One thing you must know about me by now, I rarely, if ever, take the easy route. What’s the fun in ease and flow? Ha!
In the middle of a stressful time (pandemic, grief, pending move, holidays, renovations) I decided it was time to quit drinking. And by quit drinking, I mean quit. Not one drop. Not even in a recipe. I am an abstainer, not a moderator, and I know myself well enough that one of anything is never enough. I witnessed my love die of complications due to liver disease (Hep C) and though I have very little chance of suffering the same fate, I didn’t want to tempt it.
It was my time to stop.
Unlike my contemporaries, I didn’t learn how to drink at the family cottage in Muskoka through my summers, I grew up in a dry household, laced with Baptist suffering and guilt. My first year of high school was memorable: in grade 9 I would get the beer for my friends in grade 13 only because of my height and appearance, I was never carded – but beer never appealed to me. I took one sip once and that was enough for me. A caregiver (read: nanny) gave me my first “hard” drink – vodka and orange juice. So much of it, I still can’t drink orange juice. That winter a girlfriend and I got some white wine (Paul Masson Emerald Dry) and split the bottle which resulted in both of us running to the bathroom all night long. Then there was the Andrès Baby Duck in the canoe episode later in the summer. No more alcohol for me!
Then I landed at a tiny university a long day’s drive away from home – 16+ hours. I was terrified and stuck out like a sore thumb – any attention was too much attention for my comfort. At least if I drank I’d have something to blame if I acted like an idiot (note: I’ve never needed much to help me act like an idiot – it comes naturally!) When my university career did not end well, I started life in the longest management training program ever in Buffalo, NY. I was a Canadian Club and ginger ale girl at that point until the accountants told me to switch to Canadian Club and water – after all, they assured me, that way I wouldn’t get a hangover. They might have been right, but it’s likely I simply drank too much as I never started a Monday morning clear-headed. Certainly never a summer morning after recreational volleyball followed by hours of dancing to “It’s Raining Men” and other mid-80s tunes on the tables of Wiechec’s bar the night before, or after bowling and darts at the RoseBowl down the street from our office (ah, “Aruba, Jamaica …”) through the winter. It never occurred to me that I was drinking too much – I was just having fun like everyone else. At some point in that time, I chose to live with a man twice my age – my excuse, he was brilliant and adored me. He was also a helpless alcoholic, and like all addicts, he thought he hid it well. I was terribly naive about it; until I wasn’t.
I then moved to Calgary and got a “real” job with “real” P&L responsibilities and nothing sobers you up like a 70+ hour work week, a team of employees, and corporate responsibilities. Accountability is a tremendous motivator to maintain a level of sobriety. Yes, I drank, but not that much – this is, of course, in comparison to my previous consumption. Then I got married and settled down. It never occurred to me to drink in my home. After all, that was a house party or at-the-bar-with-friends activity.
Then I moved to suburbia and had four kids in four years with a husband who travelled 7 days a week, then half the month then for months at a time. To be honest, it was fabulous! The kids and I would go to sleep early and wake early. Who had the time or money to drink? That was for special occasions only. And frankly, after a few years of living with an alcoholic, I was afraid of drinking by myself.
Until my youngest was found unresponsive in our pool. Alone, grateful for the help of neighbours and girlfriends, I managed 4-weeks at Sick Kids and another 6-weeks at Bloorview for rehab. I had a choice: destroy my family or destroy myself. After that every day was a special occasion, not only was my son alive but I was engulfed in such guilt for not being home when the incident happened, it was by consuming copious amounts of wine that kept me from spinning completely out of control. It never occurred to me that my marriage was unsalvagable and I wasn’t keeping anything together. I was hiding from my life, biting my tongue as I avoided confrontation and drank more. I became hyper-focused on my kids and everything kid-related from 7AM to 7PM every day for over a decade, I was super-mama.
After my divorce, the kids and I were settled in the townhouse and they were concerned I was drinking too much, so I stopped. It was probably for a couple of months – until they noticed and got me a box of wine (you can take the girl out of the rink, but not the rink out of the girl!) Glass in front of me and their permission, I drank it and simply kept up the practice.
Wine is lovely. It slows my brain enough to enjoy my evenings and I could sleep. I considered it “medicinal”. You know, whatever works to deal with the anxiety and stress of being a single parent of four challenging then-teenagers.
It became part of my routine. Even when it stopped slowing my brain. What was the alternative?
Before I quit drinking in November, a few big events happened: Bill had recently died and I went through my days drowning my grief in tequila; I picked up a copy of Quit Like a Woman after seeing it in a girlfriend’s Instagram feed (let me know if you want my copy); and, when I mentioned my concern over not being able to give it up, my coach (who is a doctor) said something that never occurred to me, “Lee, alcoholics are running away from things; you are always running toward something. You will not have a problem stopping if that’s what you want to do. In my experience [which is vast] you are not an alcoholic.”
Then I had a gall bladder attack, not my first one but it was the first one to land me in the hospital due to pain. It was awful. I got home after dinnertime and looked at the tequila on the shelf. I made myself some tea and lay down on the couch. The next day, I did the same thing. The day after, I put the tequila in the cupboard.
Today marks 100 days.
Is this a permanent choice? I have no idea. What I know is it is my choice right now.