is just that – too much.”

What about you, friends and readers? 

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