‘I was thinking about my mother
I was thinking about what’s mine
I was living my life like a Hollywood
But I was dying on the vine’
It’s a stretch to say that I’m living my life like a Hollywood-type person, but these thoughts are on my mind. I reached a tipping point this weekend, finally listening to the little voices in my head, telling me that my love affair with wine needs to be over.
Just like any relationship that’s bad for you, we can put off doing anything about it for a long time, even though we just know. The tipping point for some is a dramatic event – for example, you discover your other half is cheating on you, and that’s the end of it. In the case of alcohol, it might be something terrible, like causing a car crash or losing your job.
Or it might be something fairly mediocre, like just putting another empty bottle in the recycling bag, or feeling depressed at waking up tired and vaguely hungover, yet again. For me, it’s mostly about health and weight, with the ghost of a mother who died too young hanging over me. You don’t always need to hit rock bottom to realise that you have a problem.
I think I’m like many people, especially women. Coming home from work, still with chores to do, dinner to make, a small child to wrestle to bed. That glass of wine while pottering about the kitchen, is a punctuation mark on one half of the day, which says even though I still have work to do, I want to relax and enjoy it. Hanging up the washing is slightly less mundane when you’re sipping a glass on the side. But the problem is that one glass of wine becomes two or three…and if you don’t have anyone to share it with, by the time you go to bed, the bottle might be gone.
And it’s so easy to do. Just slip that bottle in with your shopping on the way home from work. So much delightfully delicious, drinkable wine for a fiver. So socially acceptable, to sit at home and quietly tipple until bed time. No drink driving, no fights, not even drunkenness, just a mild and happy buzz most of the time. Until the next day, when the happiness fades with the realisation that you keep getting fatter and half your clothes don’t fit.
Last year when I did the September Dryathlon, I lost a stone in a month. I slept better and had more energy, yet I gradually went back to my usual habits, putting it all back on and then some. I’ve posted before about the slow creep of weight in your 40s and because of this, I’ve avoided weighing myself for a long time. But on Sunday I took the plunge and found myself not a kick in the arse away from where I started at the weight watchers, about four years ago. I look more shapely now from exercise, and I have heavier muscles in places that I didn’t before, but still…according to BMI I am obese, with a moderate to high health risk. Even if BMI is flawed and doesn’t work for big boned types who like lifting heavy, it’s still not good news.
That moment on the scales was my tipping point. I’m not a huge snacker, but I’ve been mindlessly quaffing the ever-present treats at work, and eating rubbish at home when I’m drinking e.g. open the wine, have a bowl of delicious salty nuts, eat most of the nuts, not be hungry for proper food, eat rubbish for the rest of the evening. Some people will recognise this behaviour pattern, which is fine once a while, but on a regular basis will turn you into a fatty. Stress does the same for many of us, or in those periods when life is handing us lemons. Tip: don’t make lemonade, it’s full of sugar. Slice it and put it on a piece of fish instead.
Everyone is different, and everyone has their own personal downfall; for some it’s cake and chocolate or crisps. Mine is wine, with crisps a close second. Ah, lovely crisps! And they go so nicely with wine too. Again, not so bad as a treat once a week, shared with a friend. Very bad if you do it most nights of the week. Once you know in your heart and head that there is one main thing that stops you from being healthy – both in heart and head – then you need to do something about it.
The voices have been growing stronger for me this summer. I’ve not made it to the gym much, partly due to the discombobulation of the school holidays, but also because at the weekend, I’m too tired from drinking the night before to get up and drive there in the morning. I feel bloated and unhealthy, and worry about the medical problems piling up in the future if I go on this way. So on Saturday, I bought a lovely bottle of Chablis, drank it all and told myself that it would be the last for a while. And since then no wine.
Okay, it’s not much of a feat so far. But on Sunday evening, I missed my relaxing glasses of red, and the same on Monday when I got home from work. If I’m honest, I craved them for an hour or two until it wore off, feeling the wanting in my mouth. Tuesday was easier. I have other alcohol in the house: whisky and a wee bit of vodka and gin. In addition, there are a few jars of rhubarb gin brewing away, not to be opened for another couple of weeks. Yet, although I was briefly tempted by the thought of a gin and tonic, it was easy to resist. The coming weekend will be the biggest temptation, especially Friday evening, the one most strongly associated with enjoying a lovely bottle of wine.
Strangely enough, it seems that I am able to drink all other alcohol in moderation: a few beers max at a gig or after a long walk, a nice spirit now and again. Only for wine is there no off-switch. Of course, it remains to be seen whether I can moderate my drinking of these other things in the absence of wine. I hope and believe that I can, but if not, then it all needs to go. Because I know how that story ends, and I don’t want it to be my story.
Which is a terrifying thought in many ways. I imagine that life will be boring without it, that I will be boring. Which is nonsense, as I am many things, but boring I’m not. I look at my son, high on life and full of energy. Children don’t need alcohol or drugs to feel passion for existence. Deep down, I know that I don’t either. In the times I feel most alive, like laughing with my son, climbing a hill, dancing a tango, or squatting with a big weight on my shoulders, I just don’t need or want alcohol.
You might wonder why I’m putting all this out there, exposing myself to people that know me in real life. It’s partly to make myself accountable and warn my friends: one day I hope I can share a bottle of wine over a nice meal, but not right now. Even after writing all this down, one part of me wants to delete it so no-one knows and I can carry on as I have.
The other reason is that maybe someone reading this feels the same, and that their ‘shame’ is reduced by knowing that they are not alone. I know I’m not alone; our hospitals are full of people sick from ‘just liking a drink’. Or maybe there is something else, something with the power to wreck your health and happiness. Only you knows what it is and you know what you need to do.
Take that pre-emptive strike and take back control of your life.
Until next time,