I had a problem with alcohol for many, many years. In high school and college I used alcohol (and other drugs) to numb my emotional pain and ease my anxiety. When I was drunk I felt like I could be myself, except without all the sadness–parties and other social events were so much more enjoyable with a few (or more) drinks in me. Alcohol was a crutch, I couldn’t have fun without it.
Unfortunately, alcohol didn’t just amplify the happy feelings, sometimes it emboldened the bad. Many drunken nights ended with me in a rage, yelling at those around me for no reason that anyone could understand. If I wasn’t mad I was sad or despondent, sure that nobody really cared for me, that the love people showed me was just a ruse.
Mostly though I drank too much and passed out. Hopefully I made it home before I became a dead weight. Many times I didn’t. For as long as I can remember I struggled with knowing when to stop. Some nights I could drink a bottle of vodka and party till the sun came up. Other night three drinks had me vomiting before I passed out. Later I learned my depression meds probably had something to do with my inability to gauge how drunk I was. My fluctuating weight probably didn’t help either.
In the end though, it doesn’t matter what fueled my issues with alcohol. All that mattered was that I couldn’t drink it responsibly. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I was able to really see and accept this fact. It was then that I stopped drinking except during very special occasions. When we started trying to get pregnant it wasn’t that hard for me to abstain from alcohol completely; by that time I only drank it a couple of times a year.
When we were finally done with TTC, pregnancy and breastfeeding, it had been almost three years since I’d had a drink. I was a lightweight and no matter how little I drank I felt horrible the next morning. Any parent can tell you that the only thing worse than a hangover is parenting with a hangover. I quickly realized that no buzz was worth a morning spent managing my spirited child while feeling like shit. For years I just didn’t drink.
In the past year my husband has developed a love for mixing cocktails and my tolerance has strengthened enough that now I can enjoy two very strong cocktails and feel fine the next morning. At first I thought this was wonderful–a couple of drinks took the edge off the long days–and I felt like myself the next morning. If I didn’t have to suffer for it, why not indulge a little?
Eventually I realized I was drinking more nights than I wasn’t and I started to wonder if that was too much. Sure now I could drink without feeling shitty the next day, but did that mean I wanted to?
At my annual well woman’s visit I fill out a two sided questionnaire. One of the sections is about general health, and there are items about how much alcohol I consume. It felt good when I wrote zero on the line asking how many drinks I have in a week. I’m not sure how I feel about writing 2-4 now. I got my pap smear this past week and after our staycation weekend I had to check Yes on the one about having “more than 4 drinks at one time.”
I also had to see that I’ve gained some weight and I’m now almost seven pounds heavier than I ideally want to be. After all the effort I put into losing weight last summer, I’m disappointed that I’m back at this weight. I noticed my clothes felt a little tighter and didn’t fit as well, but I didn’t realize I had gained so much.
I can’t pretend that some of that weight isn’t a direct result of downing these cocktails. They may be small but they pack a strong alcoholic punch, which means they also pack a strong caloric punch. I can’t keep drinking a cocktail or two even a few nights a week and not pay for it around my waistline.
Oh, and around my wallet too!
So now I’m back to asking myself, How much is too much? I’m grateful that I’m no longer trying to figure out how to stop drinking before I black out (or fall into a drunken rage), but I recognize it’s just as serious a question when it’s about how many nights a week I indulge in one or two cocktails. I’ve decided that for the time being, Friday night will be the one night a week when I have two cocktails. I might allow myself one on a Saturday, but I won’t be drinking them during the work week. The truth is, I don’t need a drink every night. I am just as happy writing a blog post or reading a book without a little buzz going on. And abstaining for most of the week makes those two drinks on Friday something to look forward to. The rest of the week I can use exercise (or just sweet silence of an hour without my kids around) to make me feel good.
How frequently do you drink? How did you determine how much is too much (or just enough)?