For a while there, I was getting a little worried because I was enjoying having a glass (or 3) of vino tinto at night. When you start to wonder if they sell your favourite wine in a 4 litre box, you know it’s time to reassess your life choices.
Stemming from a 50% Scottish background, the predisposition for alcoholism is not just a stereotype. Even newborns have trace amounts of whisky in their blood. My uncle used to drive a huge oil tanker back in the good ol’ days before DUI, go for pints at lunch, and then weave his way through the winding roads of Bonnie Scotland. When I pointed out that he could have blown up an entire village with one of those tanks, his matter of fact response was: “but I didne, did I?!?” Except for one aunt, and my tee-totalling/bible-thumping nana, I can’t think of one maternal relative who didn’t drink to excess.
Add to that an equal amount of Slavic blood and not only is the risk high, it’s almost destiny. A dark, brooding destiny of hopeless negativity washed down with shots of the type of stuff that could peel the paint off your walls.
Enter disease to the (ironic) rescue. Nothing related to alcohol, of course – I never drank THAT much. Rather a pre-existing autoimmune disease that I’ve been living with for the last 10 years. A ‘stressful life event’ (a generic term used to explain that my mum died, without actually having to broach the socially uncomfortable subject of death) caused a flare-up and I was prescribed two drugs: Plaquenil (which is usually used to treat Malaria) and Methotrexate (a cancer drug that is often used to dissolve pregnancy tissue in ectopic pregnancies and those freaky calcified fetuses that doctors find after decades of being undetected in women’s bodies, ie: http://www.livescience.com/47513-baby-skeleton-removed.html.) Normally, I’d take the list of side-effects/precautions with a grain of salt – or a glass of wine. But the pharmacist told me to limit caffeine as much as possible and to not consume alcohol AT ALL as it causes severe liver toxicity and irreversible damage. Seeing the obvious disappointment in my face, he asked, “Is this going to be a problem for you?” To which I replied, *sigh* “Well… how am I supposed to cope with life now? I need my two morning coffees to get through the day… and then the wine consoles me in the evening….”
In reality, it was easier than I thought it’d be – I just needed a serious slap in the face in the form of ‘liver toxicity/organ failure’ to provide the impetus. I thought I ‘needed’ the vino tinto/beer/Bombay Sapphire/JD Honey Liqueur/Carlos Pepito Sangria* to make me feel better. A legal elixir to either help you release the icky-ness of life in the form of tears, or to plug it up like a cork so that you feel nothing at all. The problem with plugging things up, though, is that, just like a champagne bottle being shaken, the cork eventually pops.
*= I’ve learned – through my extensive ‘research’, that sangria has a strange effect on me – the combo of wine and brandy in it makes me mischievous and, to be perfectly honest, quite obnoxious. Good ol’ Carlos ‘made’ me do dumb shit, like repeatedly text a guy -actually named Carlos– with stupidities ranging from lame flirting to trying to see how much I could bother him before he told me to fuck off (incidentally, he never did!). Proof positive that you CAN do stupid shit in your 40s.
Above: This is exactly how I felt after a few glasses of this – feisty and wishing that they made bottles that big. Carlos Pepito: muy delicioso pero muy peligroso!
Suddenly, there I was, all alone with myself. (Well, not completely alone – I have my dogs and my cat…you’re never alone with animals.) And that’s when I realized a few things: 1) I’m a lot more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for, 2) I’m actually an okay person – freakishly flawed as I am, 3) I have everything I could ever need, 4) I’m okay with myself – and by myself. The last one was the most important realization since decades of low self-esteem have caused me to settle for so much less than I deserved, caused me to believe that I couldn’t get by on my own. It also made me realize that I never needed that drink after work or on a date or to ‘cope’. Soothing myself with a drink didn’t change my reality – it simply postponed it to the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, ad infinitum….
Now that the veil of alcohol has been lifted, I realize that I’m a hopeless mess – but I embrace that broken, disorganized, fucked-up mess. And there’s huge comfort in knowing that I’m not alone. Nobody gets through life unscathed. Everyone has their story, their mess. In that sense, we’re all connected, we’re all alike. Every living, breathing human being (with the exception of socio- and psychopaths) has two fundamental things in common – the desire to love and be loved, and the desire to be accepted. But those desires are essentially meaningless until you have the capacity to love (or at least like) and accept yourself. It’s so cliche, but it’s true. I thought the only way to feel good about myself was through the lens of someone else’s eyes. I put so much value on their perception of me that I ended up believing EVERYTHING they told me (or made me feel) about myself – that I was stupid, unattractive, fat, useless, hopeless, boring, crazy, etc…. I let other people tell me who I was, and most of them didn’t have good intentions or my best interest at heart. Very few people do.
I did partake of some Tia Maria and bubbly over the holidays, but truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy it – not like I used to. I didn’t like how it made me feel, how it made me somewhat numb- even after just one glass. I (masochistically) prefer the feelings of discomfort, of sorrow, of embarrassment, of occasional loneliness – these ‘bad’ feelings let me fully appreciate the moments of contentment, gratitude, happiness, and normalcy that come up from time to time. They remind me that I’m human – and that I’m alive.