I'm sitting on our patio in my jean shorts, moving a meter eastward every 15 minutes hoping to catch the sun before it moves beyond our front door. Jake and I were drinking Tecate with salt and lime, and I was reading The Professor and the Madman until a few moments ago, when I realized I was too tipsy to continue. I looked up at Jake and said, "I think I'll write a blog." When he asked what about and I responded, "Drinking," he smirked and said, "Good idea to write about what ya know."
It's a subject that’s been so incessantly discussed in my life that I'd be sick of talking about it if I weren't (just a bit of) a talker.
I'm also a bit of a drinker.
And I come by it honestly. My grandfather and uncle were both dead at 51 because of the hooch. My dad used to pour rum into his coke cans so he could sip his favourite cocktail while he was driving. My mother, on the other hand, can polish a bottle and a half of wine with grace, but left a 24 of Export in our basement fridge for years before she tossed it. When it comes to alcohol, she's probably the most regular man in the Mogg clan.
Though opinion is divided (a few of my friends scoff at the idea that I have any kind of "problem") I have been told more times than I can count that I too should stop, or seriously cut back, on my alcoholic consumption. Often, it’s been therapists who have tried to tell me it's not normal.
Now, it might not be regular, but it certainly does seem to be normal. Most people I know – adults and youths alike – drink more or less the same amount I do. When I tell therapists, the usual response is: "Then all your friends are alcoholics". Now, I'm no professional, but it seems to me that this MUST be bullshit. We affix labels like that to specific actions and specific populations; if everyone is consuming the same amount in the same way, the idea of "too much" becomes terribly slippery.
We toss around the term "functional alcoholic" a lot. If such an illness truly exists, I know dozens of people afflicted. I have a friend who drinks every day, but it's usually wine, and with meals or after a long day at work. I know another who does keg stands with alarming frequency, but manages to hold down a regular man job in the non-profit sector. I order a Caesar with brunch after a night out, and always drink martinis when I feel like writing, both of which are technically strong indicators of alcoholism.
So is unregular consumption generational? Or is my social environment completely unrepresentative in our drinking? From where I stand we seem to be pretty average and unremarkable in our habits, nestled comfortably in the middle of the spectrum; we are not in parent's basements every Friday night drinking Redbull and playing WoW, nor are we at keggers date-raping vomiting cheerleaders.
I also come from boozy origins. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized not all grownups polish of a bottle of wine (minimum) every night. I subscribe to the social environmental theory of drink rather than the generational one. It doesn’t really seem like I’ll grow out of loving liquor. My parents never did.
I do agree, though, that the conventional definition of alcoholism is an unruly one. I’ve heard professional opinions that people who drink more than 7 drinks per week are alcoholics, in which case I’m an alcoholic X 3 and so are my parents, but that doesn’t seem right. I knew the word “alcoholic” from an early age, knew that it meant you were a drunk and that it was bad, but I never thought my parents were alcoholics because they didn’t do bad things. I thought they just drank the normal amount for adults.
My boyfriend isn’t a drinker. This is new for me. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll imbibe whenever it’s appropriate and his drink of choice is whiskey, straight up. But he always pours neat, little one-ounce drinks (it’s been years since either Mogg or I have poured fewer than 3 ounces at a time), and sometimes he doesn’t finish his drink (blaspheme!) After months of dating, I’ve yet to see him drunk drunk. I’ve had a back-and-forth reaction to this. On the one hand, I’ve missed the fun of excess, something I find particularly thrilling when shared with a beau. On the other, I love how I’m alert and not in pain or ill when we get to spend time together and I’ve discovered the joy of sober, nighttime lovemaking.
The fact that I am able to see the sunny side of sobriety implies that even occasional excessive drinking may be unregular. But are we alcoholics? If I think about what 8-year old Jones conceived of when she heard the term “alcoholic” – someone who drinks a lot and then does bad things – we may not be off the hook. Conspicuously absent from this entry is an exposition of all the bad things Mogg and I have done while inebriated. Truth is, we’ve both got broom closets full of bad, unregular calamities we’ve caused or suffered through thanks to gin martinis. If we want to diagnose ourselves as problem drinkers (or not), it seems important to consider the effects of the booze rather than the amount.
Either way, we will say this: we often act like dicks when we glut on drink, and though it may be normal, it’s not regular. Hopefully, by the end of our quest, gin will never again be an excuse nor an escape; it will only be a pleasure.
Modified from original version 29/10/2009
Modified from original version 29/10/2009