Do I drink too much? I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately.
My doctor says one or two drinks a day is fine. Beer, wine, doesn’t matter. Some studies say it’s actually good for you. But who cuts themselves off at two?
We’re an all-or-nothing country. Moderation isn’t in our vocabulary. You’re either right or left in America. Blue or red, pro-this or anti-that. The middle ground is a fairly empty place.
And we have a love affair with liquor. The Puritans stopped at Plymouth Rock partly because they were running low on beer! True story. George Washington ran a brewery. Foster Brooks, a popular comedian when I was a kid, built a whole career on pretending he was sloshed. We drink at weddings. We drink at wakes and funerals. The first thing the waitress asks when you sit down for dinner is: “would you care for drinks?”
But I think part of my problem is that I gauge my alcohol consumption on a slightly skewed scale. At one end there’s “tsk, tsk, tsk... one drink is too many.” And at the other end are memories of my father who routinely got completely, passed out at the kitchen table, crawl up the stairs to bed on all fours, shit-faced drunk.
“’m not ‘n alka-holick,” he’d assure us, waving his can of Hamm’s beer shaped like a cute, little beer keg. “I jus’ like t’ drink...” So compared to dear ol’ dad, I’m a Baptist preacher.
Looking back over my life, I see that I’ve really been over-served, starting when I was still a teenager. I didn’t do a lot of under-aged drinking but only because I didn’t have to. They conveniently lowered the drinking age to eighteen a couple of years before I turned that age. They let that social experiment run seven or eight years before they wised up and raised it back to twenty-one (about the time I turned twenty-three).
My drinking stories go back a-ways. They’re not pretty. They involve eluding the police, losing my contact lenses, a little drunk driving, some petty theft, “sleeping” on bathroom floors, and way too much throwing up. Classy stuff.
But none of that’s turned me off to the sauce over the years. I still drink. If I’m honest with myself, I admit it’s more than an average of two drinks a day. Then I go back to my “dad scale.” The scale says I’m not as bad as my father... I don’t drink every day, it says. True. Neither did he. And I can get up the stairs on two feet.
What’s my attraction to alcohol? I’m not addicted to gamboling or chocolate or porn. I never liked drugs. I don’t even binge view back episodes of TV shows.
There’s evidence that says alcoholism can be hereditary. Studies have found that children of alcoholics have lower endorphin levels. And people of European and Native American descent lack certain genes that protect them from addiction. All I know is there’s something warm and inviting about having a drink in my hand, I’ll admit it. Tennessee Williams called it the “click.” Two of his characters in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof explain:
Brick: Somethin’ hasn’t happened yet.
Big Daddy: What’s that?
Brick: A click in my head.
Big Daddy: Did you say “click?”
Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.
Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.
Brick: It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.
Big Daddy: Boy, you’re, you’re a real alcoholic!
Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic.
Yeah, sadly, I know what he means.
Teetotalers, recovering alcoholics, and Mormons don’t drink. They’re inundated with the same barrage of drink, drink, drink images that I am. The Bachelorette sipping champagne in a hot tub, the office Christmas party, those “wine” memes floating around Facebook. How come they’re not passing out on bathroom floor? They must be stronger than the rest of us.
Or maybe something in them just clicks...
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